What’s in your pantry?

I was going to have this be:  “and how has it changed over time” but I can’t find a previous post about what we always keep on hand.  There’s descriptions of cooking systems, which includes a brief overview of the pantry system, and a post about what to cook when you’re really broke, but nothing on the basic question.  So the basic question will come first!

So what is pantry cooking?  Pantry cooking is when you always keep certain things in your pantry (and refrigerator/freezer– not literally just your pantry) so that they’re on-hand so that you can decide what to make without having to menu plan or make extra trips to the grocery store.  You combine having the ingredients on hand with having a repertoire of things that you can make with those ingredients.  You can buy in bulk, and when you’re close to running out, you make sure to buy more even if you don’t have any particular menu item in mind that will be using it.  Here’s a quote from the cooking system post:

I always have the ingredients for spaghetti, bean chili, tomato soup (and grilled cheese sandwiches), lots of rice/quinoa dishes, and so on. My pantry is full of cans of tomatoes, beans, and grains, and I always have eggs, milk, onions, carrots, and usually celery on hand. These, along with sauces and mixed frozen veggies, fruit, and/or nuts, can be turned into any number of meals, especially with chicken and bacon in the freezer. I used to also keep potatoes, but they don’t work well with my metabolism so that’s out (sweet potatoes aren’t as versatile)… no more occasional fry-ups. When something is used up, a new one is bought to replace it. If there’s a sale, we stock up. This saves time and can save money, but can get boring if you’re not feeling especially creative. (In the summer, creative juices are flowing… not so much during the school year.)

Also, if you overspend one month, you can make up for it by eating off your pantry the next month.

All of the food in your house isn’t considered your pantry under this system, only the stuff that you always keep on hand.  The seasons and sales will provide different meals than will just using your pantry alone.

We keep:

basic condiments (mustard, ketchup, mayo)
carrots, celery, apples
minced garlic (yes, we should use regular garlic and mince it ourselves but we only do that for special dishes)
sunflower oil
lemon juice
sour cream or yogurt
some kind of fresh green thing (like lettuce)

Olive oil
vinegars, soy sauce, tabasco
spaghetti, other pastas
various canned beans
various canned tomato products
peanut butter
maple syrup
O cereal
red wine, white wine, brandy or sherry


tea, coffee beans

huge amount of spices
salts, flours, baking soda, baking powder, sugars, cocoa powder, vanilla
chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts

boxed macaroni and cheese
spaghetti sauce
TJ’s sauces (ex. red curry)
trail mix, almonds, raisins
fruit cups/applesauces for kids’ lunches
lara bars

frozen mixed veggies of various kinds
frozen peas
frozen chicken breasts
frozen berries of various kinds
fresh ginger
ground beef or buffalo

Do you have foods that you always make sure to  keep on hand?  What are some of the things you try to never run out of?  How has your pantry changed over time?

32 Responses to “What’s in your pantry?”

  1. Omdg Says:

    Ice cream!

    My pantry has similar items but somehow it never feels like we have anything to eat in the house.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      For a while after DC1 was born and we were completely braindead, we posted a list on our fridge of quick simple things that we could make given what we had on hand (ex. spaghetti, vegetarian chili, bean dip, etc.)

  2. Tulip Says:

    My always on hand list is: eggs, cream, butter, onions, garlic, spinach, cans of white beans & black beans and chickpeas. Frozen broccoli, frozen chicken breasts. Other things change, but I always have that list.

  3. CG Says:

    I have a lot of the same staples you do. In terms of pantry meals, I always have the ingredients for the NYTimes’ red lentil soup, which is hearty enough for a meal (we substitute ground dry spices for the fresh called for in the recipe). I also usually have the ingredients for spaghetti (frozen ground turkey, noodles, sauce) and a quiche (eggs, cheese, frozen pie crust, random vegetables). We always have ingredients for “breakfast for dinner,” like homemade whole wheat waffles, but I get raised eyebrows from my health-conscious eleven-year-old when I do that, so it’s reserved for true emergencies. :) We usually keep kale around since it keeps better than other leafy greens, and we marinate it in coconut milk and grill or broil it (another NYTimes recipe–fantastic), make the NYTimes kale/apple/almond/cheese salad, which itself keeps for a couple of days, add it to carrots roasted with honey, salt, and almonds, or put it in a quiche or frittata. It’s funny to read what I just wrote, because aside from these three recipes we don’t use the NYTimes for cooking a lot, but these have become real staples in our house.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My kids seem to be off lentils *as of tonight* despite having loved the last lentil dish we made. I shake my tiny fist at their ever evolving food dislikes. (Also: my 11 year old is gradually starting to dislike meat. Zie will still eat it, but… not a huge fan with a few exceptions, like bacon. Not for any environmental or animal loving reason, just not a huge fan of chicken or beef anymore.)

      We always have trouble with kale turning yellow faster than our other leafy greens, so we try to process them quickly. (Kale chips are pretty popular here.)

