My first husband was an ironworker and was laid-off at least once a year. We were somehow never prepared for this even though we knew it was inevitable. At any rate, coming out of a two-week slump in the food arena, I found myself re-learning some things. There are a few foodstuffs that I always have on-hand that proved invaluable and I wanted to pass the info along.
Fresh food was at a minimum and most meals were from our pantry either entirely or a large part. Some people do the pantry thing on purpose, just to see how far they can get without going to the store. Let me just say, having the option to go to the store somehow makes it easier.
The things I found that helped the most were these:
Jarred spaghetti sauce. This is extremely versatile for everything from spaghetti to chili to a great addition to soups and stews. I love it for my own Crock pot Sausage and Rice Dinner. Simmer chicken breasts in it and top with mozzarella or Parmesan (see below) for am easy Chicken Parmesan.
Canned tuna. Yep, mercury is a problem, but if you're not eating a can a day per person, you're pretty good to go. This was great for plain old tuna salad sandwiches, a dinner of Tuna and Crackers and is awesome for Tuna Pasta Puttanesca. You can also make an unusual Tuna Pate with it.
Pasta. This is a 'Cooking for Dummies' type thing. I consider pasta to be the most versatile prepared food on the planet. There is an endless array of shapes and types. If you type 'pasta recipes' into a search engine, you get a plethora of possibilities (424,000 on Blingo and 6,090,000 on Google, and that's just links!).
Rice. Another no-brainer. Brown, white, instant...the uses are endless. Type 'rice' into Google and you get 187,000,000 links!
Parmesan cheese. I make a mean Alfredo without cream; top pizza, cook up frittata, make salads and dressings, and add a little kick to almost anything savory with this.
Bouillon cubes. I added these to soup and stews and whipped up a make-do cheap gravy.
Mrs. Dash. I'm not sure what I don't add this to! I'm crazy about the Garlic and Herb flavor.
Olives. I served these as-is, added to pasta sauce, made tapenade, topped pizza and tacos...the list goes on.
Soy sauce. I only buy the good brewed stuff-it really is better. I add this to every packet of Ramen I make, use it to make lo mein(linguine, sesame oil, garlic and soy are all you need for that!), and it's a necessity for fried rice-which is best with leftover rice anyway, so it's cheap.
Tomato paste. This adds a kick of flavor to many things; soup, stew, pasta sauce, Stroganoff.