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How to use up all the random ingredients in your pantry

Meal planning just got a little more complicated. From random items to missing ingredients, here are some great ways to solve common kitchen predicaments.


Planning meals can be difficult if you haven't been able to find basic ingredients. 

Angela Lang/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

There was no food in my house. Not because I'm a fine, upstanding human who resisted the urge to panic buy 18 cans of green beans as soon as news of a quarantine arrived, but because I was supposed to be on vacation.

My husband and I were headed to Japan for 10 days, but the coronavirus had other plans. I was left staring down a pretty empty fridge and empty grocery store aisles, too.

Maybe you made it to the store, but you were caught up in the moment, limited by low stock and bought a bunch of stuff that doesn't really make sense when you put it all together. Maybe you've slowly been able to find more of your regular ingredients but some staples like flour are still hard to come by. 

The good news is, with online tools and apps for ingredient substitutions and simplified recipes, you can cobble together some pretty good meals with whatever you have on hand or whatever is left at your local store. 

Read more: The top bread machines for home bakers  


At my house, I'm out of several basic spices. 

Molly Price/CNET

Missing an ingredient

These sites will help you figure out just what to do when you've got almost everything to make a recipe. In a lot of cases, you'll be able to leave out a spice or two or swap in a different vegetable or side item. You might not have taco seasoning, but if you have the spices that go in taco seasoning, you can mix up your own. Titled The Cook's Thesaurus, this old-school looking site still has all the info you need for finding a good substitute. The site has detailed notes about how to sub for each ingredient and the technique you should use to get a good result. Even if you're not missing an ingredient, the American Heart Association's guide is a valuable resource. It will help you swap ingredients for healthier ones that will work just as well. No time like a pandemic to level up your health! AllRecipes is the perfect place to find recipe inspiration, and its extensive substitution chart is really helpful if you're missing pantry essentials like butter, oil, cream or baking soda. 


If you have a smart display, you can get visual instructions and demos to help you through even the most basic recipes. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Recipe ideas

Stumped on what you could possibly pull together? These sites and apps can suggest recipes that include only what you have on hand. Check your expectations, because if you've only got bread and hot dogs there's only so much we can do. Still, these may help spark an idea or two. If you're stuck trying to think up a recipe idea, and you're convinced there's nothing you can make with two chicken drumsticks, some cheese and a can of mushrooms, this is the site for you. Check the boxes for everything you have on hand and you'll get recipe suggestions. Mileage may vary. The ingredients page of this site has a "build a recipe" feature. Start by typing in three ingredients you already have, and you'll get a list of recipes that fit the bill. You'll also be able to see recipes that would work if you have a few more items. 

SuperCook: The SuperCook app for iOS and Android is built around finding recipes for what you have on hand. However, it will probably show some results that need just one or two more ingredients. The app also suggests items by saying, "Do you also have..." with a selection of common ingredients to bring you more options. 

Yummly: Whirlpool acquired Yummly in 2017 and incorporated the recipe platform into its smart kitchen appliances. The app kept much of its original appeal, and it's an excellent place to find recipe ideas. You can filter by ingredients and dietary restrictions, too. 

Read more: The best toaster oven is the one you'll hate the least   


Food Network Kitchen offers live cooking classes from celebrity chefs. 

Food Network

Online cooking classes and videos

If you've got spare time on your hands, why not learn a few new skills in the kitchen? Online cooking classes, live or prerecorded are great ways to entertain yourself, pick up a few new cooking skills and even do a little socializing.

Food Network Kitchen offers live cooking classes from celebrity chefs. America's Test Kitchen also has more than 230 cooking classes. You will need to pay for a subscription for these, however. 

You can always search YouTube for quick how-to videos on kitchen basics. Also, check out This site covers the basics in a simple, helpful way.

Also take a look at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street. The former Editor-in-Chief of America's Test Kitchen is dishing out free classes in everything from understanding how spices work to making the perfect pasta at home. The entire library of Milk Street courses are free through April 30. 

Don't forget

If cooking at home isn't feasible after a long day of working from home and wrangling brand-new homeschoolers, don't worry. One great way to support your local community is by supporting local restaurants.

If it's within your budget and you have the option, look for carry-out and delivery options from your favorite spots. Consider purchasing a gift card, too. That helps restaurants make a little money now, and when you're back to your normal routine, you can celebrate by dining in at your favorite place!