Whether you’re new to cooking or just moved into your own place, having your pantry stocked is key to making delicious homecooked meals. Stocking your pantry might seem overwhelming at first, especially if you’ve never done it before. But it doesn’t have to be! The following is a guide to help you buy and store essential staple ingredients.
Canned Goods and Bottled Items
Having canned goods and bottled items comes in handy for making quick meals. These essentials are perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:
- Canned vegetables
- Canned fruits (look for no-sugar-added versions)
- Canned beans
- Canned tomatoes, sauce, or paste
- Chicken, beef, or vegetable stock or broth
- Condiments, such as hot sauce and mustard
- Peanut butter or other nut or seed butters
When unopened, most canned goods and bottled items can be kept for up to one year. Once opened, glass bottles should be refrigerated. If a canned good is opened and there is still some food left, transfer the leftover to an airtight container, and keep it refrigerated for three or four days or whatever timeframe is indicated on the packaging. This is especially important for canned acidic foods like tomatoes or pineapples. When the inside of the can is exposed to air, the acidity in these foods might cause the can to rust. If you see rust on an opened can of food, both the can and the food in it should be thrown away.
Pasta is easy to prepare by closely following the directions on the package and can be used to make different meals, such as:
Dried pasta should be used within one year of purchase. It can be stored in its original package until opened. Once opened, transfer it to an airtight container.
Grains, Rice, Dried Beans
You can get many different uses out of grains, rice, and dried beans, such as using rice in a stir fry, beans in a soup, or making your own oatmeal. Some of the most essential grains to stock are:
Dried items can be stored for up to one year.
If you don’t know how to cook rice or beans, don’t worry – it’s easy! You can learn how to cook grains here and how to cook beans here.
Nuts and Dried Fruit
Protein-packed nuts and dried fruits can be eaten as snacks or used as an ingredient in different meals. Nuts to stock include:
- Pecan and walnut halves
Dried fruits to stock include:
- Dried cranberries
- Dried apricots
To prevent nuts from rotting, store them in the refrigerator for up to six months or in the freezer for up to a year. Dried fruits can be stored at room temperature for six months to a year. But they will last longer if stored in the refrigerator.
Pro Tip: Add almonds to cereal or oatmeal, or pack them for a snack. Also, peanuts can be used in a stir-fry or to make peanut sauce!
Oils & Vinegars
Having various cooking oils can help you keep your options open. You can use these for cooking or making your own salad dressings:
- Vinegar – can be used to add a little punch to a dish and it can be combined with oil to make homemade salad dressing
- Olive oil – has more flavor and healthier fat, but can’t be used at high levels of heat
- Coconut oil – can withstand high temperatures and gives food a delicious taste
- Vegetable oil – doesn’t add much flavor to a dish and can cook at high temperatures
- Canola oil – can withstand high temperatures
Store vegetable oils in the original bottles in a cool, dark place for up to six months, such as in your pantry or a cabinet. Nut oils, like walnut oil, should be refrigerated and used within three months. Do not store oils beside the stove, as this can make them age faster and spoil sooner.
Having everything you’d need to whip up a batch of cookies or brownies on hand is a good idea. You should stock:
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Extracts (pure vanilla and almond)
- Spices (cinnamon and nutmeg)
Store ingredients in airtight containers, away from heat and light sources. Extracts will last several years. But baking soda and baking powder lose their potency after about one year, so pay attention to their expiration dates.
Pro Tip: Once a baking ingredient is about half used up, add it to your next grocery list, so you never run out. Also, baking soda and vinegar make an awesome natural cleaner.
Spices and Seasonings
Spices and seasonings are key to making meals flavorful, like soups or pasta. You can’t go wrong with stocking your pantry with these:
- Salt and pepper
- Crushed red pepper
- Garlic powder or salt
Most spices will lose potency after about a year, but their flavor will decrease faster if stored improperly. Keep your spaces in airtight containers away from heat. You can store them in a drawer, cabinet, or wall-mounted rack, but not above the cooktop.
Pro Tip: You can gently toast your whole or dry spices with low heat to add flavor. Also there are tons of wonderful spice blends you can use to add delicious flavors to your homecooked meals.
Vegetables are great to build your meals around. They can also reduce the risk of heart disease, protect against certain types of cancers, and keep your blood sugar healthy. Consider stocking up on these vegetables:
- Starchy vegetables, like potatoes or carrots, for a healthy source of carbohydrates
- Onions and garlic to add flavor to almost any dish
- Green vegetables for fiber
- Salad greens, such as romaine or spinach
- Vegetables that are good to eat as snacks, such as cucumbers or celery
- Any other vegetables you love
Hardy vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and garlic should be stored in your pantry. Potatoes should not be refrigerated but kept in baskets or bins in a cool, dry, dark, and well-ventilated spot. Be sure not to store them in plastic, as that can mold them. Onions, shallots, and garlic should be stored in the pantry for up to one month. Do not refrigerate them.
Pro Tip: Onions, carrots, and celery make up a foundational trio of ingredients known as “Mirepoix,” which is the base for many soups and sauces.
There are lots of great essentials to keep in your pantry! Each time you go shopping, stocking up will get easier since you will already know what you need and where to find it. Within due time, you will be a pantry essentials expert!
For more information on healthy eating, check out these resources:
Author: Stephanie Paz is a Tigua Indian of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The University of Texas at El Paso and is working towards a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Promotion from New Mexico State University.