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

Everyone has had that feeling before. It's creeping up on meal time, but 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. You have nothing to make for dinner! Time to call for carryout — or maybe not.

Believe it or not, you don't have eat take-out or make a rushed run to the grocery store. 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.

These are the meals you should make when you have "nothing" in the house.

Bowls

Burrito bowls, grain bowls, sushi bowls, veggie bowls, and any other kinds of bowl you can think of are some of our 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 us), but there are lots of things you can add to make the meal more satisfying. 

First, roast some potatoes with 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 swapped 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. We don't know about you, but we nearly always have at least a couple of eggs languishing in a carton in the 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. 

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 tortillas 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 our standard go-tos when it feels like there's just nothing in the house to cook. 

Frozen pie shells usually come in in a two-pack, so it's not uncommon to have that already in the freezer. Most people 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 a 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.

Fried rice

Everyone has a bag of rice (or few) in the pantry, and let's be honest — when you have "nothing" else, it's the perfect time to use that bag of brown rice you've been avoiding. And fried rice is super easy to make. Just cook the rice to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside. (Better yet, use leftover rice — you'll end up with a dish that's the same texture as something you'd get from your favorite Chinese restaurant.) Then, add a dash of oil and your other goodies to a frying pan or wok, and heat. Add in the rice, stir until it's tasty, and voila!

Now, what other goodies are we talking about? This is a great option for a meal because it's so versatile. If you have some eggs, scramble them and add it to make egg fried rice... or make a fried egg to put on top. Grab one of those bags of frozen vegetables, and add some peas, corn, carrots, or broccoli. Hit up the fridge for some leftovers: if there's some ham, chicken, or any kind of beef, throw that in! Add a little crunch with some of those peanuts or walnuts you've been meaning to bake with. Spice it up with some red pepper flakes and soy sauce, and you've got dinner — along with fewer leftovers and less waste.

Pizza

If you have the most basic baking ingredients, you can whip up a fun pizza. Or, better yet, a few personal pizzas, so everyone can get creative and pick what pizza toppings they want.

First, if you have basic baking ingredients, you can make your own crust. Just mix about 2.5 cups of flour with a teaspoon of salt, three teaspoons of baking powder, and ¾ cup of water. Mix, roll, and voila! (You may need to adjust the amounts of water and flour a bit to get the dough to behave properly, but once you find your ratios, you're good to go.)

Then, start looking. Most of us have at least a few jars of pasta sauce around, but there's nothing that says you have to use tomato sauce. What about the leftover sauce from last night's curry? Or how about a white pizza, with leftover linguine sauce? Or grab that jar of taco sauce, and use that. Top with all of your favorite toppings (or, as circumstances dictate, what might be your new favorite toppings), and enjoy!

And here are some other ideas: make extra pizza crust, sprinkle with a mix of cinnamon and sugar, and there's your dessert pizza. If you don't want to make your own crust, use bagels, pitas, or naan. Who doesn't love bagel pizzas?

Tuna creations

Even if you've never actually bought a can of tuna, every house just seems to come with some. When there's nothing else catching your eye, why not grab it and get creative?

Whip up some tuna melts — and they're great even if the bread is slightly past fresh. Add mayo, mustard, or even Greek yogurt, and make salads or a wrap. Saute it up with a little seasoning, and serve on open-faced sandwiches.

Or, make an old favorite that you probably haven't had in forever: tuna noodle casserole. It's easy — tuna, noodles, some cream of mushroom soup, and some vegetables. Add some bread crumbs on top for a little texture, or grab that last handful of chips that's left in the bag and use that. Not a fan? Grab some pasta sauce, noodles, and add your tuna for your protein. The next time you go to the store, you might just pick up a few extra cans.

Chili

Chili is such a versatile meal, that even if all you have in the house is a lot of nothing, you can still come up with something tasty — heck, you can even use a few cans of baked beans for the bean component!

And that doesn't even have to be there. For the base, you can use anything from tomato sauce and paste to that tomato soup that's been sitting there collecting dust. Use diced turkey, chicken, ham, or beef (perfect for using whatever's leftover from the night before), and literally, whatever you have in the pantry or your cupboards. There's a chili for anything and everything.

