While I wish I could say we always have it together and do grocery shopping and meal prep on the weekend, that is not always the case. We both work full-time jobs, take classes, and are generally busy beavers, so sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong, I know the importance of fresh food, but for us, keeping a well stocked pantry saves money and time when we are in a crunch. Having staples on hand also helps us avoid eating out too often. Further, it incentivizes us to buy in bulk and only restock when items are on sale. I’m a big sale shopper and buying items that are on sale forces us to be creative with our cooking.
So here are our essentials. This is NOT what we get on our weekly shopping trips or what’s in our fridge and freezer, but rather all the items we like to keep on hand to make creating a meal with little time and preparation a cinch.
Many basic meals don’t take too many extra items to create if you’ve got the right basics on hand. Take fried rice for example: rice, eggs, and soy sauce are the basic components of any fried rice. If you have even a few more items, like an onion and another veggie (like a bell pepper or some frozen peas), you can whip up fried rice in under an hour.
Hummus is another go-to of ours for a quick meal. If you just keep some canned chickpeas and olive oil on hand along with some garlic and something for acidity (lemon juice is typical, but vinegar can work too), you can have hummus on toast in no time! Tahini can be kept on hand as well, but isn’t absolutely essential. Also, variety is the spice of life! Try some black beans in place of the chickpeas if that’s all you have on hand.
The main point is that if you have a few simple items, like a can of beans, a grain, maybe some veggies that keep well without refrigeration like onions and garlic, you can make a cheap and easy meal. Don’t forget to keep at least some basic spices at the ready for seasoning. We’ve compiled a list below of different items we like to have on hand at any given time. It isn’t that we have all of these items all the time (okay though, we are spice hoarders), but the list below might offer up some ideas if your pantry feels particularly lacking.
Dry goods: brown and red lentils/brown rice/rolled oats/quinoa/pasta/dried fruit/seeds
Oils vinegars and sauces: olive oil/vegetable oil/sesame oil/coconut oil/balsamic vinegar/raw apple cider vinegar/red and white wine vinegar/rice vinegar/soy sauce/sriracha or favorite hot sauce
kosher salt/fine salt/black pepper/bay leaves/rosemary/oregano/thyme/ dill/parsley/basil/sage/smoked and regular paprika/chili powder/cumin/ coriander/turmeric/curry powder/crushed red pepper/cayenne/onion powder/garlic powder/nutmeg/cinnamon/ cloves/garam masala/ginger/mustard powder/poppy seeds/sesame seeds
Baking: (not gonna lie, baking is not a strong suit for us nor do we enjoy it all that much. But here are the things we do keep on hand for when we have a wild hair and want to bake)
flour/whole wheat flour/yeast/sugar/brown sugar/powdered sugar/baking powder/baking soda/vanilla extract/cocoa powder
What items are we missing that you consider essential?