9 Pantry Dinner Ideas When You Need Something Quick

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December 6, 2022
pantry lentil marinara
Courtesy of Cookie + Kate

It’s 5:30 on a weeknight and you’ve just crashed through the door after a stressful day. So…what’s for dinner? Will it be takeout (again)? Or the package of Top Ramen that’s been hanging around the back of your pantry like a lonely, salty ghost? Or maybe, just maybe, could there be a way to toss together an actually tasty, wholesome dinner with stuff you have on hand?

Even when you’re pressed for time and ingredients are in short supply, we’re here to say that dinner doesn’t have to be a sad affair. A little creativity can make surprising mealtime magic out of foods you likely already have on hand. And since shopping your pantry is a whole lot cheaper than dining out, that’s good news for both your wallet and your taste buds. Here are a few pantry dinner ideas that are easy to throw together on a busy weeknight.

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1. Black Bean Chili with Avocado

pantry black bean chili

Shutterstock

If you’ve got black beans, tomato sauce, a couple of veggies, and a handful of spices, you’ve got the makings of chili — the delicious antidote to a chilly, hectic weeknight. This recipe calls for dried beans, but you can shortcut your way to an even faster dinner by using the canned variety. Pop all the ingredients into a pot and simmer. In 25 minutes you’ll have a hearty vegetarian dinner. (While you’re stocking your kitchen for plant-based meals, don’t miss our recommendations for pantry staples on a vegetarian diet.)

When the chili’s ready, garnish it with fixings like tortilla chips and salsa. And if you don’t have a fresh avocado, no worries, sour cream or Greek yogurt can add creaminess instead.

Try our recipe on Clean Plates.

2. 15-Minute Pea Soup

pantry pea soup

Courtesy of The Endless Meal

Some recipes that claim to take just minutes have hidden, time-consuming tasks like pre-chopping vegetables or stripping meat off a rotisserie chicken. Not so with this 15-minute pea soup! It’s the real deal, coming together in literally a quarter of an hour, thanks to staples like frozen peas, canned soup stock, and bagged spinach. Since it’s so veggie-loaded, it’s also a super healthy choice.

Try the recipe at The Endless Meal.

3. Mediterranean-Inspired Orzo Pasta Salad

pantry vegetable orzo

Courtesy of The Minimalist Baker

A Mediterranean diet may be known for its fresh fruits and veggies, but plenty of nutritious Med-flavored produce comes in cans and jars. The artichokes, olives, and bell peppers in this zippy orzo pasta salad can all be found in the pantry-friendly form. The olive oil-based dressing also features ingredients you’re likely to have stocked, like garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and lemon juice. Toss it all together and you’ll be eating in minutes.

Try the recipe from Minimalist Baker.

4. Baked Frittata

pantry vegetable frittata

Courtesy of Cookie + Kate

Just about everything goes with eggs! That’s the beauty of the frittata, a crustless quiche that welcomes fresh herbs, veggies, hash browns — whatever you have on hand, really — with open arms. Start with six eggs and a handful of cheese, add vegetables for color and nutrients, and you’re well on your way to dinner. A side of buttered toast or a fruit salad completes the quick and easy meal.

Try the recipe from Cookie + Kate.

5. 20-Minute Vegetable Curry

Vegetable curry

A curry might sound like a time-intensive dinner — after all, some recipes stew for hours to meld their flavors — but our 20-minute version gets an Indian-inspired meal on the table in a jiffy. A can of coconut milk sets the scene for a creamy, spicy sauce that envelops veggies and chickpeas.

Before you start the curry, don’t forget to grab a pot and your favorite rice. If you opt for quick-cooking jasmine or basmati, it should finish cooking in about equal time as the sauce.

Try our recipe on Clean Plates.

6. Super Quick and Easy Fried Rice

pantry vegetable fried rice

Shutterstock

It’s rice to the rescue again! Fried rice starts with the simplest of ingredients: rice (obviously), soy sauce, and aromatics like garlic and onions. From there, it’s a melting pot for all sorts of easy additions, from frozen veggies to eggs to meats. It’s usually easiest to make fried rice with pre-cooked, leftover grains, but if you happen to have minute rice in your pantry, it’ll work just as well (and almost as quickly).

Try the recipe at 100 Days of Real Food.

7. Cajun Chickpea Cakes

pantry cajun chickpea cakes

Courtesy of A Love Letter to Food

At dinnertime, a can of chickpeas can go further than you might think. Here, the humble beans turn into a celebration of Cajun flair alongside the “holy trinity” of bell pepper, celery, and onion. Mashed together and sautéed in olive oil, they make crispy cakes perfect for nestling atop rice or serving burger-style between buns. Elevate the Cajun flavor even further with a quick aioli of mayo, paprika, hot sauce, and lemon juice.

Try the recipe at A Love Letter to Food.

8. Yummy Salmon Burgers with Slaw

pantry salmon burgers

Courtesy of Pinch of Yum

If you’ve never hopped on the canned salmon train, maybe now’s the time. (Hey, you eat tuna from a can, right?) Canned salmon offers the quality protein and healthy omega-3 fats of fresh salmon but in a shelf-stable (and often cheaper) format. If you’re not into canned salmon, you can also find shelf-stable fish in pouches, like these ones from SeaBear.

This salmon burger recipe is a great introduction for canned salmon newbies — because nobody doesn’t like burgers! The slaw topping is optional, but if you happen to have the ingredients, go for it. It’s a creamy, crunchy upgrade that rounds out your meal with a serving of veggies.

Try the recipe at Pinch of Yum.

9. Hearty Spaghetti with Lentils and Marinara Sauce

pantry lentil marinara

Courtesy of Cookie + Kate

No meat? No problem. This spaghetti swaps out the usual ground beef for green or brown lentils, which create a hearty texture surprisingly similar to crumbled meat. A box of pasta and purchased marinara sauce complete the simple-but-satisfying picture. And did we mention this meal goes from pantry to table in 35 minutes?

Try the recipe at Cookie + Kate.

Read next: 7 Healthy & Delicious Meals You Can Make from Pantry Staples

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