People have survived for centuries without frozen dinners and ready meals. They cooked regularly only using several ingredients, often what is found in their pantry. Yet, nowadays people struggle coming up with tasty recipes to what we like to call Emergency food.
I think that preppers influenced a lot of buying choices. Pantry shelves are filled with cans, bags, and canisters. One of their most common advice is — buying a lot of rice, beans, and canned tuna. Now everybody has them at home, sitting pretty. Are you a good cook? If not, you’re in a pickle.
Just a few people I know enjoy cooking with rice, or dried beans, without a declared emergency. I was surprised by some delicious dinners! Inspired by some of my friends’ recipes, I decided to continue the good practice of sharing and spread great cooking recipes and tips around.
The truth is, every home cook can prepare little wonders. Pick the recipes that are simple, somewhat old-fashioned, but with a twist, forcing you to think outside the box.
Embrace your inner chef, and get cooking!
WHAT EMERGENCY FOOD IS IN YOUR PANTRY?
I have always liked to have a well-stocked pantry which gave me a lot of options. Years ago I mastered a few recipes with pantry staples that I like to come back to when left without inspiration.
Thanks to COVID-19 my pantry is fuller than ever. In 2020, as our needs increased, we were all forced to purchase more emergency food than ever. We have all stockpiled different emergency supplies, food included, like eager beavers.
The recommended lists of emergency food can be impressively long. If you followed the advice of the government, Red Cross, or Preppers, your pantry is now well-stocked with rice, dried beans, dried pasta, dried grains, loads of canned tuna, canned beans, canned tomatoes, and canned everything basically. The list goes on and on. Depending on the size of your storage space, and your wallet, you could be facing a ton of food now. Like me! Shelves and shelves are stacked full of emergency food. It’s a joy to look at, but a nightmare to go through.
WHY USE EMERGENCY FOOD?
Now that your pantry shelves are overcrowding with cans, jars, bags, bottles, and canisters, ask yourself — are you keeping track of the expiry date? Do you have a system? Do you rotate cans regularly so they don’t go bad?
If you haven’t adopted a diligent housewife persona already, your efforts will go to waste.
Firstly, emergency supplies can easily go bad if stored improperly. It is not a smart idea to have emergency food storage under your bed, for example. Your living area can be too hot and cause spoilage. It is not advisable to use empty storage space in your bathroom, as it can get wet and hot too. With limited storage space, you may be limited to shelves in your kitchen cupboards. Keep the emergency food to a minimum and rotate it often. It is better to use it than throw it away.
Secondly, people forget about expiry dates. They think canned food can last forever, which is absolutely not true. If you take a closer look at any food can in your house, you will see that the food usually lasts around two years in a can. This is great to get you through an emergency period, but not at all suitable for leaving it in a pantry and forgetting about it.
Lastly, use your emergency food to avoid going out to do shopping. These are dangerous times we live in. 2020 started rough, with a health pandemic out of the blue, continued with frightening violence, demonstrations and could end with a bang — a political one.
Get used to cooking with rice, beans, and tuna, discover new recipes, and try to incorporate them more often in your cooking repertoire. People from other cultures do wonders with kitchen staples, and so can you.
WHAT EMERGENCY FOOD TO USE?
I admit I was kind of worried when I last checked some cans for expiry date, and they were long due. Hmm… Now what? Thankfully, Google eased my mind.
Keep in mind that scientists don’t always agree on the meaning of the expiry date. According to a 2020 scientific study, food labeled with “best before” has a long shelf life. Laboratory tests of milk, pasta, jam, and mayonnaise showed they are healthy to eat six months after their expiry date.
The expiry date is there more for the sellers, limiting them from offering faulty products to the buyers. Once you buy an item, it can expire in your fridge or pantry, but it is still safe to consume.
I recommend using dried pasta. It is an emergency food that will last you a lifetime, but it is extremely useful in cooking, very versatile, easily combined with other ingredients, so you should always buy it in bulk. In that case, even if you use it in everyday cooking, you will not run out of it.
If you bought rice in bulk, you can use it too. It is a cheap item, and can always be easily bought again if you run out.
Brown rice has a much shorter shelf life so you should use it before it goes bad. Canned beans are also different from their dried counterpart. Dried beans can go for decades, while canned beans up to three years.
WHAT EMERGENCY FOOD NOT TO USE?
There are very few foods that last a lifetime. There are only a few that last decades, but beware that they will go bad eventually. The biggest mistake is not storing properly. Non-perishables will go bad if stored in unsuitable conditions.
You should always check the expiry date on the package. I always double-check each “suspicious” item before using it. I always smell the food, taste it a little, and if it looks fine, with no visible changes, I proceed with cooking.
Don’t use these emergency foods: honey, maple syrup, white rice, dried beans, dark chocolate, and coffee. They are highly valuable because they truly last decades, and if you don’t get a chance to use them, you can use them as barter items.
