Frugal Life

How to use what you have when food (and money) is running low.

  Did you ever look at the calendar and realize payday is still 7 days away and you are out of everything?? Or worse, you’re not sure when that next paycheck is coming??  Lately, the holidays have been zapping up what (little) extra money is around.   

  There are pantry challenges all over the internet testing people to use what they have instead of buying more. For some people (like me) it’s out of necessity more than a fun challenge.   

  I have been there (and currently live there). With 5 in my family and living on one income, it takes some creativity to get by with what we have. Sometimes you have to take a good hard look at what you have and use it in a new or different way.  So scour that freezer and take a good hard look at that pantry and use what you have before spending any money! Disclaimer: these may not be the healthiest meals of all time, but sometimes you have to do what you have to. Here are some quick ideas for when you are in a pinch and have to use what you have lying around.   



  • Add a little butter/ salt and Parmesan or cheddar cheese.
  • If you have some extra broth, cook pasta in broth to make it more flavorful and drain (add butter, salt and pepper)
  • If you have broth you can always throw a fresh veggies in (corn, celery, carrots) to make a quick noodle soup.
  • Rinse with cold water and add salad dressing (ranch and Italian work great). Add peas to ranch pasta and pickles/tomatoes to the Italian pasta if you have it.
  • Toss in some garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
  • Throw in a little olive oil and steamed broccoli (if your kids will eat it!)  Gina from Skinnytaste has a great recipe here.



  • Throw it in the slow cooker with some seasonings (Adobo, seasoning salt, garlic powder etc.) and some water- it will be so tender! You can toss it on anything.
  • Chicken salad (add a little mayo, salt or avocado)
  • Top an easy salad with it.
  • Mix with some pasta or rice and a can of cream of chicken soup and bake it in the oven.
  • Saute in Italian dressing and add any extra shredded cheese on top during the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Add a little taco seasoning to the chicken, if you have some lettuce and tortilla wraps – bam. Chicken tacos.
  • Have egg noodles? Add a little chicken and the scrapings from cooking  (or boiled water). It can make a quick chicken noodle soup.
  • Quesadillas- If you have tortillas or can make them easily, add cooked chicken to some cheddar cheese and cook in a frying pan with a bit of butter.
  • Cut it up into small pieces,  cover with Nacho Doritos and bake.
  • Sounds weird, but it is so good! Genius Kitchen ha a great recipe with Italian dressing mix and brown sugar here.



  • Potato pancakes. All you need is an egg, some flour and oil or butter to cook them in. This recipe from Stay at home mommy uses potatoes, breadcrumbs and eggs (and is so good too!)
  • Baked potato night. Bake potatoes right on the rack and use different toppings (whatever you have). Cheddar cheese, broccoli, chili, butter, etc to make it more interesting.
  • Cook and mash them and place them on top of cooked ground meat for a quick Sheppard’s pie. (You can always add corn, cheese or peas if you have them.)
  • If you have eggs, you can cut up the potatoes and make homemade hash browns. Breakfast for dinner!!
  • Cut them up, put olive oil/vegetable oil and add seasoned breadcrumbs. Bake in oven till tender.

Ground meat (turkey, chicken, beef)

  • Make your own quick meatballs. Add tomato sauce, gravy or my kids personal fave grape jelly.
  • Saute and add to canned tomato sauce.
  • Use any ground meats for tacos. No tortillas? You can always use lettuce in place of wraps or use tortilla chips or Fritos.
  • Sloppy Joe’s. Make your own sauce or buy the canned version. This recipe from Dinner Then Dessert is a great sloppy Joe sauce recipe- I just leave out the pepper and onion when I don’t have it. 
  • Use with mashed potatoes to make a quick shepherd’s pie.
  • Cheeseburger pie. If you have a can of biscuits, this one is quick and easy. Add tomatoes, lettuce and or pickles to make it even better!

Beans (Black Beans, White beans, Kidney Beans)

  • Cook beans in a saute pan and  add rice (brown or white) that is prepared with chicken broth for extra flavor.
  • Check out this easy recipe from Shaken Together Life for a yummy Cheesy Black Bean and rice recipe that could even double as a dip.
  • Add to ground meat, a can of diced tomatoes and some seasonings (chili powder, adobo, garlic salt) for some no frills chili.
  • Add black beans to drained corn with a little taco seasoning and cheddar cheese. Put mixture between two taco shells and cook in a little butter on a skillet. Easy Black bean quesadilla!
  • Check out this easy white bean recipe from She wears many hats.  It is a good side and can be added to other veggies for a quick soup. (I just leave out the white wine and tarragon and it is still good.)

Baking Ingredients

  • If you have flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, oil etc. You can usually make a few quick and easy meals. Including pancakes, muffins, cookies and biscuits.
  • This recipe from Six Sisters Stuff has a TWO ingredient muffin recipe.
  • Cafe Delites has this three ingredient pancake recipe you  can whip up in a snap.
  • If you love peanut butter cookies, check this recipe out from Allrecipes. Such a quick and easy dessert or snack for after school.


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