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Credit: Joe Lingeman

100 Simple Ways to Turn Pantry Staples into Complete Meals

updated May 5, 2020
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When it comes to whipping up quick and comforting meals, pantry staples are your friend. These are the items you keep stashed in the back of your pantry for off-the-cuff cooking, and they are the items that will come in handy when cooking more at home — as we all are right now. With a little bit of creativity, you can turn these staple ingredients, like canned tomatoes and tuna, into complete meals that are comforting, filling, and delicious.

Kitchn’s Guide to Turning Pantry Staples into Meals

We’ve picked 10 of the most common pantry staples as your starting point and provided recipes and suggestions for how to transform each into a quick and comforting meal. But you should also feel free to riff on any of these suggestions; every recipe is flexible and highly adaptable for whatever you have on hand, so definitely don’t fret if you don’t have all the ingredients on hand. Use this guide as a jumping off point.

Without further introduction, here are 100 simple ways to turn pantry staples into complete meals.

Credit: Lauren Volo

Canned Chickpeas

Canned chickpeas are one of the most versatile pantry ingredients. They are packed with protein, mild in flavor, and can be eaten straight out of the can. You can purée them into a savory spread (like hummus) or add them to soups, stews, and pastas for a pop of protein. For a simple snack, you can toss them onto a sheet pan with a splash of olive oil and roast them until crispy. The possibilities are endless.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Canned Black Beans

A can of black beans can go a long way. Add a can to stews (liquid and all) to thicken them up, rinse them off and toss them into a salad, purée them into a thick soup or dip, or add them to enchiladas to bulk them up. You can even throw them on top of a bag of chips along with whatever toppings you have on hand to create hearty nachos that are filling enough to be considered dinner.

Read more: 5 Recipes with A Can of Black Beans

Dried Lentils

Dried lentils can be a bit intimidating if you’ve never cooked with them before, but they’re actually insanely easy to make. You can add them to stews, soups, veggie burgers, and all sorts of dishes. Red and yellow lentils are best suited for recipes that cook for a long time so they break down (like dal and puréed soups), while brown and green varieties are best for dishes where you want them to retain their shape. (You can read all about the differences here.)

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

Dried Pasta

If you have a pound of pasta in your pantry right now, you have endless dinner options you can whip up with just a few simple ingredients. All of these recipes can be made with any shape of pasta. And keep in mind that a pound of pasta can feed about four to six people, so you’ll have plenty of leftovers if you’re only cooking for yourself.

Credit: Jerrelle Guy

Canned Tomatoes / Marinara Sauce

Canned tomatoes come in many different forms, shapes, and sizes. Diced tomatoes are great for recipes where you want their shape to remain intact, like enchilada filling. Tomato sauce and jarred marinaras are good for making quick homemade pastas, lasagnas, or thick soups. Canned plum tomatoes are whole, uncut tomatoes that have been peeled. For most recipes, you’ll have to crush them by hand or with a spoon. (You can see a complete guide to the differences here.)

Credit: Joe Lingeman


For all of these recipes, feel free to use whatever variety of rice you have on hand. Note that the cooking time and amount of liquid needed to properly cook the rice might change — which you can read all about here if you need a refresher.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Canned Soup / Stock

Canned soup is not only a meal in itself, but a shortcut ingredient that can help turn a handful of simple ingredients into a complete dinner. If you have a can of cream of chicken or tomato soup on hand, you’re one step away from a comforting meal. Stock and broth also comes in handy, and if you have a carton of broth on hand you can turn pretty much any vegetable into soup.

Credit: Izy Hossack

Canned Tuna

Canned tuna comes in a few different varieties, and all are perfect for building a meal around. “Solid tuna” is an entire piece of tuna that is firm and steaky. “Chunk” or “flake” tuna is made up of smaller pieces of tuna that have been shredded into tiny pieces. Any variety can be used in these recipes.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk/Kitchn

Jiffy Cornbread Mix / Bisquick

These shortcut baking mixes can make so much more than just cornbread, muffins, and biscuits. They’re great for casseroles, puddings, cookies, and so many other quick meals — both sweet and savory. The great thing about both Jiffy and Bisquick is that they already contains leaveners (aka baking soda/powder), so it allows you to create a quick off-the-cuff meal without having to add a ton of additional ingredients.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Christine Buckley


Oats can make so much more than just oatmeal. Think savory porridges, cookies, breads, pancakes, and bars. The most common varieties sold in stores are instant, steel-cut, and rolled oats. They each have a slightly different texture, so make sure to check the packaging before you start cooking one of these recipes. (You can read more about the differences between them here.)

What’s your favorite pantry staple recipe? Share them in the comments!