After hearing so many stories about growing up during the Great Depression from my grandparents, I have always been fascinated by how to grow and preserve food. I believe a well-stocked pantry is one of the most important ways to prepare yourself for whatever the world throws at you.
Lose a job? Survive by living off food in your pantry for a little while.
Illness? Recover safely at home using simple ingredients.
Impromptu family celebration? Raid the pantry for a hearty, filling dish on the fly!
Especially with so much insecurity right now, I’ve become almost obsessed with filling my pantry.
I’ve settled down now, but we just bought our house in January right before the first cases of Coronavirus were found here in Washington. Normally, we have a fully stocked pantry all the time! We take pride in keeping a well-stocked pantry. But, we were actually rebuilding our stash at the time.
Then, I found out my teaching job would not continue into the fall. At the same time, no schools were hiring. I knew that having food in my pantry would buffer us from the stress, anxiety, and panic of financial insecurity.
Fortunately, I was rehired into my position. Still, that feeling like I needed to protect my family was really powerful.
I know that many of us are struggling right now and I want to help others develop that same sense of security for themselves by keeping a well-stocked pantry.
Beyond international pandemics, there are plenty of more positive reasons to do this!
Make recipes more easily
How frustrating is it when you find the perfect recipe, but you realize you’re missing _______? This happens way less often when your pantry is well-stocked.
Grocery shop faster
If I don’t know what I need for groceries, I end up wandering the store. This always means I buy random stuff I don’t need and forget the essentials!
You won’t be running through the drive-thru as much when you have easy meals to make at home. You’ll notice I don’t have any processed foods like crackers, breads, or chips on this list at all. They are not part of my staples.
Plus, once your pantry is fully stocked, shopping is much easier. You just restock what is low. Doesn’t it sound nice to simplify at least one part of your life?
Enjoy cooking again
It’s easy to put dinner together quickly when you have all the ingredients for your favorite family recipes! This saves me time, stress, and money!
There are a variety of ways you save money!
- Fewer runs through the drive thru
- Fewer grocery store impulse buys
- Only buy the basics you need
- Buy in bulk for products you use often
- Stop buying overpriced processed foods
Our Pantry Stocking Philosophy
Here’s our basic approach to stocking a pantry, fridge, and freezer. Although we do not have any kids at this time, we keep a pantry stocked well-enough for 4 people. I’m telling you; I like to be prepared for anything!
We focus on real, simple food. Our pantry is stocked with basic ingredients, including grains, condiments, and dried beans. We do not have any processed foods on this list except for two things: an emergency frozen pizza and a container of ice cream. The pizza is for those nights you just want to order take out! The ice cream is to serve up delicious apple crisp or with cake!
Depending on your diet preferences, you may adapt your pantry list as needed! For example, I include flour and sugar on my ultimate pantry list. I often cook with almond flour and erythritol if I’m reducing carbohydrates. We often use coconut milk, too. It’s a great, shelf-stable dairy alternative that works perfectly in curries, chia pudding, and more!
Before we get started…
I’m about to walk you through my entire fridge, chest freezer, and pantry. Do not fear! It’s all categorized and broken down into lists.
I actually created a free printable guide with all of this same information (and more!). There’s even a one-page ULTIMATE pantry staples list you can use to stock your pantry or as a weekly grocery list! I can have one in your inbox in just a minute if you drop your email in the box below. Don’t forget to click the green button!
What is in a well-stocked pantry?
I’m a big believer that the fridge should be mostly for produce, eggs, dairy, and leftovers. Oh, and lots of random bottles of condiments! And maybe some chilled wine…
Especially in the summer, our fridge mostly holds vegetables and leftovers.
Depending on your family’s eating preferences, what you need in your fridge varies. We love eggs and cheese, so these are essentials on our list.
Eggs & Dairy
- Eggs (Between 2-5 dozen; they keep well so stock up!)
