What Items Should Always Be Found In the Pantry: A Suggested List of Pantry Staples


Dear Andrea,
I need to understand what items
should always be in the pantry. Do you have a suggested items list?
-Shelly in Canada

[I] definitely wasn’t ready for the response that was received earlier in the week when I published my thoughts on meal planning and keeping a stocked pantry! So many of you are discovering the freedom, peace, and flexibility that comes through living by The Pantry Principle. But in our world full of “come and get it whenever you want it” big box grocery stores, many of you — like Shelly — are wondering what pantry items bring simplicity to meal planning under this method of food shopping.

The whole premise behind using The Pantry Principle (a term I learned from reading The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn), as opposed to long-range meal planning, is that we will save tons of money and time by learning to grocery shop in order to replenish our pantries’, not to purchase specific ingredients for specific meals.

We Are All Different

I find it near impossible to create a list of pantry staples that is appropriate for every family. All of us are so different. We all live in different areas that effect our resources — some rural, some city. And we all experience very different climates. Not to mention all of our different nutritional needs, diets, and preferences. 

So instead, I thought that I would simply share with you the contents of my pantry. Remember: By pantry I mean freezer, refridgerator, closets, kitchen cabinets, and the space under the beds.

A List of Pantry Staples

Generally these are the items that I keep in order to create all meals — breakfast, lunch, and supper. Of course there are deviations and special purchases, but this is pretty much sums it up.

Baking Goods: aluminum-free baking powder, baking soda, salt, cacao powder (or cocoa powder), yeast, shredded coconut, arrowroot powder, apple cider vinegar, and homemade vanilla extract.

Beans and Legumes: lentils, red beans, black beans, split peas, adzuki beans, garbanzo beans, white navy beans, 10 bean soup blend, pinto beans.

Beverages: coffee and herbal teas.

Breads: sprouted wheat bagels. (All other breads I make.) 

Condiments: mayonnaise, mustard, nut butter. (We make our own ketchup, barbecue sauce, jellies, relishes, salad dressings, and pickles.)

Dariy: raw whole milk, yogurt, grass-fed block cheese, cream, grass-fed butter, Parmesan, Gouda, and feta

Fruits: dates, apples, pears, bananas, and a variety of other fresh fruits depending on the season. (I dehydrate, can, or freeze our homegrown and CSA seasonal fruits for use in smoothies, baking, and oatmeal throughout the year. We are also a foraging family, and use this method heavily for gathering wild edibles such as prickly pear, blackberries, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, and apples.)

Grains: quinoa, rice, millet, amaranth, barley, whole wheat berries, popcorn, oatmeal, bread flour, whole-wheat flour.

Homemade cleaners: borax, castile soap, baking soda, washing soda, white vinegar. (Learn more about my method for making homemade cleaners for the entire house using these 5 simple ingredients in my ebook “Simply Clean”.)

Meats: pastured whole chickens, chicken liver, chicken feet, grass-fed ground beef, beef stew meat, beef organ meats, beef bones, tuna, bacon, salmon.

Medicine Making: medicinal herbs, essential oils, gelatin capsules, 100 proof vodka, and vegetable glycerin. (I get the herbs and essential oils in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs; the gelatin capsules come from The Bulk Herb Store; and the vodka and vegetable glycerin can be purchased locally.) 

Oils: olive, grapeseed, and coconut.

Pasta: A variety of different pastas depending on the sales. (We’re not picky about the “style” of pasta we use. If we want pasta and elbow noodles is what we have the most of…then elbow noodles is what we cook.)

Snacks: dehydrated fruits, nuts. (Combined with other pantry staples such as oatmeal, dates, and cacao powder I am able to make a variety of snacks, i.e. granola, popcorn, energy bars.)

Spices: There’s no way I could list all of the spices I keep in my pantry! I love cooking with different spices and herbs. It’s the difference between just beans and rice and “WOW Mom! What is this? It’s amazing!” My favorites are cumin, onion, garlic, chili powder, celery seed, cumin seed, turmeric, bay, lemon pepper…just to name a few. Likewise, my kitchen herb garden keeps us in fresh tarragon, oregano, basil, thyme, sage, parsley, and rosemary year ’round. (We make all of our own seasoning blends and I purchase all of our spices and seasonings in bulk, primarily from Mountain Rose Herbs. The best part about purchasing in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs is the savings! Wow! The more bulk herbs and spices you purchase in 1 pound quantities, the more you save — it can even be up to 20% off depending on how many 1 pound units you buy! ) 

Sweeteners: molasses, maple syrup, local raw honey, and sugar.

