Do yourself a favor and stock up with some simple pantry essentials. Simple pantry essentials help with meal prep in a pinch, can save some money, and can save you a trip to the grocery store. Having a well-stocked pantry is the key to cooking from scratch!
These are the things you need in your active pantry – the one you cook from every meal, every day. This is not an exhaustive list of everything you could possibly store. Some people have a secondary pantry that may be near the kitchen or further away to help store larger packages or Costco sized multi-packs.
This list may be a little much for your style of cooking or your pantry size. If you go grocery shopping more than once a week you probably need less in your pantry. If you try to shop as little as possible, you may want to keep you pantry stuffed to the gills!
Note: Beware of expiration dates. While some items take years to expire, others take less. You want to only keep enough on hand that you’re sure to consume before it expires
Here are some of the pantry essentials you need to support your home cooking habit. If you’ve also stocked your freezer, then you’re well on your way to healthy meals at home!
Simple Pantry Essentials
Why whole grains? Whole grains, along with vegetables, are the basis for a healthy meal plan. At least half of your grains should be whole grains so you are getting all the good fiber and minerals your body needs. I grew up with rice and barley, but there are so many other grains worth trying. While they’re known for their carbohydrates giving your body and brain energy it needs, many people don’t realize grains can provide a decent amount of protein too!
Ideas: rice, quinoa, farro, bulgur, barley, wheat berries, and cornmeal
Use in these recipes: soups, grain bowls, side dishes, grain salads, risotto, fried rice, and veggie burgers.
Why legumes? Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are a staple in any kitchen. Beans, peas, and lentils are nutrition powerhouses They also span dishes from many cultures. To top it off, they are inexpensive and easy to cook.
Ideas: canned or dried beans (black, red kidney, great Northern, garbanzo), peas (split for soups), and lentils (red and green/French which hold up better)
Use in these recipes: tacos, enchiladas, breakfast burritos, veggie burgers, soups, salads, dal, dips and spreads
Why pasta? Pasta is one of the easiest and quickest weeknight dinners. It’s also widely accepted by children. Grab whole grain pasta when you can find it. Whole grain pasta can be gluten free. There are some great quinoa and legume pastas out there. It may take tasting a few different brands before you find one you like.
Ideas: spaghetti, penne, spirals, a small shape like orzo or elbows for pasta salads, couscous, a fun shape or two
Use in these recipes: pasta with tomato sauce, mac & cheese, pasta salad, soup, and baked ziti
Why canned foods? These last for what feels like forever. A few staples on hand and your meal is ready in no time flat. Canned tomatoes are extremely versatile. It’s also great having a few cans of beans on hand to add some easy protein to a last minute meal.
Ideas: whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, water chestnuts, green chiles, olives, and artichokes
Use in these recipes: sauces, salsas, soups and stews, stir fry, tacos, and salads
Why have some processed stuff like this? These options pack a lot of flavor without a lot of effort. They come through for you in a pinch. These allow you to add interest and variation to an all pantry meal saving you time and making your family happy.
Ideas: marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, salsa, and honey
Use in these recipes: These vary so widely, it’s hard to say, but pasta dishes, appetizers, bean and grain dishes are a few ways to use them.
Why cereals? Cereals are a breakfast mainstay. Whether hot or cold, they’re a part of most of our weekly menu plans. Add some fruit, nuts, and milk and you have a solid meal in minutes. Kids can learn to serve themselves cold cereal pretty early on encouraging their independence!
Ideas: oatmeal (old fashioned rolled, quick cooking, or instant), 1 or 2 cold cereals of choice (preferably whole grain and don’t have sugar as one of the first few ingredients), granola,
Use in these recipes: traditional oatmeal, overnight oats, and on-the-go snacks.
Why dried fruits? They’re packed with sweetness, fiber, and iron. Dried fruits of all kinds are usually accepted by kids too. They’re easy to transport and eat on the go without too much mess.
Ideas: cranberries, raisins, dates, apricots. Look for fruits without added sugars or other ingredients.
Use in these recipes: hot cereal toppings, trail mixes, muffins, and salad toppings
Nuts, nut butters, & seeds
Why nuts, nut butters & seeds? Nuts and seeds pack some nutrition punch. They’re a tiny bundle of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and minerals. Not just a snack, nuts and seeds can be part of main dishes adding interesting flavor or crunch to the mix.
Ideas: walnuts, almonds, peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews, sesame seeds, and chia seeds
Use in these recipes: trail mix, sandwiches, snacks, hot cereal toppings, ice cream toppings, or a crunchy salad addition.
Why potatoes? Pick two kinds. I like to have a sweet potato and some red potatoes on hand. They require special storage (i.e. in a paper bag, in a cool area, away from onions) or they’ll quickly sprout. Potatoes are inexpensive, filling, and usually a crowd-pleaser. These root veggies are also extremely versatile making them great for year-round meal planning.
Ideas: yams, sweet potatoes, Yukon gold, Russet, red, purple, and fingerling
Use in these recipes: mashed or smashed, baked fries, salad, grilled, roasted, stews or soups
Onions and the like
Why onions, etc.? Onions and other edibles from the allium family, are a great base of flavor. They also last for weeks (if not stored near the potatoes!).
Ideas: yellow onions, red onions, sweet onions, shallots, garlic
Use in these recipes: soups and stews, salads, sautéed veggies, onion jam, roasted chicken, and pasta sauces
Why oils? Oil is a true staple that basically every kitchen should have. It’s hard to think of a dish that doesn’t use it in one form or another. Having a nice fatty acid profile is something to consider when picking your staple oils. I also think that having 2 on hand is ideal. One oil for flavor to use for sautéing greens, dipping bread, spreads, and salad dressings, and another that can stand to be heated to a high temp for use cooking proteins or fritters. For more detailed info, this article breaks all down really nicely.
Ideas: Extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, or walnut oil.
Use in these recipes: Pretty much anything from cooking veggies, grains, proteins, and stir-fries to salad dressings and as a butter alternative on yummy bread.
Why vinegars? Vinegar is another great way to add flavor without more salt. Of course, it’s used in salad dressing, but it can also be added to sautéed vegetables and stews to brighten the flavors. I find it nice to have 2 or 3 types on hand. Any more than that and it seems like the bottles sit there forever 🙂
Ideas: red wine, balsamic, apple cider, white wine, rice wine, and flavored vinegars
Use in these recipes: salad dressings, marinades, sautéed or grilled vegetables, soups and stews
Dried Herbs and Spices
Why dried herbs and spices? Simply put, these are a secret weapon. They take up little space, but can transform the flavor of pretty much everything.
Ideas: pepper, garlic, oregano, cumin, onion, marjoram, sage, thyme, coriander, rosemary, and bay leaves, spice blends such as your favorite taco seasoning, Italian seasoning, popcorn seasoning, etc.
Use in these recipe: Just about every recipe can use an herb or spice!
I hope this has inspired you to take stock of your pantry and round it out with some simple pantry essentials. To keep things simple, see if you can have just 2 or 3 items from each category on hand. Any more than that and some thing is bound to expire or go rancid before you’ve had a chance to eat it up!
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