- Cheese (at least shredded mozzarella for pizzas, but often shredded cheddar and a variety of block cheeses)
- Milk (optional; we usually only ever have some on hand to make yogurt as we sub coconut milk for it everywhere else)
- Yogurt (Either cultured at home or store-bought)
- Bulk carrots
- Fresh ginger
- Greens (salad and prepped cooking greens, like chopped kale)
- Lots of seasonal produce (we love to garden)!
We have a chest freezer in our garage that we use to hold frozen meat, butter, and frozen berries and fruit.
- Vegetables (specifically frozen peas & riced cauliflower)
- Butter (I buy in bulk)
- Emergency pizza (sometimes, this is the only thing that keeps me from ordering takeout!)
- Vanilla ice cream (perfect for a last-minute fruit crumble)
Our Favorite Meats to Stock
Does anyone else feel exhausted having to find the best deals on meat all the time? I almost always buy meat in bulk! Sometimes I’ll order a whole bunch of different cuts at once from a local farm or I’ll just grab a few packs of pork on sale at my store. For ground beef, I’ll often buy a large container at Costco and then portion it out into 1-2 pound bags. We even did a buy from these folks before! It’s such a relief having meat in my freezer whenever I want some and I can take advantage of sales anytime.
Fats & Oils
Buy good quality fats and stock up! We generally use 3 fats for everything: butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. We eat refined coconut oil for zero coconut smell and easier digestibility. For cooking, we use coconut oil and butter. We like to use olive oil for delicious homemade salad dressings and for roasting vegetables.
We do not generally recommend vegetable oil, but sometimes use it for a neutral oil when baking cakes. If you bake often, you may want to keep some on hand. Otherwise, just remember to pick some up at the store if you need it for a special recipe.
Essential Seasonings & Spices
We love really hearty and homey recipes and some of the best ways to achieve these are with these very basic ingredients below. I think almost every recipe we make has at least some of these ingredients! However, we often use many more for depth of flavor.
If you are just stocking your first kitchen, focus on the first list. Once you have the basics on hand, round out your pantry with the additional spices. There are SO many spices out there! Depending on your background, you may use some more than others. We have tons of spices. But, I reduced this list to the spices I use the most to build a basic spice cupboard. Please adapt this list as needed!
Basic Spices & Seasonings
- Chicken bouillon base (we use this brand)
- Sea salt
- Bay leaf
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Powdered ginger
- Paprika (I love sweet, smoked paprika like this!)
- Chili powder
- Red chili flake
- Mustard powder
- Curry powder
- Taco seasoning
Hear me out – I know this is a big list of vinegar! There are so many types of vinegar in the world. Yes, it may seem weird to have FIVE different types here. They all serve a different purpose, though! We use vinegar for pickling, making salad dressings, and for cooking. Depending on the flavor we want, I use a different type of vinegar. I especially love rice wine and red wine vinegars for adding flavor when cooking. Apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar are great for salad dressing. We only use white vinegar when canning and pickling.
- Rice wine vinegar
- Apple cider vinegar
- White vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
Other Essential Condiments
- Peanut butter
- Jelly or jam
- Salsa (I always keep red and green salsa on hand)
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Marinara sauce
- Canned beans (just a few cans on hand for quick dinners or chili; black, kidney, and cannelini or butter)
- Boxed coconut milk (we get ours from Costco and use it for making chia pudding)
- Canned coconut milk (great for making curry!)
- Soy sauce
- Dijon mustard (don’t skip – key to amazing vinaigrettes!)
Grains & Flours
- All-purpose flour (you can even use this for homemade artisan-style sourdough!)
- Wheat flour
- Quinoa and/or couscous
- Chia seeds
- Dried beans (garbanzo, black or kidney, lentils; we bought these ones this spring)
- Canned chicken (From Costco; great for quick dishes like chicken salad or adding to soup)
- Breadcrumbs or Panko breading
- Dried pasta (2-3 bags)
- Corn starch
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Cocoa powder
- Vanilla extract (I always make my own!)
