A pantry is an antique concept with an eternal logic: cooking is simpler and faster when you already have the ingredients. On a busy work night, convenience can be the difference between breaking down and ordering food delivery vs. going out of your way to make a home-cooked meal.
A well-stocked pantry means you can shop responsibly and have healthy choices with easy access. A well-stocked pantry means you can shop responsibly and have healthy choices with easy access. We’ve included our favorite pantry staples to stash in your kitchen below.
If your kitchen is anything like mine, odds are you have half-opened bags of chips tucked into odd corners of your pantry, forgotten cereal boxes, and sub-par sauces that end up living in the fridge for months on end without being touched. Here’s how to restore order.
Clean it Out
Before you stock up, a good clean-out is essential. Aversion to cleaning? I get it. But I promise cleaning your pantry can be oddly satisfying if you lean into it. So, turn on your favorite album and get some trash bags at the ready.
Take everything out of your pantry, give it a hard look and decide what you can get rid of. If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it. If it’s unopened, donate it to your local food bank or No Kid Hungry to minimize waste. Don’t forget to clean out your fridge and freezer too.
Once your pantry is cleared out, it’s time to organize. There’s no best practice here, just use the system that makes the most sense to you.
A few of my favorite simple pantry upgrades include lining the shelves for easy wipe-down, using clear containers to keep dried ingredients fresh and visible, and adding additional shelving for easier accessibility.
Once you’re organized, it’s time to fill in with essentials. Below, I’ve included a list of favorites I like to keep in my pantry. But this list is just a suggestion. If you don’t like black beans, don’t buy them.
You’ll know your pantry is well stocked for your purposes when most of the time, you need only add one or two fresh ingredients to cook a handful of your go-to recipes from scratch. Or even better, none.
The pantry can be your biggest secret weapon when it comes to putting a delicious healthy meal on the table. Non-perishables can also be practical in challenging times or shortages.
Shelf stable foods aren’t always healthy—often they’re loaded with preservatives and sugar to extend their lifespan. But the nutritious, whole food ingredients below are simple, healthy, and can make flavorful meals come together quick.
Legumes include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. They contain fiber and antioxidants which can help reduce the risk of inflammation and disease (1). Beans, peas, and lentils are great for adding to soups, stews, and curries or making salads heartier. Peanuts are great for snacking, mixed into curries or stir fries, or crushed to garnish leafy green or Asian-inspired noodle salads.
- Dried and Canned Beans: Lentils, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Navy Beans, Fava Beans, Refried Beans
- Dried Peas: Split Peas, Green Peas, Black Eyed Peas
- Dried Lentils: Yellow Lentils, Red Lentils, Green Lentils, Black Lentils
Grains are great for adding substance to a meal and can keep you full and satisfied. Compared to other grains, whole grains are a better source of fiber and other important nutrients like B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium, and magnesium. Whole grains like brown rice, bulgur, farro, barley, and quinoa are great for making hearty salads like this Power Quinoa Salad, adding to soups, or as a side dish.
- Rice: Long-grain White Jasmine or Basmati Rice, Wild Rice, Brown Rice
- Bulgur (Cracked Wheat)
- Oatmeal (look for plain steel cut oatmeal or rolled oats and sweeten yourself)
- Popcorn (try the plain kernels, you can heat them over the stove with olive oil for a delicious and more nutritious treat than bagged varieties).
Having healthy oil at easy access will add a boost of healthy fats to your meal and make sautéing and roasting veggies and meats a breeze. In general, vegetable oils like olive, avocado, sunflower, safflower, and non-hydrogenated soybean oil are the healthiest choice. Butter, palm oil, and coconut oil aren’t all bad (they still contain some good-for-you nutrients), but they are higher in saturated fat, which can increase LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). I like to have a few kinds of oil in my lineup because the different flavors and smoke points make them better for cooking different things.
- Olive Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Organic Butter (in moderation)
- Coconut Oil (in moderation)
It’s always good to keep vinegar well stocked. As you get into cooking at home, you’ll find recipes call for a variety, and different kinds of vinegar provide better flavor for different things. I’m a sucker for expensive balsamic vinegar, but Trader Joe's offers delicious vinegar for a fraction of the price.
- White Wine Vinegar
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Champagne Vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Sauces are one of my biggest secrets to a well-stocked pantry. They’re a one-stop shop for adding flavor to meals without the headache of making them from scratch. Finding brands that prioritize whole food ingredients while minimizing add-ins like extra sugar or preservatives is ideal.
A few of my favorite brands include Rao’s (for pasta sauces), Primal Kitchen (for sauces and dressings), and Siete Foods (for enchilada sauce, hot sauce salsa). If you’re looking to save money, generally the Whole Foods 365 brand and Trader Joe's have good ingredients and their flavors are on point too.
- Hot Sauce
- Enchilada Sauce
- Barbecue Sauce
- Buffalo Sauce
- Marinara Sauce
Canned tomato products make it easy to make your own sauces and soups at home. One of my favorite home-cooked meals is Bolognese. You can easily make your own sauce with ground meat and a jar of marinara. But for a sauce with a little extra love, sauté onions, garlic, and ground meat in a pan, then add tomato paste, balsamic, whole peeled tomatoes, and tomato sauce, and simmer low and slow.
- Tomato Paste
- Whole Peeled Tomatoes (look for San Marzano)
- Diced Tomatoes
- Tomato Sauce
If you eat meat, canned fish is a classic staple that will make it easy to get your protein needs when cooking meat feels like too much work. Canned salmon is lower in mercury than tuna (2), and higher in healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Meanwhile, tuna is the winner for more protein and fewer calories per serving. Personally, I prefer the oil-packed varieties to salt water.
