When I first got married and moved to this town, I made a friend of someone who was a much better cook and baker than me. She even taught cooking classes at one point. One day, she had a mini-cooking class for me at her house and she introduced me to the idea of having pantry staples. She went over all the basics one needs in their kitchen pantry to be able to throw food together at any time.
I’ve carried this information with me and have my own very curated list of must-have pantry basics. It comes in handy for me time and time again. There are many nights that I have put together a meal thanks to the staples I keep in our cupboards! As a working mom, sometimes the thought of going to the grocery store for last minute ingredients seems like something that may send me over the edge! Knowing I have some basic ingredients at the house helps me avoid those last minute grocery runs. (You may know I prefer the grocery pickup services rather than going in myself.)
The pantry basics I like to keep on hand are shelf stable, versatile, and usually inexpensive. Having these on hand can also be budget-friendly if you are trying to save money on weekly grocery trips.
If you are just starting to stock your pantry, you don’t have to buy this all at once. You can buy it just a little at a time to make it more manageable. If you are starting your kitchen basics in general, be sure to check out my kitchen essentials and baking essentials lists as well for a comprehensive look at what every kitchen should have.
Oils and Sauces
- Olive Oil – There are different types of olive oil. One should consider the smoking point of olive oil, which I learned first hand during a very smoky cooking session. A refined olive oil (often labeled as “light” or “100% pure”) will have a higher smoke point, so I keep that on hand along with an extra-virgin olive oil for dressings or dipping. The extra-virgin olive oil will have a much nicer flavor for those purposes.
- Vegetable Oil – Vegetable oil is great to have on hand for frying.
- Peanut Butter – This family will eat peanut butter straight from the jar. We keep it on hand at all times and if I’m being honest with you, I buy the largest jars in two packs almost every week.
This is just a list of the basic spices I keep in my pantry. There are plenty of more you may enjoy but these are what I typically reach for when I’m doing my everyday cooking and baking.
- Salt – Salt is the secret to the best tasting food and is very likely the most important part of cooking. Any professional cook will tell you that you need to be liberal with your salt! I keep kosher salt, fine salt, and sea salt. I love sea salt in grinders.
- Pepper – I keep two types of pepper as well. I keep regular pepper and peppercorns in a grinder.
- Chili Powder – Chili powder is one of my most used spices and I use it for many things from chili to sloppy joes.
- Cumin – Cumin and chili powder go hand in hand. Where there is one, there is usually the other!
- Vanilla Extract – You need this for almost anything you bake.
- Bay Leaves – These are my favorite secret ingredient. I put them in all my soups and sauces!
- Dried Basil
- Dried Oregano
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Cocoa Powder
- Broth – A great base for many soups and sauces. I keep both chicken and beef stock on hand. I often use low-sodium versions so I can salt to my own tastes.
- Canned Beans – This is a broad category, I know, but I like to keep our favorite beans on hand for soups or stews. For us, I keep black beans, pinto beans, and chili beans.
- Crushed Tomatoes – You can use these with spaghetti sauces, soups, stews, and more.
- Tomato Paste – This is an easy and inexpensive way to thicken sauces, give them a deeper flavor, and add rich color.
- Rotel – Yep, it’s a name brand, but I always keep a can or two of Rotel for some great crockpot soups. My favorite use for Rotel is simple taco soup.
- Canned Corn – Great for use in soups or for a quick side dish.
- Canned Green Beans – If I don’t have fresh vegetables, which is my preference, canned green beans can at least ensure I get some vegetables on the table.
- All-Purpose Flour – All-purpose flour can be used for everything from baking to coating food to using as a thickening agent. It’s a great staple.
- Self Rising Flour – I keep self-rising flour around at all times because it has all the leavening agents and salt already added.
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Cornmeal – I’m from Eastern KY. We like cornbread. I don’t even feel like I should explain further!
- Cornstarch – Use cornstarch to thicken any sauce!
- Sugar – I keep three types of sugar. Brown sugar, granulated sugar, and confectionary sugar. I use these with baking or to cut the acidity in a sauce.
- Rice – There are multiple types of rice. We keep jasmine white rice and brown rice in our pantry most of the time. Those happen to be our favorites.
- Pasta – I keep two types on hand here. I keep spaghetti noodles and penne on hand. A little olive oil and spaghetti noodles can make a great side or addition in a pinch.
- Breadcrumbs – These can be used to coat chicken, add into meatloaf, or add to crabcakes.
- Rolled Oats – I keep these on hand for making energy/protein balls usually, but you can use them in baking for many things as well.
Naturally, this is my personal list and yours may look different. Pay attention to what you like to eat, what you like to cook, and you will grow your own pantry staple list that is personal and fitted toward your family and lifestyle.
Once you build up that pantry, don’t forget to occasionally rotate things around and organize your food cabinets.
Is there an ingredient your family can’t live without? Is there something you would add to this list?