Ready to revamp your pantry? Learn the basic ingredients to keep on hand and everything you need to get your home cooking on track.
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the pantry supplies the rhythmic beat that keeps everything flowing.
We’ve all been there. Everyday life is tiring!
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.
This, my friends, is where a well-stocked pantry comes through in the clutch.
Why you need a well-stocked pantry
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 staples — 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:
Look for products that are as unprocessed and unrefined as possible. What does that mean? Basically, it focuses on whole foods in their most natural form, without added preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors.
Check labels before you chuck an item into your grocery cart. Go for the ones that have the shortest list of ingredients — it takes a bit longer to shop this way at first, but it can be a huge eye-opener.
Foods that are labeled organic and non-GMO.
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.
Start building a well-stocked pantry
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.
Breaking down the pantry-building process into manageable parts makes it much less daunting.
Putting your pantry into action
Start by shopping online for things you can buy in bulk (often at a discount if you’re an Amazon Prime or Costco member), and 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 home-cooked meals) going!
Feel free to personalize it as needed to suit your family’s needs and tastes, and be sure to sign up for updates from Familystyle Food for new recipe ideas.
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.
Seasoned beans or refried beans can contain excess sodium and hydrogenated oil, so be sure to check the ingredient label.
- 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.
- Tomato paste: Look for tomato paste packed in tubes rather than cans and store in the refrigerator after opening.
Canned or bottled in glass, tomatoes are incredibly versatile for making quick homemade pasta sauces, soups and one-dish meals like chili and braises.
What to look for:
- 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
Seasoning food with a basic assortment of salt, pepper and spices elevates even the simplest dishes.
starter list of spices to stock:
- 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 great 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.
The best olive oils for your pantry:
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 or Avocado Oil – for high heat cooking and neutral oil. Organic, expeller-pressed canola is my choice because it doesn’t contain GMO’s or hexane.
- 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
Stock up on these 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.
What to look for:
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 pantry storage — and 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.
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Hi there! I’m Karen, a mother of two and a professionally trained cook certified in holistic nutrition.
Have a question or feedback? Get in touch or leave me a comment below — I love hearing from you!