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9 Easy Pantry Recipes You Can Make for Cheap

Life is busy for all of us, so we need a few ways to make dinner fast and easy by using ingredients we already have at home. 

And easy meals don’t have to be boring. My friend Jenna Waters is a registered dietician nutritionist and mom of four, and I love how she makes cooking on a budget super simple. Maybe you’ve seen her cook with me before! She’s brilliant at reframing what it means to cook healthy and affordable meals. 

Jenna’s Hearty Mexican Chili 
Rachel’s Go-To Tacos
Jenna’s Chicken Burrito Bowls
Jenna’s Chicken Scampi
Rachel’s Go-To Spaghetti 
Rachel’s Favorite Pizza
White Bean Chicken Chili 
Jenna’s Stuffed Potatoes—3 Ways
Turtle Black Bean Brownies 

Our pantry recipes will use staple ingredients you probably have already, or you can customize them based on what is in your pantry and fridge. Here are some tips to help you get creative:

Your protein isn’t just meat anymore. If you’re out of meat, check your pantry for beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. And remember, eggs, deli meat and cheese will check this box, no matter which meal of the day you’re on.

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Your carb can be any number of things hiding in the back of your pantry—potatoes, rice, quinoa and pasta, to name a few. Remember those wheat spaghetti noodles you bought during your health kick last year, but your husband hated them, so you never made them again? Time to suck it up, buttercup! 

Your vegetable can be fresh, frozen or in the pantry. Just peek in the back of your freezer for the forgotten veggie medley you bought last year. The more vegetables you eat, the more satisfied you’ll feel. Jenna says, “The nutrients [in veggies] make our bodies feel satisfied with less.”

Okay, from our kitchens to yours, here are nine easy pantry recipes:

Mexican 

The Cruze family can’t get enough Mexican. Seriously, we have it at least once a week—and even better, it’s cheap! Here are some of our favorite go-to Mexican pantry meals.

Jenna’s Hearty Mexican Chili 

Jenna says: “The veggies, herbs and bone broth make this chili delicious AND an immune-boosting powerhouse! Each serving has more than 100% of the daily recommendation of Vitamin C and one-third of the daily recommendation of Vitamin A—both vital nutrients for immune function. This recipe can be customized based on what you have in your pantry and freezer already, and it’s a great freezer meal too.”

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 10

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 pound ground beef (or any ground meat, like turkey or bison)
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon ranch seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, diced
  • 32 ounces chicken broth (bone broth is ideal, but beef or vegetable broth would work)
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 (12-ounce) package frozen corn
  • 1 (12-ounce) package frozen cauliflower rice
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Toppings (optional):

  • avocado, sliced
  • unflavored Greek yogurt
  • fresh cilantro

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, drizzle avocado oil and add onions. Sauté onions until fragrant (approximately 1–2 minutes). Add in garlic and bell peppers and cook an additional 1–2 minutes until peppers soften. Season with sea salt.
  2. Mix in ground meat, breaking up into smaller pieces with a spoon. Continue to mix around until all beef is cooked and no longer pink. Season with taco, ranch and Italian seasonings.
  3. Add in diced sweet potatoes and broth. Cover and bring to a boil for about 5–10 minutes until sweet potatoes are fork tender.
  4. Add black beans, pinto beans, tomatoes, marinara sauce, corn, cauliflower rice and cocoa powder. Stir to combine and simmer on low until ready to serve.
  5. Top with sliced avocado and/or unflavored yogurt (or cultured sour cream) and fresh cilantro.

Note: For a little extra sweetness, try roasting the sweet potatoes first. Toss sweet potatoes with a bit of avocado oil and roast at 400 degrees F until tender (about 20–30 minutes). Then, add them to all the other ingredients (skip the boiling part).

Rachel’s Go-To Tacos 

Who doesn’t love Taco Tuesday? And when you see how easy this taco recipe comes together, any day can be Taco Tuesday. Stretch the taco meat out over several meals and just switch up the toppings to make it different each time.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 adults 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef 
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 12 taco shells 
  • taco toppings of your choice

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, brown ground beef over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until beef is thoroughly cooked and no longer pink. Stir frequently. Drain. 
  2. Stir in chili powder, salt and garlic powder. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. 
  3. Put meat in taco shells. Top with whatever chopped veggies, cheese or other toppings your heart desires.

