Better Ideas for Better Times

Easy, Very Tasty Recipes made with typical emergency food pantry groceries.

Doing what you can, with what you have, where you are.

When you get a bag of groceries from a food pantry, it's not always easy to figure out how to make a meal out of what you are given. Food pantries depend on donations, and often odd stuff gets thrown into the sack. Plus, emergency groceries are usually long on beans, rice, flour, canned corn, and other basic foods. This flyer is to give you some ideas and recipes for low-cost cooking, using ingredients typically distributed by emergency food pantries.

Invent your own casserole

A casserole consists of six basic ingredients: meat, vegetables, filler, sauce, seasonings, and topping. Example: meat could be hamburger, chopped ham, fried and crumbled bacon, or sliced wieners. Vegetables could be one or two cans of whatever you have in the pantry. The "filler" helps you stretch the value of the more expensive meat and vegetables. This could be rice, noodles, potatoes, macaroni. Seasonings are whatever you like -- if you have no special favorites, try parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. A sauce can be melted cheese, or a can of soup (lots of people use cream of mushroom), or a homemade white sauce. For a topping, crumble some crackers and saute them in melted butter or oil, sprinkle on top. Generally, you cook the meat and the filler before making the casserole.

Shepherd's Pie

Fry 1/2 pound hamburger and drain grease. Add 1 chopped onion, garlic, and 1-2 cans of vegetables, drained. Simmer 5 minutes. Stir in two tablespoons of flour, add 1 cup water with some beef bouillon dissolved in it, 1/2 cup milk, and 1 can of cream of mushroom soup. If you have some cheese, add it (or a packet of cheese powder from boxed macaroni and cheese. Creamed corn works well in this recipe. Put in a casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. If you don't have any hamburger, you can use chopped spam, or sliced wieners, or a can of chicken.

Cornbread Meatloaf

Fry some bacon and remove from pan, cut it in pieces. Add 1 chopped onion and 1/2 pound hamburger to bacon grease, fry until done (drain grease if you're worried about calories). Add bacon pieces, 1 can cream of tomato soup, 1/2 soup can water, 1-2 cans beans (or more, depending on how many you're feeding), chili and garlic powder, crushed red pepper if you like it hot. Simmer this mixture over a low fire for about 20 minutes, stirring often. If it gets thick, add more water. At the end of the 20 minutes, add grated cheese if you have it, stir well. Put in a casserole dish if you aren't using a cast iron skillet. Pour your favorite cornbread batter over the top. Bake in a 400 degree oven until cornbread is done, about 20-30 minutes. If you don't have any hamburger, this recipe tastes great with beans only.

Easy Very Tasty Grits Casserole

Put 1 cup uncooked grits in 3 cups boiling water, add some garlic powder or chopped fresh garlic, reduce heat and cook until thick. Remove from heat and add 2 tbspn margarine (you can add cheese, or a packet of cheese powder from boxed mac & cheese). Fry some breakfast sausage, ham, or smoked sausage, add 1 chopped onion and 1-2 cans of beans, with their liquid. Place this meat/bean mixture in a casserole pan or cast iron skillet. Add hot sauce or jalapenos if desired. Beat 3 eggs and 1 cup milk together, add to grits and mix well. Pour on top of sausage/bean mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. If you don't have sausage, make this one with beans only, or use hamburger.

Pork Steak Delight

Cut pork steaks in half and brown well in skillet. Remove from pan, add 2 cups uncooked rice and 1 chopped onion and fry for 2-3 minutes. Put rice and onion into large baking dish, add four cups of water and a can of cream of mushroom soup, mix well. Place pork steaks on top of rice, bake at 325 degrees for one hour. You can add parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme to this recipe.


A good gravy adds a lot to an otherwise plain meal. The basic rule of thumb is: 2 tablespoons of oil or fat plus 2 tablespoons of flour plus 1 cup of beef or chicken stock or milk makes a cup of medium-thick gravy. You can use margarine, butter, bacon grease, shortening, hamburger grease, sausage, whatever you have. Melt it in the pan, and add 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir and cook until the flour starts to brown, then add the milk or water all at once. Keep cooking, stirring continuously, until it thickens, which won't be long (a few minutes). Tip: Powdered milk makes great sauces, you can't tell the difference between gravy made with fresh milk and gravy made with powdered milk.

Sausage Gravy for 8 Hungry Adults

When I make sausage gravy for 8 people, I fry 1/4 pound of sausage with about 1/2 cup of shortening in a skillet. Add 1 cup flour to the sausage and grease, brown it lightly, and then add 2 quarts liquid (usually 1 quart of milk and 1 quart water, I use mayonnaise jars to measure the liquid) . Add salt and pepper to taste. Gravy may take a bit of practice, but it is worth the effort.

Easy Very Tasty Biscuit Mix

Mix 6 cups flour, 9 tsp baking powder, 1-1/2 tsp salt, and 3/4 cup powdered milk. Add 3/4 cup oil (or margarine, butter, or shortening). Mix well. Store in an air tight container, in a cool place. This makes enough for 3 bakings of biscuits. Biscuits for Three: Combine 2 cups biscuit mix with 3/4 cup water. Knead for a couple of minutes and form into biscuits. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Buttermilk biscuits, add 1/2 tsp soda to the dry mix, and then add buttermilk instead of plain water. Baking buttermilk can be made by adding 1 tsp vinegar to the milk, let it sit for 30 minutes before adding to the dry ingredients.

