Shopping List: Flexible Pantry Cooking to Work with What You’ve Got

The Family Plan #20

I’ve been spending time in the cemetery. Weather permitting, my family leaves our apartment once a day for a walk, and usually we head wherever my son’s Pokémon Go strategy sends us. Several times, that meant wandering over to the 365-acre Calvary Cemetery, which holds more internments than any cemetery in the U.S.

A cemetery that large makes social distancing effortless. On our longest walk through the grounds, I think we saw about a dozen people. The trees, the grass, the gentle quiet all made it easy to forget we were surrounded by busy local streets and even highways.

I started writing this several days ago, before things in New York got really, really bad. (I’m not sure how I’ll describe what’s coming next, since apparently we’re about to get hit by a coronavirus bullet train.) Now it feels borderline gruesome to be strolling in the cemetery, while my city is setting up refrigerated trucks outside hospitals to serve as temporary morgues.  

Look, I’m sorry, this has nothing to do with food. I’m just furious. I will never understand how we got to this point, how we wound up with an administration that believes bluster and lies will stop a pandemic when we could’ve had the most qualified president in history. Imagine how different we’d all be feeling right now if competent public servants were in the White House. How many fewer people would die, literally. Instead, more than 50% of the population is hunkered down, wondering how many cans of beans they have left and when they might get paid again, and I wish our Dear Leader would catch the virus himself.

Yes, I said that.

There’s no good transition from there, so I’ll just move on. My own fridge is looking pretty empty right now, after being so jam-packed I feared food would spoil before we could eat it. It turns out that with everyone home all the time, we go through a lot of food. So I’ve tried to make the most flexible meal plan possible, to work with what you’ve got. Ground meat and beans seem like pretty safe bets.

Let me know how things are going for you, please. Connection is everything right now, isn’t it?

Here’s the menu:

MONDAY: Five-Ingredient Instant Pot Chili from Stacie Billis. Really, it’s just five ingredients. And it uses the Instant Pot. If you’ve got some sour cream or Greek yogurt to top it off, great. Maybe some tortilla chips, too. Vegetarians: You’ll add a second type of beans.

Photo courtesy of Bon Appetit

TUESDAY: Smashed Chickpea Salad Sandwiches from Bon Appetit is one of those not-a-recipe recipes. It’s intentionally written to maximize your flexibility. Serve it as sandwiches on bread, rice cakes, crackers, whatever you’ve got. And if you’ve got any tortilla chips left…

WEDNESDAY: Spinach and Cheese Strata from Smitten Kitchen. It calls for stale-ish bread and frozen spinach, people! And the choice of cheese is flexible.

Photo courtesy The Simple Veganista

THURSDAY: Instant Pot American Chop Suey from yours truly—I’ll send the IP recipe with the rest of the plans on Saturday, but here’s a stovetop version if you’re curious. This is one of my childhood favorites, ground beef and some vegetables and tomato sauce and a hearty splash of Worcestershire, simmered together with elbow macaroni. So much greater than the sum of its parts. The name makes me cringe and I apologize for that, but it tastes so comforting. Vegetarians, you’ll make a version using tempeh from The Simple Veganista.

FRIDAY: Pantry Grain Bowl from Food Network. With “pantry” in the name, you know this will be perfect for times like this. Use whatever grain you’ve got, whatever vegetables you’ve got, whatever protein you’ve got, and tie it all together with a zingy mustard dressing.

Here’s the shopping list:

I know you probably can’t go shopping, but this should help you figure out if you’ve got enough to make the recipes. Remember, an asterisk* indicates an ingredient for vegetarians only. If I don’t specify an amount for an ingredient, assume it’s not substantial. And note that I’m not including salt and pepper unless a recipe calls for a particularly large quantity.


  • 2 large plus 1 medium white or yellow onions (M, W, Th)

  • 1 bunch scallions (M, T, F)

  • 2 cloves garlic (F)

  • 1-2 bell peppers, any color, OR 2-3 ribs celery (Th)

  • 3 cups raw vegetables or 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked vegetables (like carrots, asparagus, green beans, radishes, broccoli) (F)

  • 1 avocado, optional (F)


  • 3 (14-oz.) cans diced fire roasted tomatoes, with or without green chiles (M)

  • 2 (15-oz.) cans black beans (M)

  • 1 (15-oz.) can kidney beans* (M)

  • 2 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas (T)

  • 1 (15-oz.) can lentils (F)

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder (M)

  • Nutmeg (W)

  • Dried oregano* (Th)

  • Dried basil* (Th)

  • Paprika* (Th)

  • Bay leaves* (Th)

  • Red pepper flakes* (Th)

  • Tortilla chips (M, T)

  • Something briny/acidic, like capers, pepperoncini, half-sour pickles (T)

  • Something punchy/sharp, like flaked smoked trout, harissa, red pepper flakes (T)

  • Something creamy/rich, like tahini, mayo, Greek yogurt (T)

  • Extra-virgin olive oil (T, F)

  • Dijon mustard (T, W)

  • Whole grain spicy mustard (F)

  • 1/2 lb. elbow macaroni or other cut pasta (Th)

  • 2 (8-oz.) cans tomato sauce (Th)

  • 1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes, fire roasted or regular* (Th)

  • Worcestershire sauce (Th)

  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup whole grain like barley, brown rice, or farro (F)

  • Small amount of seeds or nuts, like sunflower, almonds, walnuts, pepitas (F)

Meat Counter

  • 2 lb. ground beef, turkey, or chicken (M, Th)


  • Greek yogurt or sour cream (M)

  • Butter (W)

  • 6 oz. Gruyere, Swiss, fontina, or other mellow, melty cheese (W)

  • 2 oz. Parmesan (W)

  • 2 3/4 cups milk (W)

  • 1 dozen large eggs (W, F)

  • 2 (8 oz.) packages tempeh* (Th)


  • Sourdough, rice cakes, crispbread, or other bread-like item (T)

  • 1/2 lb. French or Italian bread, or more sourdough (W)

Freezer Case

1 (10-oz.) package frozen spinach (W)

Share The Family Plan

Watch for the plan on Saturday morning as usual. In the meanwhile, stay well and take care of each other.