      • CG Says:

        The NYT lentil soup is pureed so its lentility is sort of disguised…possibly worth a try. And boy do I hear you on the evolving food dislikes. I think (knock on wood) we are heading mostly out of that era at our house. Eleven year old eats anything, just is aware of making healthy choices, eight year old has been the pickiest but is branching out a bit and we are trying to make a big deal of praising him when he does, and five year old is pretty good about trying things and eating a decent variety of vegetables for how old she is. I hope yours will head in that direction too!

  4. rose Says:

    Eggs, butter, cheese, nuts, green veggy (frozen or fresh), ground turkey or chicken frozen, frozen chicken thighs and/or breast, spices, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, coffee/tea, ground flax seed. No grains, no sugars/sugar based foods. Low glycemic, no fodmaps foods (defined by AU and Stanford Hospital in CA). Yes, major dietary restrictions for demonstrated health problems…. aging has pros and cons. When I was 30’s&40’s with children in household my kitchen was WAAAY different … Life changes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Restrictions can make life more difficult! This sounds worse than my gluten-free low-glycemic diet with my second (wheat allergy + PCOS) pregnancy. (Though hopefully you throw up less…)

      • rose Says:

        You make me smile. It does keep my blood sugars more level which is huge good thing. And, not throwing up IS a positive slant on it all! Cooking for only 1 makes it easier to deal with the restrictions; but I miss the days of children at home and even the picky eaters times…… Thank you for the big smile this morning. You are much appreciated!

  5. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    We usually stock: garlic, onions olive oil, pork lard, tahini, soy sauce, miso, vinegars, spices, rice, red lentils, garbanzo flour, and quinoa. I can’t usually assume we’ll have perishables on hand except our tub of garlic and onions so we meal plan based on produce offerings weekly.

  6. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I can and dehydrate. So, I have jars of dehydrated food–bananas, cranberries, celery, grape tomatoes, bell pepper, onions. The banana chips and cranberries can be eaten or rehydrated for baking. The others are seasonings for food.

    I try to can 60 quarts of tomatoes for soups in the winter, using all those dried seasonings. I will resume this canning come summer.

    I keep Jello, bullion, taco season mix, brown rice stored in jars, a few soups for casseroles, store bought cans of cherries, pineapple, peaches, pears,green beans, peas, tomato products, black beans and other things I cannot remember. I put in glass jars–raisins, dates, all the items I dehydrate, chocolate chips.

    Although they are rarely eaten, I do keep several boxes of macncheese, Suddenly Salad, and Stove Top Stuffing. If it is there when I crave it, I rarely eat it. I talk myself out of it.

    There are sweet potatoes, a few regular potatoes, apples and fresh bananas. Dried beans are stored in jars–Great Northern, black beans, blackeyed peas, navy beans.

    I keep extra sugar in canning jars, but canister in the cupboard. There are four pints of honey on hand as well as eggs, butter and margarine. When I had chickens, eggs were in abundance and frozen for winter use.

    Lemons, and lemon juice, pistachios and pecans in jars.

    I love canning jars for all sorts of food and storing. I doubt this is all I have stored.

    • Practical Parsimony Says:

      I forgot two of the most important items. I keep boxes of Quaker Whole grain oats. And, in the freezer are boneless, skinless chicken breasts along with ground pork.

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      Likewise – we have, every fall, a year’s worth of applesauce, pear butter, and jam stored in the canning cabinet.(There’s always too much, though, so I make the extras into fruit leather, the extra lazy way.) I used to can sauerkraut and pickles, but it turns out we like them fresh better.

      I froze a half-bushel of peaches last summer too! So we usually have a lot of frozen fruit.

  7. bookishbiker Says:

    My pantry is laughable – I usually shop for a recipe, make it, eat it for 5 days, and repeat. Breakfast is always peanut butter stirred into oatmeal (either rolled oats or steel cut depending on mood), and I always have a few frozen items: burritos, or dumplings from Trader Joe that can be nuked in broth and works as a satisfying meal. I do always have a few cans of beans, but not enough other ingredients to be sure I can make something useful.

    There’s always popcorn in a pinch – I have a hot air popper because I don’t like the dishes involved with the stovetop method of pot + oil.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If I were by myself I would probably eat nothing but TJ’s prepared food, cereal, sandwiches, and maybe like yogurt or something. Since I really shouldn’t live on baked potatoes like I used to.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    I am very much a just-in-time stocker when it comes to groceries. Our new old house has a functionally un-insulated kitchen (I’m working on that, but it’s a physically difficult and time-consuming project) so keeping a lot of food in the cabinets would be unwise. Yesterday it was in the low 50s overnight but got up to at least 78 inside the upper cabinets during the day.

    So I have basically one week’s worth of actual food at any given time, no more.

    Basics: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a load of spices, black peppercorns, Celtic sea salt, Worcestershire, Sriracha, and other seasoning stuffs for which I am not really concerned about temperature fluctuations. (If they survived 18th-c. sea voyages I think I’m fine.)