Canned pumpkin? Sweet potatoes? Chickpeas? Literally any kind of beans? There's a chili for that. There's even chili for those who don't like tomatoes — use chicken stock for your liquid, and make a white chili. And remember, it doesn't have to conform to the traditional idea of chili 100 percent, either. Serve over rice or noodles, or make a simple garlic bread with just slices of bread, buttered, sprinkled with garlic, and baked in the oven.

Omelets

If you have some eggs, you can definitely make omelets — and if you can make omelets, you've got the family covered for dinner.

Omelets are brilliant because of their versatility, and there's two things going on here. For starters, if you have a bunch of taco night leftovers in the fridge but not enough to make a whole meal with, you can definitely make a taco omelet with leftover meat and salsa for one person, while someone else gets one filled with ham and cheese. Best of all? You can do it under the guise of making everyone happy.

But even if there aren't any leftovers, it doesn't take much to make a delicious omelet. Season up your eggs with whatever you have handy, grab some vegetables out of the freezer, and for an extra tasty option? Crack open that jar of pesto, and use that. Omelets are also great with things like black beans and quinoa, or you know... whatever else is taking up space in the back of your cupboards.

Wraps and breakfast burritos

If you have some wraps, you have some meals. Wraps are great, especially for those nights where no one's super hungry, but you know you need to get something on the plate.

Breakfast for dinner is always a win, so whip up some breakfast burritos! Dig out some goodies like olives or hot peppers, season to make them as spicy as you want, and you'll have a quick, easy dinner

And wraps are great for building a meal around something strange in your pantry. Have some pickled onions? Make a lettuce wrap. A jar of sauerkraut? That'll go surprisingly well with those chickpeas sitting next to it, and it'll also be the main ingredient in a Reuben wrap. Make veggie wraps with rice, beans, chickpeas, and finish them off with sour cream or salsa. Have a pack of hot dogs kicking around, but no buns? Use them in wraps, along with all the fixings!

Loaded french fries

It's a pretty safe bet that either you have a few bags of french fries in the freezer, or you've got some potatoes. Either way, you can get a few platefuls of fries out of that, and that's where the real fun begins. Serve up plates of loaded fries for dinner and seriously, how can you go wrong?

It doesn't have to be complicated, either. Just look at poutine — that's just cheese curds and gravy, and you can make your own version with shredded cheese and a quick gravy. It'll suit almost anything you find in your kitchen, though, too. All it takes to make the basis of a Tex-Mex inspired plate of loaded fries is a jar of that weird cheese product — add some olives, salsa, and sauce, and you're good to go. Use whatever meat you might have leftover, or if you have some dried beans, they're pretty perfect for scooping on top, too. (Just make sure your fries are good and crispy so they stand up to the toppings.) How about using that can of chili? Or a bottle of masala sauce? The sky's the limit, and you'll never have the same thing twice.

Pancakes and crepes

If you have basic baking supplies — just flour, salt, eggs, and milk — you can make pancakes. And who doesn't love pancakes? If you have the supplies to make them, there's a couple other options, too: waffles and crepes. The proportions might be slightly different, but the basics are the same and at the end, you'll have a versatile dish that you can dress up in an almost infinite number of ways. 

Don't have maple syrup or butter? No worries! You'll just have to get creative. How about using peanut butter and jelly instead? Or, make them with that bag of chocolate chips that never made it into cookies, and drizzle with chocolate syrup. Everyone has Nutella in the cupboard, dig it out! Grab those marmalades and jams you never opened, and if you're lucky, you might just find a can of whipped cream, too.

Who says meals have to be savory and boring?

Make dinner time, snack time

This isn't just a meal, it can be a whole experience. If you're struggling to come up with something coherent to put on everyone's plates, an easy solution is just to make one big plate! Turn dinner time into time for snacking, and it's easy.

Grab a platter — the one that usually only makes it out of the cabinet around the holidays is perfect. Then, raid the pantry and your kitchen cupboards, and here's a bonus: this is the perfect time to use some of those jars you picked up a year ago and forgot about. Olives, crackers, pickles, dried fruit, nuts, sliced vegetables, pretzels, roasted red peppers, hot peppers... anything you can put on a cracker and eat, go with it! Make a batch of hard-boiled or deviled eggs, too, while you're at it. (And yes, this is the perfect time to try that mystery cheese you never quite got around to eating.)

