So, a huge pet peeve of mine is going into someone’s home and finding an empty pantry. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be #1, poking around people’s pantries and, #2, I shouldn’t be appalled by their lack of food. I don’t mean too, really! It comes from a long history of living with a mother who kept a very well stocked kitchen and pantry. There was always food of some sort. If there was no “meal” left over in the fridge, you could still whip something up. We always had things on hand to make a meal with. I call these “pantry basics.”
So, you can imagine that when I moved out and lived on my own, it was quite a shock that not everyone did this. My first roommates did not live like my family. There was whatever things they planned to cook that week and then… nothing. I opened the refrigerator and found it two steps from bare. The pantry? A ghost town of chips and some snacky things. My first order of business when I moved in was to create a well stocked and functional pantry… on a budget. Because as a 20 something living on her own for the first time, I did not have tons of money to throw at this. I had to be smart and thrifty to get the pantry I wanted within the prices I could pay.
This site is literally called “Ana’s Pantry” so I figured, showing you guys my pantry would be the right way to start off this blog’s first non-recipe post.
Ana’s Essential Pantry Basics
Everyone needs some pantry basics. For the sake of brevity, I’m just going to focus on foods you would find in your actual pantry–We are going to leave fruits, veggies, refrigerated items, and spices for a later post (or posts).
So, what do you need for a good pantry? The idea is that your pantry should facilitate most of the basics of any meal you might need to cook as well as being the place where you stash your guilty pleasures (chips, cookies, all the snicky-snacks). So, here is the most basic overview of what this should include:
While I strongly do not recommend that these are the only things you have in your pantry, this is a great place to start. Let’s break it down, shall we? Starting from the left! You always need some canned foods. I’m talking, veggies, beans, soups, diced/whole tomatoes, canned tuna/whatever other meats strike your fancy. Next up, chicken stock. Then we start moving into the grains/starches: oatmeal, flour, rice, pasta, bread crumbs. A few cans/jars of pasta sauce on hand are always important. Lastly, oils: I always keep a good amount of olive oil then at least one other lighter oil (in this photo, its canola oil) as you use different oils for different things.
So, these are the basics and here is why these are important: They are meal bases. Lets go ahead and walk through what kinds of things we can make with these pantry items.
So, you should always have a few boxes of pasta and some rice on hand. Luckily, these are cheap items. A box of pasta shouldn’t cost you more than $2.50 (In 2016, the national price was around $2.16 according to the National Pasta Associations 2017 Meeting Report) depending on where you are in the US. Rice is also relatively cheap! Statista’s 2018 average for a pound of rice is $0.71 for white rice. Keeping these items in your home won’t break the bank but I would also recommend waiting for these items to go on sale.
I only ever buy pasta when there is a buy-one-get-one sale. If I see a pasta I like or eat regularly (linguine and penne are big in this apartment), I’ll snap up two boxes for the price of one and feel very accomplished. Rice generally doesn’t have a lot of bogos but you can find it on sale so keep an eye out.
You definitely want to grab your favorite pasta sauce when it is on sale and keep it on hand. I’ll grab a few jars when there is a bogo sale and just stock up. I also always keep cans of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes in the pantry. If I want a super quick meal, a few handfuls of pasta and some jared sauce has me sorted. If I want to make my own sauce or fancy up a store bought sauce, I open up a jar or two of the diced tomatoes. A bag of frozen turkey meatballs in the freezer can also help this potential meal fulfill the protein need. I use canned tomatoes to make a delicious tomato rice dish that is great with grilled chicken!
Oatmeal is another cheap staple to keep on hand. A carton of oatmeal shouldn’t run you more than $4.00s and lasts quite a bit (especially if your household is small). I go for quick cook oatmeal because I use oatmeal in pancake recipes and oatmeal bakes that work better with quick cook. Some oatmeal, a spoonful of peanut butter, and a banana can make a great breakfast to get your day started with energy and protein for cheap.
