Turn pantry staples into complete COVID-19 quarantine meals

 COVID cereal_Large 

You’ve stocked your pantry full of canned tuna, peanut butter, tomato sauce, beans, pasta, rice and broth. But now, what do you do with it?

As a chef and program director of culinary outreach at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, I help people make better choices about their diets and teach them how to prepare healthful recipes using basic ingredients.

We’ve created what we call a “deserted-island food list” of pantry essentials to keep stocked at home anytime, whether there’s a pandemic or not. You can always make a meal out of the listed items.
Take this time to experiment with food at home and readjust your diet.

Think of eating less as a task than an opportunity to enjoy food and savor what you’ve taken the time to make.

Maybe make bread from scratch instead of relying on a packaged loaf. Or roast frozen vegetables instead of steaming them in a microwave. Got a bag of vegetables in your freezer? Let them thaw out overnight. Drain the liquid from the bag. Heat olive oil in a pan and add the thawed vegetables. By adding just a touch of fat and caramelizing the vegetables, you gain so much more flavor.

Got extra lettuce? Make a simple, nutrient-packed wrap. Lay the lettuce down and add some canned tuna. Add a splash of olive oil, lemon juice and A-1 sauce. Roll your wrap and enjoy like a sandwich.

Pantry essentials

  • Penne pasta
  • Unsweetened applesauce
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt/black pepper
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Dijon mustard
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Couscous
  • Brown sugar
  • Canned tuna in water
  • Marinara sauce
  • Whole grain rice
  • Garlic and onions
  • Unsalted butter
  • Eggs
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Lemons/limes
  • Bread dough
  • Almonds
  • Chicken/vegetable stock
  • Vegetable spray
  • Corn starch
  • Cumin, cinnamon, paprika, ginger, cayenne
  • Honey
  • Light mayonnaise
  • Red curry paste
  • Whole oats
  • Peanut butter
  • Light soy sauce
  • Vanilla extract
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Fresh sweet potatoes
  • Canned beans: black, cannellini
  • Mixed greens: kale, spinach, romaine
  • Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries

Try these breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes that incorporate ingredients from our list of pantry essentials.

Butterscotch Oatmeal
Makes two, 8-ounce portions

1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cups milk
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup chopped dried fruits
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
Cinnamon to taste

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together egg, milk and brown sugar. Mix in the oats. When oatmeal starts to boil, cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and cinnamon to taste.
  2. Pour into serving bowl, top with dollop of stirred Greek yogurt, then top with chopped dried fruit.
  3. Enjoy.

Penne Pasta With Peanut and Thai Red Curry Sauce
Makes two portions

1 1/2 cups penne pasta
1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
1 tablespoon red Thai curry paste
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup hot water or vegetable stock
1 lime cut into quarters

  1. Cook 1 1/2 cups penne pasta per instructions on box. Drain well, then shock with cold water until pasta is cold. Let drain in colander. 
  2. Mix 1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter, 1 tablespoon red Thai curry paste, 1/2 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon honey. Add 1/8-1/4 cup hot water or vegetable stock until it reaches desired thickness.
  3. Sauté penne in a bit of butter. Add peanut sauce stirring constantly until heated through. Add water or broth if too thick.
  4. Place in bowl and squeeze fresh lime juice over pasta.
  5. Enjoy.

Mediterranean Stew With Couscous
8 portions 

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large onion, peeled, chopped into large dices
3 garlic bulbs roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
14-ounce can diced tomatoes
14-ounce can black beans
2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup couscous
Dried fruit, optional

  1. Heat olive oil in large pot. Add diced, sweet potatoes and sauté until lightly browned. Add chopped garlic until very aromatic and onions are lightly browned.
  2. Add cumin, cinnamon, ginger and cayenne until aroma is released.
  3. Add diced tomatoes, black beans and vegetable stock. Bring to boil, then simmer covered for 15 minutes. Remove lid, add couscous and dried diced fruit and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve with grilled naan bread or fresh pita bread.
  6. Enjoy.

This dish freezes well. If you plan to freeze, do not add couscous until you reheat the stew to at least 165 degrees, mix well and cover the pot for 5 minutes.

James Warner is the associate director of Hospital Nutrition Services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.