The secret to a well-stocked pantry is simple: It has to work for your specific life.
If you're someone who throws together a meal in 20 minutes on most nights, the ingredients in your pantry should help you accomplish that. And if you enjoy spending an hour cooking after work or on weekends to help you relax, the same rule applies.
A pantry needs to fit your life, whatever form that life takes and no matter what comes down the road. Making a family dinner and sitting down to enjoy a meal together is one of the best things you can do for family health and happiness — good times or bad.
And there's one thing different types of cooks have in common. No one likes to have to run out to the store because they're missing an important ingredient. That's one of the biggest benefits of having a well-stocked pantry — whatever you need is already in your kitchen.
As you look over this list of items to have in your pantry, pick and choose what works for you. Then, once you decide which foods to purchase, do two things before heading to the grocery store. Clean out your pantry, donating any unopened, unexpired food you no longer want and throwing away any food that's clearly no good anymore. And next, put a write-on/wipe-off board on the inside door of your pantry for future use.
Many foods on this list have a basic item and then extras. The first item listed is the basic minimum you should have in the pantry. The extras will take your meals — whether they're 20-minute or hour-long — up a notch, and they'll make your pantry more modern.
- Extra virgin olive oil (Extras: A variety of olive oils with different flavor profiles, including one high-quality version to use for finishing dishes)
- Canola oil (Extras: grape-seed, avocado)
- White vinegar (Extras: apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar)
- Balsamic vinegar (Extras: aged balsamic vinegar)
- Yellow mustard (Extras: Dijon mustard, coarse ground mustard)
- Salt: table and Kosher (Extras: sea salt, pink Himalayan salt)
- Ground black pepper (Extras: Various peppercorns in grinders, including black, white and pink)
- Garlic powder
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Cocoa powder (Extras: baking chocolate in blocks, chocolate chips)
- Real vanilla extract
- Unbleached white flour (Extras: whole wheat flour, cornmeal)
- Granulated sugar
Beans, grains, rice and pasta
Dried beans are less expensive, but they need to be soaked, which requires you to plan ahead. Canned beans are ready to eat, but often have a lot of sodium, so look for sodium-free when available.
- White beans, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas (Extras: pinto beans, navy beans)
- Quinoa (Extras: couscous)
- White rice (Extras: brown rice, arborio, jasmine)
- Dried lentils
- Dried spaghetti (Extras: linguine)
- Dried rigatoni (Extras: penne, orecchiette)
- Sandwich bread
- Bread crumbs (Extras: panko bread crumbs)
Homemade jellies and jams are good to have on hand, but store-bought works just fine, too. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis [CC by SA 2.0]/Flickr)
- Peanut butter (Extras: almond butter, cashew butter)
- Tomato sauce
- Tomato paste
- Whole peeled tomatoes (Extras: diced tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes)
- Chicken stock (Extras: beef stock, vegetable stock)
- Tuna (Extras: chicken, crab)
Butter goes with everything. (Photo: jules [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)
Note: Pantry items are usually non-perishables, but keep these items stocked in your refrigerator because you'll often need them in conjunction with the pantry items.
- Butter (Extras: ghee)
- Milk of your choice (Extras: heavy cream, buttermilk)
- Parmesan cheese (Extras: cheddar, mozzarella)
- Sour cream
- Plain yogurt (Extras: flavored yogurts)
Finally, don't forget to keep your pantry stocked with coffee and tea.
Those on restricted diets will want to add or subtract items from this list. Vegans will, of course, want to skip the meat and dairy products, and add vegan staples like tofu and liquid aminos. Customize your modern pantry with the ingredients that make sense to you. You'll find that when you start with these basics, you'll bring in other pantry items suited to your taste — like hot sauce, almond extract, chili oil or specific dried herbs and spices — that will build your pantry over time so that it reflects the foods you enjoy most.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was first published in April 2019.