We all know that it’s both healthier and less expensive to cook at home. But, if it’s getting late and you haven’t been to the grocery store in a while, that pizza delivery starts looking more and more tempting. That’s why you need to keep a well stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. You’ll always be able to whip up an easy meal from scratch with these pantry staples on hand.
As a mom and personal chef, these are items that I not only keep at home, but regularly buy for my clients as well. Each family’s pantry staples will be a little different depending on their tastes and food restrictions, but this list will get you started on the right track!
Dried Pasta, Quinoa and Rice – If you have these in the cupboard, you always have the base of a quick meal on hand! Quinoa is my favorite because it cooks in less than fifteen minutes and can work with a lot of different cuisines. For the pasta, I like to stock rice noodles, in addition to various shapes of traditional pasta. For Rice, I always keep Arborio, Jasmine and brown rice on hand at all times.
Canned Tomatoes – My pantry staples list always includes at least one can of diced tomatoes and one can of crushed. The diced tomatoes are perfect for tossing into chili or a crockpot meal. And if you have crushed tomatoes, you’re just twenty minutes away from homemade tomato soup or a simple marinara to go with the dried pasta.
Vinegars – Stock your pantry with apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, and balsamic vinegar. You’ve got what you need to add brightness and acidity to any dish. Plus, you can use them for homemade salad dressings that are more flavorful and healthful than store-bought.
Nuts – You’re going to need both toasted and raw. Toasted is perfect for snacks and adding to salads. Raw is good for baking and encrusting fish or chicken. If you can only choose one though, I’d go with the toasted. They’re so easy to burn if you toast them yourself!
Shelf-stable milk – You’ve probably seen those individual organic milk containers at your local grocery store. They are shelf-stable so you’ll always have milk for recipes, drinking, or in case the power goes out. I also like to keep shelf-stable heavy cream on hand for desserts, soups, and pan sauces.
Vegetable or Chicken Stock – While I encourage everyone to make their own stock (it’s so easy and so delicious), I do realize that most people would rather just not. But having stock as a pantry staple means you can easily make your own soup, stews, and pan sauces from scratch. If you can find a high-quality reduced stock like More than Gourmet, it will save space and you can just use a small amount at a time without wasting it.
Basics – Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil, Canola Oil, All-Purpose Flour, Cornmeal, Brown Sugar, Granulated Sugar, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Dried Spices, Dried Herbs
Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese – If you can only choose one cheese for your fridge, real parmigiano-reggiano is going to be your best bet. A little goes a long way, and it has a long shelf-life, so you don’t have to worry about it going bad. It’s perfect for seasoning salads, pasta dishes, and even roasted vegetables for a hint of umami flavor right before serving.
Cabbage, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, and Onions – I always make sure that these pantry staples are in the veggie drawer. They all are hardy vegetables, so even if they sit in there for a month, they’ll still be good for roasting, stir-frying, or sauteing. Cabbage is the most underrated, but it’s very versatile. It’s delicious sliced thinly in a salad, slaw, or even in a bowl of ramen.
Plain, whole milk yogurt – Regular or Greek yogurt is a great fridge staple. You can eat it for breakfast, of course, but it’s also a great substitute for sour cream, mayo, or buttermilk in a lot of recipes. Choose the full-fat variety for the best flavor and no added sugars.
Tortillas – Keep both corn and flour tortillas on hand so when you run out of bread or have an unexpected gluten-free guest, you can whip up a breakfast wrap or lunch sandwich in a hurry. They’re also great if your eleven-month-old little boy will only eat cheese quesadillas. No recipe needed!
Eggs – Of course, eggs are great for breakfast and baking, but I also grab them to make meatballs, savory veggie pancakes, and egg salad. Keep hard-boiled eggs on hand for a quick snack or to top your pizza with a fried egg for added protein. Eggs are the ultimate blank slate when it comes to meal ideas. Omelets, frittata, quiche, and strata are all easily adaptable to whatever other vegetables, meats, and cheeses you have on hand.
Petite Peas – Frozen peas are one of my favorite vegetables because they require literally no work. No cutting, no peeling, and no cooking. Just stir them into hot pasta or risotto and your green vegetable is ready to serve. I also like to keep some other frozen veggies on hand for emergencies. The carrot, corn, green bean, and pea blend in particular is great for making homey comfort food like chicken pot pie or shepherds pie.
Puff Pastry – Keep this in the freezer and you can make the aforementioned homey pot pie. It’s equally easy to use as a buttery pie crust for dessert or quiche. Or you can build a flaky flatbread and everyone’s holiday favorite, Baked Brie wrapped in Puff Pastry.
Ground beef or turkey – You have a lot of options with these in your freezer. Meatloaf, tacos, meatballs, or even a simple bolognese with canned pasta sauce are just a few examples of ways you can use this pantry staple.
Breakfast meats – Breakfast for dinner? Not a problem if you have some frozen bacon on hand! It’s also great for salads, BLT’s, and sandwiches. I always keep sausage in my freezer as well. Perfect for when you need to whip up impromptu biscuits and gravy for overnight guests.
Fruit – Pre-cut, packaged frozen fruit is perfect for quick smoothies, making a fruit sauce for dessert, or for adding to baked goods. The frozen fruit typically has just as many nutrients as fresh since it was picked at the height of freshness and then flash-frozen.
Ice Cream – There’s nothing you can cook with this. I just personally need it in my freezer at all times!