Miscellaneous canned and dried food from the pantry

Tips for pantry cooking during a pandemic

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During these times of staying at home due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s probably fair to say you’re spending a lot more time in the kitchen.

And since grocery store runs are more limited, next time your family asks “What’s for dinner?,” turn to your pantry and get creative.

“I like to use the five food groups and try to get at least three of them in each meal – such as some sort of protein, a grain and a vegetable. That makes it easy for me to think through what to include in a meal,” said Kaela Ketcham, a clinical dietitian in the OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center Weight Management Center at the RiverPlex in Peoria.

“Use your food groups to guide you because that will give you a variety of food in your diet, which provides a variety of nutrients to keep you healthy,” she said.

What to keep in the pantry

When it comes to your pantry (freezer and fridge, too), Kaela said to focus on the five food groups – protein, grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy.

She offers the following tips on what three staple items from each food group you should always have on hand for easy-to-create meals.


  • Canned meat, such as canned tuna, salmon or chicken
  • Nuts or nut butter
  • Beans – canned or dried


  • Oatmeal – such as quick oats old-fashioned type
  • Rice – instant, microwaveable or just old-fashioned packaged; brown or  white, but Kaela recommends  brown as it has a little more fiber
  • Popcorn – unpopped kernels

“I think it’s good to have a couple snack options on hand,” Kaela said. “Go to popcorn.org and they have cool popcorn recipes, some that use popcorn for substituting in recipes for bread crumbs or as topping on fish.”


  • Canned fruit – in juice or water instead of heavy syrup
  • Frozen fruit – this is another great option because it lasts longer than fresh fruit
  • Dried fruit – the portion is smaller, but you’re going to get some nutrients and they last longer than fresh fruit


  • Canned vegetables – get them with no salt added; if you can’t find them you can always rinse the vegetables off to reduce the sodium content
  • Frozen vegetables – always a good option and can be quick
  • Single-serve vegetables – these are great if you need a quick lunch or snack. They look like a fruit cup and are already pre-cooked, so you just heat them up.


“This can be a little more difficult because a lot of our dairy is not as shelf stable. But I did find some cool options if going to grocery store rarely,” Kaela said.

  • Shelf stable milk – individual packaged milk that doesn’t have to be refrigerated until it is opened
  • Evaporated milk – 60% of the water has been evaporated. “It can be used to make normal milk – just use a 1 to 1 ratio with water,” Kaela said. “It’s a great option and comes in skim, low fat and whole varieties.”
  • Individual containers of yogurt – less waste than buying a large container

It’s all about the recipe

“This recipe for Italian Bean Salad is a great way to use canned vegetables,” Kaela said. “This salad uses many shelf-stable ingredients and is full of fiber.”


  • 1 – 15-ounce can of black beans
  • 1 – 15-ounce can of kidney beans
  • 1 – 15-ounce can of corn
  • ½ medium onion, thinly diced
  • ½ cup diced bell pepper
  • ½ cup fat-free Italian salad dressing
  • Salt and pepper (optional)


  1. Drain and rinse the canned beans and corn.
  2. In a large bowl, combine black beans, corn, kidney beans, onion and bell pepper.
  3. Pour the salad dressing over the vegetables and toss lightly.
  4. Cover the bowl and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.
  5. If desired, drain before serving. Serves 6.
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About Author: Lisa Coon

Lisa Coon is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where she has worked since August 2016.  A Peoria native, she is a graduate of Bradley University with a degree in journalism. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Iowa and Illinois.

She lives in Groveland with her husband and son. In her free time she likes to cook, bake and read. She freely admits that reality TV is a weakness, and she lives by the quote, “The beach is good for the soul.”

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