Jenna’s Chicken Burrito Bowls 

Jenna says: “These are a family favorite and weeknight pantry meal staple in our house. They’re easy to throw together with the ingredients we have available. I like throwing in leftover roasted veggies (like sweet potatoes) as a healthy and satisfying filler!”

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: Varies from 30–50 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

Chicken

  • 1 pound chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 1 tablespoon coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dijon-style mustard
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning

Rice

  • 8 ounces brown rice
  • 16 ounces chicken broth

Beans

  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

Veggies

  • 1 teaspoon avocado oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • pinch sea salt

Toppings

  • avocado, sliced (or guacamole)
  • Monterey jack cheese
  • unflavored Greek yogurt (or sour cream)

Directions:

Chicken

  1. In a large dish or gallon-size plastic bag, combine chicken and marinade ingredients. Seal bag and mix chicken with marinade. Refrigerate and marinate for 30 minutes (or overnight).
  2. When done marinating, grill until chicken is cooked through and internal temp reaches 165 degrees F.
  3. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes and cut into small cubes. Set aside. Meanwhile, prepare rice and veggies and warm the black beans.

Rice

Instant Pot: Combine rice and broth and set on rice setting (10 minutes).

Stovetop: Bring chicken broth to a boil, add rice, reduce to low, and cook covered for 45 minutes until tender.

Veggies

  1. In a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, add avocado oil and bell peppers.
  2. Sauté for 1–2 minutes until they begin to soften.
  3. Add onions and stir continuously so they don’t burn. Season with salt. Cook until onions are caramelized and cooked through. If you need more liquid, add a little bit of water.
  4. To assemble burrito bowls, add a scoop of rice, black beans, veggies and chicken. Top with toppings of choice!

30 Minute Meals 

If putting dinner together isn’t quick and easy, it’s going to turn into Chick-fil-A night at the Cruze house. But that’s not always budget-friendly! These recipes make the rotation because they can be tossed together super fast.

Jenna’s Chicken Scampi

Guys, this pantry recipe is even better than Olive Garden. If you don’t believe homemade can beat the restaurant, you haven’t made this. And if you’ve never had Chicken Scampi, it’s a chicken pasta with a delicious garlicky, lemony, white wine sauce. 

Jenna says: “Chicken scampi is a quick and easy two-pan, weeknight comfort dish. It's also really versatile based on whatever you have. Don't have chicken? Substitute shrimp! Don't have bell peppers? No worries! Substitute a different veggie or leave them out altogether. Don't have spaghetti? Just use another kind of noodle. I think this will become a family favorite.”

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound angel hair pasta (or penne or fettucine noodles)
  • 1 pound chicken breasts (or chicken tenders or shrimp)
  • sea salt
  • Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup white wine (or chicken broth)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the angel hair pasta according to package instructions until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, season chicken breasts on each side with salt and Italian seasoning. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook chicken on both sides until golden brown–about 2 minutes on each side (internal temperature should be 165 degrees F). Remove chicken from the pan and set aside. Once it’s cooled, slice into thin strips.
  3. Add garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant, then add red and orange peppers and sauté until tender, about 1–2 minutes. Pour in white wine, scraping bottom of the pan to loosen any bits of flavoring. Stir well to combine. Add in butter, lemon juice and parsley. Whisk to combine until butter is melted. (To get a thinner sauce, add more butter or olive oil.)
  4. Add in the cooked pasta and the chicken and toss until well combined. Top with parmesan cheese.

Rachel’s Go-To Spaghetti 

Let’s keep talking about Italian food. That spaghetti in your pantry is quick, easy and super cheap. Better yet, it’s so versatile you can use some of the same ingredients in my taco recipe and several of Jenna’s recipes.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 adults

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef 
  • 1 package spaghetti noodles 
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce 
  • olive oil

Directions:

  1. Cook spaghetti noodles according to the package directions. 
  2. While the noodles cook, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. 
  3. Add beef to the large skillet and cook for 7 minutes, or until beef is crumbled and no longer pink. Stir occasionally. Drain. 
  4. Add spaghetti sauce to the skillet and stir into the beef. 
  5. Simmer covered over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until hot. 
  6. Drain the cooked noodles. 
  7. Plate the noodles and pour meat sauce on top. 
  8. Sprinkle with cheese to make it even better! 