Take a few pitas, and cut them into slices. Who says crackers get to have all the fun? You can make a simple dip — mix some sour cream and mayo to taste, and season with whatever you have in the cupboard — or, just grab a jar of mustard.

Best of all, this is the perfect meal to make into something special. Don't eat at the dinner table or in front of the TV, break out a board game and get some family time while everyone nibbles. It's a win-win.

Hash

Many dishes come with a recipe, or at least some ingredients that you just can't forget to leave out. Hash, though? It's more of a concept, and if you have nothing in the house, it's a great way to assemble a few pantry staples and some of those inevitable leftovers into something delicious.

Let's talk about the process first, and it's simple: hash is just diced up whatever, thrown into a pan (or better yet, your cast iron skillet) with a little oil, and heated until it's crisp and brown. Seriously, that's it!

Now, just check and see what kind of leftovers you have in the fridge. Typical hash comes with a main meat component, but that can be pretty much anything. Have a tad of pulled pork left, a breakfast sausage or two, maybe a burger? That's not enough for a main meal (and you know the family's just going to fight over the pulled pork), so just dice it all up for hash! (It's also a great time to check the freezer. Have a package of sausage you never got around to using, because maybe you weren't a fan? Use it here!)

Then, add a cubed potato, sweet potato, yam, whatever's on hand. Throw in some veg — whatever veg sounds good! — and crisp it up. That's it! You can definitely top it with a fried egg or some cheese, but you definitely don't have to. A warm and hearty meal? Coming up!

Egg bake/casserole

If you have eggs, you have what you need to make a delicious egg bake.

There's really no limit to the size you want to make: just lay out your ingredients and see what you've got. Basically, you're going to want to take a casserole dish, throw in your fillings, and then pour beaten eggs over the top of it all and bake. The eggs will hold everything together, and it's literally that easy.

There's a trick here, too: if you're running low on things like vegetables, potatoes, and meat to throw in (and this is the perfect way to use up leftover sausage and even some hot dogs), grab a bagel or two. Cut it into easily bite-sized pieces, and sprinkle that throughout your casserole. It'll add some great texture (and if the bagels are a day or two past fresh, it's a great way to use them up and make sure they don't go to waste). Add some seasonings, and after it's all baked, top it with salsa, hot sauce, or sour cream, and you're done.

Goulash

Goulash is a traditional Hungarian dish, but there's nothing that says you need to make a completely traditional goulash to put a delicious meal on the table — especially considering that it'll only take some pantry staples to make a hearty and filling base.

Start by grabbing some pasta noodles — really, whatever kind you have on hand will do, and no one's going to judge you for using, say, macaroni over penne. Add in a can of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, and some beef broth (which you can make with hot water and a stock cube). Add your seasonings: traditional Italian seasonings are always a good start, and if you want a touch of the authentic, add some paprika... or rather, quite a bit of it, for the color and flavor of traditional goulash.

Then, pick your meat: it's often ground beef, but it'll also work with pretty much anything from sausage to chicken. Cook your meat while your pasta-and-tomato mix is cooking and when they're all done, just mix them together! (You can, in theory, do this all in one skillet, but not knowing what meat you're using and how long it's going to take to cook it to a safe temperature, we didn't want to recommend that.)

Asian-inspired pasta

If you happen to have a box of spaghetti, how about doing something a little different with those noodles? Regular old tomato sauce can get a little boring, but it's also super easy to whip up some Asian-inspired noodles (which you could technically do no matter what kind of pasta noodles you have on hand!)

You're basically going to do two things: First, cook your noodles according to the package. Then, in a separate bowl, combine your seasonings. Reach for the soy sauces, the Sriracha, the sesame oil, the oyster sauce, the hoisin... whatever you have on hand, and mix up a tasty sauce. You might want to throw in some garlic cloves, too, if you have them — make it as mild or as spicy as you like. Mix, heat, and done!

You can just go with sauced noodles, or this is also a great way to use up those bags of veggies that always seem to collect in the fridge. There might not be enough to be a side on their own, but you can take that broccoli, those carrots, and those peppers and onions and mix them in, too.

Potato casserole

Everyone loves a good, hearty casserole, right? If you have some potatoes on hand, you can definitely use this idea to whip up something your whole family will love, and it starts out super simple: just slice your potatoes, and layer them into a casserole dish.

