Prepping for Emergencies: How to Smartly Use Your Stocked Pantry

Turn Your Dried Goods and Non-Perishables Into Comforting Meals

Blended peanut hummus recipe

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

There's an emergency situation about to hit your area. You've taken all the proper precautions, stocking up on shelf-stable goods and filling the freezer with foods that’ll last at least a few weeks. You’re not panicking or stockpiling—you’re just prepared.

Now what? 

Chickpeas in a food processor
The Spruce / Cara Cormack 

What to Eat First

Under normal circumstances, the rule would be first in, first out. But in this case—where you want to make sure you’ll have a nice variety of foods for the next month or more—it's time to cook a little more strategically. 

  • Refrigerator items are the most likely ones to have actual expiration dates, as opposed to best-by dates, so shop from your fridge first. (Not sure about the difference? Get the scoop here.) Use this chart to see which items to prioritize and pay particular attention to perishables you’ve already opened. Many of those will need to be eaten within a week or so.
  • After that, consider produce that might not require refrigeration. Vegetables like winter squash and onions can stay good for weeks, but they'll eventually go bad.
  • Turn to dried, canned, jarred, or Tetra boxed foods next. Most shelf-stable items will last for months or years.
  • The same applies with your freezer: Under proper conditions, almost anything in there will stay safely edible indefinitely, although quality may decline in time. Learn more about freezer storage safety here.

Good Substitutions

We all hope this won’t happen, but if you wind up stuck in your home for weeks, you’re likely to run out of perishable items like eggs, milk, and citrus. You might even use up some of your shelf-stable food. No worries, you still have options: Use this handy substitution chart for guidance.

Make it tasty peanut butter hummus
The Spruce / Cara Cormack 

Make It Tasty

Being cooped up for days on end can make you stir-crazy. The last thing you want is to feel bored by your food. Take advantage of your time at home to try new recipes, maybe ones that take more attention than you’re used to. Here are 10 to get you started, all using foods you’re likely to have in your quarantine stash.

  • Bean soup with ham uses nothing but long-lasting ingredients like dried navy beans, a ham hock or frozen ham bone, and the classic onion-carrot-celery trio. (There’s a slow cooker version, too!)
  • Tuna, cheese, and rice casserole calls for canned tuna, cooked rice, and cheddar. If you’re running low on milk, consult the substitution chart. No fresh breadcrumbs? Dried work just fine.
  • Peanut butter hummus gives you an easy way to make your kids happy, while also upping their protein intake. Serve it with whole-wheat crackers and celery for lunch or snacking.
  • Vegan butternut squash and carrot soup definitely doesn’t taste like quarantine cooking thanks to fresh, but sturdy winter squash, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Substitute two teaspoons of dried sage for the fresh, and canned coconut milk if you don’t have shelf-stable soy milk.
  • Classic provencal pissaladière turns a pile of caramelized onions, a can of anchovies, and briny black olives into a sophisticated pizza. No puff pastry in the freezer? Make no-knead pizza dough, since you’ll have time.
  • Easy fried salmon patties start with a can of salmon and some dried seasoned Italian breadcrumbs. Rationing your eggs? Find an egg substitute here or use mayonnaise.
  • Artichoke and sun-Dried tomato pasta calls for only two fresh ingredients, but both are easily replaced with pantry items mentioned in the recipe’s headnote: Chop up some jarred roasted red peppers in place of the fresh one and drizzle the finished dish with balsamic vinegar instead of seasoning with fresh basil.
  • Slow cooker ground beef, barley, and vegetables soup takes almost no effort, but results in a bowl of pure comfort—and who doesn’t need that right now? As long as you’ve got ground beef in the freezer and that onion-carrot-celery trio, you’re good to go.
  • Copycat Olive Garden pasta e fagioli will make it feel like you’ve gone out to the popular chain restaurant while you stay safe at home. No Italian sausage in the freezer? Make this vegetarian variation instead. 
  • Chicken fried rice uses canned chicken and frozen vegetables, but you’d never know it from the finished dish. If you can’t spare the eggs don’t sweat it—this’ll still be a filling meal.