Rachel’s Favorite Pizza 

What would a recipe collection from me be without pizza? This one is flavorful and has lots of toppings and pretty colors, and my kids love helping out with the toppings. It’s fun for the whole family.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20–25 minutes
Serves: 4 adults

Ingredients:

  • flour (just a pinch) 
  • cornmeal (just a pinch) 
  • fresh pizza dough (you can normally find this in the bakery section) 
  • spaghetti sauce 
  • shredded mozzarella cheese 
  • goat cheese 
  • banana peppers 
  • sliced pepperoni

Instructions:

  1. Take pizza dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for an hour or so to soften. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
  3. Spread a pinch of flour and cornmeal on a clean, flat surface. 
  4. Place softened dough in the center of the flour and cornmeal mixture. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. (You may want to put a little flour on your rolling pin as well so it doesn’t stick.)
  5. Once your dough is rolled out, lay it on a nonstick pan or a hot pizza stone. 
  6. Next, add your sauce. Using a spoon or a spatula, spread your desired amount of sauce evenly over the dough. As you spread the sauce, make sure to leave about 1/2 inch uncovered around the outside edge so you have a nice crust. 
  7. Now for the cheese! Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella evenly over the sauce. 
  8. Slice the goat cheese—I normally do about 1/4-inch slices—and spread out on top of the mozzarella. 
  9. Add pepperoni and banana peppers until you have the perfect amount. 
  10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (cooking times can vary, so check the instructions on your dough) and get ready for the best pizza ever. Buon appetito! 

TIP: If you have a pizza stone (all of you pizza lovers out there know what I’m talking about), be sure to put that in the oven before it preheats. That way, the pizza stone will be nice and hot. 

Crowd Pleasers

I love getting my kids to try new meals, but sometimes I just want to make something fast that I know is going to make everybody happy. You can’t go wrong with these crowd pleasers—trust me!

White Bean Chicken Chili 

You guys, this is the best chili recipe you’ll ever make. A bold claim, I know—especially since you’ve already seen Jenna’s chili recipe. But make one this week and the other next week to decide for yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 8–10 hours
Serves: 4 adults

Ingredients:

  • 3–4 chicken breasts (frozen or thawed) 
  • 2 (10-ounce) cans Rotel 
  • 2–3 (15-ounce) cans white great northern beans (liquid and all) 
  • 12 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese 
  • 1/2 cup of onion 
  • cumin to taste

Directions:

  1. Put everything in a Crock-Pot on low for 8 to 10 hours. 
  2. Once the chicken is cooked, pull it apart with a fork and shred. Serve with Fritos and sour cream.

Jenna’s Stuffed Potatoes—3 Ways 

Jenna says: “Stuffed potatoes are one of the easiest and most flexible meals. It's a great way to reinvent leftovers (trust me, your fam will never know it) and save time! You can use regular white potatoes or sweet potatoes and stuff them with things like BBQ chicken, Hawaiian chicken or chili with tons of yummy toppings!”

TIP: If you scrub the potatoes before baking, you can eat the skin on both sweet potatoes and russet potatoes for a major boost of fiber and nutrients.

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 8 medium sweet potatoes (or russet potatoes)
  • olive oil
  • toppings of choice (see recommendations below)

Barbeque Chicken

  • 2 pounds chicken breasts
  • sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 8 ounces Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce

Hawaiian Chicken

  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 (8-ounce) cans (about 1 1/2 cups) crushed pineapple in pineapple juice
  • 1 cup Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Bar-B-Q Sauce

Chili

  • Use Jenna’s Hearty Mexican Chili recipe

Directions:

Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes:

Wash the skin well and spread sweet potatoes out on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F until soft all the way through. This will depend on the size and shape of the potato, but is usually about 45–60 minutes.

