Stock your cupboards with this Pantry Staples list, and you'll always have the essentials on hand to make a delicious meal!
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Do you struggle to get dinner on the table? Whether it's lack of time, empty cupboards, or something else, I think we've all been there!
There's one easy thing you can do today to make dinnertime easier for weeks to come. And that's to stock your cupboards with basic ingredients to cook simple, healthy meals.
A cupboard-full of pantry staples (like canned and frozen food, dry goods, oils, and spices) means that a tasty, nutritious meal is always minutes away.
Ready to start stocking? Then keep on reading, because I'm sharing tons of tips regarding what to buy, how to do it on a budget, and how to organize your pantry. And of course, a huge list of staple ingredients! At the end of the post, you'll also find a free printable checklist that will make it easier to get started.
What is a pantry staple?
Pantry staples are essential ingredients that you keep on hand to help you put together simple meals. Typically, these are long-lasting ingredients, such as canned and self-stable foods, frozen food, dry goods, oils, and spices that can be stored in a cupboard, refrigerator, or freezer. Fresh foods that have a lengthy shelf-life also make excellent pantry essentials.
The best thing about these staple ingredients is that they're usually very affordable, and for the most part, they're pretty healthy. Once your cupboard is stocked with the basics, you can create an infinite number of cheap, nutritious meals. Which is great for busy weeknights, as well as in emergency situations.
You can also create more elaborate meals, and add extra flavor to these simple ingredients, by incorporating your favorite fresh ingredients.
And don't worry, you don't actually need a physical pantry to stock up on these essentials! If you live an a small apartment or home like I do, then simply designate a cupboard or even a single shelf to store these basic ingredients.
How Stock a Pantry from Scratch
If you're starting from scratch, don't just run to the grocery start and start filling up your cart. It makes much more sense to be methodical and make a plan. That way, you won't waste time and money buying food you'll never eat.
Here's how to do it:
- Figure out what you already have. Start by pulling everything out of your cupboards. Make a note of what's in your refrigerator and freezer, too.
- Toss anything that's inedible. Throw away food that's freezer burned, moldy, or otherwise past its prime. Make a note of expiration dates, but keep in mind that many unopened foods (such as canned goods, not brie cheese) can last for years. Food dating is not required by the U.S. government, except for infant formula (read more about expiration dates from the USDA). You may still be able to eat expired foods, although it might not taste as good. Obviously, you'll want to use your best judgement here, and err on the side of caution!
- Make a list of essentials. Now that you've taken stock of what you already have, create a grocery list, starting with the very basics. For example, if you're low on cooking oil or salt, then add those items to your list first. Include those items that you threw out, too, but only if you know they'll get eaten.
- Figure out what you like to cook and eat. While the grocery list below is a helpful guide, there's no sense stocking up on foods you'll never eat. Thinking about what your favorite foods are will help you avoid buying things you won't use. Pasta and bread are excellent staples, unless you don't eat carbs. Skip the hot sauce and pepper flakes if you don't like spicy foods. And buy black beans instead of white beans when that's what you prefer.
- Make a master list. Grab your grocery list that you started in step three. Then, using the list of Pantry Staples below, go through each section and add everything you need (and know you'll use) to your list.
- Start purchasing the items on your list. This part is obvious, right? If you can't afford to buy everything at once, check out the tips in the next section for stocking a pantry on a budget.
- Stay organized. After you get home from the store, make sure to organize everything you purchased. That way, you'll always know what's in stock, as well as what needs to be repurchased. Find more tips on how to organize a pantry below.
How to Stock a Pantry on a Budget
Buying a little at a time is the best way to stock your cupboards on a budget. After you've created a pantry shopping list, pick up a few things every time you visit the grocery store. Keep an eye on sales, too, and buy in bulk when you find a great price (just don't go overboard).
Purchase pricier ingredients, like herbs and spices, only when needed for a recipe. That way, you'll gradually build up your stash over time. And don't be afraid to purchase generic brands. They're often just as good as name brand products.
You can also save money simply by buying less. There's no need to stockpile a year's worth of food ... this isn't the end times! Instead focus on gradually purchasing enough food to feed your family for two weeks to a month.
Finally, don't wait until you have a long list to restock your shelves. Replace ingredients as you use them up.
The trickiest part about stocking a pantry is getting organized, but it's essential. Staying organized will make dinnertime less stressful. And because you'll know exactly where to find the ingredients you need, you'll eliminate wasted food.
If you don't have a full-sized pantry, start by dedicating a cupboard, a single shelf, or a few small areas to storing these basic ingredients. For example, I stack canned goods in my cupboard, have a bin for rice, grains, and pasta, and keep cooking oil and salt and pepper near my stove.
Once you've designated the space, begin grouping similar ingredients together. That way, it's easy to see what you have on hand and what's running low.
