Save money and cook great food with these kitchen pantry staples
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How many times have you opened your kitchen pantry and wondered, “What’s for dinner?” With a stocked kitchen pantry, you won’t have to wonder. Make cooking and meal planning easier and save money on groceries by spotting sales on your basics. Have everything you need on-hand with must-have essentials for stocking a pantry that help you savor mealtime with your family.
Herbs and Spices
Paying full price for herbs and spices is expensive. Grow your own herbs or keep an eye on sales to save money. With a variety of herbs and spices on hand, you can cook savory soups, mouth-watering pot roast and season all of your favorite foods to your taste.
Herbs and spices for your kitchen pantry:
- Bay Leaves
- Beef Bouillon
- Cayenne Pepper
- Celery Salt
- Chicken Bouillon
- Chili Powder
- Curry Powder
- Garlic Powder
- Minced Garlic
- Onion Powder
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Rubbed Sage
Whip up a batch of cookies on a moment’s notice. Bake banana bread the kids will devour. Sweeten your ham or cook the best fried chicken you’ve ever eaten.
Baking supplies for your kitchen pantry:
- Almond Extract
- Baker's Chocolate
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Brown Sugar
- Confectioner's Sugar
- Corn Meal
- Corn Syrup
- Evaporated Milk
- Vanilla Extract
- White Sugar
Mix your own salad dressing, make marinades for your meats or keep your pork chops from burning in the skillet.
Liquids for your kitchen pantry:
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Canola Oil
- Cooking Spray
- Olive Oil
- Red Cooking Wine
- Vegetable Oil
- White Cooking Wine
- White Vinegar
Sauces and Condiments
Homemade sauces are ideal but not always possible to make without a lot of prep time. Store-bought sauces and condiments have a long shelf life and add lots of flavor to everyday recipes.
Sauces and condiments for your kitchen pantry:
- Alfredo Sauce
- Barbecue Sauce
- Salad Dressing
- Soy Sauce
- Spaghetti Sauce
- Steak Sauce
- Teriyaki Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
Many foods you probably prepare from scratch are available as special seasonings. When you're in a pinch, these pouches can shave up to an hour off of the time you spend on dinner.
Special seasonings for your kitchen pantry:
- Chili Mix
- Gravy Packets
- Marinade Mixes
- Salad Dressing Mix
- Stew Mix
- Stroganoff Mix
- Taco Seasoning
- Vegetable Seasoning Packets
Cans and Jars
Canned and jarred goods make your kitchen pantry an instant source of vegetables, fruits and proteins. Busy cooks can also use canned goods for stews and casseroles.
Cans and jars for your kitchen pantry:
- Baked Beans
- Black-Eyed Peas
- Canned Chicken
- Canned Tuna
- Fruits, such as canned peaches and fruit cocktail
- Green Beans
- Peanut Butter
- Soups, especially cream soups for casseroles and broths
Storing packaged goods covers all bases—from hot breakfasts on the table in minutes to afternoon snacks the kids can eat when they get home from school.
Packaged goods for your kitchen pantry:
- Biscuit Mix
- Brownie Mix
- Cake Mix
- Cereal Bars
- Granola Bars
- Hot Chocolate Mix
- Instant Mashed Potatoes
- Instant Oatmeal
- Instant Pudding
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Microwave Popcorn
- Muffin Mix
- Pancake Mix
- Stuffing Mix
- Taco Shells
Pasta and Rice
Look like you spent all day in the kitchen without having to labor over a hot stove. Cook quick, healthy dishes for your family with pasta and rice in your pantry. Low-fat spaghetti and meatballs and mushroom risotto are just two fast recipes you can prepare in 30 minutes.
Pasta and rice for your kitchen pantry:
- Angel Hair Pasta
- Brown Rice
- Elbow Macaroni
- Spaghetti Noodles
- White Rice
Storage and Cooking Aids
Most of these products serve double duty in your kitchen, helping you coat foods with marinades, cover cooking foods in the oven and store your leftovers.
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With the restaurant world continuing its devastating free-fall and more cities issuing stay-at-home orders, it’s a fair assumption that you will be cooking at home, potentially more than ever.
If you’re used to going out to restaurants, this can feel like a jarring transition at first. Professional chefs are professionals for a reason; they have an arsenal of techniques and ingredients that few home cooks — even the most enthusiastic ones — can match. That said, there are a few things you can do to load your pantry with both the basics and a few restaurant-style secret weapons to take your home cooking to the next level.
A few things to keep in mind: There is no one-size-fits-all shopping list. Take a look at what you already have, and think about how you actually eat. Sure, beans are so hot right now, but do you like beans? Be realistic with your cooking plans and ability — if spending hours on an intricate pastry project is soothing for you, by all means, but if you just need to get a meal on the table for you and your family, that’s absolutely okay too. Not every meal needs to be blockbuster; even the most food-obsessed among us sometimes just eat to live.
