Handy pantry substitutes and cooking in the time of a pandemic

Cooking at home while on lockdown seems to be the reality in everyone’s life these days. People are spending most of their time at home due to the constraints of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Regardless of where we reside in the world, we all find ourselves experiencing so many common realities, as we all make a concerted effort to limit our contact with others. This immense effort will hopefully lower the numbers of casualties to the virus. Those of us who can work from a distance are doing so along with schools and universities. Whether you have a family or are a single person in your home, we all have to eat. As cities shut down and restaurants and the food service industries are affected, it just becomes more practical to make our own food at home.

All around the world many of us are spending twenty four hours at home and working remotely. “Social distancing” is a phrase which we have become very familiar with over the last few weeks as we adapt to a new normal. We must limit our outings in public and very often our supermarkets are not well stocked due to the high demand and hoarding practiced by many. These are a sign of the time in which we are living. It is not impossible that we discover that we are short of a few pantry supplies and cannot run out to get them as easily as we once were able to or perhaps we just cannot find what we need. You may have stocked up on the basics for the lockdown, only to realize when you decide to cook or bake something that you may not have all of the ingredients you need. All may not be lost!! Here are a few substitutions which may help you out in times such as these.


Different forms of milk options beyond fresh milk.

When fresh milk is unavailable or your stock is low, evaporated milk is a great standby. It is a good idea to keep some cans on hand. Not only does it have a long shelf life, but it is concentrated and can be diluted with water to be used in most recipes. The ratio here is 1:1, so to have a cup of whole milk use ½ cup evaporated milk plus ½ cup water.

If you need half and half, pure evaporated milk can be used instead.

Buttermilk can be easily made by adding a tsp of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk.

If you have no heavy cream for a creamy pasta or quiche, use ⅔ cup whole milk plus ⅓ cup melted unsalted butter instead.

Oils & Butter

You can choose your preferred oil whether vegetable, canola, corn, sunflower etc.

If your recipe specifies a particular oil, usually any oil can be used in its place for cooking should you not have the one listed. The exception to this rule would be perhaps something like sesame oil which should not be used in large quantities as it can really change the flavor of your food.

Instead of butter, you can bake with margarine or solid coconut oil as a substitute.



If you are short on eggs in a baking recipe, you can use these substitutes to replace 1 egg-:

⅓ cup apple sauce

¼ cup banana mashed

¼ cup silken tofu

3 tbsp mayonnaise

Vegans can also use Chia seeds and aquafaba to mimic egg whites.

Sour cream

I always use an equal amount of plain yoghurt in place of sour cream. It’s less calorific and delicious. Greek yoghurt is thicker and works perfectly in place of sour cream.

You can also use ¾ cup Cream cheese blended or whipped with 3 tbsp milk to replace 1 cup of sour cream.


You can use dried bread slightly toasted and then pulverized in the food processor or placed in a bag and rolled until the desired texture is achieved.

You can also use soda crackers, cornflakes, pretzels, corn chips or potato chips as a breading.

Never throw away stale bread. You can toast it up and make breadcrumbs or make bread pudding or french toast.


If your recipe call for self rising flour and you only have all purpose on hand for each cup needed : 1 cup all purpose flour plus 1 ½ tsp baking powder and a ½ tsp salt

Note that if you only have self rising flour and your recipe calls for all purpose flour, then you cannot add additional baking powder to the dry ingredients.

Baking powder

If you have no baking powder you can use 1/4tsp baking soda plus ½ tsp cream of tartar and ¼ tsp cornstarch.

You can also try 1 tsp baking powder plus plain yoghurt. This combination will become a leavening agent due to the live culture and will allow your batter to rise. You just have to use a bit less liquid in your recipe if using this substitution. Buttermilk will also work in place of baking powder because of its lactic acid bacteria.

Self raising flour can be used instead of regular all purpose flour in the absence of baking powder.


1 cup dark brown sugar can be substituted with 1 cup white sugar plus 2-3 tbsp molasses.

1 cup light brown sugar can be substituted with ½ cup white sugar plus ½ cup dark brown sugar or 1 cup white sugar plus 1-2 tbsp molasses.

Rice can be substituted by grains like quinoa,barley, bulgur wheat, couscous or pasta


In recent years, there has been such a movement vilifying the use of bouillon cubes, but believe me when I say that they are a huge flavor addition and a great pantry basic. You can use them sparingly, but they are so very useful and come in such a variety from chicken, beef, seafood and vegetable varieties.

If you have no broth on hand you can use 1 bouillon cube to 1 cup water or 1 tsp bouillon granules. Add salt as needed as there is sodium in the concentrated bouillon cubes.


Tomato paste, tomato sauce, whole canned tomatoes are all good options to keep on hand.

