Combining Pre-Made and Homemade for Cooked-at-Home Meals

We’re all becoming pros at cooking from the pantry. We can scan our shelves and freezers and quickly make something out of almost nothing.

Just a few weeks ago, I would look at my full pantry and say, “We have nothing to eat.” Or when I didn’t feel like cooking, I could find any excuse to go out instead of eating in. I also took quick trips to the grocery store for granted. If I was missing one ingredient, I wouldn’t think anything of making a special trip to get cilantro or a couple of lemons.

I now understand the value – both in time and money – of substitution. We’ve all become more resourceful during this time of social distancing. We’ve done it out of necessity, but I wonder now how much of it will stick. I’m hoping it will.

One gift my family has been given in the midst of this crisis is time. My 10-year-old twin girls had a baking day, where they made chocolate chip muffins, cornbread, lemon bundt cake and a yellow cake with buttercream frosting and a layer of blue sprinkles so thick they crunched in your mouth. Between their normal routine of school, soccer, tennis and ballet, they wouldn’t normally have time for a baking marathon like that.

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Lemon Bundt Cake made by Mary Kate. Fewer activities means more time for baking!

I’ve found that we’re all less likely to throw food in the trash. We usually cook just enough for dinner, but will sometimes have enough for lunch the next day. Meals have become something we look forward to more than ever, so I’ve tried to avoid leftovers. But simple meals eaten at the table continue to bring us together, anchoring us in this time when our kids are looking at us for reassurance. Favorites like grilled cheeseburgers and spaghetti and garlic bread or a pizza delivered to the door (I’m appreciating this now more than ever) are fun, bright spots in my family’s days.

Here are a few recipes using pantry staples you may want to try.


This is a versatile recipe, so feel free to substitute the pepper jack cheese for cheddar, or use Mexican crema for the sour cream.

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

Serves 4 to 6

  • 6 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 3 cups salsa verde
  • 16 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded
  • 8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 (15-ounce) container sour cream
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine chicken, 2 cups salsa and half of cheese. Spoon chicken mixture down center of each tortilla, then roll up. Place tortillas, seam side down, in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
  2. Bake for 20 minutes or until tortillas begin to crisp. Combine sour cream and remaining 1 cup salsa, then pour over tortillas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 15 more minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted.

You may already have everything you need to make this delicious tuna salad, perfect for a homeschool lunch break.

Tuna with White Beans

Serves 4

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 (4.5-ounce) cans solid white tuna, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Note: For extra color and nutrition, add a chopped tomato to the mix and then serve the salad on baby spinach leaves.

  1. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, salt, pepper and cloves. Add tuna and beans, tossing and mixing to combine.

Everyone in my family likes this chicken. If you have any fresh zucchini, you can throw it on the grill with the chicken.

Greek Grilled Chicken and Couscous

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 cup Greek salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken, breasts or thighs
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  1. Whisk together salad dressing and yogurt. Add chicken and marinate 4 hours or more. (Can be overnight).
  2. Grill chicken, cooking until fully done and juices run clear when cut.
  3. Serve with couscous, and sprinkle with feta cheese.

Couscous:

  • 3/4 cup uncooked plain couscous
  • 1 cup chopped and peeled cucumber
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup Greek salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  1. Prepare couscous according to package directions. Add cucumber and remaining ingredients, tossing to combine.

Little kids will have fun helping make these easy brownie bites. If you don’t have peanut butter cups, use any kind of chocolate candy.

Brownie Buttons

Makes about 20 mini brownies

  • 1 brownie mix
  • 20 or so bite-size peanut butter cups
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray mini muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Make brownie mix according to package directions. Spoon batter into each cup, filling ¾ full. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven, then cool 3 minutes before gently pressing a peanut butter cup onto the top of each brownie. Cool 10 minutes, then remove from pan.

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