How to Throw Together a Meal Even If You Have Nothing to Make

Ground Beef and onion mixture for Summer Chili

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One thing that I think I’m really, really good at is whipping up a pretty good meal even when there are no groceries in the house. This is my guide on how to throw together a meal when you feel like you have nothing to make or seemingly have no groceries.

1. Take stock of your pantry and freezer items.

Go look in your pantry and see what you have. You probably have at least an oil of some kind, maybe some flour and sugar. Other common items that hide in the pantry are canned beans or other canned goods, sometimes even boxed milk or nuts.

Look to see if you have carbs or grains of any kind. These would include things like noodles, rice (even boxed rice) or quinoa.

Take a look just so you can get an idea of what inventory you have to work with.

For one, you may find that you have a frozen meal that can work just fine for dinner. Or, you may come across a package of frozen meat. Often times there are packages of forgotten frozen vegetables which come in handy when trying to whip something up.

All of this will be good to keep in mind when deciding what to throw together into the meal.

2. Next, take inventory of what’s in your fridge.

You may have some butter in here or maybe even some produce that is just about to go bad but won’t be eaten with anything else.

There may also be some milk, juice or eggs. All of these are things that can be great to have when throwing a meal together.

Also, take a look at what leftovers you have in the fridge. These can be great starting points to whip up something delicious. I love repurposing leftovers. It is one of my most common ways to make breakfast. It may be a small amount that of leftovers that can’t constitute a meal on it’s own but when thrown together with other things, you might be amazed at how good it turns out.

3. See if you have any fresh fruits or vegetables.

These are great to add in, especially if you find that you have some fresh produce that is about to go bad. It can be great to throw it into the meal to round the meal out a little bit.

4. Pick a protein if you have one available to make the meal around.

It helps to have something to base the meal around so that you make sure that the ingredients you put together are cohesive.

This can mean chicken or ground beef or it can even be leftovers from a previous meal. Maybe you have a leftover portion of a steak from dinner or even some strips of grilled chicken breast.

5. If you don’t have a protein, pick a carb based item to focus the meal around even if that means you have to make it from scratch.

By carb-based, I mean noodles, or rice or a type of bread. Now, making it from scratch may seem daunting but a lot of foods can be made from scratch relatively easily and in less time than you think.

Sometimes this can be really helpful because most people typically have the ingredients to make these things from scratch. Some of the simplest things can be made from flour and water. Others require eggs, salt or yeast as well but often times you can find a substitution for what you do have on hand.

6. Once you decide on you main ingredient of the dish, pull out other items that would pair well with that from the pantry, freezer, fridge and fresh.

For example, say you found a packet of long noodles in your pantry and this was going to be the base of the dish.

Think about what other things would go well with this. Let’s pretend that we are going to make a stir fry out of this. A stir fry would include vegetables. Do you have any fresh vegetables?

Maybe there are some mushrooms in your fridge. Maybe you don’t have any fresh vegetables, that’s okay. Do you have any frozen vegetables? You have frozen peas in your freezer. Great, those will go in perfectly.

Okay, now look to see if you have any meat. Some leftover chicken of steak would go great in this.

Lastly, look to your spices, oils and seasonings to get inspired. If we started here, we would have seen that we have soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and red pepper flakes-all things that could come together to make a stir-fry type dish.

7. Sometimes just googling the name of the ingredients will give you some ideas of recipes that you may have never thought of.

This can be really helpful. There are a lot of recipes out there and a lot of ways of putting together different ingredients.

I did this one day when I had a can of chickpeas and a pound of ground beef. I googled just those words together “chickpeas ground beef recipes” and came across what is one of my favorite recipes. That recipe was featured in my post Recipes to Love This Week.

8. Now it’s time to put it all together. Make the thing from scratch, cook up the noodles, chop your vegetables and throw them all together in a pan to make a hot, home-cooked meal.

If you are using leftovers, I find that heating them up in the pan first and then adding your other ingredients helps keep the temperature of everything about equal.

Otherwise, you may end up with a hot meal filled in with cold leftovers if the other ingredients come to temperature quickly.

9. Enjoy and think about other things you can make with this method.

Throwing together a meal like this takes creativity and sometimes some out of the box thinking. It gets easier the more you do it.

Challenge yourself to come up with creative ideas to try when it comes to making new recipes.

Throw Together a Meal: Breakfast Ideas


This is where I take whatever leftovers I have from yesterday, throw them into a pan to heat them up and then scramble eggs into them. The leftovers can be anything from ground turkey to nachos.

Scrambles tend to be delicious, cook up in just a couple of minutes and are packed with protein.

Poached egg on top

This is one of the most recent meals I threw together. I had some chicken fajitas leftovers and I didn’t know what to make for breakfast.

I heated up the chicken and vegetables from the fajitas and then made a poached egg to top it all off with.

Throw Together a Meal: Dinner Ideas

Stir Fry Noodles with Frozen Peas and Leftover Chicken

I talked about this one briefly above. To make this, cook the noodles according to the package instructions, heat up some olive oil on high heat. Cook minced garlic in oil (if you have it). Add in frozen peas and leftover chicken to heat up. Stir until warm.

Toss cooked noodles in with peas and chicken. Top with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and red pepper flakes. Toss until combined.

Couscous and Ground Beef with Bell Peppers or Tomatoes

Use leftover ground beef or use leftovers if you already have some cooked. Cook boxed couscous according to directions on box or use left over couscous. Heat up couscous and ground beef in olive oil. Add in bell peppers, tomatoes or other vegetables that you may have.

Season according to the flavor profile of the vegetables.

Rice with Ground Beef, Olives and Beans

This recipe is great because both olives and beans do come canned. So, it you used canned black olives and a can of beans, that adds so much to this meal without having to prepare much.

Cook rice according to directions or use leftover rice. Cook ground beef or use leftover ground beef. Heat up both in a pan with olive oil. Add in the can of olives and the can of beans. Stir until combined and season.

This will end up being a really filling meal and it is super simple to throw together.

Quick Naan with Chickpeas, Greek Yogurt Dressing Sauce and Avocado

This is one of the times to make something from scratch in order to throw together a meal. When looking for ideas of how to make something from scratch that is quick, think of things that are flat: flatbread, tortillas, pasta, etc.

I used this recipe to make the naan bread because I wanted it to be fast and this only called for ten minutes of rest time. The naan turned out incredible.

After I made the naan, I heated up the chickpeas in a pan and seasoned them with a lot of cumin.

I made a greek yogurt dressing sauce by combining greek yogurt, the juice of a lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper, tasting as I went until I got the ratios right.

Then, I stuffed the warm, fresh naan with the chickpeas and the sliced avocado and topped with the greek yogurt dressing sauce.

Making things from scratch can be a really fun experience and they normally come out tasting absolutely delicious.

What have you thrown together? Have you ever tried pantry zero? Do you have a go to recipe for when you have nothing to make?

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Elyse is a Road Twenty author focused on writing about New York City, local and international travel guides & food and cocktail recipes as well as other lifestyle topics. She is based in New York City and has a love for cheesy Christmas movies, tacos and the sunshine.

About Elyse

Elyse is a Road Twenty author focused on writing about New York City, local and international travel guides & food and cocktail recipes as well as other lifestyle topics. She is based in New York City and has a love for cheesy Christmas movies, tacos and the sunshine.
View all posts by Elyse →

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