I’m currently putting together a post entitled: A Budget-Friendly Guide to Weekly Meal Prep. (It’s a bit comprehensive and is taking awhile, but I hope I’ll be able to post it soon.) In it, I talk about having a go-to list for pantry and fridge staples. These are items with a long shelf-life, that you and your family use rather frequently, either for recipes and quick-and-easy meals, or just your favorite snack. Here are the items on my family’s go-to list:
- Salt and Pepper
I’m crazy about cumin. I’m always in my kitchen, just throwing it about, mostly on roasted sweet potatoes, but also in a variety of soups and stews, and in chicken fajita meat- it’s practically an essential addition to all Mexican and Southwestern dishes. But I use it so much, it might as well be on the dining table right next to the salt and pepper.
- Chili Powder
Turns ground meat into a fast and easy chili, and always a great spice blend to have on hand for added flavor. (And it’s single most prominent ingredient is cumin-*ahem ahem*)
- Crushed Red Pepper
I ate a lot of New York-style pizza when I was a kid, so for awhile my relationship with crushed red pepper was “that stuff I try to sneak on my brothers’ pizza before they come back from the bathroom”. It adds a decent amount of spice to any sauce, stir-fry or recipe. Use with caution! My husband once added 2 tablespoons to spaghetti sauce and it nearly made my head explode.
- Curry Powder
I’ve used curry powder in a variety of ways. It’s a fun staple to have on hand if you feel like mixing it up with an old and tired recipe. (It makes for a brilliant addition in chicken salad or egg salad for instance.) There was one week where I lost my mind, and I added curry powder to everything I made. My husband was pretty annoyed, but the food? The food was good.
I add a dash of cinnamon to my coffee grounds before brewing (try it- it’s life changing). But you should pretty much always keep cinnamon on hand as it’s found in many baking recipes, and can spice up a chili, soup or stew in a pinch.
- Garlic Powder
I recommend always having fresh garlic on hand, but keep garlic powder on hand as a back-up.
I used to know nutmeg as that one seasoning I keep on hand in case I ever get a hankering for apple pie, but it’s so much more than that! I add a dash of nutmeg to a lot of my savory dishes now (meatloaf or lasagna, for instance) for extra flavor.
I’m part Italian, so I was taught to always have oregano in my pantry, and salami in my refrigerator (not a euphemism). I actually prefer the flavor of dried oregano over fresh, but that’s my personal preference. Oregano also tends to pop up in a lot of recipes, not just Italian or Mediterranean.
Adds a nice season and color to meats, vegetables, rice, and stews. I use it mostly in chicken rubs, but my husband knows it as, “What’s that stuff you sprinkle on top of your deviled eggs?”
Thyme is used exclusively on poultry in my household, but it adds a light, woodsy flavor to almost anything, including vegetables.
- Vanilla Extract
An essential if you plan on doing a lot of baking.
OTHER PANTRY ESSENTIALS
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- Cooking Spray
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Panko Breadcrumbs
- Brown Rice
- Whole-Grain Pasta
- Almond Butter
- Nuts (Almonds and Walnuts are our go-tos for snacks and baking)
- Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
- Dried fruit: raisins, dates, apricots, or dried cherries
- Chicken Broth
- Canned Tomatoes
- Beans: Black, Navy, Chickpeas or Pinto
- Tomato Paste
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- Hot Sauce: Tabasco, Sriracha
- Yellow Onions
- Potatoes: Sweet, Red or White
- Maple Syrup
PANTRY STAPLES FOR BAKING
- Whole Wheat Flour
- All-Purpose Flour
- Brown Sugar
- Baking Soda
- Baking Powder
- Confectioners’ Sugar
- Cocoa Powder
- Chocolate Chips
- Cream of Tartar
- Vanilla Extract
- Almond Milk
- Greek Yogurt
- Unsalted Butter
- Cheddar and Mozzarella Cheese
- Parmesan Cheese
- Goat Cheese
- Dijon mustard/Regular Mustard
- Jelly, jam or preserves
This list is a bit overwhelming, I know. It took me awhile (probably a little over a year) to achieve a fully-stocked pantry and refrigerator, as I would just buy what I needed as I explored new recipes and techniques. Today, I’m so grateful that I have a master list. That way, if I want to whip up my own salad dressing, grab a quick snack, or even if I’m going through a new recipe, 9 times out of 10 I’ll already have most items that I need on hand, which saves me so much money in the long run.
In the end, only you can decide what is essential to you. This is simply a recommendation, based on my family’s diet and preferences. The general idea is to make sure you have enough basic ingredients on hand in order to whip up a meal with little to no planning. Your own personal list will begin to take shape as you start to spend more time in the kitchen and discover your personal taste.
Again, don’t feel like you have to buy all of these items at once! I urge you to start by testing a new recipe every once and a while, and simply buy as you go.