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Tips For Make Do Recipes

Eating from a well stocked pantry 

Today's post on make do recipes was written by Pam Warren


This is an interesting subject, and I have been thinking about it for a few days. In our 40 years of marriage these are the type of things we do when money is tight:

Eat What We Have.

That means checking the freezer and the pantry and figuring out how to make meals from what we find. This usually means casseroles, soup, pancakes and other thrown together meals. When the kids were little, we always had soup one day and pancakes one day each week. We also had bean soup with homemade bread once or so a week. I usually had flour and yeast to make bread, and beans have always been inexpensive. We eat navy beans most up here in Michigan, they are grown in the farm country just north of were we live.

Eating what you have in the freezer 

When my grandsons were living here with their mother we had a lot of casseroles, I called it hamburger surprise. There was always more surprise than hamburger in those dishes, and often it was ground turkey or chicken, not hamburger. Funny how the things (like hamburger) that were cheap and became familiar while I was a child have become pricey these days.

In the 1960's, there was a "tuna scare", but I cannot tell the exact reason. Anyway, canned tuna was cheaper than cheap, and my mother bought a lot of it. We ate tuna everything for months.

These days, I save all the odds and ends of meat, broth and veggies, and my husband makes soup every Sunday. He carries it in his lunch very day, it is actually free, if you don't count the cans of vegetables and tomato juice from our garden that he opens up and adds.


Use whatever cheese you have (or don't use it) when called for in a recipe. Use milk instead of cream/half and half or whatever. It won't matter that much. You can make any casserole with less meat, a cheaper meat (like ground turkey instead of beef). If using less meat, substitute more vegetables instead of using more starch.

Make your own.

Forget buying cookies, cakes, brownies pies or other dessert items. Make your own, and serve less often. You can buy the ingredients to make many cakes for the price of one cake mix. Frosting is much cheaper to make that to buy in a little can, and yours will taste much better.

Don't buy frozen dinners, packaged individual servings of anything, or other highly prepared foods. Many contain things you wouldn't eat if you thought about it, and way too much salt. 

With all that in mind, here is the recipe that I use for dumplings. They make whatever you eat with them go a lot farther!

Fluffy Dumplings:
2C flour (consider using at least half whole wheat flour)
4 t baking powder
a pinch of salt
3T butter, margarine, or shortening (use what you have)
An egg if you have it

Mix four, baking powder and salt in bowl with a spoon. Sift together if desired. Work shortening into the mixture with a pastry blender or 2 knives.

Beat the egg in a measuring cup, and add milk to make just over 1/2 cup, and dump into the bowl with the flour mixture. Mix with a spoon, and add more milk a little at a time to make a stiff dough.

Quickly drop by teaspoonfuls on the top of simmering soup or stew, and put a tight lit on the pot.  Lower the heat and cook 20 to 25 minutes. Spoon the dumplings out onto a plate and serve with the soup.

Do not lift the lid, and make sure it fits tight or the dumplings will be soggy.


I hope you enjoyed Pam's tips as much as I did. I think my overall favorite is-use what you have. I know I'm guilty of buying groceries when I could make a meal out of what I already have.

Got any tips to add? Leave Pam a comment and I'll make sure she reads it.


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Hi Tipper,

I love this post! Back in October of last year, I decided that I would challenge myself to use up a lot of the groceries that I had squirreled away before buying anything except a few staples at the store. Oh, my! The canned goods I had. First, it was an eye opener to just go through and see the "out of date" labels. Next to the freezer and the use by dates. I know that some of those cans and packages could probably have been spared, but I didn't want to take any chances on just one bringing on the tummy aches. Once those were cleared out, I set to work using what I had. Ever had pork and bean salad? It is fantastic, and my daddy made the best. Served with fried potatoes and for a king! Yes, I started baking more. No more store bought cookies or pies or cakes. It seems like homemade tastes better and lasts longer. If I can't pronounce the ingredients on the label, it probably doesn't need to be eaten. I loved the post above where the family's dog even sniffed a good while before eating "store bought."
Have a great day, Tipper!

If you like Hamburger Helper, Suzanne over at Chickens in the Road has recipes for several homemade hamburger helper dishes. I've tried a couple of them and they are delicious. And a whole lot healthier without all those preservatives added in.

Keeping a good stocked pantry with the basics means that in the lean times you'll be able to eat off it with little or no addition from the store! We're trying hard right now to get a mortgage and need every penny in the bank, so we've been living off our pantry stash with only a visit to the store for milk and TP! (gg) ((Note to self, stock up on TP next time!) It's been an awesome savings for us in a time of need and it's actually been a little fun to make up creative meals with what's on hand.

Awesome article, Pam! Everyone needs to think about things like this... eat simple, eat good! Save the fancy meals for Sunday dinner if you need too!

