How to Make Tasty Pantry Meals from Food Already In Your Home (+ 12 Recipes Using Leftovers)

From leftover recipes to pantry meals, here’s how to cook with food you’ve already bought!

woman looking in pantry to make pantry with food already in her home

Think you have nothing to cook? Think again! 🧑‍🍳

With food prices being so high, it’s important to make good use of the food you’ve bought. Sometimes that’s easier said than done! As the week’s groceries begin to dwindle, cooking appetizing pantry meals or leftover recipes can often be a challenge. However, I’m here to help you save some money by finding creative and tasty ways to utilize the food that’s already in your home!

Let’s hit your kitchen and do a little “shelf shopping!”

Head on over to your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Take an inventory of what you have in stock and then follow along to see what meals you can whip up when you shop your own shelves!

Miscellaneous vegetables in refrigerator drawer

First, use my favorite FREE recipe generator apps to find out what pantry meals you can make.

Now that you know what types of food you have on hand, it’s time to start cooking! Stumped on what to make already? No problem! Just grab your smart phone or computer. Right at your fingertips are FREE apps that will analyze the food in your house and tell you which pantry meals you can make! 🙌

Supercook Recipe Generator App

When you need inspiration, use one of these helpful apps to find an appetizing recipe:

Once you’ve selected the ingredients you have on hand, you can explore hundreds of recipes to put them to use!

Let’s pretend this is the food you have at home. Here are some tips on how to use it:

List of available food items

1. Have produce? Put it in your pantry meal before it goes to waste!

Nobody likes food waste! You won’t want to eat that tomato when it’s mushy or that avocado when it’s brown. While shelf shopping, try to utilize your produce while it’s still fresh. Even using lettuce to garnish a burger or taco is better than just tossing it in the trash.

Lettuce and sliced tomatoes on a cutting board with knife

Use the following ingredients to make a turkey burger with a side of fried rice:

  • Turkey burger
  • Chopped romaine lettuce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Salsa
  • Tomatoes
  • Rice (from your pantry or from leftover Chinese food)

vegetables on countertop

pantry with can organizers

2. Raid your supply of canned and frozen veggies.

These are fantastic staples to have in your cabinet. These ingredients may seem basic, but they are incredibly versatile. I often whip up canned tomatoes, rice, beans, frozen veggies, cheese, and taco seasoning to make a southwest veggie bowl. The ways to use veggies are endless!

Remember that sample pantry list from earlier? Throw some of those ingredients in a bowl and you have a tasty dish!

For example, you could use the following ingredients to make a quick and easy tofu bowl:

  • Tofu
  • Sweet potato
  • Frozen peas
  • 2 egg whites
  • Sour cream
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Sweet potatoes, peas, egg whites, and tofu in a bowl on kitchen counter is one of the easiest pantry meals

Multi-ingredient bowls like this are so easy to throw together. Combine a few different food groups for a balanced meal that won’t leave you feeling hungry. For example, pick a protein, a veggie, and a carb, throw in a little sauce or dressing and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded meal.

3. Don’t underestimate bread crumbs.

Many households tend to have a jar of bread crumbs tucked away in the back of their pantry. Put those bread crumbs to use! Your kiddos might just eat their greens, because bread crumbs are the perfect ingredient to jazz up your fresh or frozen vegetables!


Coconut oil, balsamic vinegar, sesame seeds and salt + pepper sitting on counter

4. Get saucy!

If you have ranch or salsa, use it to spice up your meal! If you’re all out of sauce, don’t fret. You can easily whip up some DIY dressings! It’s easier than you think!

In less than 10 minutes you can make these easy DIY dressings and sauces:

  • Honey balsamic sauce: Mix balsamic vinegar with olive oil, honey, and a little salt and pepper.
  • Sesame coconut dressing: Toast sesame seeds in coconut oil and add a little salt and pepper—so simple but so good!
  • East homemade Alfredo sauce: Heat milk, grated parmesan, sour cream, and garlic salt on the stove.
  • Lemon Dijon dressing: Mix lemon juice, dijon mustard, garlic salt, and olive oil in a bowl.

Also, be sure to check out Lina’s fave 5-minute salad dressing and try making our homemade Italian seasoning dressing packets!

scooping ramen noodle casserole out of dish

5. Cook up a casserole! They make great pantry meals.

Casseroles are SO EASY and they are a great way to make a quick meal for the whole family. They often taste better the second day, too – so don’t throw out those leftovers! Check out all our casserole recipes that you can make!

For example, you could mix these ingredients together to make a Tuna Ramen Casserole:

  • Canned tuna
  • Pasta or rice
  • Cheddar cheese soup
  • Black beans
  • Corn
  • Shredded cheese
  • Ramen noodle crunchies
  • salt & pepper to taste

Mix together all ingredients in a bowl and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees.

refrigerator with stacked glass containers inside containing leftover recipes

6. Don’t throw out yesterday’s dinner! Make some leftover recipes instead.

Okay, sometimes leftovers aren’t the most mouth-watering meal option. But with today’s grocery prices, why throw out perfectly good food? When analyzing your fridge, look for ingredients that can be combined with your leftovers to make something new and innovative. If you need some more tips on how to jazz up your leftovers, try making or altering one of our delicious recipes below!

try new leftover recipes like this thanksgiving pizza

7. Start a food exchange and try your friends’ leftover recipes instead.

Hip2Save’s Lina shared this great idea. Bored of eating the same thing three days in a row? Spice up your leftover recipes. If you don’t want to eat your own, start a leftover exchange with your friends, neighbors, or family. You might love what they have in their fridge and vice versa!

How long do leftovers last?

According to the Mayo Clinic, leftovers last 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. After that, your food becomes more susceptible to bacteria. If you want your leftovers to last longer, pop them in the freezer where they can stay good for up to 3 to 4 months (though I recommend eating them sooner).

Hip Tip: Consider getting a vacuum sealer to keep air from spoiling your food.

fork taking bite of chicken broccoli casserole which is one of our favorite leftover recipes

Pictured above – Collin’s fave meal, low-carb chicken and broccoli casserole. So good!

Every pantry, fridge, and freezer looks different, but hopefully, this shelf shopping exercise helps give you inspiration the next time you need to whip up some pantry meals!

Want to take the ultimate challenge in creating pantry meals?

While you’re in the food-saving spirit, check out our Financial Boot Camp which features a dedicated challenge to creating easy meals with what’s in your pantry! You’ll also discover additional money-saving tips to help get you on your way to a frugal lifestyle.

Don’t miss these other easy dinner ideas!