After you've grouped similar items together, you should have a better idea of what your storage needs are. Then, you can pick up affordable baskets and bins to hold packages, storage containers for bulk items, and other helpful organizational tools.
What to Cook with Pantry Essentials
Now that you've stocked up, are you wondering what to make first? Start by checking out my roundup of 50 easy Pantry Recipes to get started. You'll find delicious recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
These basic recipes will also be helpful:
- How to Cook Quinoa
- How to Roast Vegetables
- How to Make Hummus
- How to Make Overnight Oats
- Homemade Granola Recipe
- Marinara Sauce Recipe
If you're trying to improve your cooking in general, read these articles, too:
- 10 Tips for Recipe Success
- Kitchen Essentials List for Home Cooks (Must Have Cooking Utensils, Pots / Pans, etc.)
- 10 Easy Ways to Eat Better
Pantry Staples + Essentials
Okay, so let's talk ingredients! I've broken the following list into different categories, such as Fresh Produce, Frozen Foods, Canned Goods, and more.
Focus on one section at a time, determine what you need, then create your master list using the tips I shared above.
A few notes about these ingredients:
- I've included everything I could think of here, but you may have other essentials. Let me know what I missed, then add those items to create your own master list.
- If there's something on this list that you don't like, then don't buy it. Simple as that!
- You can certainly use these ingredients to make simple, delicious meals. However, you can brighten up these basics even more by adding fresh herbs and your favorite fresh produce that you'll purchase more frequently. Check out all my recipes for lots of inspiration!
- For the most part, these are basics for American / European-style cooking. If you enjoy exploring other cuisines (Korean, Mexican, etc.), then you may need to purchase additional items.
- It's a long list! To simplify things, I've marked what I consider the absolute basics with an asterisk (*).
When you're done checking out the list, don't forget to grab the free checklist at the very end of this article!
While most fresh produce lasts a week or less, these items will keep longer when stored properly (learn how to store fruits and vegetables). Vegetables like onions, carrots, potatoes, and garlic form the foundation of many different meals, which makes them essential in most kitchens.
- Potatoes (Russet, Yukon Gold, Red, Sweet, etc.)*
- Root Vegetables (Beets, Turnips, Rutabega, etc.)
- Winter Squash (Butternut, Spaghetti, Kabocha, Pumpkin, etc.)
- Ginger Root
- Citrus (Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Grapefruit, etc.)
- Bananas (Slice and freeze, or use in banana bread before they go bad.)
Tip: purchase other produce (like mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, avocados, zucchini, spinach, and kale) on a weekly basis to round out your meals.
Fresh produce doesn't keep indefinitely, so stock up on frozen veggies and fruits. They're just as good for you as fresh vegetables, are usually quite affordable, and can be used in everything from smoothies to soups to curries. You can also freeze leftover bread, bagels, and tortillas, as well as some fruits (think bananas and berries), to extend their shelf life. Veggie burgers and healthier frozen meals are helpful to have on hand in a pinch or for busy weeknights.
- Vegetables (Peas, Corn, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Spinach, Edamame, Vegetable Mixes, etc.)*
- Fruit (Berries, Peaches, Mango, Cherries, etc.)*
- Pizza Dough
- Puff Pastry
- Pie Crusts
- Ice Cream
- Veggie Burgers
- Frozen Meals
- Homemade Pasta Sauces, Soups, and Baked Goods
Canned / Shelf-Stable Foods
Canned foods are, without a doubt, some of the best pantry items you can buy! Use them to create everything from rice and beans to curries and pasta sauces. Keep in mind, that many (if not most) of these foods will need to be refrigerated after opening. At that point, their future shelf life will also be limited. Always read labels for manufacturers storage recommendations when in doubt.
- Beans (Black, Pinto, Garbanzo, Kidney, White, etc.)*
- Tomatoes (Whole, Diced, Crushed, Sauce, Paste)*
- Pasta Sauce*
- Coconut Milk
- Curry Paste
- Nut Butters (Peanut, Almond, Tahini, etc.)*
- Jam / Jelly*
- Prepared Polenta
- Artichoke Hearts
- Sun Dried Tomatoes
- Roasted Red Peppers
Note: I'm not a fan of most canned vegetables ... they usually contain lots of salt and preservatives. When possible, I'd recommend purchasing frozen veggies instead.
Like canned goods, dry ingredients can inspire many different meals, making them a must have in a well-stocked kitchen.
- Pasta (Spaghetti, Linguine, Fettuccine, Lasagna, Shapes, etc.)*
- Noodles (Egg, Rice, Soba, etc.)
- Rice (White, Brown, Basmati, etc.)*
- Grains (Quinoa, Pearl Barley, Bulgur, Freekeh, Farro, etc.)*
- Dried Beans (Black, Pinto, Garbanzo, Kidney, Black-Eyed Peas, Mixes, etc.)
- Lentils (Brown, French, Red, Yellow, etc.)