Russet Potatoes:

Wash the skin well and poke each potato with a fork all over. Rub with olive oil and season with salt. Spread potatoes out on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F until soft throughout—about 60–75 minutes.

Barbecue Chicken

Instant Pot:

Season chicken with salt and garlic powder and pour half of the barbecue sauce over the chicken. Stir until chicken is well coated. Set instant pot on meat setting (15 minutes). Release pressure, shred chicken with two forks, add remaining barbecue sauce, and toss to combine.

Crockpot:

Follow Instant Pot instructions, but cook on low for 6–8 hours (until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F), then shred with two forks and add remaining sauce.

Barbecue chicken sweet potatoes: Top sweet potatoes with barbecue chicken, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and cilantro.

Barbecue chicken russet potatoes: Top russet potatoes with barbecue chicken, sour cream and chives.

Hawaiian Chicken

Instant Pot: Set instant pot on sauté setting and drizzle avocado oil. Add onions and garlic. Sauté until onions are softened and fragrant (about 1–2 minutes), then remove from heat. Put chicken thighs, crushed pineapple and barbecue sauce into the instant pot and stir to combine. Set instant pot on meat setting (15 minutes). Release pressure and shred chicken with two forks.

Crockpot: Follow Instant Pot instructions, but cook on low for 6–8 hours (until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F), then shred with two forks.

Hawaiian chicken is delicious on top of either sweet potatoes or russet potatoes.

Chili-Stuffed Potatoes

Use Hearty Mexican Chili recipe and dollop on top of sweet potatoes or russet potatoes. Top with sour cream (or unflavored Greek yogurt), avocado/guacamole, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes or corn chips.

Turtle Black Bean Brownies 

Jenna says: “In case you have an extra can of black beans lying around, why not make some fudgy turtle brownies? Nobody will ever guess they're made out of black beans and have 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. They’re a perfect, gooey chocolatey treat! Your kids will love them.”

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons butter (or almond butter)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Toppings:

  • 15 pitted dates
  • 2/3 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pecans

Directions:

  1. Place the dates in a glass of warm water and set aside to let them soften.
  2. Meanwhile, place black beans in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Add in eggs, cocoa powder, maple syrup, butter, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Blend until well combined.
  4. Add in chocolate chips and stir until well combined. Pour into a greased 8-by-8-inch baking dish.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20–30 minutes until the middle is set (and not jiggly).
  6. While the brownies are baking, drain the water from the dates and place them in the food processor. Add in almond milk, vanilla and a pinch of sea salt. Stir in 1/2 of the pecans.
  7. Pour the caramel pecan mixture over the brownies and sprinkle on the remaining pecans. Refrigerate until cooled.
  8. Slice and enjoy! Store in the refrigerator to keep them fresh and yummy!

Download These 9 Pantry Recipes!

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3 Ways to Make the Most of Pantry Meals 

No matter what goodness you put together from your pantry, remembering these three things will make your money and meals go further. 

Make extra of what you have and freeze it.

This will make your life even easier later in the week. It also eliminates food waste!

Reach out to farmers in your area. 

If you’re not finding what you need at the grocery store, or want to avoid it altogether, buy from your local farmers. This is a win for you and them, and you can find them on localharvest.org.

Keep your pantry organized.  

I know it seems like a chore, but organizing your pantry can actually save you time and money. It will help you keep track of what you have so you don’t accidentally go to the store and re-buy ingredients you already have on the shelf.

I hope this helps you try new, delicious recipes while sticking to your budget. Keep all your meals budget-friendly by using our budgeting app, EveryDollar. Learn how to budget, track expenses, pay off debt, and so much more with EveryDollar. And right now, you've got nothing to lose by starting a free trial! Start yours today.

Rachel Cruze

About the author

Rachel Cruze

Rachel Cruze is a two-time #1 national bestselling author, financial expert and host of The Rachel Cruze Show. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Today and Live With Kelly & Ryan, among others. Since 2010, Rachel has served at Ramsey Solutions, where she teaches people how to avoid debt, save money, budget and win with money at any stage in life. Learn More.

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