((I’ll go over baking supplies and what to keep on hand in another post because that is its own can of worms))
Canned Veggies & Beans
Keeping canned veggies and beans on hand is a great and cheap way to throw together a meal. Beans run me anywhere from $1-$4 sometimes more depending on the type. Veggies also don’t run too much more (in fact, sometimes less!). I use canned veggies if I need a quick side dish or if I’m making a 30 minute soup (chicken broth, chicken breast, canned carrots and green beans, rice). Canned beans are amazing for all sorts of things. You can make a super simple, cheap, filling meal of rice and beans or use it as a side dish. I love making veggie burgers with garbanzo beans or black beans as a base.
If you feel like something soul warming, you can also grab some chicken stock, kidney beans, canned tomatoes, rice, and veggies and you are on your way to a delicious minestrone soup!
Speaking of soup, I’m a big believer in having canned soups on hand. I don’t eat them too regularly but my roommate does and it’s never a bad idea to have some incase of power outages or weather emergencies. For people who like them, it’s a great way to get a meal together for quick and cheap. Watch out for the sodium though! I sometimes use canned soup as the base for other dishes if I’m in a rush (though, let’s be real, I generally just go from scratch). There are so many brands and varieties of flavors when it comes to canned soup so, ya know, take your pick! These are another great item to stock up on when they are on sale!
I know a lot of people who go in for canned meats like Spam or corn beef hash, and that is fine but I’m more of a canned fish girl. Specifically, canned tuna and salmon. Whatever your canned meat preference, keep it on hand. I love whipping together a tuna salad (onions, diced pickle, chopped [canned] palm hearts) on a weeknight when I don’t feel like cooking or using the canned salmon on a chef’s salad. You can also use some canned salmon and bread crumbs (amongst other things) to make some delicious salmon patties. I get mine from Costco because I can get 8 cans for significantly less than in general grocery stores.
My Literal Pantry
So, now that we have walked through the importance of the pantry basics and what you can make with them, I suppose it is time to show you my pantry. Before you go snooping through the photos, let me spend a moment going over something that is super important for a healthy pantry: Organization.
Organizing Your Pantry
Organizing your pantry is not only important because everything looks pretty but because it’ll keep you from buying things you already have. Now, I’ve mentioned I always get pasta when it is on sale so I generally have more than one thing of pasta on hand along with some other things. With that in mind, I have often bought a can or two of kidney beans when I was making a minestrone or the like because I couldn’t see that I already had 4 cans hidden away. You want to be able to see what you have or, if you can’t manage to make everything visible, easily get to where something is so you can check quickly. With that in mind, organize your pantry every few months. As we shop and cook, we move things around and the beautiful organization gets thrown out the window.
So, this is what I call my Over-Stock and Soup section. Anything that I have extra of that doesn’t already have a home, goes here. It’s kind of like my storage. When I’m done with a jar of mayo in the fridge, I grab one from here. It’s also where I put my canned goods. Soups in the front, veggies, beans in the back, canned meats on top, tomatoes to the side. The things I use the most often the easiest to get too. You’ll see that theory with all the other sections
This is my “ingredients” section. Basically, anything that would be used as part of a meal or something of the sort goes here. I’ve got my rice and pasta, bread crumbs, oatmeal, peanut butter, oils and vinegars. This is my most used section next to the snack section. Again, I prize visibility and try my best to arrange things so I can see all of what I have.
Here is the snack section. It has all the things: Energy/protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, cookies, crackers, popcorn, you name it!
I know we didn’t go over the baking essentials but I figured we’d include the picture as well. You should get a pretty clear idea of what I have: my chocolate morsels and sugar are in the plastic containers in the back. I like using clear plastic containers to #1, keep bugs out and #2, make it easier to organize.
Pantry Basics Wrap-Up
So, there you have it. That is my pantry and my advice about what to have in your pantry (incase you ever wondered). I hope this has been informative and inspires you to stock up with some solid pantry basics! Let’s get rid of the no-man’s land pantries once and for all! (That, dear readers, is what is known as a pipe dream!)