Related post — Nine Foods That Last For Decades
Pantry challenge is a pantry purge that I did even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Only, it didn’t have such a fancy name then — #pantrychallenge. Twice a year usually, I would stop shopping and rely solely on items in my pantry. My goal was to clear out the pantry, use the products before they go bad, and make room for new ones. This technique is also money-saving, as you restrict shopping and buy only some fresh items like lettuce, eggs, and milk.
I am always pleasantly surprised by how much food I have in my little pantry, and for how long I can stretch it out. Money saved is just a great bonus, but definitely not my only goal at all. I was raised believing it was a sin to through away food, and I still believe it true. I cringe at throwing food away, always having in mind the more unfortunate in the world starving and begging.
Did you know that 40% of food in the USA ends up in the trash, wasted? NRDC issued a report in 2012 entitled Wasted for the right reason. We waste valuable resources like land, energy, and water to produce food only to throw it away in the end.
Another bonus of the pantry challenge is definitely thinking outside the box. When you have just a few ingredients, you are forced to look for new recipes and ways to make meals nutritious and tasty. You will learn how to incorporate new vegetables that you haven’t even thought of trying out. It’s always easier to stick to basics like meat and potatoes. But, there is so much more to cooking than those two ingredients, and hopefully, you will discover them too.
Lastly, I learned to simplify my cooking. You can make an interesting meal with just a few ingredients adding new spices or trying a new cooking technique. My mom is a great cook, but too often she serves fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Her rule is to wait for special occasions, like birthdays and holidays, to serve something special. Who knows what’s best? Only time will tell.
PANTRY CHALLENGE RULES
- Decide on the duration of your Pantry Challenge. Not too short, but not too long either. It’s up to you!
- Use Emergency Food from your pantry.
- Don’t go shopping for at least a week. Afterward, limit your shopping budget.
- Don’t order food in, and don’t go eating out.
- Plan meals ahead. Find new recipes.
- Donate food you won’t use.
These are my rules, but you can write your own ones, according to your goals. You can try the Pantry Challenge for a week, or decide you like it and continue for a whole month, clearing all the pantry shelves in the process. Wouldn’t that be satisfying?
You can follow in the steps of Karen Morris who managed a whole year without going to the grocery store. I certainly feel inspired.
I found that Pantry Challenge prevents mindless shopping, just acquiring more and more stuff, and hoarding, with no plan what to do with all the food. Now, I plan ahead, write weekly menus, and always have in mind what foods to use before they go bad.
I recommend it to everyone because you never know what new habits you will pick up.
EMERGENCY FOOD RECIPES
When searching for recipes look for simple, basic, and not necessarily fast meals. Some you can whip up in 5 minutes, others require longer preparation time, like dried beans for example. You have to soak them overnight, just like any dry legumes. Don’t be afraid of looking into international recipes. I often find inspiration in Italian and Japanese cuisine.
It is good to make a weekly plan so you have plenty of time to prep in advance. The key to success is definitely planning and focusing on what you’ve got in your pantry, adding just a few fresh ingredients here and there.
As always when cooking, study the recipe first. Don’t start cooking, and then realize you don’t know what “simmering” means, or you may be missing an important ingredient. Many times, before implementing the Mise en place technique, I started making a cake without eggs. Sadly, I wasted already mixed sugar, milk, and butter. I even went to my neighbor’s once to borrow eggs but was too ashamed to do it again.
The process of getting everything prepared before the actual cooking has a name — mise en place, which is a french expression for putting everything in place. I like to call it the 5 Ps of cooking.
MISE EN PLACE
- Print the recipe. Read the whole recipe. Make sure you understand it.
- Prepare your workspace. Get rid of clutter. You need a clean table and an empty stovetop.
- Prepare your equipment. Wash bowls, pots, and pans, knives, etc., and everything you will use. It is extremely inconvenient having to do the dishes while your cake mixture waits. A lot of times I had to take a greasy fork out of the dishwasher, and wash it fast by hand. Just terrible!
- Put all the ingredients onto the table, in front of you. You still have time to go to the shop if something is missing or borrow from your neighbor. Worst case scenario, change the menu, nobody will know.
- Pre-cut and measure all ingredients. Use as many bowls as you have ingredients. Put each ingredient in its bowl. This is where a set of bowls comes handy. I have a set of small plastic bowls from Ikea but had my eyes set on
I highly recommend you start using Mise en place when cooking. It saves you a lot of time, patience, and the whole cooking process becomes streamlined, breezy, and enjoyable.