- Canned Tuna
- Canned Salmon
- Canned Sardines
- Canned Anchovies
Canned veggies are easy additions to soups, salads, or side dishes. We love packing artichoke hearts in this lighter Instant Pot Spinach Artichoke Dip and loading up on olives in this Quinoa Greek Salad. Everyone seems to have their favorites when it comes to canned vegetables, so choose the ones you know you’ll use.
- Green Beans
- Artichoke Hearts
Nuts, Seeds & Nut Butters
Nuts and seeds are a delicious way to add a boost of healthy fats to your day. I love to sprinkle chopped nuts on top of a salad like this Summer Strawberry Spinach Salad, and they’re delicious for mixing into homemade cookies, granola bars, or granola too. Nut butter is great for adding a boost of healthy fats into smoothies or oatmeal bowls, layered on toast with bananas and honey, or in a classic PB&J.
- Nuts: Almonds, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Brazil Nuts, Pistachios
- Seeds: Flaxseeds, Chia Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Sesame Seeds
- Nut Butters: Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Cashew Butter, Tahini
Stocks & Broths
Stocks and broths can lend a boost of flavor to bland meals. Add them to soups or sub them in when boiling grains like rice. Bone broth, in particular, is rich in minerals that might help to strengthen your bones and your immune system (3). Depending on your diet, you can choose either meat or vegetable-based broths, or if you’re not picky, load up on all of them.
- Beef, Chicken, and Vegetable
Spices & Herbs
Healthy cooking doesn’t have to be boring and bland. If you plan to cook meals from scratch, spices make all the difference. When it comes to dried herbs, they typically lose a lot of their flavor quickly after opening, so I recommend buying most herbs fresh, but oregano, parsley, and bay leaves have a decent shelf life.
- Chili Powder
- Kosher and Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Dried Herbs: Oregano, Parsley, Bay Leaves
Everyone has their own rules when it comes to baking, but sugar, flour, baking powder, and baking soda are mainstays. But, I like to sub in healthier alternatives for all-purpose flour and white sugar when possible.
For flour, I turn to whole wheat, arrowroot, tapioca, almond, and cassava when possible. For sugar, I lean on coconut sugar, maple syrup, and honey which still have just as much sugar as table sugar but also retain nutritional value like minerals that are stripped from table sugar during processing.
- Flours: All-Purpose, Whole Wheat, Arrowroot, Tapioca, Almond, Cassava
- Sugar: White Sugar, Brown Sugar, Coconut Sugar, Organic Maple Syrup, Organic Honey
- Other: Vanilla Extract, Baking Powder, Baking Soda
Finally, you’ll want to round out your pantry with go-to snacks like chips, crackers, and cereals and of course, bread for sandwiches and toast. Opt for whole grain, and no added sugars when possible. And, if you have a vice for chips, maybe take the safer route and don’t stock them in your pantry.
- Bread (can also be kept in the freezer)
As far as the freezer goes, having frozen vegetables, fruit, proteins, and even starches and grains can save you a trip to the store. Here are some of my favorites for their versatility and ability to freeze well.
If you love making fresh smoothies, having frozen fruit at easy access is a must. Freezing fresh fruit that’s on its last leg like strawberries or bananas that you don’t plan to eat that day is a great way to cut down on food waste too.
- Berry Mix
Frozen veggies are a great way to enjoy out-of-season vegetables any time of year. Plus, they’re typically cheaper than fresh vegetables. Freezing fresh spinach and greens you don’t plan to eat is another great way to cut down on food waste.
This category of frozen foods has changed the way I approach dinner. If you haven’t hopped on the frozen grains and starches train, it’s time. Frozen rice means you can have fluffy rice on the table within 3 minutes. And frozen pizza crusts take all the work out kneading and preparing dough yourself (plus, there are some great frozen cauliflower crust options out there if you’re looking for lighter carb options). This section of your grocery store is definitely worth exploring.
- White and Brown Rice
- Pizza Crust
- Hash Browns
- Frozen Oven Fries (I like Alexia)
Last but not least, a stash of frozen protein will make dinner choices easier throughout the week, while keeping your meat at its freshest. Below are a few of my favorite options to stash in the freezer.
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken (Breast or Thighs)
- Ground Chicken
- Ground Turkey
- Ground Beef
- Ground Pork
- Sausages (Italian, Kielbasa, Andouille)
Maximizing Your Pantry
Once you have your ingredients, remember cooking and disorder are friends (and that’s totally okay). Your hot sauce collection may take over your condiment shelf, and odds are your spices may never live in matching containers. So, here are a few more practical tips to keep it real.
- Be realistic about what you’ll eat. The whole point of stocking your pantry is to keep foods you’ll actually eat on hand. If you won’t eat it, don’t buy it.
- Buy shelf-stable ingredients like canned tomatoes and broth in bulk. They’re cheaper.
- If you have fresh ingredients like broccoli or sweet potatoes you need to use up, cook them. It’s a lot easier to eat cooked food than raw. Throw them in salads or bowls, or combine them with items from your freshly stocked pantry to make a full meal.
1. Role of Antioxidants and Natural Products in Inflammation, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5075620/ Accessed August 2, 2022.
2. Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish, US Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/metals-and-your-food/mercury-levels-commercial-fish-and-shellfish-1990-2012 Accessed August 2, 2022.
3. Essential and Toxic Metals in Animal Bone Broth, Food Nutrition Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5533136/ Accessed August 2, 2022.