Vegetables: potatoes, onions, garlic, canned tomato products (i.e. paste, diced, whole, sauce). (Additionally, we purchase fresh veggies from a local CSA farmer each week all year around. During peak harvest, when the prices are low, I buy in extreme bulk and dehydrate, can, and freeze the bounty. We also grow celery, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, squash, and a variety of other veggies depending on the season.)

Note: In case you are wondering, we are pretty much a paper-free home so that eliminates the need to shop for and spend money on disposable products. Read more here…

Learning to Stock Your Own Pantry

Focusing your grocery shopping efforts on simple, staple pantry items will not only save you time, but it will also slash your monthly grocery bill! However, be patience with yourself…as we have allowed our budget to adjust, it has taken our family the course of a year to slowly morph into this way of buying food. (Read more about shifting your grocery budget to accomodate buying in bulk in my free ebook.)

You can begin learning how to keep your pantry stocked by:

  • Researching what grows in your region and learn to eat that. Chances are those foods contain the nutrients your body needs to thrive in your climate.
  • Preserving the harvest. The books Putting Food By and Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning have dramatically changed the way I stock my pantry!
  • Finding independent farmers in your area and make fast friends with them. Here’s a tip for ya’ I found a direct source for organic, non-GMO bulk grains by searching Craigslist. Local Harvest and Eat Wild are also a few other excellent ways to source out pantry staples.
  • Asking around the farmer’s markets this spring and summer in order to find local co-ops and buying groups. Also look into bigger organizations that delivery locally such as Azure Standard.
  • Buying as a group. Sometimes it just takes a village to make things happen! Take the first step by asking a few like-minded friends if they would be interested in buying and splitting bulk food orders. This would be a great thing to do for items like spices! You all could even get together after the supplies arrive and make a day of preparing your own homemade spice mixes!

All in all, if simplicity, high-nutrition, and joy in your kitchen is what you seek…you’ve found your answer.

So enough about me! ‘Cause I’m sure that I have forgotten something :) What are your pantry staples?

Be sure not to miss a post, click this link to receive my free eBook and Frugally Sustainable tips by email.

Comments

  1. Only thing I could think of to add is jars/lids/rings for canning fresh produce.Oh, wheat berries (we grind our own) and honey for bread making.

  2. All I can say is wow! This article is amazing. So very informative for us newbies. I’ve done a couple of things on this list, but I can’t wait to start doing much more. Great article as always. One more thing, have you had time to read my recent email that I sent to you? I know that you are very busy, but if you have time to respond, then I’d really appreciate it.

    • Hi Neeli! I’m so glad you found this information helpful…and yes I did get your email :) Still searching for a viable option but nothing seems to be workable :( Will be in touch!

  3. Hi Andrea! I really enjoyed reading this post! In fact, I enjoy reading all of your posts! Thanks for sharing what’s in your pantry! It’s very similar to mine, but I’ve got a ways to go to have more homegrown and less store bought. We’re working on that as we are planting our garden. I hope to have enough tomatoes and green beans to put up for a whole year! I really love to can, and try to can something even in the off season! Blessings from Bama!

  4. This is great, Andrea!! Don’t forget chocolate – chips, bricks, bars – all kinds of chocolate! Must haves in my pantry… :-)

  5. And coffee… :-)

  6. Re your earlier post, I meal plan based on hand( like you do) because I never know when unexpectally, I will get fresh produce fom friends, & then make a meal based on my bounty.
    Since you use preserving w/o freezing or canning book, I figured that is an excellent reccomendation. So I ordered the kindle edition just now.

    • Oh great Gail! I sincerely hope you love it…there are so many great ideas that really got the ball rolling for me.

  7. That’s a fabulous list, Andrea!! Thanks for putting it together. :-) I have such fun every time I look at my stocked pantry. It just fills me with a since of comfort and peace, knowing that I am ready to feed my family well. :-)

  8. After reading your other post, I just rethought my grocery list. I added, removed, and hopefully made it easier to use. I print it out, put it in a page protector, and we use an erasable pen to mark what we use each week. Hopefully I will be revising this list every week or month unitl I get it “just right”, which we know may be never. ;)

    • Right!

      I’m happy that you found this post helpful Ila and I love your super organized system for meal planning…brilliant!

    • That is a fabulous idea! I was trying to do it through a database for meal planning and to help me keep up with what needed to be replenished, but I think I could use what I started in order to print the basic list and then your idea for the page protector to make it much more functional and easy to use. My list included whether or not I had a coupon or was on sale. I could just add fields for that to check each week. I could hang the list on the refrigerator so we could mark the things we just used the last of or were nearly out of to ensure we get more. (That would help dh stay out of trouble for using the last of something and not telling me, then getting into trouble because I expected to use it in a recipe and it’s not there. He would like not being in trouble. ) This could be a fun and functional project. Thanks for the great suggestion, Ila!

