Jenn Lueke’s Favorite Ways to Use a Can of Coconut Milk

Instagram’s queen of easy, healthy cooking stocks up on this essential ingredient.

8 min read

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The first time Jenn Lueke cooked with coconut milk was in college. Which, when you’re only 26, is not that long ago. But take a few swipes through her Instagram account — @jenneatsgood — and you may find this hard to believe. 

Since she started cooking on social media in 2018, the Boston-based content creator has amassed well over a million followers. She shares healthy yet accessible recipe videos and the budget-friendly grocery hauls that fuel them (complete with helpful tips and strategies for spending less and getting more, like how to make a week’s worth of dinners with only $50 of ingredients). And in these videos, coconut milk features almost as prominently as Lueke herself. 

“Growing up, we were a very meat-and-potatoes Irish household,” says Lueke. It wasn’t until she was forced to cook for herself on a tight student budget that she started leaning into the power of high-impact, low-cost pantry items — and inspiring others to do the same. “Growing my audience was very much a labor of love and patience, but I knew that I had a message to share: It doesn’t need to be hard (or expensive, or time-consuming, or confusing) to make healthy recipes.” 

Coconut milk — a healthy, cheap, shelf-stable, gut-friendly dairy alternative that adds heft and creaminess and costs about two bucks a can — could stand as the perfect mascot for this message. Here, we break down Lueke’s favorite ways to incorporate her favorite ingredient. 


“A lot of people ask, ‘How can you replicate the creaminess of adding an avocado to a smoothie if you don't want to use an avocado?’ (Those things are expensive!) Coconut milk is great for that, and works as an alternative to dairy as well. It’s pretty thick, so you can add a little bit of coconut milk, and then a little bit of water to your smoothie, and it will have a great consistency.

You can make a coffee smoothie situation where you add your coffee, a little bit of coconut milk, some ice, a banana, some almond butter, and that'll taste great. This is the perfect application if you have a leftover half-can from another recipe hanging out in the fridge.”


Veggie Curry

To prepare a hearty veggie curry,  mix Thai red curry paste with a little bit of fish sauce, coconut milk, and soy sauce.  Put in whatever veggies you like, maybe add some chickpeas for protein, and it's a great balanced meal. Very creamy. 

Any brand of coconut milk works here — I am not loyal to any one brand in particular. I get whatever’s cheapest, always full-fat and canned. I don't like the carton one and I don't like the reduced-fat one. But if reduced fat is your truth, then live your truth.”

Pasta Sauce

“A creamy pasta sauce is better than a not-creamy pasta sauce. That's my take. I put a little bit of coconut milk into a pasta sauce, especially a red sauce, at the end. It's already done cooking at this point — add a little bit of the creamy coconut milk on top, and it automatically makes it taste way better. 

You're not going to taste coconut. People always ask me that, but as long as you buy the unsweetened version and let it simmer for a little bit with those other flavors and the spices, it’s going to add heft and creaminess. So 99 times out of 100, I’m adding a splash of coconut milk to my pasta. 

If I'm doing a big batch [like this creamy veggie pasta] of something that's going to serve about four people, I usually recommend a half can, which is three-quarters of a cup. If I'm whipping up something small and quick, like a dinner for myself, just a quarter cup.”


“Similar to the pasta sauce, I like to finish off a soup with a little bit of coconut milk. For any traditional soup [such as wild rice soup] that would normally include heavy cream, you can sub that one-to-one with coconut milk. It feels like a slightly lighter dish, but you're still going to get that same taste.” 


Baked Oats

Lueke’s method for making baked protein oats is simple. “Put everything in the blender: oats, coconut milk, maybe a scoop of protein powder or nut butter, maybe a little bit of maple syrup for sweetness, and a little bit of baking powder to make it rise. Blend that up into the consistency of a pancake batter (you could actually make pancakes out of it!), put it into a little dish, and put that in the oven. It’s pretty much like making a cake — but it's oats, so it’s healthy! You wouldn't know it, though, because it's all blended into a smooth oat batter. You can even drizzle a little bit of icing on top at the end if you want to go the dessert route.”

Rice Bakes

“One of my most popular coconut milk recipes is this one-pot lemony chicken thighs and rice dish. I think it’s gotten 15 million views. Rice bakes are the ultimate one-pot meal for people who are pressed for time and money. It’s budget-friendly and you can make it in 30 minutes. 

Cook chicken in the pan first, take it out, and then toast your rice in the same pan. Then you cover it in a little bit of broth and coconut milk, and put it in the oven with the chicken back on top. Thirty minutes later you have dinner. I also like to add some kale or spinach so you get a little bit of vegetables in there too. Sure, if you used broth instead of coconut milk, it would be good. But if you add coconut milk, it's suddenly this creamy, almost orzo-like decadent dish.” Take a look at this buffalo chicken and rice and try it out for yourself!