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Cooking from Your Pantry

By PennState Extension

Apr 08, 2020

With so many of us practicing social distancing, it may be difficult to make regular trips to the grocery store. Turning to nonperishable foods is a great option for keeping your kitchen well stocked. What is nonperishable food? Non-perishable food items are those with a much longer shelf life that does not require refrigeration. Typically, non-perishable foods include canned goods, dry goods, and dehydrated foods.

According to the Canned Food Alliance, there is consumer uncertainty about whether canned foods are healthy. Despite this perception, they can be a nutritious, accessible, convenient, affordable and flavorful option. Non-perishable foods are comparable to cooked, fresh and frozen varieties in their nutrient content. Fruits and vegetables in any form; canned, fresh, frozen, dried and 100% juice provide important nutrients for a healthy diet.

How can you use non-perishable foods available at the grocery store?

  • Canned tuna, chicken, and salmon can be used in many main dishes. Choose tuna packed in water over oil to lower the fat content.
  • Canned beans, green chilies, and mushrooms can be used in casseroles and dips.
  • Canned vegetables can be used in soups, stews, and casseroles.
  • Canned beans are a good protein source and can be used in main dish recipes.
  • If canned beans are not available, try dried beans. Read the label as they will need to be soaked before using. This must be done on the stovetop, not in a crockpot. Soak the dried beans in water for at least five hours (some recommend soaking the beans for at least twelve hours). Discard the soaking water which will contain leached out toxins. Rinse the beans and cover them with fresh water. Boil the beans (rapid boil) for at least ten minutes. It is then safe to add the beans to the slow cooker and proceed with the recipe.
  • Canned tomatoes and tomato products are a flavorful addition to soups, stews, or casseroles.
  • Canned fruit can be used in fruit salads, parfaits, and other desserts.
  • Granola bars, cereal bars or trail mix make a healthy snack.

Other non-perishable items to stock in your pantry can include:

  • Boxed pasta
  • Boxed grains
  • Boxed cereals
  • Oatmeal
  • Shelf-stable milk and juices- refrigerate after opening

Food Safety Tips for Canned Foods

While canned foods are nutritious and easy to prepare, it is important to handle them safely in order to avoid food poisoning and other health concerns.

  • Store canned foods wisely. Keep them in a cool, dry place where temperatures are below 85 degrees
  • Before opening the can wipe the top off with soap and water, and rinse off the lid prior to opening the can
  • Once the can is opened the food must be treated as fresh food. For maximum flavor and nutrient value from canned foods, it is best to refrigerate products immediately after opening. Store food in airtight containers in the refrigerator to retain taste and nutrient quality. Never store food in the can with foil over the top of the can.
  • Canned food retains its nutrients for up to two years because the can is completely sealed, and the food inside is cooked and stored in a vacuum.
  • Do not buy a can if it is badly dented. A small dent won’t cause the food in the can to deteriorate. However, if there is damage to the seams where the metal is joined at the top, bottom or side it could become contaminated by the air and bacteria.

Pasta with Tomatoes and White Beans

Yield: 4 servings


  • 2 (14.5 ounces) cans Italian-style diced tomatoes (low sodium if possible)
  • 1 (14.5 ounces) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
  • 8 ounces penne pasta
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap. Scrubbing hands and arms for at least 20 seconds. Dry hands with a single-use paper towel.
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
  3. Meanwhile, combine tomatoes and beans in a large non-stick skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.
  4. Add spinach to the sauce; cook for 2 minutes or until sauce is warmed, stirring frequently.
  5. Serve sauce over pasta, and sprinkle with parmesan.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 460 calories; 5.9 g fat; 79 g carbohydrates; 23.4 g protein; 17 mg cholesterol; 593 mg sodium.

Adapted from:

Cocoa Pumpkin Brownies

Yield 24 bars


  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
  • 6 tablespoons canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap. Scrubbing hands and arms for at least 20 seconds. Dry hands with a single-use paper towel.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  3. Grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan.
  4. Combine granulated sugar, butter, pumpkin and water in a large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract.
  5. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; stir into sugar mixture.
  6. Spread into prepared baking pan.
  7. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean
  8. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Nutritional Facts Per Serving: Calories 120, Calories from Fat 30, Total Fat 3.5g, Saturated Fat 2g, Cholesterol 25mg, Sodium 65mg 3%

Adapted from:

Tuna Burgers

Yield 6 burgers


  • 2 (4.5-ounce) cans low-sodium tuna, packed in water (canned chicken works well too)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, divided
  • 1 cup low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup non-fat Ranch salad dressing
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • Non-stick cooking spray


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap. Scrubbing hands and arms for at least 20 seconds. Dry hands with a single-use paper towel.
  2. Drain tuna, separate into flakes using a fork.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine tuna, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, salad dressing, and onion.
  4. Form six patties; coat each side with remaining 1/2 cup breadcrumbs.
  5. Spray non-stick skillet with cooking spray; heat to medium heat.
  6. Cook patties 3–5 minutes on each side until golden brown and the internal temperature of each patty reaches 160°F.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 230 calories, Total Fat 8 g, Saturated Fat 4 g, Protein 17 g, Total Carbohydrate 20 g, Dietary Fiber 3 g, Sodium 430 mg

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