Making a Meal with What’s on Hand

It’s Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day!

Struggling to make meals with what you have on hand? Are you wanting to make a favorite recipe, but missing some of the ingredients? Are you tired of buying ingredients that you only use once?

Here are some examples to spark your imagination:

  • Want to make sandwiches, but you’ve just eaten your last slice of bread? Use tortillas, bagels, pita bread, French bread, English muffin, rolls, focaccia, biscuits, or lettuce wrap instead.
  • Feel like pasta, but you’re missing the pasta sauce? Try these tasty alternatives:
    • Olive or vegetable oil with garlic.
    • Pesto or fresh tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
    • Top your pasta with chili or soup. For some soups, you may wish to add less liquid, so they make a thicker sauce.
  • Craving tacos or burritos, but you are short on ingredients?
    • No tortillas, use rice instead to make rice bowls.
    • No ground beef or chicken, use a can of black beans in place of the meat. Drain and rinse the black beans. Sauté with 1 tsp of olive or vegetable oil and ½ of a taco-seasoning packet for a plant-based meal.
  • Craving a burger, but out of ground meat? Try making this Salmon Burgers recipe with canned tuna instead. Place on a bun and enjoy with your favorite toppings.
  • I want to make a smoothie, but I’m out of yogurt! No problem, swap the yogurt out for applesauce, fruit juice, milk or frozen bananas. Then, add fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned) that you have on hand and blend it up.
  • Hungry for pizza, but missing some ingredients?
    • Warm a tortilla shell in a skillet and top with your favorite pizza toppings.
    • Use another type of crust such as canned or homemade biscuits, English muffins, Naan bread, or try this Pizza Boats recipe that uses French rolls.
    • Make your own homemade pizza sauce by combining 15 oz canned diced tomatoes, 2 tbsp minced garlic, 2 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp black pepper. Add to a blender and pulse 2-3 times until tomatoes are finely diced.
    • Use black or white beans to make a bean pizza sauce. The smoother you want the sauce the more you need to smash the beans with a fork or food processor prior to adding your desired flavoring.
  • Save my salad, I’m out of dressing! Homemade salad dressing is a breeze with this simple salad equation. Simply add 1 cup oil with ½ cup lemon juice or vinegar in a sealable container. Add 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tsp dried herbs of your choice. Shake until combined.
  • Your favorite meat marinade ran out? Use an oil and vinegar salad dressing, also known as a vinaigrette. It makes a great marinade.
  • Out of pasta for casseroles? Substitute another starchy food such as cooked rice; cooked or canned potatoes, carrots or sweet potatoes; cooked or canned beans or lentils for pasta. Make-Your-Own Casserole by following this recipe.
  • Out of fresh fruit? Add dried, canned, or frozen fruit to your recipe. Dried fruits are very dense, so if you substitute them into a recipe, keep in mind the ratio of one cup of fresh fruit is equal to about ¼ cup of dried. Check out 10 reasons to stock up on frozen fruit.

This article was originally written by Alice Henneman, MS, RD. Updated and reviewed in 2020. (

Additional contributors include (in alphabetical order):

  • Brenda Aufdenkamp, Donnia Behrends, Kayla Colgrove, Ann Fenton, Lisa Franzen-Castle, Brie Frickenstein, Jamie Goffena, Hannah Guenther, Carrie Schneider-Miller, Natalie Sehi, Nancy Urbanec, and Cami Wells


  • Tastings publication, Food and Culinary professionals practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


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