Top 10 Things You Should Always Have in Your Pantry


I’m asked all the time “what food should I have in my pantry?”  

Here’s the secret: Stock what makes your life easier and what works for you. Don’t be tied to what someone says you should have… buy what will take the heat out of the kitchen (Seems like a big “duh” doesn’t it?).

Many “stocking your pantry” articles in magazines or posted on the internet tell you to always have certain things on hand, like dried beans in a bag.  But if you aren’t going to remember to soak them prior to cooking, what’s the use of having them take up space?

When stocking the pantry, make sure the canned, jarred and bottled goods have a “best buy” or “use before” date that isn’t just around the corner (or you will have wasted your money).  Other items, like flour and sugar, should be placed in containers with tight lids or re-sealable plastic bags once they’ve been opened.

As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t use a lot of canned vegetables. Maybe it was my mother’s influence… she lived out of a can. I remember our cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving still had the can-ring indentations on it. In her defense, she was riding herd on nine children… so, as I like to say, you do what is necessary—sorry, mom, for throwing you under the bus, but it’s not 1958 and we’re not likely to be stuck in a bomb shelter for weeks at a time.

Back to the canned vegetables. I always have canned tomatoes and canned beans in my pantry. I know canned beans of any kind should be anathema in my house because I’m Hispanic. But nachos are my family’s snack of choice and canned refried beans are just easier. I don’t have time to make my own stock. I’ve made it in the past and it is delicious but I just can’t do it these days. So I always look for the low sodium, low fat cans or boxes. I practice what I preach. Well, most of the time.

This is what you should always have in your pantry:
1.  Boxed or canned stock
2.  Pasta
3.  Rice (long grain… but maybe Arborio rice, too, because Risotto can solve a Dinner Dilemma and it is great when it is “Clean the Fridge” time)
4.  Canned tomatoes and/or tomato sauce
5.  Herbs and Spices (buy these in small quantities because they lose their flavor). May I suggest:
-Italian Seasoning
-All Purpose Seasoning
6.  Salt
7.  Pepper
8.  Vinegar (I’ll leave this up to you. You can buy white distilled vinegar which you can use for everything from scrubbing the floors to making Deviled Eggs… or step it up and buy Sherry Vinegar or a good Balsamic Vinegar or Red Wine Vinegar.)
9.  Canola Oil
10. Any canned vegetable that you really like and can’t always get fresh, or don’t have time to prepare.

And the next equally important items:
11. Olive Oil
12. Canned Beans
13. Mustard
14. All Purpose Flour
15. Sugar
16. Fresh whole garlic
17. Onions
18. Russet potatoes
19. Savory Sauce like Worcestershire, soy or teriyaki (preferably low sodium)
20. Tomato paste in a tube (rarely will you use an entire 6 oz. can)

These items are also pantry items that come in handy, but only if you plan to use them before they go off or get stale once they are opened:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly or Jam
  • Real Maple Syrup
  • Tabasco Sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Cereal
  • Oatmeal
  • Bread

If you bake regularly, and I mean more than just during the holidays, you should probably have these items on hand, in addition to the flour and sugar. Buy these in small quantities and make sure they are sealed tight (or in a re-sealable bag) once you open them:

  • Baking soda (good for cleaning, indigestion and brushing your teeth, too!)
  • Baking powder
  • Cornstarch
  • Light and Dark Brown Sugar
  • Condensed Milk (sweetened and/or unsweetened)
  • Nuts and Dried Fruit, including raisins and coconut
  • Chocolate chips
  • Vanilla Extract

These basic items are a great starting point… you’ll only need to add fresh ingredients, like meat, fish, vegetables and other perishables to cook some really fabulous recipes!

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11 thoughts on “Top 10 Things You Should Always Have in Your Pantry

  1. Pingback: Mama's High Strung ® » Blog Archive Top 10 Recipes You Should Know How To Make - Mama's High Strung ®

  2. Judy

    I like this article but came across it while trying to find a simple way to create and maintain a home inventory; I want to buy all the dry goods that will be used in my home for 6 months to a year including soaps , shampoos etc.. what amounts do you keep on hand of tuna for example for a family of 4. I just need more info

    1. Christina Post author

      I shop in big-box stores where I get like, 12 cans of tuna at a time. Check the best buy date. If you know you’ll use (for example) all of that tuna before the best-buy or expiration date, then stock up! If you don’t think your family will go through 12 cans of tuna in 2 years, then watch for sales at the supermarket and stock up on the number of cans you think you WILL eat. Make sure other products, like flour, are in tightly sealed containers in a cool dark place so the bugs don’t get in.
      Thanks for your question!

  3. Susan

    The Basic Pantry should be able furnish everything needed for a last minute meal items + one or 2 refrigerated items. Example : Spaghetti and Meatballs
    Pantry items:
    Spaghetti Sauce
    Olive Oil
    Garlic Powder
    Refrigerated Ingredients:
    Ground Beef
    Parmesan Cheese

    1. Mama Post author

      With the cheese and meat being fresh…
      Spaghetti sauce can be used with and on so many things… and it’s important to make sure your dry spices stay fresh! Thanks for your input and for stopping by!

  4. Ashlee

    Good list! I buy chicken and beef stock, canned tomatoes, and sugar every single time I go to the store… I go through them pretty quickly and I like to have a stockpile.

  5. Pingback: Mama's High Strung™ » Blog Archive » Extra Helpings: What’s Cornstarch?

  6. Pingback: Mama's High Strung™ » Blog Archive » Top 10 Recipes You Should Know How To Make

    1. Mama Post author

      Hi Carl,
      Refried beans, either vegetarian or the full fat kind, are a great pantry addition, but not everyone like’s refried canned beans, so I didn’t include them. But I agree beans are a good idea because it is a good protein, non-meat alternative. I try to reach for whole grain pastas, but sometimes the regular pasta is on sale, so that’s what goes in the basket. Good healthy, thinking, though!
      Goober Grape is hidden in the back where the kids can’t find it!;)

  7. Pingback: Mama's High Strung™ » Blog Archive » Feeding Frenzy: Pasta Pronto

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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: