Here’s How to Turn Food Pantry Staples into Delicious Meals

One of her favorite cheap meals to make is black bean soup, using a can of black beans along with onion, garlic and green pepper.
“I’ll bulk up taco meat with onions and green peppers and tomatoes, so it’s a little bit of meat and a lot of vegetables,” Wesley said, as an example. “Or I’ll bulk it up with beans, so it’s a little bit of meat and a lot of beans.”
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Think food pantries only give out non-perishable canned foods? Think again. Many also distribute a good share of perishable ingredients like eggs, dairy products, bread, fresh produce and more.

How to Turn Cheap Pantry Staples Into Delicious Meals

Getting groceries from a food pantry and reducing food spending can be great on the wallet, but you may also need to adjust to cooking and preparing meals differently. We spoke to registered dietitian and nutritionist Wendy Wesley for advice on how to make nutritious, tasty meals using ingredients from food pantries.
Add beans and veggies to stretch meat dishes.
Spices, in particular, can be pretty pricey, so look for less expensive brands.
Wesley saves money by buying Badia brand spices. You can also try your store’s generic option or shop at an ethnic grocery store.
Those extra ingredients also add fiber — something every American needs more of, she said.
Whether you’ve got a family to feed or you’re just trying to make food last longer for yourself, making your ingredients stretch means more bang for your buck.

Tomatoes, canned black beans, black bean soup and a portrait of the cook are photographed in this quad of images to illustrate cheap meals to make.

Economic concerns have caused countless others to become more conscious of their spending — resorting to cheap staples rather than more expensive options at the grocery store.

Pro Tip
“We don’t need very expensive ingredients to have delightful and tasty meals at home,” she said.

“I keep an arsenal of canned beans in my pantry at all times,” she said.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
According to Feeding America, about four out of every 10 people who visited a food bank from March through June of last year were first-time visitors. As the winter holidays approached, more than 80% of food pantries were serving more people than the year prior.

Pro Tip
“You get rice and beans from a food pantry and then you doctor that up with your onion, your green pepper and your garlic and you use chili powder, garlic powder [and] onion powder,” Wesley said.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

How to Stretch Your Ingredients and Your Dollars

When it comes to keeping your kitchen stocked with those supplementary meal-enhancing ingredients, Wesley recommends picking up a few items here and there when you grocery shop.
Adding a grain — like rice, quinoa or barley — to a meal can also help make a dish stretch. Wesley likes cooking a bunch of one grain over the weekend so she has it ready to add to meals throughout the week.
Preparing servings in advance can also save you time on busy weekdays — and saving time can be so valuable. No more grabbing fast food on those days when you have no energy to cook. The food is already ready.
The key to making satisfying dishes from cheap ingredients is to incorporate kitchen staples like onion, garlic, peppers, spices, dried herbs, butter and eggs.
Pandemic-related layoffs and income loss have driven many people to community food pantries for the first time in their lives.
“There is something magical about black beans,” Wesley said. “For maybe a dollar or two in ingredients, you have this meal that is very hearty, very filling, full of fiber and is going to stay with you for a long time.”

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

“If you went to the store and tried to buy it all in one day or one shopping trip it would be quite expensive,” she said.
Canned goods should not be overlooked when it comes to creating great meals, Wesley said.
Another of her inexpensive meal ideas: Crack some eggs you pick up from your neighborhood food bank into a pan with onions, peppers and maybe tomatoes and mushrooms. You can make a big scramble for less than a dollar.