I wish I could say that all of my meals look like the ones you see on this blog — all smoky mac and cheese and pretty Pop-tarts –but that would be a lie. Though I do pride myself on being a decent and somewhat adventurous cook, sometimes I either don’t have the money for lots of particular ingredients or the time/willingness to go to the grocery store. And it’s the meals that I make in these moments that I want to discuss in this post.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a bit of a (sometimes scary) thrill to scouring your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what semblance of a meal you can come up with in the moment. And it certainly requires some creativity and innovation.
The big thing is that you have to be willing to mix everything together, because that’s usually what you need to do. Trying to find separate pieces to the puzzle will just leave you with a lot of random bland sides all next to each other. Throw them together and things turn into more of a meal.
My ultimate go-to is: tortillas.
After her spaghetti, this is the second best recipe my mother ever gave me (yes, like “spaghetti,” my family apparently names our meals by the starch — priorities). You can have these (relatively) healthy, vegetarian, delicious guys ready in minutes.
- Bare bones version of tortillas: canned refried beans + tortillas (which can be kept in the freezer for months, no need to thaw beforehand) + cheese (preferably cheddar or some “Mexican” combo, but I’ve gotten creative before)
- Add-ons, if you’ve got them: greens, onions, garlic, sour cream, cilantro, avocado, tomatoes, salsa, peppers, chicken, whatever your heart desires
- Process: slap a tortilla on a microwaveable plate, smear some refried beans on, sprinkle as much cheese on top as you want (or have), and microwave until gooey (I usually go for 1:15, it depends on your microwave). Add on all other toppings, then either cut up or (my personal choice) fold it in half and then cut up (this method preserves the heat better and gives you more of an even mix of the ingredients)
Here are some other good meal combinations — I’m sure most of these can be altered to your liking! I’ve given them names to make them seem more legit, but they’re really just stuff I’ve thrown together.
- Light pasta: noodles + garlic + olive oil + herbs + whatever else is around (cheese, tomatoes, mixed greens)
- Tuna and rice: tuna + mayo + garlic salt + rice
- Baked tomato egg: egg + tomato paste + diced canned tomatoes + chickpeas, baked (+ toast, if possible)
- Sauteed chickpeas in tomato sauce: chickpeas + any veggies you have + canned tomatoes + tomato paste
- Marinara Croque Madame: buttered bread + cheese + egg + tomato sauce, baked
- Hearty noodle soup: chicken bouillon cubes or chicken broth + noodles + veggies (preferably some root veggies, like carrots and onions) + garlic
- Chickpea and avocado salad: chickpeas + avocado + veggies + vinaigrette (+ roasted tomatoes and garlic)
- PB&J (if you wanna go old school, drink some chocolate milk with it)
- Tuna sandwich (bonus points if it’s a tuna melt with avocado on top!)
- Grilled cheese
- Pancakes (don’t judge me)
In a similar vein, there are certain items that you probably want to have lying around for these very moments. I like to call them “high performers,” because they are versatile, relatively cheap, and (mostly) easy to store for long periods of time.
My High Performers:
- Rice (preferably boil-in-a-bag rice, that shit is awesome)
- Tortillas (kept in the freezer)
- Bread (also kept in the freezer, it lasts way longer and I prefer it toasted anyway)
- Chickpeas (I literally eat these at least 3x a week)
- Tomato paste
- Canned (diced) tomatoes
- Cherry tomatoes (they seem to keep longer than larger varieties)
- Tuna fish
- Chicken bouillon cubes
- Olive Oil
- Any canned beans (like refried beans)
- A really nice seasoning goes a long way, like the herbs de province sea salt pictured below (it was like $20, but all you need is a pinch each time and it makes anything taste amazing and feel like you’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel)