How to Eat from your Pantry When You Don’t Have Money for Groceries

As of last week, I left my job to do my PhD full-time, which means that my monthly take home income is drastically dwindling – to about half. I also spent way too much money during the holidays and buying up flights as I realized my name – which means safe journey – means I need to be traveling the world (but I’m seeing 5 countries in 2015 so it’s worth it!). Pretty much, I’m now #BrokePhiBroke and have to cut back on a lot of expenses. Aside from clothes and pampering (nails, eyebrows, massages, etc), the next biggest place I thought I could cut down spending is on my food budget. After reading a couple of budget blogs, I realized that I could cut my grocery budget, at least in the immediate future, by eating what’s already in my kitchen rather than heading to the grocery store. Here are a few quick recipes I’ve made in the past few weeks, just based on the random leftovers in my pantry. Since I was often throwing a meal together in a rush, I don’t have photos, but I borrowed some from around the web!

Canned Tuna: Tuna Melt

I’m sure you have canned tuna or chicken somewhere in your pantry that has been sitting there unbothered since 2012. First, double check the expiration date on your canned tuna/chicken, then open and drain. Add seasonings – I chose oregano, garlic salt, and sriracha sauce – right in the can and mash together to mix. Spread tuna onto a piece of bread (I used a rice cake), then top with shredded cheese. Place in the broiler for 5 minutes or until cheese melts!

Rice: Vegetable Stir-Fry

This might only apply to my African and Caribbean readers, but everybody has some rice laying around their pantry. It gets super old to eat rice plain, but you can spice it up by turning it into a nice hearty stir fry. Chop up an onion and throw in any vegetables (canned or frozen is super easy!) you have on hand – peppers, broccoli, peas, corn, green beans, etc – and sauté it all together. Then add Asian inspired seasonings: I randomly had a pack of general tso sauce, but you can use soy sauce, hoisin, sriracha, etc – just be sure to balance salty and sweet with some brown sugar. Mix the veggies with the rice and you have a quick, delicious Chinese inspired meal straight from your pantry.

Canned Vegetables: Fish + Veggies

Do you have canned string beans? Corn? Peas? Simplify lunch or dinner by sautéing a can with onions and garlic and your seasoning of choice, and serve with a simple pan seared white fish or chicken (frozen of course!) with lemon, herbs and butter. If you need grains, quickly boil some spaghetti and mix it with the juices and herbs from your cooked meat for a light, flavorful sauce!

Canned Beans: Chili

For some devastating reason I didn’t have any canned beans, but if I did I would open them all up, drain, rinse, and throw them in a pan with a can of tomatoes and the spiciest of all my spices for a hearty chili. Satisfying eaten alone, you can also serve over or beside rice.

Fruit Cups: Pineapple Chicken

I had a few pineapple fruit cups in my fridge and decided to see what would happen if I layered them with Asian spices over chicken. Mix the pineapple, juice and all, with whatever Asian seasonings you have on hand – I used general tso stir fry sauce, chili sauce, and sriracha. Sweet, tender, and spicy! I scarfed this down with some green beans.

Tortillas: Quesadillas

So quick, so easy, and so tasty, this Mexican staple is a 5 minute meal that can actually be healthy. Add cheese plus some canned beans, tomatoes, canned/frozen corn, and/or avocado, and have a fiesta!

What meals do you throw together from your panty?

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  1. I can’t wait to try these dishes! Thanks for sharing them. A lover of sardines, I enjoy eating them with Asian spicy noodles and spicy seasonings. Enjoy!

  2. Thanks so much for these ideas! Good luck with school and everything, it definitely is a full-time job!

  3. Hi Ijeoma,
    Thanks for all the information and work you put into your blog.
    Congratulations on taking the bold step to quit your job and pursue your PhD.
    Stay Blessed.