    Fridge: milk, half-n-half, eggs, Greek-style yogurt, organic maple syrup, Angry Orchard, bottle of wine, various kinds of bread, butter, bacon fat for cooking, raw nuts (chopped, currently pecans which I was given pounds of), various kinds of cheese, various convenience foods, fresh veg (not a whole lot of this. I have neither time nor inclination to do heavy prep, so most of my veg comes prepared).

    Freezer: Roscoe’s sweet potato waffles, gelato, ground bison, organic ground beef, Devour mac n cheese, various frozen veggies, usually a Newman’s Own pizza, beef barbacoa and/or pork carnitas from the supermarket.

    Dry goods: superfine sugar for the hummingbird feeder, regular sugar, roasted nuts, a little bit of flour, paella rice, couscous, dry pasta, pasta sauce, fruit cups, tomato paste, charred diced tomatoes, chili beans, box of tomato & roasted red pepper soup; old-fashioned oats, dried cranberries, dry milk powder, instant coffee, tea, real coffee beans, cocoa mix. I get organic if it’s an option, for pretty much everything.

    Convenience foods: cooked chicken breasts from Whole Foods, whatever else I’ve gotten us there, occasionally something from the market down the street.

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Just got back from a morning of teaching/meetings and now I’m starved!

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I called about this today:

  11. Leah Says:

    We always have the ingredients for chili (beans, tomatoes, onions, etc), quesadillas (except now — I was floored when I realized we were out of tortillas), freezer pizza (okay, not an ingredient) . . . lots more, honestly. I can cook a lot out of my pantry.

    We always have pasta, some canned fruit, some canned veg, peanut butter, lots of general condiments, applesauce, pickles. Eggs for sure.

    I ALWAYS have the ingredients to make banana bread or vegan chocolate cake. We love to bake.

  12. jjiraffe Says:

    Great question. I always try to have on hand: chicken breasts, eggs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sliced sourdough bread, Greek yougurt, sour cream, berries, bananas, new potatoes and russet potatoes, chocolate ice cream, waffles, butter, spaghetti, fish, lox, bagels, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, butter, spring mix, onions, salmon, ground beef, onions, salsa, cheese, flour, frozen pizza, cherry tomatoes, cream, shallots, garlic and canned tomatoes. I shop pretty much exclusively at TJs (but they don’t sell shallots). We can make tried and true breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week for four with all of these ingredients.

  13. monsterzero Says:

    Our Google docs grocery list has a star by the staples so we don’t remove them from the list. Starred items include: blueberries, avocados, little tomatoes, bananas, mushrooms, tofu, snausages (this is what we call veggie sausages), hummus, eggs, butter, sour cream, pickles, Greek yogurt, milk, cheddar, cereal, soymilk, refried beans, salsa, crackers, bread, coffee, muenster, and brie.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      With the exception of mushrooms and tomatoes (maybe you could replace them with bananas) and soymilk/coffee, this sounds like what my kids’ dream pantry would be. I guess DC2 would want mozarella sticks as an addition (the only cheese zie will eat), but DC1 is on board with muenster and brie as necessities, especially the brie.

  14. accm Says:

    Most of the same things as you, plus canned salmon, usually a few kinds of juice, and feta cheese, which I am always happy to build a meal around. I usually have a block of tofu, too, for those emergency stir-fry nights.

  15. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    mustard, ketchup, mayo
    carrots (for the dog), broccoli or green beans or snap peas for the humans, sometimes all three, oranges all the time, apples and strawberries when in season
    English muffins or bagels or both
    Prepeeled garlic (saves my knees so much)

    Olive oil
    Canola oil
    vinegars, soy sauce
    tuna (may be phasing out, we’re not using it much)
    canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste
    maple syrup
    PB and strawberry jelly
    Whatever wine and champagne we were gifted

    Random tea bags, coffee beans

    Random spices for baking and cooking
    Flour, sugar (brown and white), baking soda & powder, cocoa powder (new addition, unsure if keeping), vanilla,
    chocolate chips, walnuts

    Dry pasta
    boxed macaroni and cheese
    Some kind of nut
    Luna (mine), Clif (his) bars
    TJ’s sauces (Curry, salsa, pasta sauce)
    frozen corn
    frozen edamame

    If on sale
    frozen chicken quarters
    Frozen Pork shoulder
    Frozen pork ribs
    Frozen shrimp


    I shop sale cycles pretty regularly so our produce tends to shift seasonally but it tends to be the same five things.

  16. First Gen American Says:

    My husband drives by our organic butcher on the way home from work, so he usually picks up meat on the way home for dinner. Fresh veg and dairy we usually get on the weekends during the normal shopping trip and I heavily stock up on staple dry goods during sales. My pantry is similar to yours although I do have a weakness for the convenience of near east side dishes.

  17. Ask the grumpies: How do I deal with meal planning with an uncertain pantry? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] up your baseline pantry and then do the menu planning *after* shopping.  Here’s a post about what’s in our pantry (or at least what we try to keep in there… back in the days when we….  That can get a little difficult in terms of perishables though, because you generally […]

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