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Ready to revamp your kitchen pantry? Learn which basic ingredients and pantry staples you need to keep on hand and everything you need to get your home cooking on track, and download a printable basic grocery list.
I want to show you how to stock pantry staples so that you’re ALWAYS able to cook something!
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the pantry supplies the rhythmic beat that keeps everything flowing.
Getting home at the end of a long day, only to be faced with the job of making something to eat, can just be too much to think about. We’ve all been there. Everyday life can be hard.
This is where a well-stocked pantry full of basic staples comes through in the clutch.
Why you need good pantry staples
At its most basic, building a pantry that works for your family is a matter of housekeeping, requiring an investment in planning and organization.
It might not be realistic to cook completely from scratch every single day.
But by carefully assembling a collection of everyday pantry essentials — which includes shelf-stable goods as well as refrigerated items — you ensure that even the simplest thrown-together dinner will have your personal touch. And that, after all, is the essence of home cooking!
What ingredients are healthy?
Every individual has different dietary needs, whether we’re talking about lifestyle, health issues or just plain everyday cravings.
Keeping in mind that every one has their individual dietary needs and personal preferences, here’s a few simple guidelines to help:
Your stocked ingredients will become the building blocks of a meal. Along with a little bit of assembly you’ll be able to put together a balanced plate that tastes delicious without a whole lot of fuss.
How to begin stocking pantry staples
Breaking down the pantry-building process into manageable parts makes it much less daunting.
Assembling a workhorse pantry does mean spending time upfront, but it pays off in the long run. A pantry shelf is like money in the bank, forking over dividends in the form of time saved.
- Start by shopping online for things you can buy in bulk (often at a discount if you’re an Amazon Prime or Costco member.
- Thrive Market is another online resource for buying your favorite whole food ingredients, with great discounts.
- Make a list of the other items you need to pick up on your next trip to the grocery store.
Once your pantry is supplied, make weekly supplemental shopping trips for perishables like fresh produce, meats, seafood and dairy products.
Keep the pantry love (and ideas for home-cooked dinners and meals) going!
1. Canned goods:
- Beans: Beans have so much going for them — they’re high in protein, fiber and other nutrients. What to look for: Chickpeas (garbanzos), black, pinto, kidney and cannellini beans packed in water without preservatives.
- Tomatoes: Picked when they’re ripe and preserved immediately, canned tomatoes often taste better than more expensive, out-of-season fresh tomatoes. Use them to make the Best Basic Homemade Marinara Sauce, bucatini all’ amatriciana, or a spicy puttanesca pasta sauce. Look for whole tomatoes in puree or crushed tomatoes packed in non-BPA lined cans or glass jars. Canned tomatoes are incredibly versatile for making quick homemade pasta sauces, soups and one-dish meals like chili and braises.
- Tomato paste: Buy tomato paste packed in tubes rather than cans and store in the refrigerator after opening.
- Coconut milk: Pure coconut milk is perfect for vegan cooking as well as a creamy dairy-free alternative for soups, stews and smoothies. Avoid “light” coconut milk, which is just watered down and lackluster in flavor and consistency.
- Tuna — packed in olive oil. Tuna packed in glass jars is a top-quality choice, as it has a better chunky texture and isn’t mushy.
2. Whole grains and legumes:
Many of these grains (and lentils) cook in less than 30 minutes, making them a perfect base for a healthy meal. Cooked grains freeze and reheat well to make quick assembly for lunch or dinner bowls.
Buy in bulk if possible and store in glass jars or other sturdy storage containers.
- Oats (quick, regular, steel cut)
- Short grain rice (brown or white)
- Jasmine or basmati
- Couscous (fine and pearl)
- Lentils (brown, green and red)
3. Freezer Fruits and Vegetables:
Pantry gold — when there’s no fresh produce in the house a stash of frozen ingredients can save the day. Frozen berries and other fruits are what you want in smoothies and oatmeal.
- Corn — Try this Indian-spiced corn recipe for a quick side dish.
- Peas — We love sweet frozen peas, especially in creamy Lemon Cacio e Pepe pasta.
- Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries
Plus, even with a basic stash of spices, you can complete your pantry staples by making your own homemade spice blends to add lots of great flavor and variety to your cooking.
Here’s a handy starter list of spices:
- Coarse kosher salt — Diamond brand kosher salt has a nice flaky texture (it’s my everyday salt).
- Flaky sea salt — Perfect for adding a finishing touch and a bit of crunch to sweet and savory food
- Whole black peppercorns for grinding
- Crushed red chili pepper + whole dried chilis
- Dried oregano — Greek or Mexican
- Ground cumin
- Paprika – sweet and smoked Spanish-style
- Turmeric (ground)
5. Nuts, nut butter and seeds:
Nuts and seeds are powerhouse suppliers of protein and healthy fats. They also add a nutritious crunch to everything from snacks, salads and sweets.
Whether you’re trying to avoid gluten or just enjoy the flavor, almond flour is a great pantry staple to have on hand to for baking. We especially love almond flour in cake recipes.