Fresh tomatoes can be substituted in cooked dishes by canned tomatoes. There are so many forms of canned tomatoes available that it really is a basic pantry item which you should always keep on hand. You can use whole tomatoes, diced or even pureed tomatoes instead of fresh ones. Tomato paste is a wonderful substitute but water needs to be added to the recipe if there is not much liquid or stock in the dish. Tomato paste is also quite tart, so you can add a pinch of sugar to balance the taste.

Limes or lemons can be used interchangeably. In a pinch, vinegar can be added to balance the taste should you have no citrus on hand. For a tbsp of lemon juice use 1 1/2tsp white wine or sherry vinegar. Balsamic vinegar should not be used to replace here.

As citrus is an important part of my cooking, I keep fresh citrus as well as some bottled citrus for emergencies and when there are shortages.

If you cook with sour oranges, I have discovered that the bottled juice works really well when I have no fresh Citrus. Of course the fresh citrus is always my first choice but when our options are limited, they can suffice.

Fresh herbs

Fresh herbs are always best but when unavailable, dried herbs or powders will do just fine. Adjust your measurements accordingly.

In place of fresh herbs, dried ones will do.

For every tsp of fresh herbs, you may substitute with ¼ tsp of dried leafy ones.

In powder form for 1 tsp of fresh herbs required use ¼ tsp ground or powder.


Usually I like white or yellow onions for cooking and sauces and prefer purple onions for salads or quick stir fried dishes. If you are short of onions, all of these can be used indiscriminately.

In place of fresh onions, you may use shallots, leeks, scallions or green onions. Perhaps about 1 ¼ cups for replacing a medium onion.

If you don’t have any of the above mentioned substitutes, you may use dried onion flakes or for 1 medium onion, substitute with 1 ½-2 tsp onion powder.


This is a major essential for me in my cooking. As such, I keep it in several forms for different uses. As a substitute to 1 fresh clove try the following:

½ tsp garlic salt

⅛ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp minced garlic ( from a bottle)

A tsp minced shallot can be used to replace fresh garlic.

If you run low on salt you can also use soy sauce, bouillon cubes. Your all purpose seasoning powder also has salt which can help to compensate. Note that Kosher salt is less salty than table salt.

I am of the firm belief that food waste should be avoided. Try to be mindful of the situation and use your food efficiently. Leftovers can be transformed into other meals with a little imagination. White rice can be used for fried rice, pasta and leftover vegetables can be made into gratins or used in soups. Stir fries or tacos can be made with leftover meat and vegetables. Use your fruit that is not as fresh or pretty as the day you bought it to make compotes or pies. You can eat the compotes with yoghurt or toast. Make soups with bones from roasts or rotisserie chicken. Canned beans are a good thing to keep on hand as you can make chilli, soups, salads and so much more. Frozen vegetables are a good thing to have on hand, especially if you have space in your freezer. They are frozen at their peak and as such retain their nutritive value. If your freezer space is limited, stock up on some canned vegetables and broths which will be very useful in several recipes if you cannot find a selection of fresh vegetables.

Do not be afraid to try new things. You might be surprised at how good, economical and practical making your own home cooked meals can be. Now is the time to try those recipes that you have been meaning to do for such a long time. Don’t panic in your kitchen endeavors; you can usually substitute most ingredients and use what you have on hand, especially in the realm of savory foods. Remember however that baking and pastry require exact measures and are not as easy to play around with. Look at this time as the period to hone in in mastering your kitchen skills and learning how to use what you have on hand to its fullest without wasting precious ingredients.

We have all come to realize that the world is indeed a very small place and we are all neighbors and family. In times of distress there is so much tension and anxiety in our lives. We have also come to realize that we do not always have total control of everything. We are literally living a day to day existence with rapid change always looming in the air. We have to be able to make do with far less than we are accustomed to and may have to become innovative in our daily lives using whatever we have on hand. Do not let this be a limitation to trying new things and new recipes; in fact look at today as a challenge which will ultimately make us stronger in the future.

As much as we rely on our social media as a lifeline, I urge you to use this time to spend it well with those you love. I do realize that we may be separated from loved ones as well in this time, (myself included). Whatever the situation; whether you are with family or alone, nourish your body and soul with healthy home cooked meals if you can. It is a great way to spend some of the time at home. Be well and stay safe. With much love,


Believe, meditate, eat, pray, love and be kind to one another.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. kikaduval says:

    Thank you for taking the time to send us these useful tips and caring advice. I especially appreciate the one concerning herbs. Be safe too, and God bless you !FrédérikaSent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    1. sharleebrun says:

      Thanks for the reply and I am happy that the info can be useful!!

  2. Daniele Zamor says:

    Thank you so much. Very useful. Best, Danièle Zamor +1305-987-8124 US number & WhatsApp +509-3701-1592 Haiti number


    1. sharleebrun says:

      You are welcome Daniele. I am glad that they can be useful!!

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