Pancakes from Biscuit Mix

Add 1-1/4 cups water to 1-1/4 cups biscuit mix, plus 1 beaten egg. Mix thoroughly, cook on hot griddle until done, turning once. For buttermilk pancakes, add buttermilk instead of water, or use the vinegar in regular milk trick mentioned above.

Scalloped Veggies

Use 2 cans vegetables, drained, put in a greased casserole dish. Add 1 can cream of mushroom soup and 1/2 soup can milk. Top with 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs or crumbled crackers mixed with melted margarine or butter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until crumbs are browned. You can also add some shredded cheese to the top.

Medium White Sauce

If you don't have cream of mushroom soup, this will substitute in any recipe that calls for a creamed soup. To make 2 cups medium white sauce: put 4 tablespoons oil or butter/margarine in a skillet, melt, add four tablespoons flour, brown the flour, add 2 cups milk, stir over a medium flame until it thickens. To make a cheese sauce, add 2 or 3 slices of cheese, or some grated cheese (about 1/2 cup per cup of sauce), and 1/4 tsp dry mustard if you have it (dry mustard, not prepared like people put on sandwiches).

Corn Chowder

Drain 2 cans whole kernel corn, put in a crockpot. Add 2 to 3 medium potatoes (chopped in small pieces), 1 chopped onion, 2 cups chicken broth (water with chicken bouillon will work fine), salt and pepper to taste (crushed red pepper can be added if you like it hot). Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or so. Puree in a blender or use a mixer (if you have neither, stir it vigorously to combine the ingredients and flavors). Return to the crockpot, add 1/4 cup butter or margarine and 2 cups milk, cook on high for 1 more hour.

Corn-Tomato Casserole

Combine in a baking dish: 2 cans of corn (drained), 2 cans any kind of stewed tomatoes (if whole, chop them a bit), some chopped onion and green pepper (if you have it), 1/2 cup cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine, 1 tbsp sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with some grated cheese (or add a packet of cheese powder from boxed macaroni and cheese to the mix). Sprinkle the top with another 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs, dot with margarine or butter. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

Rice & Corn Casserole

Melt some butter or margarine in a skillet, add 2 chopped onions, 1 can of corn (drained), 2 tsp chili powder, salt, pepper, and 1 cup uncooked rice. Saute until onions are slightly cooked. If you have some chopped black olives, you can add them too. Add 2 cups water with chicken or beef bouillon dissolved in it. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes until water is absorbed by the rice. If you already have cooked rice, reduce liquid to 1/2 cup and simmer for only five to ten minutes. If you have a can of cream of mushroom or chicken soup, that can also be added.

Scalloped potatoes and frankfurters

Cook 1-1/2 cup onions and 4-1/2 cups thinly sliced potatoes in a small amount of boiling water for five minutes, drain. Mix 2 tbsp flour and 2 cups milk (put in a jar, put the lid on, shake vigorously). Put 1/3 of the potatoes and onions in a casserole dish, top with wieners or frankfurters cut in half lengthwise, sprinkle with some dried parsley. Pour 1/3 of the sauce over this. Add another 1/3 of the potatoes, the rest of the wieners, sprinkle with dried parsley and add another 1/3 of the sauce. Put the rest of the potatoes on top, pour on the remaining sauce, bake 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees. You can add a cheese packet from boxed macaroni and cheese to the milk and flour, or you can top it with grated cheese.

Basic Beans

Wash beans and pick out any rocks or debris. Soak in water overnight. Drain any water that is left, and add plenty of water and some bacon or a ham bone, bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer for about 1-1/2 hours or until the beans are tender. You can also add chili powder, cayenne pepper, onions, garlic, shredded carrots or some maple syrup at the beginning. If you need to add water after the beans are cooking, add only hot water. Add salt at the end of the cooking. For refried beans, drain the liquid from the cooked beans (save it), and put the beans in a skillet with some fried bacon grease or oil, and mash thoroughly, add about 1/2 cup of bean liquid for each cup of beans mashed. For bean dip, add some salsa, cheese, onion and garlic powder.

Ramen Tuna Noodles

Cook 2 packages ramen noodles (without the seasoning packets) until tender, drain and return to the hot pan. Add the seasoning packets, some cheese, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 can drained tuna, and stir gently until mixed and hot throughout. If you have some parmesan cheese, sprinkle it with that. Add crushed red pepper if you like it hot.

Corn Bread

Combine in a mixing bowl: 1-1/2 cups corn meal, 1/2 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, a dash of salt, 1 tablespoon sugar (optional). After the dry ingredients are mixed, add 1/4 cup oil or margarine, mix thoroughly. Beat 1 egg in 1 cup of milk, mix quickly with dry ingredients, pour into a greased baking dish (a cast iron skillet works great), bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes (or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean).

Abbreviations: thspn is tablespoon, tsp is teaspoon, lb is pound.

Prepared by Bob Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, . The world will be saved by Beauty.

Better Times Cookbook | Justpeace | Better Times | |Access to Energy Conservation | On Pilgrimage in Oklahoma City

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