When I consider what it means to have a well-stocked pantry, I reach this conclusion: A modern pantry has to work for your life. If you're someone who has to throw together a meal in 20 minutes on most nights, the ingredients in your pantry should help you accomplish that. If, instead, you enjoy spending an hour cooking after work to help you relax, the ingredients in your pantry should be chosen to help you with that. A modern pantry needs to fit your life, whatever form that life takes.

But there is one thing that the 20-minute meal person and the one-hour relaxed cook have in common, though. 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 to create your meal is already in your kitchen.

As you look over this list of items to have in your modern pantry, pick and choose what works for you. Then, once you decide which foods to purchase to be fully stocked, 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, 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.

Condiments

  • Extra virgin olive oil (Extras: A variety of olive oils with different flavor profiles, including one high quality 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)
  • Ketchup
  • Yellow mustard (Extras: Dijon mustard, coarse ground mustard)
  • Mayonnaise

Seasonings

  • 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
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Cinnamon

Baking Items

  • 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
  • Honey

Beans, Grains, Rice and Pasta

Dried beans are less expensive, but they need to be soaked and that takes planning 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)
  • Oats
  • Sandwich bread
  • Crackers
  • Bread crumbs (Extras: panko bread crumbs)

Canned/jarred goods

  • Peanut butter (Extras: almond butter, cashew butter)
  • Jellies/jams
  • Tomato sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • Whole peeled tomatoes (Extras: diced tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes)
  • Chicken stock (Extras: beef stock, vegetable stock)
  • Tuna (Extras: chicken, crab)

Refrigerator staples

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)
  • Eggs
  • Milk of your choice (Extras: heavy cream, buttermilk)
  • Parmesan cheese (Extras: cheddar, mozzarella)
  • Sour cream
  • Plain yogurt (Extras: flavored yogurts)

Produce

  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Lemons
  • Limes

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.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

How to stock a pantry
Keep these ingredients on hand so you can throw together a meal without having to run to the grocery store.