How to Stock Your Pantry
Life is busy, but dinner doesn't have to be an afterthought. A well-stocked pantry is the best way to ensure you'll have everything you need to make a healthy and flavorful dinner every night, even when it seems like you have nothing to cook. A combination of classic pantry staples (like canned tomatoes, broth and beans) and flavor-boosting convenience items (like herb mixes, soy sauce and jarred pesto) are key to keeping your kitchen dinner-ready. No need for expensive takeout when you have what you need to make a healthy dinner at home.
This kitchen pantry list below includes many of the items you need to prepare healthy recipes, plus a few other ingredients that will make impromptu meals easier and more delicious. Don't have a large pantry to stock? You can hone this list down to go-to foods, the ones you are most likely to use again and again in meals. This way, you can stock a smaller kitchen pantry cabinet without overwhelming your limited space.
What to Stock in Your Pantry
Oils, Vinegars & Condiments
Featured recipe: Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette
Oils, vinegars and condiments are the backbone of many recipes. They're necessary for quick marinades, salad dressings, pan sauces and more. For a cook with an eye toward healthy ingredients, this collection of pantry staples helps you swap out convenience foods that are often filled with too much sodium, sugar and other unnecessary ingredients. (Bottled salad dressing, we mean you.)
A collection of oils is particularly important for home cooks. Some oils, like extra-virgin olive oil, are best used in uncooked dishes, such as salad dressings, or brushed on chicken and fish after cooking. (Olive oil has a low smoke point and can burn in a hot pan or grill.) Meanwhile, canola oil is a high-quality oil that can tolerate high temps. Flavorful nut and seed oils add unique flavor to salad dressings and stir-fries.
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Canola, avocado or grapeseed oil
- Unsalted butter
- Mayonnaise (olive-oil mayo has less saturated fat)
- White, red-wine, white-wine, balsamic, rice and cider vinegars
- Hot sauces such as Sriracha or Tabasco
- Dijon and whole-grain mustard
- Nut and seed oils, such as toasted sesame oil and walnut oil
- Reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
- Fish sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Chile-garlic sauce
- Curry paste
- Barbecue sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
Related: What Is the Best Oil for Cooking?
Featured recipe: Spice-Crusted Roasted Potatoes
A seasonings cabinet or drawer can quickly begin to burst at the seams. Unique spice mixes you used just once sit stale beside the cumin and coriander, which do get a fair share of use in a variety of recipes, from Mexican and Southeast Asian dishes to beef stews and more. Paring down to the basics will help you save space and make sure you're utilizing everything before the flavors fade.
This seasonings list also includes foods that make up the foundation of many recipes—the aromatics. These foods are the first things you throw in the pot to start simmering—onions and garlic, for example. They add a depth of flavor and heft to many dishes, even fast ones, so make sure to keep them on hand.
- Salt, including kosher salt, coarse sea salt and fine salt
- Black peppercorns
- Fresh garlic
- Dried herbs: bay leaves, thyme, oregano, Italian seasoning blend, dill, crumbled sage, tarragon
- Spices: chili powder, ground cinnamon, ground coriander, coriander seeds, ground cumin, cumin seeds, curry powder, dry mustard, paprika, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, turmeric, garlic powder, ground allspice, caraway seeds, cinnamon sticks, ground ginger, nutmeg, za'atar, onion powder
- Citrus: Lemons, limes, oranges. The zest is as valuable as the juice. Organic fruit is recommended when you use a lot of zest.
- Granulated sugar
- Brown sugar
- Fresh ginger (store in the freezer for longer life)
- Anchovies or anchovy paste for flavoring pasta sauces and salad dressings
- Pure maple syrup
- Unsweetened cocoa powder, natural and/or Dutch-processed
- Bittersweet chocolate, semisweet chocolate chips
Canned & Bottled Goods
Featured recipe: 20-Minute Creamy Tomato Skillet Salmon
While your first inclination may say otherwise, some canned foods are indispensable in healthy cooking. Canned tomatoes, for example, can be used in soups and stews, but they're also a boon to many quick and healthy skillet meals and one-pot pastas. Cooking dried beans takes time and effort (though it's worth it if you can manage), but canned beans make black bean tacos or a tomato-bean shakshuka happen in a hurry.