  9. Thanks for the peek into your pantry! Mine looks just about the same except that I like to can and ferment so I have supplies on hand for those. It’s always helpful to see what someone else is doing. If you ever get around to writing about how you use prickly pear, I’d really appreciate it! I’ve done some foraging the last couple of years but I really want to kick it up a notch this spring. There’s tons of prickly pear by my house but I have no idea what to do with it!

    • Hi Hannah! I love fermentation as a means of preserving foods! I’ve had great success with using salt and the whey that I collect from raw milk and yogurt. What supplies do you stock? I’d love to have other options.

      Noted…posts on prickly pear to come during the harvest season. Look for them during the summer months!

      • I use salt for some ferments and for others I like to use the vegetable starter culture from Cultures for Health. My son has a serious dairy allergy so I don’t like to use whey. And I like to make sure that I have lots of lids and bands available for canning so I have the option of canning in small batches on a whim. This year I’m really hoping to start buying Tattler lids.

  10. As always, Andrea – you never cease to amaze :) Thanks again for a wonderful post. This makes things so much easier!

  11. Just one question, what does one do with chicken feet? Eat them? I would think they are just bones and skin, how do you cook them?

    • Hi Lisa! I was wondering if someone would ask :) I add them to my homemade chicken stock because they are very high in gelatin. They certainly look funny simmering in the pot…but they are my secret ingredient!

  12. We eat a LOT of fresh produce so I like to make my own salad dressings. I stock a variety of different vinegars (cidar, rice, white wine, red wine, balsamic and so on) as well as different oils (olive, grapeseed, vegetable). It’s a cinch to whip up a homemade vinaigrette – 2 parts oil to one part vinegar, a pinch of sugar, plus a pinch of any desired herbs/spices. Whisk to combine.

    With a good aresnal of different vinegars, the flavor possiblities are endless. And way better than buying a bottle of partially hydrogenated oil and artificial flavors!

    • Great additions Jill! I think the way you feel about vinegars is the way I feel about spices! They are both cheap and easy ways to really jazz up a meal :) Do you ever make your own herb infused vinegars? Just wondering :)

  13. Another good reason to keep a literal pantry full of items is in the event that the electricity goes out, or your freezer / refrigerator decides to quit. (Had my refrigerator go out one day after I came back with a full load of groceries. That was fun! ) That got us thinking about ensuring that we had items we could eat in the event that we had an electricity outage for an extended period (or even just a single meal). We do have a place on our property where dh and ds created a fire pit for cooking, in addition to a smoker.

    Also, as far as oils go, I use canola because I am allergic to olives and soy (vegetable oil). I also keep sesame oil on hand as I enjoy the deep flavor of a few sprinkles of that on a salad. I would love to use grapeseed oil, but in our little rural area of the world, they do not stock that at our local grocery store and I have not seen it at the large package store in the cities closest to us.

    I also have a variety of vingegars besides white and apple cider, I also keep rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar.

    Cheese is another staple in our home. Other dairy items include milk (for awhile this included almond milk for our youngest), butter, and eggs. I do ration milk, especially for dh who could drink a quart a day or more if allowed.

    I also keep some packaged convenience foods on hand, like Jiffy corn bread and Jiffy pizza crust mix. Those are fast, easy, delicious, inexpensive, and the children love mixing those together. Another is ranch dressing mix packets. We use those for dressing (the girls love to make the dressing themselves), dip, and battering pork chops. We also keep some noodle mixes on hand for making lunches for dh and ds and for fun lunches for me and the girls.

    • Excellent points here Tammy!!!

      • I forgot to add lard to the list of on-hand items. Also, dh and ds use whatever regular noodles we have on hand to supplement their packaged items to make those stretch further.

  14. I live in a very rural area, so keeping a stocked pantry is a must. I’ve been doing it for years, but your list gives me a few things to ponder. Much of what you list is in my pantry, but not necessarily being used. The habit of shopping to restock the pantry is in place, but I think my specific items could use some tweaking. Thanks for the great post.

  15. Heather says:

    Great article! I store a lot of the same staples. Hard red winter wheat lasts 30 years if stored properly I store in 5 gallon containers with a gamma seal lid. I use it for sprouted flour and to grow wheatgrass and I sprout it for chicken treats. They love it! I also have various sprouting seeds. Once sprouted, they are packed with nutrition. I also have various seaweeds on hand to add more nutrition to soups, etc. Organic whole dried corn stores for a long time too. Can be used for cornmeal, etc. and the chickens love it. Whole dried peas are good to have too. Can soak and sprout…good in salads, or add to soups. I also buy apple cider vinegar in bulk (1 gallon jugs) from Azure Standard. I use it for medicine making, making beef stock, and add to chicken water.

