How to Stock a Pantry for Easy Meals

Published by Deanna Yates on

How to Stock a Pantry for Easy Meals

Before I knew how to stock a pantry for easy meals I used to go about it totally backwards. I would find a few meals I wanted to make for the week, write out the grocery list (which was usually a mile long) and then go shopping.

It’s the pretty normal way of shopping, right?

So, what was I doing wrong? It’s okay, if you don’t know because you are probably doing it too.

I was not coordinating ingredients or using a well stocked pantry!

That meant I was always buying a bunch of ingredients at the store – which took me a long time and cost me more money – and it took WAY more mental preparation.

Once I discovered Capsule Meal Plans, I learned how to group meals together and keep my ingredient list low. And the beauty of Capsule Meal Plans is that since they only need about 20 different ingredients for a whole week of dinners, they give you time to stock your pantry slowly, which will save you money in the long run.

How to Smartly Stock Your Pantry

Below are the major categories in a pantry and the items you need are separated by bare minimum, basics, and advanced.

The Bare Minimum ingredients are those things you use on a very regular basis and so it’s best to always have them on hand. If you are starting your pantry from scratch, these are the items you want to buy first.

The Basics are the next level for filling your pantry. Perhaps you have been cooking for a while or are getting serious about making dinner for your family every night. These are the ingredients you will use often and it’s best to buy them when a recipe calls for it. Don’e be nervous about buying these and having them go to waste. These ingredients are versatile and so you can make many, many different meals with these.

The Advanced section of this pantry items list is for the more experienced home chefs or those of us who love a certain flavor palette like Indian or Chinese cuisine. If you like cooking with lots of flavors, this section will be useful. However, if you are just starting out, on a tight budget, or prefer simple flavors you can easily skip this section.

Top Ingredients Needed for a Well-Stocked Pantry

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Bare Minimum Grains:

  • Long Grain White Rice
  • Spaghetti Noodles

Basic Grains:

  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Elbow Macaroni or other short noodle
  • Plain bread crumbs
  • Dry lentils
  • Rolled oats

Advanced Grains:

  • Pearl barley, quick-cooking barley
  • Whole-wheat couscous
  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Polenta

Protein & Dairy:

Bare Minimum Protein and Dairy:

  • Eggs
  • Unsalted butter
  • Cheese (Cheddar or a Colby Jack)
  • Milk
  • Reduced-sodium chicken broth, beef broth and/or vegetable broth (box-packed tastes better than canned)

Basic Protein and Dairy:

  • Canned Chicken
  • Canned Tuna
  • Low-fat or nonfat plain or Greek yogurt
  • Canned beans: white beans, chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans

Advanced Protein and Dairy:

  • Reduced-fat sour cream
  • Good-quality Parmesan cheese and/or Romano cheese
  • Sharp Cheddar cheese
  • Blue cheese
  • Water-packed tofu

Fruits & Veggies:

Bare Minimum Fruits and Veggies:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomato sauce

Basic Fruits and Veggies:

  • Fruit jams/preserves
  • Potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)
  • Carrots
  • Canned or Frozen corn

Advanced Fruits and Veggies:

  • Applesauce
  • Baked Beans
  • Light coconut milk
  • Assorted dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes, cherries, cranberries, dates, figs, raisins

Oils, Vinegars & Condiments:

Bare Minimum Oils, Vinegars, and Condiments:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Neutral cooking oil (such as canola or grape seed)

Basic Oils, Vinegars, and Condiments:

  • Mayonnaise (olive-oil mayo has less saturated fat)
  • Vinegar: white, red-wine, white-wine or cider
  • Dijon mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Cooking Spray
  • Hot sauce
  • Salsa
  • Dark soy sauce

Advanced Oils, Vinegars, and Condiments:

  • Sriracha
  • White Cooking Wine
  • Red Cooking Wine
  • Flavorful nut and seed oils, such as toasted sesame oil and walnut oil
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Fish sauce
  • Curry paste
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce

Seasonings & Spices:

Bare Minimum Seasonings and Spices:

  • Kosher salt
  • Red-pepper flakes
  • Bay leaves
  • Black peppercorns
  • Ground cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried oregano
  • Honey

Basic Seasonings and Spices:

  • Maple syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Dry mustard
  • Sweet paprika
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Basil
  • Bullion (Beef or Chicken)
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Chili Powder
  • Fennel
  • Nutmeg
  • Onion Powder
  • Rosemary
  • Taco Seasoning

Advanced Seasonings and Spices:

  • Curry powder
  • Celery Salt
  • Dill
  • Tarragon
  • Allspice
  • Cinnamon sticks


Bare Minimum Freezer:

  • Frozen veggies (variety bag)
  • Berries or other fruit

Basic Freezer:

  • Fish fillets
  • Sliced bread
  • Peas

Advanced Freezer:

  • Meat (that was a good price)


Bare Minimum Nuts:

  • Peanut butter

Basic Nuts:

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Dry-roasted unsalted peanuts

Advanced Nuts:

  • Pine nuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Tahini
  • Natural almond butter


Bare Minimum Baking:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Pure vanilla extract
  • Light brown sugar
  • Powdered sugar
  • Cocoa powder

Basic Baking:

  • Cornmeal
  • Rolled oats
  • Dark brown sugar
  • Bittersweet baking chocolate
  • Semisweet chocolate chips

Advanced Baking:

  • Almond Extract
  • Corn Meal
  • Corn Syrup
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Yeast

With these ingredients you are well on your way to knowing how to stock a pantry for easy meals.

Looking for an easy downloadable list to take with you shopping?

I have created a checklist for you and included it in the Freebies Library. Simply sign up for access and I will send you the password right away.

Free Stocked Pantry Checklist and Shopping List. Perfect for beginners, those on a budget, and anyone who wants to make dinner for their families.

Join the Little Green Bow Community and get access to the Freebie Library including this Pantry Checklist. I’ll send you my weekly newsletter filled with tips on how to live your best life too.

Remember, start with the Bare Minimum ingredients – these are the ones you will use all the time and can’t go wrong having them on hand. Next, add in the Basic ingredients as recipes you make call for them. This will help you build up your pantry at a good pace without having to spend a lot of money up front. Once you have mastered cooking on a regular basis, then add in the Advanced ingredients as you need them.

This list is to be used as a reference so there may be items here you never find yourself needing. That’s okay and why I recommend you only buy what you need when you need it.



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