It’s been a busy week and I haven’t had time to cook (thank goodness for frozen portions of Chicken Noodle Soup and Moroccan Lentil and Vegetable Stew!), so I thought it was a good time to update the Budget Bytes list of Pantry Staples. I made a list five years ago when I first started the blog, but I’ve learned so much since then that the list is sorely in need of updating.
This list of pantry staples are the items that I like to keep on hand to help me whip up a meal with little to no planning. They’re basic ingredients that are used often in recipes and can be bought and stored for long periods. These items are usually fairly inexpensive, have a long shelf life, and can be used and combined with other ingredients in hundreds of ways. Your personal list will take shape as you begin to cook on a regular basis and will differ from mine based on your personal tastes.
Use this list to get a general idea of what items are good to keep on hand, but please don’t feel like you need to go out and purchase all of these items before you begin to cook for yourself. Buy one or two items per week until your kitchen is well stocked and always work within your means!
Dry goods are usually the least expensive and most versatile ingredients in your kitchen. It’s a good idea to check out the bulk food bins, as they’re often less expensive purchased in bulk than pre-packaged (you can buy as much or as little as you need). If you don’t have fancy containers to store your dry goods, don’t fret. A heavy duty zip top food storage bag will do the job.
- Flour: all-purpose, whole wheat
- Sugar: white, brown, confectioners (powdered)
- Rolled Oats
- Rice: long-grain white, brown, jasmine (I love jasmine rice so much that I use it almost exclusively now)
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Dry Beans: black, white (cannellini, navy), kidney, garbanzo*
- Pasta (long shapes, small shapes, couscous)*
*Since I’m cooking for one, I usually buy dry beans and pasta as needed. If you’re cooking for a larger crowd, it may be easier to keep these on hand.
Oils, Vinegars, and Sauces
These items are essential to giving life to your food. They add flavor, zing, and can be used to make a million different dressings and sauces that will liven up even the most boring meals. Again, these items are pretty basic and inexpensive, and most don’t need to be refrigerated. Don’t worry yourself over buying top quality when you’re just starting out. Until you become more experienced in the kitchen and your taste develop, you may not be able to tell the difference anyway. Stick to what you can afford and I promise you’ll still be able to make good food!
- Oils: vegetable or canola, extra virgin olive oil, toasted sesame oil, non-stick spray
- Vinegar: apple cider, red wine, rice
- Soy Sauce
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Mustard: yellow, Dijon*
- Hoisin Sauce*
*Refrigerate after opening
Herbs and Spices
It’s true, more expensive spices are often better quality than less expensive spices, but you can still make an amazing meal with basic grocery store spices. Buying spices in bulk is a great way to save and they’re often very fresh and high quality. Retailers like Whole Foods Market, health food stores, and some larger grocery chains offer bulk spices near their bulk dry goods. If you don’t have a small container to keep them in, save the old store brand container when you run out and then refill with spices purchased in bulk. Ethnic food markets are also a great place to score high quality prices for far less than regular grocery stores.
This list is highly personalized and will differ greatly depending on what kind of cuisine you like.
- Sea Salt
- Whole Peppercorns (with grinder – see photo above, far right)
- Crushed Red Pepper
- Cayenne Pepper
- Smoked Paprika
- Curry Powder
- Chili Powder
- Garlic Powder
- Cocoa Powder
- Vanilla Extract
- Turmeric (because I make Yellow Jasmine Rice on the regular)
- Soup Base (I used Better Than Bouillon, chicken, beef, and vegetable. Refrigerate after opening.)
Obviously these ingredients don’t have as long of a shelf life, but it’s good to keep them on hand.
- Milk: dairy or non-dairy
- Eggs (most recipes call for large)
- Plain Yogurt
- Grated Parmesan
- Mayonnaise, Mustard (also listed under sauces)
- Shredded Cheese (can be kept in the freezer for long term storage)
Frozen Goods (great for easily adding nutrition and flavor to soups, pastas, salads, casseroles, etc.):
- Broccoli Florets
- Fruit: blueberries, strawberries, peaches
- Shelled Edamame
This is a category that I tend to purchase as needed because I’m only cooking for myself and I don’t have much room for food storage (I didn’t even have enough on hand to take a photo!). If you’re cooking for a family, it may be helpful to keep these items around:
- Tomatoes (paste, diced, sauce/puréed)
- Beans (black, kidney, white, garbanzo)
- Pumpkin Purée
- Pasta Sauce (for when there’s no time to make your own)
- Coconut Milk
After scouring my pantry, that’s what I’d have to say are my most useful items. What about you? What have I forgotten? What ingredient can you not live without having on hand at all times?
Share yours in the comments below!