woman's hands holding a colander of spaghetti above a table

The news about people panic buying and stockpiling food during the current pandemic makes me think of my mom’s resourceful meals when I was growing up. Mom always had two staples in the house: pasta and eggs. She could create an infinite variety of inexpensive, simple meals using those two ingredients as a base.

Some of our favorite pasta dishes were pasta and peas, pasta and potatoes, pasta with “dirty sauce” (a small amount of chop meat sautéed in olive oil and added to tomato sauce), pasta with clam sauce, or pasta simply tossed with garlic and olive oil. Fried, leftover spaghetti was almost as good as freshly made.

Like pasta, eggs were an inexpensive and versatile ingredient. If you could make an omelet, you could make a meal. My favorites were pepper and eggs or spinach, potato, or onion frittata. When topped with ketchup and served on a big piece of Italian bread, eggs made a fabulous, satisfying meal! I enjoy Eggs in Purgatory — eggs poached in tomato sauce — as a perfect, meat-free meal for Lent.

With pasta or eggs, you can always make a meal. Omelets and pasta dishes are easy to make. And you can even use leftovers to create a new meal and prevent food waste (which was a “sin” in our house!).

Perhaps you’re avoiding gluten, so you don’t eat pasta, or you’re vegan, so eggs are out. But you probably have a few staples that can be the base for your inexpensive meals. Consider rice instead of pasta, tofu instead of eggs — how many variations can you create with the ingredients you have at home?

In uncertain times, we can be resourceful — even creative — with shortages. Experiment with what you have on hand; you may even discover new favorite dishes that don’t require a lot of expensive ingredients.

And for dessert, consider Grandma Jennie’s Rainy Day Cake, which she changed depending on the ingredients she had in the house. Experiment and enjoy!

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.