Simple tips for using canned foods from community food pantries

Make your canned food meals a little more tasty.

Hungry families and individuals who use community emergency food pantries receive several canned foods, like fruits and vegetables, as well as other non-perishable foods. 

While fresh foods are always recommended for meal preparation, a study conducted by University of California Davis reaffirmed results from past nutrition studies regarding canned foods. Research showed that some canned foods actually present higher levels of essential nutrients than similar fresh or frozen items.

According to the Canned Food Alliance, the benefits of using canned foods are:

  • They add a variety of food types in your meal planning. Adding canned beans or chickpeas and canned tuna to a fresh garden salad instantly makes the meal more interesting and adds important nutrients, from the pop of a can.
    •  Canned foods and other forms of food (fresh, frozen, canned and dried) included in your cooking can add more flavors to your meals and save on your food budget.
    • If you are crunched for time to prepare meals like a lot of busy families, especially during the week, using canned foods will help you to get food on the table quickly.
    • Fresh food, while undoubtedly delicious and nutritious, can spoil if not used a short time after purchase.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that canned vegetables and beans first be rinsed to decrease salt content. Be sure to always read food labels and when possible, choose the low sodium varieties of canned foods.

There are still consumer questions about whether or not canned foods are healthy for you. The Canned Food Alliance says that despite the fact canned foods are getting a “bad rap”, they are actually nutritious, accessible, convenient, affordable and flavorful.

SNAP and WIC recipients often use community food pantries and want to know how to flavor and spice up canned foods when preparing meals.

Ask your local food pantry if they have recipes for participants as most community food pantries offer  nutrition recipes. These recipes are easy to prepare using food distributed from the pantry. There are several ways you can add pizazz to your meal preparation using canned food.

  • Canned chili beans, green chilies, mushrooms to casseroles, salads, etc.
  • Canned vegetables to soups, stews, salads and casseroles; Use canned mixed vegetables in casserole and skillet dish recipes
  • Canned beans to soups, stews, nachos and casseroles
  • Canned tomatoes and tomatoe products to one-pot and skillet meals, casseroles, soups and stews
  • Canned cream soups to casseroles
  • Canned fruit to fruit salads, fruit parfaits and other desserts  

Here is a soup recipe by Taste of Home.

Refried Bean Soup


  • 1 can (16 ounces) refried beans, if possible use low-fat refried beans
  • 1 can (15 1/4 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces chicken broth)
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) stewed tomatoes ,cut up
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies
  • 1/4 cup salsa


In a large pot, combine all ingredients and stir well. If mixture is too thick, add more water. Heat uncovered 8 to 10 minutesuntil heated thoroughly. Yields 8 servings.

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