Do you keep a well-stocked pantry?
To be real with you for a minute, I must admit that during my first 3 years of marriage (pre-baby, when I was working outside the home) I did a very poor job of keeping our home stocked with healthy foods. I swung by Kroger most evenings on my way home to pick up frozen pizzas and beer. (A California Pizza Kitchen BBQ for my husband, and a DiGiorno Pepperoni & Bell Pepper for me.) Our routine was to do a P90X DVD together, shower, and then crash for the evening in front of the TV with our pizzas and beer. Totally relaxing and awesome and fun? Oh yeah! Budget-conscious and health-conscious? Mmmmm… not so much. (Except maybe for the P90X part.)
(Did I mention I also had a pretty gnarly addiction to Diet Mt. Dew at the time? Yikes!)
These days, life looks a little different. I fit my
naps workouts in during Elsa’s nap… I go to the grocery store once every 8 days… and I try to keep my pantry very well-stocked so that on any given day I have a variety of meal options available to me depending on the mood we’re in. I usually always have the ingredients on hand to make a pasta dish, or chili, or Quinoa Chili, or Wild Rice & Kale Casserole, or some sort of chicken vegetable soup.
But I think most people (especially new cooks) would say they have a bit of trouble when it comes to knowing what to keep on hand. Recently a friend asked me to please write a post on the types of items one should keep stocked in their fridge, pantry, and freezer. What an excellent request! How many of us resolve “to cook at home more” but then get frustrated because every new recipe means another trip to the store for a strange item we never buy?
So I thought I’d share my game plan with you here. If you cook from this website a lot, then you know I try to make as many meals as possible from the fewest ingredient purchases, and that the ingredients I do use are seldom very exotic (what with our strict budget and all.) Though, I must admit I’m a sucker for heirloom tomatoes and blue corn tortilla chips just like any other foodie! I just don’t give into the temptation to buy them very often.
Anyway, most of my strategy has to do with meal planning. (Ugh! The dreaded p-word.) And some of it has to do with knowing on grocery day what items you find yourself needing most often. If knowing what those items are is a real mystery to you, then maybe this post can give you a good start.
The thing I hate most is buying special items/ingredients that end up going to waste because I use them for one recipe and then never use them again. Been there? So the game-plan for me is pretty simple… each week I look at the sales circular and ask myself,
“How can I make the fewest grocery purchases possible this week and still get the maximum amount of meals out of the food I do purchase?”
Or, in simpler terms:
“How can I maximize our dinners while minimizing our dollars?”
(By the way, don’t steal that tagline… It’s the sub-title for my upcoming Savvy Suppers E-Cookbook!) 😉
So here are the groceries I try to keep on hand at all times! Of course many meals will require additional items beyond these… but those “special” items can be bought on an as-needed basis. This list contains only the items I never want to be caught without on any given week.
Tomato Products – canned diced tomatoes, diced tomatoes with green chiles (aka: Ro-Tel), canned tomato sauce, and tomato paste
Canned Broth – chicken, beef, and/or vegetable
Canned Beans – black, and chili hot or pinto
Canned Light Tuna
Rice/Pasta/Grains – plain crackers, oatmeal, quinoa, wild rice blend, boil-in-bag brown rice, lasagna, spaghetti, & macaroni
Vinegars – balsamic, white, apple cider, red wine (optional), and rice (optional)
Sauces – soy sauce, & Worcestershire
Seasoning Mixes – chili, beef stew, and taco
Dried Fruit – raisins, cranberries, cherries (optional)
Spice Cabinets/ Baking Essentials
Spice Cabinets/ Baking Essentials:
Savory seasonings – salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, minced onion, cumin, chili powder, dry mustard, turmeric, paprika, bay leaf, sage, thyme, oregano, bouillon cubes
Sweet seasonings – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, stevia
Baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch
Extracts – almond, vanilla, mint, & coconut
Oils – canola, olive, coconut, & cooking spray
Baking Additives – chocolate chips, cocoa powder, butterscotch chips, espresso powder, cupcake papers, gel food coloring, decorative sprinkles, flaked sea salt, and dried beans (for blind-baking pie crusts)
Baking Essentials: All-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, cornmeal, oat flour (optional)
Frozen Vegetables – chopped broccoli, chopped spinach, cauliflower, corn, peas
Nuts – pecans, slivered almonds, macadamia (Why in the freezer? Because nuts are good to have on hand, but also expensive! I don’t buy them often and storing them in the freezer keeps them from spoiling.)
Butter- unsalted and salted (but if I don’t have the money for both, unsalted gives me the flexibility of either.)
Tomato Paste (tube)
Vegetables – celery, carrots, onion, & potato flakes (for thickening soups)
Dairy -milk, eggs, sour cream or Greek yogurt, & Parmesan Cheese
Condiments – mayonnaise, mustard (plain, dijon, & whole-grain), ketchup, jams/jellies, pure maple syrup, hot sauce, A1, lemon juice
You will, no doubt, notice a lot of things missing in these lists. I didn’t list any fresh fruit, for instance, because I almost always select it depending on what is on sale that week. The same goes for meats… I only buy according to what’s on sale. And are you shocked to see I don’t regularly keep cheese (other than Parmesan) on hand? Of course cheese is an amazing ingredient that makes EVERYthing better. But it is also expensive, so I only buy it on weeks where I’ve planned ahead and have a few dishes I know I’m going to use it in. (And even then, I try to stretch it pretty far.)
So while this list doesn’t represent my comprehensive grocery list on any given week (Heavens! Buying all this every week would cost hundreds!) it does represent “freedom”. When I have these items on hand, I have a lot of meal options available to me. Week to week, it usually means I find myself devoting roughly 1/2 my weekly grocery budget to replenishing these items, and the other half goes toward “as-needed” ingredients, depending on what I’m cooking that week.
I hope some of you find this helpful!
And on another note: What have you cooked this week that you found utterly fabulous?? Shout it out in the comments!
XXs & OOs,
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