Pantry Staple Essentials

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“A pantry is like a quiver of arrows, at your back and at the ready.”

Abra Berens in her cookbook, Ruffage

Pantry staples are more important than ever. For the past several months, I have only been going to the grocery store once a week, which has made me more mindful when planning my weekly shopping trip. Actually, our Meal Planning 101: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide blog has been especially helpful during this time.

I like to put some of my pantry staples in clear containers on an open shelf in my kitchen, that way I can see how much of each item I have on hand (see picture above). Pro tip: cut out the cooking instructions from the original packaging and place it in the container in case you forget. Seeing what you have on hand and keeping them within reach helps you use your pantry items regularly. Also, a well-stocked pantry can be the difference between eating at home or getting take-out, which is a great way to save time and money.

Since I am only grocery shopping weekly, I do not make any secondary trips if I realize I have forgotten an item. Instead, I have embraced recipe improvisation. For example, recently a recipe called for a serrano pepper and I didn’t have any on hand so I just improvised with crushed red pepper flakes. This could be done with cheeses, maybe a recipe calls for feta but you only have parmesan or goat cheese on hand. The recipe won’t be the same but it will be similar enough. I have learned a lot about cooking and how to improvise from cookbooks like Ruffage and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (which is also an amazing Netflix mini-series).

Here are some suggestions to get you started building a strong pantry. You can use a premade pantry list as a reference but we recommend tailoring premade lists to your preferences, otherwise, you will end up buying items you may never use. You can always add more items as you begin to cook more.

Dry or Canned Foods

  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Canned tuna or salmon
  • Canned vegetables

Freezer Foods

  • Chicken
  • Ground beef
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables

Refrigerator Foods

  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Cheese
  • Fresh produce (fruit & vegetables)

Condiments & Spices

  • Vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 or 4 spices

Let’s hear from the Admin Team:

I asked members of the administration team what pantry staples have been in their heavy rotation these past few months. We focused primarily on shelf-stable items.

Communications Specialist
  • Black beans (canned)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Lentils
  • Chicken or vegetable stock
  • Vinegar or limes/lemons

Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less
Program Manager
  • Black beans (dry or canned)
  • Whole wheat spaghetti/pasta
  • Crushed tomatoes and/or tomato sauce
  • Lentils (several options)
  • Brown rice
  • Chickpeas

Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less Coordinator
  • Black beans
  • Chick peas for making hummus
  • Chicken or vegetable stock for making soup
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa

Diabetes Prevention Program Coordinator
  • Eggs (not sure if this counts as it’s more of a fridge thing but definitely had on heavy rotation for COVID)
  • Onions & shallots
  • Quinoa
  • Olive oil
  • Lemons/lemon juice

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