How to Pack Lunch When the Fridge is Empty

The fridge was almost completely empty yesterday when I looked into it to figure out what to pack for lunch. It’s actually kind of insane how much food Matt and I go through in one weekend of eating every meal at home! At first, I was tempted to buy lunch at school. But then I reminded myself: be creative! How to pack lunch when the fridge is almost empty? Why, use the pantry of course :) (and random odds and ends from the fridge!)


One of my very favorite pantry creations is super simple, nutritious, and delicious: beans and rice!


I started with a serving of whole grain 90 second microwave rice. Best invention ever.


Then, I topped it with a serving of canned black beans (drained and rinsed):


And a hefty pour of marinara sauce, plus a little grated gouda cheese that was hiding in the fridge. Yum!


Sorry for the blur — apparently I was excited.

To go on the side, I made a makeshift salad with the only produce left in the fridge — baby spinach and raw broccoli, topped with a little more grated smoked gouda :)


(Speaking of Gouda, Matt wants me to make a fANNEtastic t-shirt that says “Gouda makes it Greata” to counter my “Feta Makes It Betta” shirt, lol.)

Plus a little baggie of Newman’s Own organic balsamic vinaigrette!


I always like ending my meals with fruit for something sweet and refreshing — but my fruit bowl was sad and empty. I improvised with another pantry find — some unsweetened applesauce!



For an afternoon snack, I grabbed another item hiding in the pantry — a random Kashi crunchy granola bar. Love the pumpkin spice flavor :)


All ready to go!


(I remembered to pack a fork for the salad/rice & beans, but not a spoon for the applesauce. Fail.)

I also brought along my travel mug with a packet of tea, which I’ve been doing almost every day this semester! Just add (free) hot water :) This is my #1 tip for saving money — travel with your own coffee or tea!


The only time this won’t work is when it starts getting warmer out and I want iced tea instead ;)

I’m off to school — have a wonderful day!

p.s. Check out my guest post over on the Attune Foods blog! This month’s theme was writing about what the phrase “What Matters Most is What’s Inside” means to us. It took me a long time to decide what to write about, so please go see I came up with :)

p.p.s. Look at the super cute grab button my awesome graphic designer Bailey made for me!! I’m adding it to my sidebar as a fun thing for you guys to “grab” to put on your own blogs if you want :) Hehe. If any of you grab it it will make my day — please let me know if you do! All you have to do is copy the html in the box below and paste it into one of your sidebar html widgets.

Okay, now I’m really off to class. Have a good one!


  1. 1

    You are very original. I love your choices. Have a wonderful Tuesday. I will have to try the microwavable rice. I love rice.

  2. 2

    Great lunch — and wonderful blog on Attune Foods! Well done –

  3. 3

    P.S. I spend over $200 per week on food for my family. (Growing grandkids), and I am very frugal. I try to clip as many coupons as possible but sometimes I am just too busy with my domestic engineering job.

  4. 4

    I always end up throwing random odds and ends in my lunch too! It always seems to work out

  5. 5

    I was reading your blog this morning and realized I hadn’t said hi here in a while! Probably because of how angry I am at your, ‘Oh it’s 70 degrees and sunny! Is it still winter?!’ tweets, being here in Minneapolis for the winter where it is… -9 this morning! I just have to tell myself that it will be 70 here someday. Like, in August :)

    As always, great quick lunch post!

    • 6

      Well hello there! :) And don’t feel too bad – just remind yourself that come summer you will be the one bragging and I’ll be the one complaining, as I drown in my own sweat from 100 degree days with 100% humidity ;)

  6. 7

    My all-time favorite quick lunch is a sweet potato and canned beans :) if I can’t find something easy to bring I’d always buy, so I love your quick lunch tips!

  7. 8

    Your frugality is very impressive, disciplined, and creative. Smart, too!

  8. 9
    Jill in Chicago says

    Yummy lunch! I’ve started hoarding tiny containers that come with take-out (the ones that hold marinara with garlic bread, for example,) to use for salad dressing in my packed lunches. I’ve been lucky enough to find ones that fit inside the tupperware container on top of the salad, but I think those larger plastic square baby-food containers would probably work well, too. (Once I even tried a re-usable travel shampoo bottle but it ended up being difficult to wash!)