What to look for:
- Buy raw, whole unsalted nuts and raw seeds.
- Toast nuts for 10 – 12 minutes in a 350-degree oven to bring out their flavor before snacking on them or using in a recipe.
- Store nuts and seeds in the freezer or refrigerator.
- Nut butters without added sugar.
- Pistachios (shelled)
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
- Sesame Seeds (white, black and/or brown)
- Flax seeds
Buy oils packaged in glass bottles (not plastic) if possible.
- Olive oil: is super healthy, versatile and flavorful. Buy a decent everyday extra-virgin olive oil and use it for cooking, salad dressings. Fancier, estate-bottled olive oils are worth the splurge if you have the extra bucks. Use these oils as is (not heated) drizzled over dishes as a finishing touch.
- Canola oil: A neutral oil for high heat cooking. Organic, expeller-pressed canola is my choice because it doesn’t contain GMO’s or hexane.
- Avocado Oil – Cold-pressed avocado oil is a healthy monounsaturated oil with a neutral flavor, making it a great choice for both baking and high-heat cooking. It’s high in beneficial fatty acids, like oleic acid, as well as Vitamin E and potassium. This has become my favorite everyday oil, after olive oil.
- Roasted Peanut Oil — use for stir-fried dishes that have spicy, bold flavors.
- Toasted sesame oil is delicious for Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.
- Coconut —
- Ghee — Totally delicious clarified butter with a nutty flavor, ghee is a good choice for some lactose-intolerant people.
Vinegar adds that tangy, acidic spark that’s so essential to adding flavor to your food. Keep different kinds on hand not only to make quickly pickled vegetables and salad dressings, but to zip up soups, sauces and roasted vegetables as a finishing touch.
8. Natural Sweeteners:
- Maple syrup (Dark maple syrup is tastier and usually costs less than fancier light amber syrup)
- Pure cane sugar
- Brown sugar (light or dark)
- Agave nectar
- Coconut sugar: Similar to brown sugar in taste, coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that’s slightly lower on the glycemic scale than refined sugar.
Stock up on these pantry essentials. They keep well for months in the refrigerator once opened.
- Dijon mustard (whole grain and smooth)
- Harissa – a versatile North African condiment that keeps for months in the fridge.
- Ketchup – Look for brands sweetened with cane sugar or other sweetener, not high-fructose corn syrup.
- Soy sauce – I like Japanese shoyu because it has a rounded, less salty taste. Tamari is also good and it’s gluten-free.
- Hot sauce – Sriracha, Tabasco, etc. Cholula is my current fave, with a milder bite. Korean-style gochujang is delicious.
- Mayonnaise – Choose a mayo made without soybean oil and added sugar.
10. Dry Goods:
- Dried pasta is essential for making quick pantry meals. Pasta made from 100% durum semolina wheat or gluten-free pasta made with rice flour or legumes. If you can find brands extruded with bronze dies, even better! Sauces seem to stick better to them, and they have a fantastic nutty chew. Keep an assortment of shapes on hand. I find that spaghetti, linguine, rigatoni, orzo and pappardelle or fettuccine is most useful.
- Flours (all-purpose or gluten-free blend, almond, brown rice)
- Chocolate (bittersweet and semisweet in bars and baking chunks or chips)
- Cocoa (unsweetened)
- Asian Rice Noodles — Linguini-shaped stir-fry rice noodles are most versatile.
How to organize your pantry
Take a look at the all the available space in your home for storing pantry staples — remember it doesn’t have to be in right in the kitchen.
You might have a closet with shelves that can be cleared, or even a storage cabinet or armoire that can be repurposed.
- Glass canisters with lids or sturdy plastic containers are perfect for keeping bulk items like flour, sugar and dried beans fresh and free of critters.
- Plain jars look great to display on shelves, like these rustic clear mason jars with wood lids, encouraging daily usage of whatever’s inside. Plus clear glass makes it easier to see what needs to be replenished.
- Stick a label on the containers. A piece of masking tape and a Sharpie is the least fussy. An old-school label maker like the Dymo makes embossed labels that have a vintage look and are fun to make.
10 Best Kitchen Pantry Staples: Homemade Spiced Salt
Makes 3/4 cup seasoned salt
- ¼ cup (73 g) coarse sea salt or kosher salt, [Diamond is my recommended brand]
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) turbinado raw sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) crumbed red chile flakes
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) coriander seeds
- 1 lemon
- Mix the salt, sugar, chili flakes and rosemary in a bowl.
- Grind the peppercorns, fennel and coriander seeds in a small spice grinder. Stir into the bowl.
- Peel the lemon thinly with a vegetable peeler, avoiding the white pith as much as possible. Slice the peel into thin matchsticks, then slice crosswise to make tiny squares.
- Stir the lemon into the salt mixture. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet in one layer. Let the mixture dry for a day or two before packing into a small jar.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- The salt will keep up to 3 months. Store it in a covered container.