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How to Find a Recipe to Use What You Have

Ready to cook but missing some ingredients? Here is an easy way to find recipes that use what you have. #genius

Updated 10/2020

I became a dietitian to help people make informed decisions (including myself). That is the thinking that led me to write this to inspire (and help) you pick recipes to create delicious food from your pantry, freezer, and fridge. It’s especially helpful for when you are not due for a shopping trip (in person or online) any time soon so you need to use what you have to get a meal or snack together.

Remember to wash your hands when handling food, whether shopping, cooking, eating, or cleaning up.

“Aseptic” – Shelf stable, refrigerate after opening. As an example, cow’s milk (organic and conventional) comes aseptically packaged, making it great for grocery deliveries where you may not be home to catch immediately, or when we need to pack it to use later (you know, like camping, or in olden days when we packed lunches).

“No Sugar” – a different product, like honey, molasses, or maple syrup, may be used (which doesn’t mean no carbohydrate or sugar, or no calories, for that matter). I made muffins that used honey the other day. Remember, this is in regards to a recipe that someone may share or post – it is not to be confused with the legally defined “no sugar added” that applies to food packaging.

“Recipe” – a basic guide for an idea of how much stuff to put in the pot. Seriously. Unless you are baking of course, where being precise matters to get the baked goods to come out right. If you have a recipe that calls for chicken but you have lean pork loin, no worries. If your recipe calls for black beans but you use pinto beans, great! If you are supposed to use fresh tomatoes but you use a can of tomatoes, no biggie. I’ve done these things. I like a recipe as a guide for approximate amounts of ingredients, especially spices, and for cook times. Beyond that, it’s pretty much fair game and you can try whatever veggies/meat/beans/grain you want.

Shortening, oil, butter – This is your fat component and mostly, you can do a one for one swap, and when baking, you can use a fruit puree or applesauce for some or all of the fat (I just did this to use up some applesauce I had).

“Vegan” baked goods (muffins, cake, cookies, bread, etc.) – If you don’t have eggs milk, and/or butter at the exact moment you want to bake, this is super handy for recipe searching. For example, I wanted to make muffins to use up some cranberries but had run out of eggs and had no time to get to the store before baking them that day. Poof – I found a recipe with no eggs, and made my muffins. Delicious…and by the way, got protein from beans, cheese, and lean meat later that day in this awesome dish I made jumping off a recipe for a southwest chicken casserole (used my leftover carnitas, pinto beans, and tomatillos salsa instead of the chicken, black beans, and enchilada sauce). It’s fun to mix it up!

The key to all of this from a health perspective is to know what ingredient swaps provide or are missing. Have confidence that you enjoy the variety from every food group as you wish, using the full day’s worth of meals and snacks to balance out the nutrition you need from the food you have.

What other words or descriptors have helped you find your way to recipes that you love?

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.