Meals you should make when you have "nothing" in the house

Everyone has had that feeling before. You have absolutely nothing planned for dinner and, not only that, but that you don't really have a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, or freezer to work with, either. Believe it or not, there are many different options that you can make for dinner if you have just a few things in the pantry. You might not think these ingredients would or could come together to create anything all that exciting, but with just a few ingredients and a little bit of effort, you can make something really great.

Bowls

Burrito bowls, grain bowls, sushi bowls, veggie bowls, and any other kinds of bowl you can think of are some of my favorite lazy, empty fridge meals. Make a little rice, seasoned however you'd like, add veggies, beans or meat, salsas, pickled veggies, sauces, and a soft-cooked egg for a delicious, filling dinner that's as versatile as whatever your favorite pantry staples might be. In the time it takes to cook some rice, dinner is practically made.

Roasted potatoes

Roasted potatoes might not sound like a solid meal choice (although it is to me), but there are lots of things you can add to make the meal more satisfying. First, roast some potatoes with avocado oil, maybe some garlic, shallots or onions, and anything else you have on hand that you think might be tasty. Add leftover chicken you have in the fridge, sausages, tofu, tempeh, or another source of protein to give your meal some staying power. Make a simple vinaigrette or aioli, toss whatever fresh herbs in that you might have hanging out in the bottom of your crisper drawer, and call it dinner. A pesto, chimichurri, or tapenade would also be delicious here if you have the ingredients (or ready-made sauces) on hand.

Savory French toast

If you have bread, croissants, biscuits, or English muffins, along with eggs and few spices, you have the fixings for a savory French toast. Skip the sweet spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, and instead use herbs usually reserved for dinner, like garlic, red pepper or cumin. Throw in some cheese if you'd like, and serve it alongside lightly dressed greens, bacon, sautéed veggies, or whatever else you have on hand. This is a total clean out the fridge meal — you don't have to find anything fancy. If you have the staples and some odds and ends in your cheese drawer or crisper, you've got dinner. Drizzle your stack of French toast with a spicy honey, aioli, hot sauce — or even just butter — to pull it all together.

Soup

Soup is one of the absolute easiest meals to make when you don't have much in the house. You don't need a recipe, and nearly anything you don't have can be easily swiped out with something else. You'll need some kind of broth-y base, whether it's a frozen stock, a boxed stock, or a base you mix with water to form a broth. After that, it's up to you as to what you'll add: veggies, pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, beans, farro or other grains, meat, fish, tofu, fresh and dried herbs, and more are all good options. Make sure the veggies, proteins, and grains are cooked through and simmer everything for a bit to meld the flavors. Dinner is served.

Eggs

Eggs are one of the easiest "I have no food in the house, but still have to make dinner" dinners ever. I don't know about you, but I nearly always have at least a couple of eggs languishing in a carton in my refrigerator, waiting to be used at one point or another. The great thing about eggs is that you can make them so many different ways. From Benedict to Florentine, scrambled, poached, fried, omelets, soft-boiled, and more, there are so many ways that you can make eggs for any meal of the day. Incorporate cheese, veggies, or meat if you'd like, or serve the eggs alongside a piece of toast, fried potatoes, fruit, or lightly dressed greens for a more complete meal.

Salad

Salad doesn't have to mean lettuce, at least, not if you don't want it to. If you have greens, make that your base. Feel free to amp it up a bit with leftover grains or rice, torn crusty bread, bits of cheese, whatever veggies you have in your fridge, and fresh herbs. Add protein for staying power and avocado or a healthy fat so your dinner satisfies. If you don't have any kind of dressing in your house, never fear: mix a simple vinaigrette from oil, acid (like vinegar or citrus juice), salt and pepper. Add garlic, Dijon mustard, herbs, cheese, or anything else you'd like to make it a bit more flavorful. It doesn't get much easier than that.

Grown-up grilled cheese

If you have bread and any kind of cheese, you've got dinner. Last week I made a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner with Parmesan, sharp white cheddar, and Havarti with dill because that's what I had in the house. It was delicious and so simple. Any kind of cheese will work for a grilled cheese, even if you think it might not. There are, of course, better and worse cheeses for this in terms of how well they melt, but don't stress about it because that's more of a personal preference than anything else. Add bacon, chicken, veggies (caramelized onions, spinach, kale, or slices of tomato are all good), fruit preserves (fig and cranberry are often winners, depending on the cheeses you're using), herbs, sauces, and more and really put your simple grilled cheese over the top.

Quesadillas

A couple of quesadillas and a handful of cheese are all you need for this dinner. Jarred salsa, avocado, mashed beans, canned beans, corn, tomatoes, mashed pumpkin or squash, garlic, peppers, cilantro, chicken, ground beef, onion… the options for fillers are practically endless. Serve with hot sauce, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, or whatever you have in the house that you think makes a good dip. Alternatively, serve the quesadilla simply on its own. You already made dinner from nearly nothing, no need to make things complicated.

Savory oatmeal

If you feel like you don't even have your typical pantry staples in the house, opt for savory oatmeal for dinner. Comforting on the coldest winter nights, you'll need to make a bowl of oatmeal, season it with savory herbs and spices (and salt and pepper), add cheese and veggies, and top it with a fried egg, if you'd like. It won't take long to make this nutritious, and filling dinner — and you might even end up with a new cold weather favorite.

Pasta

Pasta is many people's go-to no grocery meal and for good reason. If you have a box of pasta, you have dinner. You don't even need to have sauce — serve it with a sprinkle of cheese and herbs, and a pat of butter or glug of olive oil. Otherwise, add lentils, chickpeas, beans, sausage, chicken, fish, shredded beef or pork, veggies, mushrooms, a bit of wine, and more. Don't overthink your pasta dinner. Think about the flavor profile you want to go for and then build your ultimate dish around what you have and what kinds of flavors you want your dinner to have. Easy peasy.

Frittata or quiche

This dinner relies on you having some eggs in the house, but it's one of my standard go-tos when it feels like I have nothing in the house to cook. I typically buy frozen pie shells in a two-pack, when I'm not making pie dough at home, but usually I only make one pie at a time, so it's not uncommon for me to have that already in the freezer. I also usually have milk or half and half for coffee, plus a mishmash of veggies and herbs and maybe a little cheese that can be added to my quiche. Bake it all in the pie shell and dinner's on the table in an hour or so. Not too shabby for having "nothing" in the house.