“We should all grow our own food
and do our own waste processing,
we really should.”Bill Gates
SIMPLE MEAL IDEAS USING EMERGENCY FOOD
Breakfast: Fruit salad
Emergency food used: canned fruit, nuts
A lot of sportsmen eat only fruits and nuts in the morning to give them the necessary pick up from the fruit sugars. If you don’t like eating fruit, canned mixed fruit is a great choice because all the flavors are blended into one sugary mix. Nuts add the desirable crunch and energy spike.
Breakfast: Traditional English Breakfast
Emergency food used: canned beans, canned tomatoes, canned mushrooms, frozen bacon, frozen sausages.
Traditional English Breakfast is a hearty meal still widely eaten in Great Britain. It is usually made with fresh ingredients, but you can substitute them with your pantry equivalents. Why the Brits love it so much, watch the following video:
Lunch: Beans and Pasta
Emergency food used: canned beans, pasta.
This is a traditional Italian meal cooked more often than we realize. Intelligently using butter and salt to enhance flavors, you can create a miracle meal with just beans and past.
Cook pasta in chicken stock until tender, or follow the instructions on the package. Always cook pasta in meat stock and not water, to enhance its taste. Drain. Put pasta back into the pot. Add a knob of butter, salt to taste and mix well. Add beans and mix all together. Serve hot. You can drizzle olive oil over the serving. Grated parmesan cheese will take this simple country meal to next level that you could serve even to fancy dinner guests.
If you have leftovers, the next day you can add in some chopped tomatoes and make a tasty and fulfilling salad.
If you have extra time on your hands or willpower, watch Carla Lalli Music making the perfect pot of beans, which has instantly become my family’s favorite!
Lunch: Next level Ramen
Emergency food used: Ramen
Recipe: You don’t have to eat just ramen. You can The Ramen, an improved, advanced version, full of added ingredients, a little miracle in a bowl. To better illustrate my point, I recommend watching Mike Green, my favorite pro home cook. His fascination with ramen is catchy, beware! You will never eat plain ramen again.
Lunch: Baked rice with chicken
Emergency food used: rice, frozen chicken, chicken stock, dill pickles.
Recipe: Put a thin layer of rice first, covering the bottom of the baking dish. One cup of rice per person is recommended. Season the chicken with barbecue seasoning. Place separate chicken parts on top of rice. Any parts of chicken will do, whatever you have on hand. Pour enough chicken stock to cover the rice. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes on medium heat. Then pull the dish outside, pour more chicken stock if needed, mix, and turn over the chicken bits. Bake in the oven for another 30 minutes. Serve hot with refrigerated dill pickles.
This recipe is a staple in my family, always on the table when I don’t have a lot of time or imagination. Everything is cooked in one dish, in the oven, so you are free to take some time off and put your feet up for a change. Just don’t let anyone see you, or they’ll want to join you.
Dinner: Tuna Bake (Tuna Mornay)
Emergency food used: canned tuna, pasta, canned corn, spices
Recipe: Cook pasta until tender. Drain it. In a separate bowl mix tuna, corn, grated cheese, salt, and lots of black pepper. Add cooked pasta and mix well. Put in a baking dish and grate more cheese on top. Put in oven, on medium heat for 15 min. Serve when cooled.
Dinner: Salmon primavera
Emergency food used: canned salmon, pasta, canned peas
Recipe: Cook pasta until tender. Drain it. In a large pan, simmer salmon and peas in a cup of cooking cream for five minutes. Add pasta and mix well. Serve hot.
Soup: Pumpkin soup
Emergency food used: canned or frozen pumpkin, sweet potatoes, canned carrots, canned peas, chicken stock, dry parsley.
Recipe: Cook all the ingredients in the water a large pot, for 30 minutes. Blend and mix in dry parsley before serving. If you pumpkin seed oil, drizzle it generously over each plate. You don’t need to add Crème Fraiche to make it creamy at all.
Dessert: Sweet Rice Pudding with raisins
Emergency food used: coconut milk, rice, sugar, raisins.
Recipe: Pour a can of coconut milk, one cup of rice, one cup of raisins, one tablespoon of sugar, and one cup of water into a pot. Let it simmer for 30 minutes, or until creamy. While still hot, pour into cups. Serve hot or cold.
Dessert: Pasta & jam
Emergency food used: pasta, jam.
Recipe: Cook pasta until tender. Drain, and put back into the pot. Mix in two tablespoons of jam. Serve hot.
This is my father’s all-time favorite dessert that brings him back to his childhood when there was no chocolate, cookies nor cakes. Poor man’s dessert, yet effective and therefore eternal.
Take better care of your Emergency Food so it can take care of you. Store it correctly, rotate, and keep track of expiry dates.
Participate in a Pantry Challenge to challenge yourself, get out of the rut, and prevent food from going to waste. Coming up with new ways to use Emergency Food will make you a better cook and adopt new recipes you will have in your arsenal for bad days.
I honestly hope you will find time to watch the videos in this article, as they are carefully chosen for being so inspiring and life-changing.
“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.