Canned Food Can Be the Building Blocks to Your Meals

Terrie James, CEA-Staff Chair

Canned food is often frowned upon by many, but really it shouldn’t be. Those shelf stable items hold some of the most versatile and flavorful ingredients. It’s time to make do with what you have in the pantry. Let these items be the building blocks to your meals.

There are so many choices on the canned food aisle that it can be intimidating. How do you know how to get the best flavor? It is easy to boost up the flavor of your canned items. None of us want green beans warmed straight from the can. But add a little pizazz and they could become a family favorite.

When using canned goods, be inventive. Have spices you haven’t tried in a while? Use this time to experiment with seasoning flavors and create dishes that may become a family favorite. You don’t want to end up eating bland dishes. You don’t need fancy spices or even a huge variety.

Before you become the next rising chef, there are some things to consider about canned goods. It’s always a good idea to rinse your canned beans and vegetables before using them. Unless you have the no sodium variety, the liquid they are canned in probably has a lot of salt. When you rinse the liquid off that they come in, you can control some of the sodium content. The best way to drain the liquid off is by pouring the can contents into a colander in the sink. The colander will catch the canned food, but the liquid will go down the drain.

Did you stock up on canned beans, but really do not know what to do with them now? Don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to turn these staples into a mouth-watering good meal. But first drain them. That thick, goopy liquid that surrounds the beans is extra starchy and full of sodium. Unless a recipe specifically calls for using this liquid, it won’t be a welcome addition to your dish.

In the case of canned tomatoes, we would not want to drain those, unless the recipe directs you to. Pour the whole can in, tomatoes and juices. For example, if making a pasta dish with stewed tomatoes, use the entire can. You will get the benefit of the flavor and vitamin-rich juice they were canned in.

That can of tomato paste you have could be the ingredient needed for intense flavor. Adding a spoonful of tomato paste could be the answer. It is a great flavor enhancer for any tomato-based sauce or even to soups.

Don’t forget that can of broth you have that will add flavor to all kinds of dishes. Vegetables, chicken or beef broth are all great at adding flavor. Consider adding chicken broth to mashed potatoes, or beef broth to the roast you are cooking. Imagine vegetable broth instead of water when cooking canned vegetables.

What about corn. This may easily be the canned vegetable in everyone’s pantry. Drain the liquid as mentioned and use it for a Black Bean and Corn Salsa. You likely have all the ingredients on hand to prepare it. Don’t have black beans? Substitute pinto, kidney, black eyed peas or any other canned beans you might have.

One last tip, if you are using canned beans or vegetables, add them toward the very end of the cooking process because they won’t take as long to cook through. The last thing you want to do is serve something that is overcooked.

Visit our webpage at for a two-week shopping list and menu, recipes using canned and dry goods, and a pantry staple list. Of course, if you have questions, contact the Hempstead County Extension Office, 870-777-5771. We’re online on Facebook:  Hempstead County Cooperative Extension Service, on Twitter @terriejames, the web at and you can reach Terrie James at her email [email protected]

Try this recipe for Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Black Bean and Corn Salsa (Serves 24/Serving Size: ¼ cup)

  • 1 (16 ounce) jar salsa
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can corn kernels, drained or 1 ½ cup frozen
  • 1 (14.4 ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or 1 teaspoon dried (parsley may be substituted)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Stir well. Cover and chill for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with chips or as a vegetarian side dish.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 30 Calories; 0 g Total Fat; 1 g Protein; 6 g Total Carbohydrate 2 g Dietary Fiber; 240 mg Sodium

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