When it comes to shopping, make a list and have a plan so you can get in and out of the store quickly. If the store doesn’t have what you need, it’s probably not worth going to another — be flexible and try something you maybe wouldn’t have picked up before. And if you can’t get to a store (or there aren’t open ones near you), online grocery remains an option, from the likes of Amazon and Shipt. It’s also worth noting here that many restaurants are selling pantry items and produce as part of their takeout packages — check their Instagrams or websites for up-to-date info on where to shop.
Stocking your pantry: the basics
Consider these items the foundation of a well-stocked kitchen — essential building blocks to cooking all kinds of dishes. Many of the items here are shelf-stable, and we’ve provided tips for shopping and storing meat, dairy, and produce as well.
Pasta and grains
- Long pasta, short pasta, tubular pasta — whatever you can get your hands on, really.
- Grain-wise, rice is an obvious choice (short and long grain, all colors), but don’t forget whole and ancient grains like farro, barley, bulgur, freekeh, and quinoa.
Canned and jarred goods
- Canned tomatoes (whole provides the most versatility — you can always crush or blend them yourself)
- Coconut milk for enhancing soups and curries, cooking rice, or poaching meat
- Stock/broth (though you can also make your own, it doesn’t hurt to have backup)
- Jarred salsas/simmer sauces (great for tying together a bunch of refrigerator loose ends in a pot)
- Nut butters
- Condiments (mustard, jam, soy sauce, etc.)
Beans and legumes
- Nutritious and long-lasting, and can be eaten on their own, or added to soups, stews, salads, stir-fries, and more. Dried beans are all the rage, and generally taste better if you’re willing to put in the time to cook them, but canned also work.
- Yes, you should definitely get chickpeas and cannellini beans, but don’t forget lentils, split peas, and black-eyed peas, too.
- Flour (and alternative flours if that’s how you roll)
- Sugar (brown, white, confectioners)
- Baking soda and powder
- Yeast for that bread you’re going to make
- Homemade or not, can be pre-sliced and frozen for easier heating
Oil, vinegar, spices
- Olive is standard, though grab canola too, which is better for high-heat cooking.
- Vinegar (apple cider and rice are good starting points)
- Whatever spices you frequently cook or bake with — allspice, bay leaves, cumin, cinnamon, chile flakes, oregano, paprika, pepper, vanilla, etc.
- Lemons, limes, onions, garlic, and root vegetables (potatoes, squash, carrots, beets) last a long time.
- Hearty greens like kale and collards will keep for a week, as will most uncut fruit.
- Frozen fruit and veggies are also an option, and you can do it yourself — on the fruit front, berries, bananas, and mango do well; veggie-wise, peas, corn, kale, and edamame are easy to throw in a plastic bag, squeeze all the air out, and pop in the freezer.
- Fresh soft herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and mint can keep for up to a week if washed, dried, and covered loosely in the fridge. If a bunch is on the verge of collapsing, blitz it into pesto, chimichurri, or an herby vinaigrette. Fresh herbs can also be chopped or pureed with oil and frozen in ice cube trays.
Dairy and eggs
- Hard cheeses like Parmesan (in block form) last for weeks; cheddar, Gruyere, and feta are also safe bets.
- Eggs are good for breakfast, baking, and tying a bowl of odds and ends together; they keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, as does butter (which also freezes well).
Meat and seafood
- The best meats to freeze are cuts that can stand up to a long cook (braising or roasting) without losing their integrity — think ground meat, bone-in chicken legs and thighs, beef brisket or chuck. Frozen shrimp and fish filets are also convenient to keep on hand.
Stocking your pantry: the not-so-basics
Consider these your next-level flavor enhancers — not strictly essential but the welcome-if-you-can-get-’em ingredients that chefs frequently employ to add more depth, spice, tang, or zip to a dish.
Whether you are moving across country and starting from scratch or branching out into your own place and needing to fill the cabinets, you might be wondering just how to stock a pantry for the first time from scratch on a budget!
Obviously, if money wasn’t an issue it wouldn’t be bad to go out and just buy everything you might need.
Moving typically costs money, though, and spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars purchasing all those little things that make up a full pantry might not be top priority.
So let’s share ideas on how to stock a pantry for the first time and not go broke doing it.
When stocking a kitchen you typically have baking supplies, cooking supplies, packaged foods, and condiments of various types. Some go in the pantry and others need to be stored in the fridge. That’s a lot of different supplies that can quickly add up when stocking a pantry from scratch.
How to Stock a Pantry for the First Time on a Budget:
- Don’t Buy Everything at Once
Buy just what you actually need for the next couple weeks. Then each of the following weeks purchase a couple of extra items to work towards getting your pantry fully stocked. It won’t be as overwhelming or as expensive.
- Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk costs more upfront, put the per ounce/unit price is often times way less. Check with local friends or family and see if anyone is interested in splitting the bulk package of pasta, meat, salt, grains etc with you.
- Buy on Sale
Wait to purchase certain items until they go on sale. Salt and spices don’t go on sale, so buy those at any time. Things like pasta, butter, meat etc wait for the prices to drop before you stock your pantry for the first time.
- Store Brands
Utilize store brands to buy things on a budget. Especially the items that don’t go on sale. You probably already know which items you much prefer to have have from name brands, but other than those branch out and go for same quality but cheaper as you stock up. Many store brands are just repackaged name brands anyway!
