A well-stocked pantry packed with a roster of basics helps you pull together quick delicious meals and snacks any time. It’s also a budget-friendly way to stay stocked up!
Here are a variety of essential foods you can use to build or revamp your pantry (feel free to customize to your family’s preferences).
Oils and vinegars
Whether you’re frying, drizzling or mixing, oils and vinegars have essential contributions to make in the kitchen. A basic selection is great for every pantry.
Good for frying, stir-frying or sautéing. Its smoke point is fairly high, so it won’t burn.
An ideal finishing touch, drizzled over flatbreads or pasta, or for use in vinaigrettes.
These offer distinct flavours that can boost the taste of salads, noodle dishes, and soups.
Provide tangy flavour as an ingredient in dressings, vinaigrettes, marinades, and easy no-cook salsas.
Oil and vinegar should be kept in a cool, dark, dry place in the pantry. Don’t store beside the stove or in front of a kitchen window, as the heat and light can degrade them. Nut oils are more perishable and should be refrigerated after opening.
Herbs, spices, and salts
Learn what you like, and add them to your pantry. They’ll add valuable aroma, flavour and spice to your cooking and baking.
Basil, dill, thyme, and oregano add an aromatic note to everything from proteins to whole grains to vegetables to pasta dishes.
Dried ginger, Chinese five spice, and curry blends are great to have in the pantry if your family likes the strong flavours of Asian and Indian dishes. If Latin American recipes are your family’s favourites, stock up on ground cumin, paprika, and chilies.
A must-have (ideally in a pepper grinder, so it’s always freshly ground), along with crushed red chili flakes. Use them to add heat and punch up flavour in everything from soups and stews to sauces, dressings and marinades to omelettes to grain dishes.
Cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg are staple spices for baking and can also be used to give savoury meat dishes an unexpected kick. If you’re a keen baker, consider whole versions of these spices. Freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg and whole vanilla beans tend to have a fresher flavour than when you purchase them pre-ground or in extract form.
In addition to table salt, sea salt or kosher salt will help bring out the best flavours in your cooking and baking.
Dried herbs and spices can last for months, though the flavour does fade over time. Whole spices require a little more effort (grinding before use) but keep their flavour longer than pre-ground versions. Store all herbs and spices away from direct heat and light for optimal freshness.
Pasta, grains, and legumes
An excellent base ingredient for dinners, hearty salads and more. These pantry staples last well in the cupboard and deliver loads of variety to the dinner table.
Easy to make, inexpensive, and crowd-pleasing. Keep a stock of your family’s preferred varieties, such as spaghetti, rigatoni, and macaroni. If gluten is a concern, have gluten-free options on hand — they cook up and taste just like the real deal.
A type of pasta, couscous is a Middle Eastern staple that’s easy to make. Dress it up by adding nuts, vegetables, or dried fruit for a flavourful side.
These noodles are essential for making a stir-fry or pad Thai. They cook super fast and offer a plain al dente bite that’s the perfect base for rich sauces, herbs, and crunchy vegetables.
This budget-friendly plant-based trio is very nourishing. Dried beans and chickpeas need to be soaked for eight hours or overnight before use in recipes, while canned can be used right away. Try in dips, chili, soups, or stews.
Each of these budget-friendly grains can be quickly prepared and cooked in big batches for family meals and easy reheating.
If you buy dried legumes in bulk, store them in clear containers, such as large glass jars, rather than in plastic bags. Note on the container the date you bought them and keep in a dry, cool place to extend shelf life.
Flours and sweeteners
Even if you’re not a baker, having flour and sweeteners on hand can expand your meal options.
Key for whipping up baked goods, making roux for gumbo, and thickening sauces, gravies, or puddings. If you’re gluten-intolerant, cornstarch and rice flour work as replacements.
Can be used in everything from salsas to sauces to condiments to pickling and can also balance out vinaigrettes and marinades. In many applications, you can use maple syrup or honey instead.
Clean, dry containers with good lids are ideal for flours, sugars, and sweeteners, which should be stored in cool, dark cupboards. Pure maple syrup should be refrigerated after opening.
Sauces and condiments
A good sauce or condiment can instantly turn a ho-hum dish into a crowd-pleaser. Mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce, tomato sauce, fish sauce, and hot sauce are must-have condiments for meals such as burgers, sandwiches, and sushi. Dijon mustard livens up vinaigrettes, fish sauce adds more savoury flavour to Asian-style stir-fries and noodle dishes, and hot sauces can be introduced into any dish where a little heat is desired. Mayonnaise swirled with a bit of mustard or hot sauce doubles as a dip as well.
An instant base for soups, stews, and chili. Used in place of water, it also adds depth of flavour to rice or grain dishes.
Most of the condiments mentioned can be kept in the pantry unopened for a year. Once opened, their shelf lives vary. Check the best-before dates on condiments and sauces regularly.
Nuts and seeds
These tasty foods from plants give dishes textural interest and a nutty nuance.
Almonds, walnuts, and peanuts make for easy snacks and add a delicious crunch to Asian-style noodle dishes, rice pilafs, yogourt, and salads. Along with seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame or sunflower, they form the base for homemade trail mix and morning granola.
Almond and peanut butters are irresistible as sandwich spreads, blended into smoothies, or mixed into sauces. Tahini, or sesame seed butter, adds essential depth of flavour to hummus.
Keep nuts and seeds in clean, dry containers away from heat and light. Ground nuts and seeds have shorter shelf lives, so store them in the freezer or buy whole and grind at home. A general shelf-life guideline: Store nuts and seeds for three months at room temperature; six months in the fridge; or a year in the freezer.
Canned fruit and vegetables
From a quick snack to a key recipe ingredient, easy-to-store canned goods are a smart choice for every pantry.
A classic ingredient in pasta sauce, soup, and chili.
Olives make a great tapas snack when company comes. They’re also delicious in green or tuna salads, stirred into pastas, or added to homemade pizza.
Applesauce makes a simple snack or yogurt mix-in and can be used as a sweetener for coffee cakes and other baked goods.
This can be dessert on its own! Try spooned over ice cream or waffles for a sweet treat.
Commercially canned goods should be kept in a cool, dry place and will last two to five years if unopened. Once opened, canned fruit and vegetables should be removed from the can and are good for one to five days refrigerated, depending on the type.