    I love Mountain Rose Herbs. If you find enough people to go in with you, you can get 30% off. If I remember correctly, you’re a member of Herbmentor.com. You receive 10% off being a student. It applies to the bulk herbs and spices that are not 1 lb. and to other items that are not bulk (essential oils, carrier oils, etc.).

  16. I didn’t see anything about broth. I have homemade broth or a bag of bits in the freeze at all times. Make whiping up a soup supper easy. I don’t buy the canned stuff any more because I found home made helps give it the flavors my family likes as well as controling the salt.

    • Good point, Angie! I save my broth in the containers our lunch meat comes in and stack those in the deep freeze and just thaw in the microwave as needed. It makes great soup starters. Also, I make a chicken enchilada casserole in which I put my concoction of spices and peppers. When I finish with the chicken and use the broth from that for the given recipe, I use it as a soup starter for making chicken tortilla soup or the next time I want to make chicken enchilada casserole for an even richer flavor. I’ve tried using gallon freezer bags, but the lunchmeat containers seem to work best for us.

  17. Yay! So excited for this! I commented on how much I loved your last post and then went to my pantry and realized: 1-it’s empty! 2-I don’t know how to stock it!!

  18. Hello There! I know we are “neighbors” so to speak. Just wondering where you get your diary, which CSA’s you buy from and where you get local honey. Oh…and the blackberries? Where on earth in the valley can you forage blackberries??

    • Hi Stephanie! I can’t share with you my secret blackberry and raspberry spot ;) Just kidding! We go up on The Rim just above Payson. Drive along The Rim Road and you’ll see them growing wild everywhere! Dairy we get from Save Your Dairy. Our CSA is Tonopah Rob…LOVE him!!! Local honey from Tonopah Rob and Mountain Top Honey in Flagstaff. In September you can go up 89A in between Sedona and Flag and there is a very old orchard of apples and pears. Oh there are so many things to forage for here in the desert!!!

      • I’m from your area too! I would love to have you do an article of all the different areas we could forage from. Do please share! Thank you for all of your fabulous ideas. <3

  19. Our pantries share many similarities! I addition, I also stock raw apple cider vinegar, coconut milk, sardines (my kids are all addicted!) gelatin (Great Lakes brand NOT the orange box!), chia seeds, almonds, walnuts and pecans, raisins, dried cranberries and apricots, and salt, lots of salt… Real Salt, pink Himalayan, Hawaiian red sea salt, gray sea salt, plus smoked and flavored varieties… guess I feel about salt the way Jill feels about vinegar! I also stock sherry, brandy and wine. I like brandy for tinctures better than vodka and I also make a soothing hot toddy for colds and flu… hot water, brandy, lemon juice and honey or maple syrup. I even let my kids drink them but I put just a tablespoon of brandy in theirs (my youngest is twelve now, when they were really little I would give them just a teaspoon).
    I too stock a LOT of herbs and spices (mostly from Bulk Herb Store), both culinary and medicinal, to use in cooking, teas, capsules, tinctures and body products, plus gelatin caps to do my own capping… so much cheaper. I have some backup supplements on hand too including fermented cod liver oil and kelp powder… oh, and Epsom salts and magnesium flakes.

  20. I was totally inspired by this so I bought A LOT of dried beans. After soaking the black beans for 2 days and then cooking them for almost 45 minutes they were still crunchy! Help, I’ve never used dried beans, what is the secret to getting them soft?

  21. I keep a quart of moonshine in my pantry…I know, sounds strange…but it disinfects, cleans, starts the woodstove (and the truck!)….it’s not just for drinking anymore! Very handy!

  22. Ann Losee says:

    Jody,
    Were you adding tomatoes while you cooked the beans? I have found that if you add anything acidic while cooking beans, they will NOT soften. EVER. So just cook the beans with water, a bay leaf, or some kombu seaweed, and they should be fine. Add whatever acidic ingredients for soup after they have fully cooked. Hope this helps! It took me YEARS of doing this on occasion and I always thought I got a bad batch of beans. My massage therapist told me about this – bless her! Hope this helps. :)
    And Andrea, great post! I would add that I always keep nuts on hand to make nut butters, milks, and dehydrated nuts and seeds. Cashews, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are staples in my home. I soak a mixture and then dehydrate with sea salt for 24-48 hours. You can also sprout the seeds.

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