- Shop at Cheaper Stores
Look at Aldi, check Dollar Tree’s food aisle (pound bags of brown basmati for $1), look around for discount grocery stores in your area. You might be surprised at what you can find.
- Accept Food From Others
Keep your ears open. If someone offers up extra staples from their pantry or garden, take them up on it!
- Keep Food Simple
As you get situated and start cooking, make simple recipes. You want things that will use common ingredients and not require you to go buy 10 new items for your pantry. You can do a lot with a basic list of ingredients like I have below. As your pantry grows and you have more wiggle room in your budget, start adding in recipes with other ingredients.
- Use Substitutes
Baking is a little harder to make substitutes in, unless you are a seasoned baker. So use caution. Cooking tends to be a lot simpler to make changes. Switch the seasonings around to use what you have, use rice instead of pasta, swap the veggies, use a different kind of meat or bean. Try to use what you already have instead of having to buy more ingredients.
- Make a List
Sit down and take time to make a list of the pantry staples you absolutely have to have. Make a list of items that would be good to have. Make a third list of things you want but can wait a while before buying. If you go to the grocery store without a list, it will be very easy to put everything in your cart and quickly go over your budget.
As you consider how to stock a pantry for the first time and do it on a budget, remember to take baby steps! The longer you live in one location the pantry staples you have on hand will continue to grow.
To help you make your list of pantry essentials, below is a list of supplies to start your planning.
Pantry & Kitchen Essentials to Stock Your Pantry
Ignore the items you don’t use and add the ingredients you always use. Everyone’s cooking and families are different, so use this list to inspire you and help you to not forget anything. You can have a stocked kitchen without having all of these supplies.
Beyond pasta, chips, and canned tomatoes I don’t buy many boxed/packaged foods. If those are a part of what you cook and feed your family, add them to the list!
- flour (which ever type you use)
- sugar (granulated, brown, powder, or the less refined alternatives)
- baking powder
- baking soda
- cocoa powder
- vanilla extract
- syrup (we like maple syrup)
- coffee or tea
- rolled oats
- dry beans and/or canned beans
- canned tomatoes (diced, sauce, puree, paste etc)
- dried spices: basil, oregano, parsley are the most used
- cumin powder
- chili powder
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- beef and chicken broth/base
- oil (coconut, olive, or whatever you use)
- soy sauce
- peanut butter
- other snacks
- salad dressing (or make your own using the oil and vinegar!)
- condiments: ketchup, mustard, mayo, bbq sauce, pickles
- bread/tortillas (or make your own – homemade tortillas, english muffin bread, french bread)
- cheese (start with one kind)
- fresh produce
- frozen veggies
Those 40+ items will get your pantry stocked and you’ll be able to feed your family a variety of recipes for breakfasts and suppers! Soups, pasta, stirfry, pancakes, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, etc.
You don’t even have to buy all of those ingredients at once. Make a menu, and just buy what you’ll need for the next week. Over a month you will have ended up purchasing most of them.
What tips do you have for someone asking how to stock a pantry for the first time? What are the essentials pantry items I missed and need to add to the list?
Having a well-stocked pantry and fridge is like money in the bank. With basic supplies on hand, you’ll be equally prepared to put together a family-friendly meal or a last-minute dinner for friends. The trick is figuring out what to stock up on and what you will likely never use.
Consider the checklist below a rough sketch; only you can determine the essentials based on your palate, repertoire and needs. Trying to cut back on meat? Skip the Italian sausage and swap in frozen wild-caught shrimp. Don’t like peanut butter? Pick up a tub of hummus instead. The idea is to make sure you have enough proteins and sturdy vegetables to pull together several satisfying meals, plus some flavorful condiments and seasonings to keep things interesting (even on a school night).
Whatever you decide to toss in your shopping cart, you can rest happy knowing you won’t ever again have to call spaghetti with butter dinner — unless that’s exactly what you’re in the mood for.
- Kosher salt
- Fine salt
- Black peppercorns
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Apple cider vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Balsamic or sherry vinegar
- Rice vinegar (unseasoned)
Nice Kitchen hutch with baking ingredients on display in glass jars – alchemy style
As far as spices go, unless I am cooking something that requires a specific spice or blend of spices (like Indian, Mexican, or Morrocan dishes) I don’t really use them everyday. I prefer to stick with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs.
I also shop for veggies at my local Farmer’s Market so what is in my fridge depends on what looked good that day. Rare is the vegetable or fruit that my girls won’t eat and we try to keep an abundance around for her.
I try to buy seafood the day I cook it.
Lastly, we don’t eat meat everyday. We eat lots of fish and red meat no more than once per week (if that). I am not a fan of chicken unless it is roasted and that I will do once or twice a month. We probably eat more pork than anything else. I love soup so I make some form of soup about once a week and my soups are usually veg based with meat as flavoring if it is included at all.
I know this list seems long, but most of the pantry items on this list can last for weeks or months if stored properly. If you have a well-stocked fridge and pantry, basic meal components are at your fingertips and cooking is a breeze. What do you always have on hand for quick meals?