  9. 10

    Your lunch is so creative! I almost always pack a sandwich because they’re so easy to prep and simple to carry, but then I end up craving something different. I do carry my own tea bags, though!

  10. 11

    Way to make it work for cheap- as a grad student I appreciate that ;)

  11. 12

    I just love smoked gouda – by far, one of my favorite cheeses!
    Love the button too! :)

  12. 13

    When my fridge is almost empty, my head pretty much explodes! If i don’t have plenty of food on hand, it is a crisis, aka I sprint out to the store to replenish my much-loved produce. I’m impressed by your pantry finds! Kudos, girlie girl!:)

  13. 14

    It will too work in the spring and summer. Get cold tea brew bags from lipton. Makes iced in with cold wter.

  14. 15

    I need to get more innovative in packing lunches when the fridge is empty! Instead, I panic that my “usual go-tos” are out and go back to the store, rather than using the odds and ends that I have.

    I also bring my own tea packets around, I hate paying like $2 for a cup of tea when I have plenty of delicious tea bags of my own at home!

  15. 16

    Next time I use one of your recipes (which will likely be soon) I’m definitely using that widget!
    And your lunch packing looks similar to mine – I always keep frozen veggies on hand for my green fix too.

  16. 17

    I added your button to my blog!! :) Great use of your improvising skills with the lunch!

  17. 19

    I always bring my lunches, and there are many days where I randomly go through my pantry to try and figure out what to bring to eat! You did good!

  18. 20

    First – I added your button to my blog.

    Second – I love this post about using up what you find. You were able to eat a healthier meal and spend less money than if you went out. Way to go with the inspiration.

  19. 22

    I had the same “my fridge is empty” moment this morning. Your lunch looks a lot better than mine. I will have to try to be a bit more creative next time!

  20. 23

    What a creative lunch! Looks tasty too! :)
    Cute button!!!! :)

    Oh, and I love the shirt suggestion!

  21. 24

    your random pantry lunch looks great! :) i’m impressed with what you came up with. i need to start bringing tea in my travel mug!

  22. 25

    your lunch looks delicious. ANd feta is betta haha
    Your button is really cute! I am trying to add it to my bag, but Im having trouble on wordpress (do you know how to add it?? )

  23. 27
    Heather berardis says

    Love ur website!!! Love the Gouda shirt idea…just saw on Dr. Oz that two slices of Gouda each day helps to prevent cancer. It is high in Vit K 2 which inhibits angiogenesis (cancer growth). I’ll buy one!!!! Keep up the awesome work…ur very inspiring!!

  24. 29

    Tell Matt he’s an amateur. It needs to rhyme so should be something like, “Gouda is good Fooda”!

  25. 31

    I love pantry lunches like that because you use up on the random stuff you buy & never use :) Lunch looks pretttttyyyy delish!

  26. 32

    Pumpkin Spice Kashi?????? I need to get some of those!! Looks like a great lunch.

  27. 33

    I “grabbed” your button :)

  28. 35

    That’s so cool! Home-made is still the best choice because you can maintain your health balance and have had a healthy snack/lunch. You might be interested of trying the stainless steel tiffin container. You can stack your lunches in there without no hassle. You can guarantee that it’s very safe to use. Stainless steels are the best alternative for plastic ware types. Also, This type of lunch pack container is easy to use, durable, reusable and earth friendly. You can choose from many design, sizes and shape at a very affordable price.

  29. 36

    For all your trying to save money readers without much time, a lb of black beans or really any kind of dry bean except kidney beans are amazing in the crockpot. They don’t even require soaking provided you make a 1c bean to 3 c water/broth ratio. Store in fridge for 3-4 days and voila! Easy, cheap protien costing approximately 2-4$ depending on where you live in the country. This also allows you to control the sodium content as canned beans are more expensive and laden with it.

    • 37

      Great tip! I registered for a crockpot – I’ll have to try this!

      • 38

        A crockpot investment is completely worth it and they last for years. It took me about four times to figure out the spice combo I like for my different bean recipes, especially black beans, so it may be a trial and error for you at first. The beans are also freezable. The crockpots are great for almost any type of soup as well.

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