Hey Tipper,
Pam's right about using what you have on hand. That extra trip to the store for something you're craving instead of just fixing out of the fridge or pantry can be a habit. We are guilty of that here as well...I think TV commercials, featured cooks n' recipea on the news daily..etc, plus all the subliminal messages about food make us think we always want something different to eat..LOL...
My husband doesn't hunt now..we still fish...and keep crappie in the anything it can be expensive but when we catch fish we eat'em.
We do buy venison every year from friends that still hunt..We just pay the processing fee when he takes the deer to the plant..they always hunt different states,etc. and have more than they can eat so we buy it that way.
I make my dumplings like Pam except I use self-rising flour and drop them good and thickens the stew or chicken..yummm..My husbands Mama made the best rolled out and sliced ones...but once he tasted mine..he was hooked on the fluffy ones, too...LOL
Thanks for a great post..Tipper

Well you could buy a pack of bologna at .99 and a loaf of bread at the cheapest cost and eat that for supper and possibly lunch for under $20.00 a month.

Good post! It's amazing how adaptable most recipes are to what you do or don't have on hand.

Another way to stretch meat is to use bones to make soups. They taste richer, and the soup winds up with a really meaty flavor, even if there is not much actual meat in it. It seems like most people just throw the bones away, and it seems like such a waste...

Thanks for all the comments, folks. I enjoyed reading them.

My cousin & I were talking one day about how we never have the right ingredients to make things or we have all but one or two things. So we have to make a special trip to the grocey to make the dish.It got me thinking how different cooking is now then it was years ago. All these new finangled recipes yet our mouth waters when we think about our grandma's or our mother's cooking. It hit me like a ton of bricks one day.... Why not just try to go back to those basic meals. They were so good & they didn't call for crazy things that we don't have anyway.

I did the best possible thing, I bought an old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I found it at a yard sale for $1.00! I'm surprised at how much you can make with so little! I was so happy with my find, now I always am on the look out for old cookbooks & I have so many now, I'd almost call me a collector. The ones from churches are the best.

So that's my tip; find old cookbooks, they're wonderful!


I enjoyed Pam's tips on using what you have to cook. My aunt was always great about using everything except the kitchen sink in her dishes. Mama always made up her recipes, too. She never used a measuring cup, just did a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Her food always turned out so good.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

I like soup just about anyway it's made except with cabbage.You can use up leftover vegetables out of the frig and it's good. I've also just used meat, onion and potatoes when I had nothing else. Anyway it's fixed it's good with a biscuit or cornbread.

I love Pam's comment about prepared food containing "things you wouldn't eat if you thought about it". I think this also goes for eating out - I've been eating at home much more often, and can only attribute my extra energy -not to mention money! - to making my own food (without all those things I wouldn't have been eating if I'd thought about it!). Great post!

Tipper--Another whole side of this equation is killing and catching what you eat. You regularly touch on growing things to eat, but we shouldn't for a moment forget that our ancestors depended heavily and widely on nature's rich bounty for sustenance. A single deer, depending on its size, will produce from 45-70 pounds of meat, and it is far healthier than any hamburger. A mature tom turkey will weigh 17-20 pounds (maybe half of that edible), and then there are all the scrumptious small game animals--squirrels, rabbits, grouse, etc. Taking matters one step further, muskrats, 'coons, and ground hogs, properly dressed and prepared, make mighty fine eating.

On the fish side of things, you'll have to do a great deal to convince me there is much of anything better than a mess of speckled trout all dressed up in cornmeal dinner jackets, fried to a golden brown, and flanked by a salad of "kilt" branch lettuce and ramps, with pan-fried taters on the side.

We eat a lot of game and fish at our house, and in tough times more and more folks are doing likewise. The health benefits are undeniable, and as the deer hunter well knows, the purusit is pure passion. Nor the feeling of putting "meat on the table" be overlooked.

Maybe that's why Miss Ann and this old codger have written a whole bunch of game, fish, and wild foods cookbooks--it's what we use on the table.

Jim Casada

Pam Warren is a fantastic example
of 'making do' with what you got.
I learned also why sometimes my
bread dumplings are not fluffy in
my chicken n' dumplings. I use my
canned tomatoes and white runner
green beans in a lot of different
ways and there's nothing in 'em
but salt. Have you ever read all
the ingredients in canned anything
that you buy? When I use a canned
meat and discard the empty can,
I give it to my Jack Russel fiest
and he just smells at it forever
before he'll try it. He can smell
those chemicals that we can't.
Thank you, Pam...Ken

Yes, I think the best advice is to use what you have on hand. When my dumplings didn't come out right, I always called them dough balls.

These are all great ideas & they sound like normal life for me. When you use what you have & make everything yourself- food really doesn't cost that much.

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