When your budget is tight, and your pantry empty, finding a way to make a bowl of something (out of next to nothing) is a task not even a degree can prepare you for.

No matter how long you stand next to those wooden cupboard doors, willing a meal to appear out of thin air, it’s just not going to happen.

While it may be tempting to spend the last of what’s left of your latest Centrelink payment, or pay cheque from your part time job, on Uber Eats, hold up. There’s another way. It just involves a little creativity.

Get your left brain raring, and your right arm reaching into the back of that pantry. Chances are you already have what it takes to make a great meal.

Pantry hack 1: From flour to scones

You’ve still got loads of flour from that one time you baked a cake for your roomie. It was delicious. There was clapping. The cake got eaten. But now there’s a whole bag of flour sitting in the back of your pantry. It seems like a complete waste of space.

Aren’t scones for high teas and jam, you ask? Well, they can be. But in actual fact, you can make them savoury too – by adding just about anything. Think chives, cheese, grated vegetables, or sultanas if you’re after a sweet treat. Scones are the perfect way to use up that flour (and use the other items in your fridge) without spending a cent.

Here's how:

To create a scone base, all you need is two cups of self raising flour, a pinch of salt, a cup of milk, and one and a half cups of sugar (if you’re going down the sweet route, otherwise you can forgo it).

Throw in the other ingredients you’re keen to use up (think corn, chives and cheese), mix away, and then roll out a thick dough. You can do this using a rolling pin if you have one, but a bottle will also do the trick. Lay them out on a tray (or use a plate if you don’t have one), and pop them in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until golden. Delish.

Pantry hack 2: From canned tomatoes to ratatouille

When you first moved out, mum stocked you up with a few necessities you’ve never used. That can of crushed tomatoes sitting on the second shelf is just one of many.

Instead of using it to prop up your TV unit, use it to fill your stomach. Not only are tomatoes full to the brim with the antioxidant lycopene (which has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and cancer), they’re also cheap as chips – coming in at around 80 cents a can if you ever need more.

Your mum? We hate to say it, but in this case, she was right. So grab the can, and get ready to make something out of nothing.

Here’s how:

Put your crushed tomatoes into a saucepan, on medium heat.

Grab a few potatoes that are rolling around the bottom of your pantry, along with an onion (if you’ve got it spare). Then choose one other veg – you might select the cheapest thing going at Woolies (a $2 bag of carrots is always a winner). If you’ve already got this in the fridge, even better.

Cut up the potatoes, and place them in boiling water, until soft. Cut up your other chosen veggie, and zap it in the microwave (in a covered bowl with a little water, to create some steam) for 10 minutes or so.

Once they’re both soft enough for a knife to slice through, add to your simmering pot of crushed tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pantry hack 3: From corn flakes to snack bars

The giant box of cornflakes were the cheapest cereal on offer last time you made it down to Coles. And while you’ve enjoyed every bite of this Australian staple, you’re beginning to get a little tired of seeing it make an appearance in your bowl every morning.

Not to mention, what you could really do with something to eat during class, when you’re on the go.

Fear not, those flakes are about to make an encore as snack bars. The best part? You only need three ingredients – and the other two, you’re likely to already own.

Here’s how:

Grab 4 cups of your corn flakes, 1 cup of peanut butter (if you don’t have any, you can buy the home brand version for a couple of dollars), and 1 cup of honey.

Melt your peanut butter and honey in the microwave, stirring as you check on it. Then set aside. Once it’s stopped steaming, add your 4 cups of corn flakes, stirring.

If you’ve got one, line a baking tray with baking paper, and spread your mixture across it. If a baking tray isn’t available, you can cut squares of notebook paper, place them on a plate, and dish a scoop of the mixture onto each one instead – creating bites of snacky-deliciousness instead.

Place your creation in the fridge for 30 minutes. If you used a tray, slice it up, and enjoy over the week. Went for the bites? Pop one in your mouth right away.

Further support

‘Save the Student’ has loads of tips on how to balance your job with study, and budgeting.

Written by Sophie Asquith, in collaboration with Robyn Delbridge, Dietitian (AdvAPD) and Lecturer, Master of Dietetics, Swinburne.

Have you got a pantry hack you’d like to share?

If you have something you'd like to share you can send it in to healthpromotion@swinburne.edu.au to help your fellow students make ends meet.

Did you know?

Swinburne offers on-site health services and fully confidential counselling to students at all campuses. To book a session with our Hawthorn on-campus dietitian, simply call +61 3 9214 8483 or register and make an appointment