- Buttermilk powder (optional, but great for making pancakes)
- Brown sugar (Learn how to make your own!)
- White sugar
- Powdered sugar
- Maple syrup and/or honey (look for local honey!)
- Molasses (optional; great for making brown sugar or adding flavor to cookies)
Dried Fruits & Nuts
- Dried cranberries
- Nuts (I usually keep dry-roasted peanuts to top stir fries and noodle bowls and sunflower seeds or almonds for salads)
- Bulk potatoes (Yukon Gold or Russet)
- Sweet potatoes (If you like them!)
- Bulk onions (red and yellow/white)
Remember: ALL of this information is already organized in a super convenient one-page pantry checklist! Scroll down to get yours.
Specific dietary preferences
Low carb & keto pantry staples
Sub out the all-purpose flour for almond and coconut flour and the sugar for erythritol and stevia. Remove rice, couscous, and pasta. For basic staples, you’ll probably want to focus on oils, fats, and nuts. Consider stocking some canned green beans and tomatoes!
Skip the cheese, milk, yogurt, and cream. Substitute with plant-based milks. Our favorite is coconut milk!
Swap out the pasta for your favorite gluten-free variety, like rice. Sub out the flours with gluten-free ones like rice flour, tapioca starch, or almond. Be sure your oats are processed in a gluten-free facility! Skip regular soy sauce and get the gluten-free soy sauce instead.
Sub out the chicken bouillon for a vegetable base and clear your freezer of frozen meats! Consider adding some nutritional yeast flakes for a boost of flavor!
Remove the eggs, dairy, and frozen meat. Substitute the pasta for vegan varieties! Consider bringing in some non-dairy yogurt and some plant-based meats or increase the dried beans! Lentils and garbanzo beans are especially great choices. You can even make vegan meringue from the liquid from cooked garbanzo beans!
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Use Your Well-Stocked Pantry: Take Out at Home
We love to eat Thai and Vietnamese food! Seriously, we could eat Vietnamese food every week! Here’s what we keep on hand for DIY takeout dishes. Plus, you can load so many great vegetables onto noodle bowls!
- Soy sauce or coconut aminos
- Fish sauce (optional, but delicious)
- Chili sauce (sriracha and/or a sweet chili sauce)
- Peanut butter
- Rice noodles
- Rice paper spring roll wrappers
Taco nights are literally the fastest, easiest dinners…ever! Also, I can and have lived off nachos some summers. Some of the items you’d need are already on the list, but you may want to consider stocking these, too:
- Taco shells
- Soft tacos
- Tortilla chips
- Sour cream
- Canned olives
- Salsa (red, green, etc)
- Enchilada sauce
- Shredded mozzarella
Canning & Pickling
If you want to get into canning, I recommend grabbing these ingredients at the very least.
- Pickling or canning salt
- Pickle crisp (calcium chloride)
- Pectin (low sugar or regular)
- Citric acid or lemon juice
- Pickling spice
Don’t forget the canning equipment!
I know this is a lot…but you do not need to do any of this overnight! If you add a few items to your grocery list each time, you’ll end up with a well-stocked kitchen in no time. Or, consider using our FREE pantry staples list as your weekly shopping list! Print it out and highlight whichever items you need for the week. Easy peasy!
Where to shop for pantry staples
My favorite places to shop for pantry staples:
- Trader Joe’s
- Azure Standard
- Smart Foodservice
Shop for organic pantry staples at either Azure Standard or Costco! If you don’t know much about Azure Standard, it’s like an organic co-op that delivers a huge variety of produce, grains, frozen goods, and even plant starts by truck delivery. It was a lifesaver this spring when everyone was out of flour!
Did I miss anything? Help me know how to make this pantry printable great for everyone! Comment below. 🙂
Want more real food pantry tips?
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