Then, just figure out what else you might have to add into it, and it really can be as easy as adding a can of cream and mushroom soup. Not down with cans? You can also use some basic ingredients to stir up a delicious cheese sauce. Just cook onions and butter until they're translucent, stir in a dash of garlic, then add in some flour and stock and stir until you have a sauce that's pretty close to gravy. Use shredded cheese to thicken, pour over your sliced potatoes, and potato casserole happens.

If you happen to have a can of Parmesan cheese, you can make this one even easier. Slice your potatoes, toss them in a mixture of butter and seasonings (salt and pepper are a good place to start, but you can also add some Italian seasonings), then stack them in the dish. Bake until they're tender, cover with Parmesan, and put them back in the oven for just a few minutes until it's all melted.

Tostadas

Tostadas are a brilliant option for those nights you're scrounging for something to make the family because not only are they versatile, but it's easy to make each member of the family exactly what they want. Someone wants tuna fish, while someone wants to claim the leftover pulled pork? You can make that happen.

At the heart of the idea is, of course, tostadas. If you don't have those, you can make them — just take 100 percent corn tortillas, brush them with a thin layer of oil, and bake them for around 10 minutes. Turn halfway through, and there's your tostadas.

Then, it's time for the toppings. You can use pretty much anything here, and when you have dinners like that, it's a beautiful thing. Use that leftover pulled pork and some leftover coleslaw. Crack open a can of tuna and make a tuna tostada melt. Shred those leftover chicken breasts, top with cheese, and add a dollop of sour cream. Seriously, just see what's in the fridge and pantry, and you have the vehicle to make it happen.

Pot pies

Remember pot pies? Delicious, right? When's the last time you had one? The next time you have nothing to make is a great time to dig out this old favorite.

There are a couple of ways you can do it: if you have some puff pastry or premade pie crust in the fridge, you can use that to make your pies. Filling is easy — just mix up a roux of flour stirred into melted butter, then add some shredded chicken or turkey (which is a great way to use up all those turkey leftovers) and some frozen vegetables. Add chicken broth, pour into your pie, bake, and you're done!

And here are a few alternatives. You can absolutely use a can of cream of chicken soup for making your pie filling, and just add whatever frozen veggies you have on hand. And if you don't have pie crusts, no fear — you can use biscuit mix or Bisquick to stir up a few quick biscuits. Fill a casserole dish with your "filling," scoop the biscuits on top, bake, and delish!

Cream of mushroom soup casserole

Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup is, on its own, pretty "eh." If you have a can of it, though, you have most of what you need to make a casserole or one-pan skillet diner that'll hit the spot.

Like what? Well, if you have some ground meat and noodles, you can make a tasty version of Swedish meatballs — just simmer your meatballs in the soup, thicken with sour cream (or cornstarch), and pour over egg noodles. Have a bag of green beans taking up space in the freezer? How about mixing your soup, green beans, pepper, and a dash of soy sauce, then baking for 25 minutes (at 350 degrees) for a green bean casserole?

It's great with chicken, too. A super easy way to make a chicken casserole is just to chop and brown your chicken, then add it to a casserole dish. Cover with a mixture made from the can of soup, milk, cheese, and seasoning, then bake. Serve over rice or noodles, and there's dinner sorted.

Stuffed crescent rolls/pinwheels

A container of refrigerated crescent rolls is another thing that if you have one of these in your fridge, you actually have all kinds of options for lunch or dinner — it just takes a bit of creativity to find them.

An easy one? Grab some hot dogs, roll them into the crescent rolls, and bake. Add some cheese or some bacon in there if you happen to have it, but it's not needed: because who doesn't love hot dogs for dinner?

You can also do all kinds of pinwheels, which you make by simply seaming the crescent rolls into a single sheet, and covering that with whatever you'd like. (Ideas are endless: pizza sauce and cheese? Shredded chicken and diced broccoli? What about just using some pesto?) Roll the sheet into a log, then cut the log into equally-sized pieces. Transfer to a baking sheet, bake until the center is cooked through, and serve.

You can also turn this idea into a topping for something like pasta. Fill a casserole dish with pasta noodles and sauce, make your pinwheels with a cheese filling, then use those pinwheels to cover the top of your casserole dish. Bake, and dinner's served.