- Canned tomatoes, tomato paste
- No-salt-added diced tomatoes
- Unsalted chicken broth, beef broth and/or vegetable broth
- Canned beans: cannellini beans, great northern beans, chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans
- Clam juice
- Light coconut milk
- Canned tuna (chunk light) and salmon
Grains & Legumes
Featured recipe: Slow-Cooker Overnight Farro Porridge
Beans, rice, whole grains and lentils can be added to a plethora of dishes for instant protein and filling fiber. They also store well, so you can keep them on hand for a considerable time, and they go from season to season-in soups and stews in the winter and in light grain sides in spring and summer. You can use some of these pantry staples to turn basic chicken breasts into crispy oven-fried pieces, leftover steak into a hearty burrito bowl or make black-bean patties in a pinch.
- Whole-wheat flour and whole-wheat pastry flour
- All-purpose flour
- Assorted whole-wheat pastas
- Brown rice and instant brown rice
- Rolled oats
- Whole-wheat breadcrumbs
- Whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs
- Pearl barley and/or quick-cooking barley
- Whole-wheat couscous
- Dried lentils
- Cornmeal, polenta and/or grits
- Dried beans (black, cannellini, garbanzo)
Nuts, Seeds & Dried Fruit
Featured recipe: Pizza Pistachios
You may think these kitchen pantry staples are best suited for snacks and trail mixes, but a cook with an eye toward healthy eating knows they can be used in everything from salads and grain bowls to muffins, quick breads and quick coatings for proteins (like this Walnut-Rosemary Crusted Salmon). Most fresh nuts and seeds should be stored in the fridge or freezer to keep their oils from turning rancid.
- Dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
- Natural peanut butter and/or almond butter
- Pine nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Assorted dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, cherries, cranberries, dates, figs, raisins
Related: The 10 Best Snacks for Weight Loss
Featured recipe: Mango-Raspberry Smoothie
We use the term kitchen pantry to refer to your cold storage, as well as dry storage. These ingredients should be kept stocked in your fridge, as they can quickly and easily be used for many fast dinners. Yogurt, for example, is a great snack, but it can be a dipping sauce for fish, tofu or pork. or turn into a dressing for falafel or shawarma. Eggs are staples for many dishes, but they can star in fast omelets and frittatas too.
Read More: 10 Tips for Organizing Your Refrigerator
- Low-fat milk or soymilk
- Unsweetened coconut or oat milk beverage
- Low-fat or nonfat plain or Greek yogurt
- Reduced-fat sour cream
- Good-quality Parmesan cheese and/or Romano cheese
- Sharp Cheddar cheese
- Eggs (large)
- Orange juice
- Blue cheese
- Water-packed tofu
Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Oat Milk
Featured recipe: Prosciutto Pizza with Corn & Arugula
Yes, the freezer counts as part of you kitchen pantry too. You can use this chilly storage option to keep a number of foods good longer, which gives you more time—and more options—for using them up. A stash of frozen vegetables promises you'll have a healthy, crisp side in the bleak mid-winter months. Berries are at their best in summer and quite pricey in winter, so stocking up on frozen options saves you money and delivers nutrient-filled fruit. Even quick-thawing meats are good to have on hand for fast pizzas or stir-fries.
- Frozen vegetables: edamame (soybeans), peas, spinach, broccoli, bell pepper and onion mix, corn, chopped onions, pearl onions, uncooked hash browns
- Frozen berries
- Italian turkey sausage
- Fish fillets
- Whole-wheat pizza dough
- Frozen yogurt for impromptu desserts
- Whole-grain bread
The Bottom Line
You don't need to spend hundreds of dollars filling out your kitchen pantry during one trip to the grocery store. Start with the basics and expand your pantry as you expand your cooking skill set. Over time, you'll find it easier to make meals from scratch using what you have on hand.