Stocking the Pantry

Stocking the Pantry

One of the biggest deterrents to getting started in the kitchen is the initial stocking of the pantry. With an empty fridge, a vacant pantry, and a countertop free of fruit bowls and bread bins, you can be sure you’ll never cook.

If there’s stuff in your cabinets, on the other hand, there’s always the possibility of a meal. With have pasta, beans, or tins of sardines, you won’t need to leave the apartment, order take-out, or resort to bowls of cereal with stale rice crackers on the side. (All of these are just fine sometimes.) A stocked pantry isn’t just for desperate times. Weeknight dinners and cocktail party food might be sourced half from the pantry and half from some place fresh, like the market.

This is my guide. Stocking your pantry will be idiosyncratic and it won’t be foolproof. You also, obviously, have to keep the pantry stocked if you’re cooking from it. If you used to have canned tomatoes but you depleted your store, that go-to pantry meal of spaghetti and tomato sauce becomes totally unattainable. Check your staples occasionally, and add items you’re running low on to your next shopping list.

You’ll want to curate the foods you love. If you’re a pasta freak, keep more than a box or two on hand. But maybe limit the shapes to two or three so you can move from one box to another without changing tack.

At this point, we’ve whittled down the selection to basics below. This is stuff for everyday cooking, with an emphasis on whole foods but not an obsession with “health.” Everyone’s pantry is going to reflect individual tastes, but to give you an idea of what I’m working with, here’s the list of foodstuffs usually occupying the kitchens’ shelves.



1. Olive oil
find an everyday one that tastes good on salads, or get two: one for cooking, for for eating plain

2. Vegetable, safflower, or coconut oil

3. Rice
I alternate white and brown, long and short grain, as my mood changes.

4. Pasta
Try for two types: one long, one short.

5. Canned or dried bean
I like chickpea for canned, lentils for dried.

6. Grains
Whatever you’re into! Quinoa, farro, wheatberries, barley, wild rice, etc.

7. Canned whole tomatoes

8. Dried fruit
Raisins, apricots, cherries, or figs

9. Vinegar
Rice wine and red wine are a good start; I like apple cider and balsamic too.

10. Soy sauce
If you love the food of the Asian continent, add to this: fish sauce, sesame oil, and chili paste or sauce.

11. Can of full-fat coconut milk

12. White flour

13. Honey

14. White sugar

15. Brown sugar

–add, if you like to make sweets–

16. Confectioner’s sugar

17. Chocolate chips

18. Baking soda

19. Baking powder

20. Vanilla extract

21. Rolled oats
Good for breakfast AND for baking

22. Miscellaneous flours, if that’s your jam


1. Onions

2. Garlic

3. Potatoes or sweet potatoes

4. Bananas


1. Eggs
Put one on top, mix one in.

2. Nuts
You could start with two kinds, like peanuts and almonds. Then go for a dozen. I have a huge nut stash, and I love it. The fridge keeps them fresh.

3. Mustard
Dijon works. I use mostly in vinaigrettes.

4. Bread
This is a little controversial, keeping bread in the fridge, because the air in there dries out your crumb. After the first day, I’ll be toasting my slice anyway, so I don’t mind. And I’d rather dry than moldy!

5. Hot sauce

6. Cheese
A wedge of Parmesan and a hunk of melting cheese like Swiss or cheddar is a good start.

7. Mayonnaise

8. Peanut butter and/or tahini
For peanut sauce and hummus

9. Opened bottle of white wine

10. Worcestershire sauce

11. Lemons

12. “Pantry” fruit and vegetables
By which I mean: carrot, cabbage, celery, an apple or pear–anything that keeps well. A few frozen vegetables–spinach, peas, and corn–and fruit–blueberries, strawberries–come in handy too.


1. Salt
I like Baleine fine sea salt for everyday. If you’re into salts, add a box of Maldon, whose crystals crunch on avocado toast and chocolate chip cookies.

2. Whole peppercorns
Grind them fresh in your grinder.

3. Red pepper flakes

4. Cayenne pepper

5. Chili powder
Try different kinds! This is a mix, so every chili powder will taste different.

6. Curry powder
Comes in handy for miscellaneous veggie curries; you can also improvise curries with coriander, cumin, and turmeric.

7. Ground Cinnamon

8. Ground Coriander

9. Ground Cumin

10. Turmeric

11. Whole mustard seeds

12. Paprika
I keep sweet and smoked around.

13. Dried oregano

14. Dried thyme

15. Bay leaves

Posted in: The Basics
  • Frankie

    Tuna? I always have canned broth too, for soups.

  • Frankie

    Forgot to add – this is a great blog.

    Also, red lentils is nice to have around because the lentils dissolve really fast into a nice thick soup. I also buy tomato paste and garlic paste in the tube so I always have them around for flavor.

  • Phoebe and Cara, The Quarter-Life Cooks

    Thanks for following, Frankie!

    Yes, I like to keep tuna around as well for weekday lunches. However, I’ve found that its one of those items that I don’t suffer without when I’ve forgotten to replace it.

    Canned stocks are a must. These days I like to buy the resealable quart cartons so it can be a cabinet or fridge staple.

    Keep the feedback coming!

  • Kate

    I love reading these posts because, while I don’t get to cook on a day to day basis, I do have all of Commons (my school’s dining hall) at my disposal. And, with an amazing vegan bar, an outstanding (and local, or as local gets when in Maine in February) selection of veggies, grains, and sauces, I can mix and match to make some pretty outstanding meals.

    These blogs highlight the fact that you can make a really healthy, easy, and delicious meal in just minutes, sometimes in the microwave! Last night, when Commons was at an all time bad–fried fish balls, meat loaf, and funny looking gravy… I found the organic peanut butter, and with a splash of soy sauce, a bit of olive oil, a dash of hot pepper and 30 seconds in the microwave came out with delicious peanut sauce! I added whole wheat pasta from the pasta bar, spinach from the salad bar, roasted garlic from the vegan bar, and turned a truly gross dinner into a satisfying stunning Main(e) dish!!

    And, because of who I am, a few finely ripped leaves of spinach and roasted peanuts topped off the meal as garnish. It doesn’t matter how little is in your kitchen (nor the size or equipment available), its fun and yummy making a common meal into an extraordinary meal.

  • kim b

    I soak my beans over night then freeze them. so they will be ready to cook when I need them. I also keep dry herbs so that i can throw a tasty meal together in no time

  • Cook like Chelle

    What a great list! I feel like I have to go to the grocery store everyday, probably because I never keep anything stocked…

  • Amanda4065

    What are some good meats, poultry etc…that you recommend keeping in the fridge?  All I have in my kitchen are things like pasta, herbs/spices, grains, eggs etc…I need some protein to mix things up!

    What meat do you recommend buying that I can use in many of the recipes on your blog and in your cook book?

    Thank you! :-)

    • BGSK

      Hi Amanda,

      Bacon and sausage are good options to keep in the fridge or freezer. We also usually keep some chicken in the freezer. You just need to make sure you use it within a couple months of its purchase. Sometimes we forget about things in our freezer!

      Let us know how your pantry cooking experiments work out!


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