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Challenges of Meal Preparation When You Can't Get Out!

Items in a kitchen pantry
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Nashville, Ark. –

Can I prepare a healthy meal with foods I have in my pantry?

Last week, we were stuck at home and faced with the challenge of preparing meals with the foods we had on hand. You probably wondered, “Can I prepare a healthy meal with foods I have in my pantry?” The answer is yes. During times of bad weather or when the power goes out, it is more important than ever to have a well-stocked pantry!  

You don’t have to have a recipe or even a plan if your pantry, refrigerator and freezer has good food in it and you understand the techniques of how to put a meal together.

Begin by taking inventory of your pantry and see what products you have on hand. As you are going through the items, now is a good time to look at expiration dates. If you have items that are expired, throw them away. Some items may have expiration dates that will expire soon. Move them to the front of the pantry and try to use them up as soon as possible.

What foods do I need to have in my pantry?

Some good choices to have in your pantry are spaghetti, macaroni and other pastas (whole grains are great), packaged baking mix, ready-to-eat sauces, soups, rice and beans, potatoes and onions, canned fruits, vegetables, beans, tuna, canned fruit, fruit juices, salsa, seasonings and mixes, cooking oil and non-stick spray.

In the refrigerator and/or freezer you will want to have fresh and frozen vegetables, baby

carrots and prewashed salad greens, fresh and frozen fruit and fruit juices, frozen chopped onion and green pepper, tortillas, ready-to-bake rolls, whole grain bread, cheese, yogurt, milk, eggs and butter, a variety of beef, chicken, pork and fish and precooked sliced meats for sandwiches.

Keeping your pantry stocked with healthy canned and dry foods means always having economical and versatile meal options on hand. Not only do they last a long time, they can be just as healthy as fresh options. The same goes for freezer foods. Most will last anywhere from 3 months to 1 year.

How do I make a casserole from the items in my pantry?

Once you have taken stock of what you have, it’s time to create a meal. Casseroles create great meals and are easy to prepare. They are a great way to use foods that you have on hand. Start by choosing a starch. Rice, pasta, potatoes, and tortillas are good choices.

Next, add a protein. Protein is beef, chicken, pork, fish. Choose canned or properly thawed meats for your protein choice. For casseroles, you will need to cook the meat ahead of time. Canned meat does this step for you! Another option is to spend a little time cooking meats and then freezing them in one-pound packages. Be sure to label and date the package before placing it in the freezer.

Step three is to add one to two vegetables to the dish. Use different colors of vegetables for variety, when possible. Canned and frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh; however, many canned vegetables do have extra sodium. You may want to rinse them before adding to your casserole.

Add a sauce. You can add premade sauces from bottles or make your own sauce using ingredients on hand. Spaghetti sauce, stir-fry sauce, soups or diced tomatoes are good choices.

Add some flavor. Look to see what seasonings you have on hand. Most homes have salt and pepper, but you may also have garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, or other dried herbs.

Casseroles are simple to make and are great for using foods you have on hand. Use your imagination and be creative! Most casseroles will serve 4-6 people. Add a side salad and fruit for a complete meal.

If you would like a more complete list of budget-friendly pantry staples, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517 and ask for a copy of the handout “#Quarantine Kitchen – Getting Creative with Budget-Friendly Pantry Staples”. I will be glad to put a copy in the mail. You can also download a copy at Not only does this handout have a list of supplies to keep on hand, there is also a two-week menu plan!

4 Cheese Pizza Recipe

Pizza is so easy to prepare and it can use ingredients you have on hand. Anthony Trombley, a member of Nature Seekers and STEM Club shared this recipe. His recipe is for a cheese pizza, but feel free to add your favorite ingredients. Anthony won first place in a dairy foods contest with this recipe.

For the crust:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. yeast
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 3 cups flour

For the topping:

  • 1 can pizza sauce
  • 1 (8 oz.) bag Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 (8 oz.) bag Monterey Jack, Cheddar, and Colby Cheese
  1. In a mixing bowl add the ingredients for the crust in the order listed. Mix well using a dough hook. Let dough rest about 10 minutes.
  2. Roll dough out onto lightly floured pizza pan. Add can of sauce and spread it over the pizza leaving a small empty space all around the outside edge.
  3. Sprinkle the cheeses over top of your sauce.
  4. Place in an oven that has been pre-heated to 425 degrees. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is brown and cheese is melted.

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517

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