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Spring is the perfect time to clear out forgotten canned goods in your pantry. Try these easy meal ideas to put them to use. Photo credit: Depositphotos.
Spring is the perfect time to clear out forgotten canned goods in your pantry. Try these easy meal ideas to put them to use. Photo credit: Depositphotos.
Associated Press

By Anne Mauney, MPH, RD

It’s officially spring, and with that comes the urge to declutter and start fresh. While busy clearing out your closets, don’t forget to consider the pantry, where food often gets shoved to the back and forgotten.

Before your next grocery store visit, consider what you already have on hand in the pantry that needs to be used up before it expires. Then, read on for ideas for using up some of those pantry items to make simple, creative and delicious meals.

Meal ideas using pantry staples

Now that you have your list of pantry items that need to get used up before they go bad, simply find your item on the list below and give one of these easy meal ideas a shot.

1. Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are a common ingredient in chili and soup like minestrone, but here’s something a little different to try. Toss a couple of chicken breasts in a pan, pour a can of diced tomatoes over them, put a lid on and simmer over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

That’s it – dinner is ready. If you want some veggies, add a big handful of fresh baby spinach to the pan a couple of minutes before it’s ready to eat and it will wilt down beautifully. Serve atop rice or pasta or enjoy as is.

2. Rice

Did you know that rice is not only a delicious side dish, but also great on salad? Try topping your next salad with rice or another grain – barley and farro are both great options here.

Adding a grain on top of salad adds carbohydrates to the meal, which will keep you feeling full longer. If you often find yourself hungry again a mere hour after having a salad, adding a carbohydrate to the meal can make a big difference in satiety.

Or, for a fast and easy variation on fried rice, saute some frozen shelled edamame, cooked rice and frozen mixed veggies in a pan with olive oil and a splash of soy sauce. Stir in beaten eggs; cook until the egg is scrambled and cooked through.

3. Canned beans

Beans are packed with fiber and are a great, affordable source of vegetarian protein. They also happen to be a delicious addition to many different meals.

If you have black beans on hand, try making homemade by putting chips on a sheet pan and topping them with drained and rinsed canned black beans, any veggies you might have on hand like chopped bell peppers and cheese. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 375 F and you have yourself a meal.

Looking to use up chickpeas? Try making homemade hummus – using canned beets is a unique option to try here – or toss drained and rinsed canned chickpeas on top of a salad to add texture and protein to the mix.

As for white beans, they are great in soups – especially anything with chicken in it, as the flavors go together beautifully.

4. Pasta

Pasta is a classic quick-cooking go-to dinner. For something a little unique that uses almost entirely pantry staples, follow these quick instructions.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain, then add the pasta back into the pot, along with drained and rinsed canned white beans and canned tuna. Add a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a squeeze of lemon and enjoy.

5. Canned seafood

Canned seafood like tuna and salmon is full of protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, and is already prepared and ready to eat, making it a great time saver.

If you aren’t a fan of mayonnaise-packed tuna salad, try a variation made with plain Greek yogurt and a squirt of Dijon mustard. Or skip the dairy and mix the tuna with a mashed ripe avocado and a squirt of Dijon mustard. Both of these tuna salads are great served with crackers, as a sandwich or in a wrap.

6. Jarred salsa

Jarred salsa is, of course, a great dip option to devour a bag of chips, but it can also be used to make a really simple Mexican-themed shredded chicken.

Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker, pour a jar of salsa on top, and heat on low heat for six to eight hours or high heat for three to four hours. Once cooked, shred the chicken in the slow cooker so it absorbs even more of the sauce, then enjoy it in tacos or over rice.

7. Coconut milk

Coconut milk adds richness and creaminess to dishes while keeping them dairy free (and keeping you from ending up with spoiled dairy). If you’ve got a can of coconut milk in the pantry, Elle Penner, MPH, RD, a Registered Dietitian and creator of the blog , offers a great way to use it.

“Elevate your morning by swapping out half the water you typically use to cook oats with coconut milk instead for a creamy twist,” explains Penner. “Top your coconut oatmeal with sliced bananas, crunchy walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon for added flavor and nutritional goodness.”

You can also use coconut milk instead of regular milk to add a tropical flair to French toast.

8. Vinegar

If you haven’t tried making your own salad dressing, give it a shot – it’s quick and easy and much more flavorful than store-bought dressings.

To make a simple , mix together equal parts olive oil and vinegar (balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar are all great here), a spoonful of Dijon mustard and the juice from half a . Whisk together and enjoy. Anne Mauney is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Masters of Public Health in Nutrition, and lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband and two children. She has been sharing simple and delicious healthy recipes on her blog since 2009, and her recipes and nutrition tips have been featured in numerous online and print publications.

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