- Split Peas
- Bouillon Cubes (or Boxed Broth)*
- Rolled Oats*
- Popcorn Kernels
- Breadcrumbs / Panko
- Nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, etc.)*
- Seeds (Sunflower Seeds, Pepitas, Flax, Chia, Hemp, etc.)
- Dried Fruit (Raisins, Craisins, Figs, Apricots, Apples, etc.)*
- Dried Chiles
Tip: Make sure to store nuts and seeds in the freezer if you can't eat them within a few weeks, otherwise they may turn rancid.
Oil, Vinegar, and Sauces
Oils, vinegars, and sauces are a must for cooking and flavoring our favorite foods. Keep a variety of these foods on hand so you can properly cook and season your food.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil*
- Neutral Cooking Oil (Canola, Vegetable, Grapeseed, etc.)*
- Sesame Oil
- Non-Stick Cooking Spray*
- Coconut Oil
- Vinegar (Red Wine, White Wine, Balsamic, Rice Wine, Apple Cider, etc.)*
- Soy Sauce (or Tamari)*
- Hot Sauce (Tabasco, Sriracha, Gochujang, Sambal Oelek, Spicy Chili Crisp ... choose your fave)*
- Mustard (Yellow, Dijon, Whole Grain)
- Prepared Salad Dressing / Vinaigrette
Tip: some of these ingredients need to be refrigerated after opening. Make sure to read package labels for guidance.
Herbs and Spices
At a bare minimum, you should always keep salt and pepper on hand. From there, the spices you choose will depend on your personal taste. My spice collection is pretty varied, but the foods I cook most are American, Mexican, and Asian-inspired dishes. The spices I use most reflect that ... your faves might be different.
- Kosher Salt*
- Whole Peppercorns*
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes*
- Ground Cumin*
- Chili Powder*
- Smoked Paprika
- Garlic Powder
- Curry Powder*
- Garam Masala
- Bay Leaves*
- Old Bay (A Good All-Purpose Seasoning)
- Goya Adobo (Another Great All-Purpose Seasoning)
- Nutmeg (Ground or Whole)
Tip: herbs and spices can be expensive. Save money by starting with the basics, then add additional spices as needed when trying new recipes. And keep in mind that spices begin losing their potency after about a year. Purchase small amounts unless it's a spice you know you'll use frequently.
Do you enjoy baking? Keep your cupboards stocked with the basic ingredients to prepare a delicious dessert or loaf of homemade bread. If you're not a baker, I'd still recommend purchasing flour, sugar, and a liquid sweetener (maple syrup or honey), because they're often called for in other recipes.
- Flour (All-Purpose, Whole Wheat, Bread, etc.)*
- Gluten-Free Flours
- Sugar (Granulated, Powdered, Brown, etc.)*
- Maple Syrup*
- Baking Soda*
- Baking Powder*
- Dry Yeast
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- Pure Vanilla Extract*
- Other Extracts (Almond, Peppermint, etc.)
- Pumpkin Puree
- Chocolate Chips
- Baking Chocolate
Dairy / Plant-Based Alternatives
Dairy products are essential to many recipes, but they can be tricky to store long-term. Keep an eye on expiration dates when shopping, and consider shelf-stable alternatives. When purchasing cheese, know that blocks of hard cheese (like versatile Parmesan and cheddar) will last longer than soft cheeses (like feta and goat), especially after opening.
- Non-Dairy Milk*
- Heavy Cream
- Cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, Feta, Vegan, etc.)*
- Plain Yogurt (Regular, Greek, Vegan)
- Cream Cheese
- Unsalted Butter (or Vegan Alternative)*
Tip: fresh is always best, but did you know that you can freeze cheese? While I probably wouldn't freeze blocks of cheese, I've frozen bags of shredded cheese before, and it holds up great.
Eggs* are very nutritious and an excellent source of protein. Not only are they great for breakfast, but they can be used in tons of other recipes, from baked goods to fried rice. Tip: most recipes call for LARGE eggs, so try to purchase that size whenever possible.
No pantry would be complete without an ample stock of your favorite drinks.
- Bottled Water
- Sparkling Water
Tip: obviously, it's best to avoid drinking bottled water on a daily basis, because it's bad for the environment. However, the CDC recommends storing at least a three-day supply of water (up to two-weeks, if possible) for each person and each pet in your home. The amount they recommend is one-gallon of water per person (and for every pet) for each day.
You may have noticed that everything on this list is vegetarian and/or vegan. I'm not a meat eater, but if you are, you can supplement these staples by adding canned tuna or salmon, jerky, and frozen chicken, beef, pork, and fish / seafood.
* Basic essentials are marked with an asterisk.
I hope you found this list of basic groceries helpful, whether you're stocking up for the first time or you're an avid cook. I'm curious to hear what you think, so make sure to let me know what your favorite cooking essentials are!
Before you go, make sure to check out the printable list ... simply click on the image below to access it.