Creative Ways to Feed Your Family when the Fridge is Empty

Sometimes going to the store is not an option.

  • It’s the end of the month and you are out of grocery money
  • You’re in the middle of a snowstorm (or a global pandemic)
  • You’re trying to save money by shopping less often

Whatever the reason, you need a plan for feeding a hungry family using only what you have on hand.

On Friday, I opened the fridge to find that I, literally, had just a half dozen fresh foods in the house.

I had:

  • 3 small sweet potatoes
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 5 carrots
  • 1/2 a head of garlic

That’s it! It was up to me to feed my family healthy meals for another few days, using just these items along with ingredients from my freezer and pantry.

It was “game on”!

Given the fact that I have been leading readers through a 30 Day Grocery Store Challenge, involving staying out of the grocery store for an entire month, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of fresh food inventory. In fact, I’d been tracking it quite closely.

However, I had several more days until I reached the end of my four week no-spend journey and , even for me, this wasn’t much food, especially given the fact that I am currently feeding seven people.

It was time to employ my Ninja-like, ingredient-stretching skills to the max!

4 Steps to creating a meal plan with limited ingredients

We try to insure that we don’t waste a thing or throw food away in the garbage. Our personal goal is no more than 3% food waste.

Whenever you are faced with a limited supply of ingredients, you need to begin by foraging for additional items to add to your available stash. These additional ingredients can come in the form of leftovers or items from your pantry or freezer. I generally start with my fridge, because those items tend to have a limited shelf life.

As long as I know I’m going to use them right away, I go ahead and cut up my carrots, celery, garlic, and onions. I like to know how many cups of each I have available before I begin planning recipes.

After you’re done, cover the bowls and place them in the fridge. Don’t prematurely chop oxygen- sensitive ingredients like potatoes. They will turn dark within a few minutes of chopping.

By chopping each of your fresh ingredients and placing each in a separate bowl, not only can you easily assemble each dish, saving time, you’ll also be insuring that you don’t prematurely run out of your critical base ingredients.

I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to cookbooks. Using the index of your favorite cookbooks, match up recipes with your available ingredients. It is super helpful to have a current inventory list of both your pantry and freezer so that you know what additional ingredients you have on hand.

On-Line Recipe Resources

I generally pull a couple of books off of my extensive cookbook collection shelf when I start the planning process. However, I also have some favorite on-line resources, which I use regularly. Here is a list of some of the most helpful websites that I have found to match recipes up with your available ingredients.

Fridge to Tableallows you to search a huge recipe base by ingredients and dietary preference.

All RecipesIt’s seriously hard to beat this site. Not only does it have a huge variety of recipes, they have also been extensively reviewed by real people who have tried the recipes. You’ll often find substitution and alternate suggestions in the review section.

TastyThis site is responsible for those really fun, short food videos that often show up in your Facebook feed.

Forks over Knives This website was spawned from the wildly popular documentary by the same name. It’s searchable by ingredient and offers a downloadable app. I’ve liked every single recipe I’ve ever made from the website.

The Spruce EatsIt’s a cooking school, recipe repository, and guide to healthy eating and living all rolled into one website. It’s extensive and definitely worth a look.

I use my bulk menu planning sheet to track each recipe and the main ingredients I needed to gather for each one.

If you don’t have a bulk cooking form (You can get one from my exclusive subscriber media library), then you can use a plain piece of paper to make your list. I did it this way for years, before I finally created my own form.

List each recipe along the left hand side of the paper. Main ingredients go along the top of the page. Draw lines, creating a grid. You will be able to make a notation how much of each main ingredient you need for each recipe.

By using this method, you will instantly be able to tell if you have selected too many recipes which use, potatoes, for instance. For instance, last week, when the 15 year old sous chef and I created our cooking plan, we tallied up all the cups of potatoes and realized that we had selected too many recipes using potatoes. Twice baked potatoes were slashed from the list, eliminating our problem and, once again, allowing us to balance our use of potatoes.

It takes me just 30-45 minutes to craft a plan, using every scrap of my fresh food and adding items from both my pantry and freezer.

What did I make?

Let me take you through each recipe, showing you a “deconstructed photo” of the main ingredients, followed by a photo of the finished dish. You’ll find a recipe link with each photo.

Yes, I made them all, using only items I had on hand: my fresh produce and ingredients from both my pantry and freezer.

Main Dishes:




We even managed to add a couple of desserts to round out our menu!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

These no-bake cookie bars from Love and Lemons were absolutely delicious way to celebrate Mother’s Day and definitely go to the top of our “make ahead” list.

4 thoughts on “Creative Ways to Feed Your Family when the Fridge is Empty”

  1. Hope, I love your blog and enjoy your YouTube channel as well. How do you store your potatoes to make them last as long as possible?

    • Potatoes like it cool, but not cold. The fridge is too cold for them. In the Midwest, cold winter weather allows me to keep them in a storage area that stays at about 50 degrees. At our old house, I put them in a box, covered with newspaper, on our enclosed glassed-in front porch. At the new house, I’ve kept them in a box in a large storage pantry in the basement. It’s best to keep potatoes in their natural state. If there is dirt on them, leave it be. Don’t wash them before storing or they will rot more quickly. In the summer, I keep them unwashed on a big bowl on the counter and I use them before they rot.

  2. I watch your You Tube channel-(slashing energy bills- for the 2nd time) and noticed that you didn’t mention using houseplants to dehumidify your house. There are sites on the web that specify which plants are the best. But I’m sure County Extension Agents or the Botany Dept. or Ag School would recommend ones that would be most helpful.


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