10 Must-have Pantry Staples

kitchen pantry
Making your shopping list to stock your pantry? We've got 10 must-have items you simply can't leave off that list. JulNichols/Getty Images

Having a well-stocked kitchen pantry is important for a couple of reasons. It not only provides you with healthy and nutritious options for cooking at home, but with your busy, on-the-go lifestyle, it's also helpful to have a pantry full of last-minute dinner options.

But a fully-stocked pantry can also be critical in times when you can't get out of the house, like when bad weather hits (think major snowstorm) or even during a national crisis.


So if you haven't stocked your pantry lately, consider doing it now. Having a versatile selection of dry goods at your fingertips is way cheaper than nightly takeout. Here's a list of 10 items you should always have on hand in a well-stocked pantry.

10: Olive Oil

olive oil
You should always have some kind of cooking oil on hand, and olive oil is a great option. Image Source/Getty Images/Image Source

You should keep some type of cooking oil on hand. Olive oil is a good choice because it's high in antioxidants, low in monounsaturated fats and has potential antibacterial properties. Keep in mind, though, olive oil has a low smoke point, which means it's not suited for things like baking and frying. So you should probably keep another type of oil — perhaps canola — on hand, too, if you do much of these types of cooking.


9: Garlic

Garlic bulbs
Garlic is so versatile, you can never have too much of the fresh stuff. If stored properly, it will last up to three months. Robert Daly/Getty Images

Garlic is the perfect savory flavor to add to many food dishes. You can slice it, dice it, mince it, crush it, roast it, sauté it, grill it — you name it and you can do it with garlic. It's versatile enough to use in everything from traditional Italian pasta to Thai and Indian dishes. And if the taste isn't enough to convince you of its superiority, garlic also is good for you. It helps prevent heart disease, lowers your cholesterol and destroys free radicals better than anything man has created.

When it comes to choosing garlic as a pantry staple, you have a couple of options: You can buy fresh, unpeeled, garlic in whole cloves. If you store them in an open container (like a garlic keeper) in a cool, dry place, they should keep for about three months. Or you can opt for jars of already chopped garlic. It's available in water or oil, and saves you the step of having to chopped the cloves yourself. Plus, the jarred stuff has a much longer shelf life.


8: Stock or Broth

canned stock
Canned or boxed stock or broth is a must-have in any well-stocked pantry. You can freeze leftovers in ice trays for easy access later. Mike Mozart/Flickr/(CC BY 2.0)

Soups and casseroles are great options when you're trying to eat on a budget or feed a family. The leftovers also freeze easily, which makes them ideal for stocking up on single-serve portions for later. If you can't make a stock yourself, canned and boxed are must-haves for your kitchen pantry. You can use the stock in place of water when cooking to add flavor to your favorite dish; for instance, try cooking your rice in chicken broth next time.

Stocks and broths come in a variety of options, and packaging, so grab a few of each (chicken, beef and vegetable). There's not much difference between boxed or canned except boxes are resealable, which is great if you don't plan on using all of it at once. However, cans will probably last longer in your pantry than boxed broth.


One thing to keep in mind about stocks and broth: They tend to be high in sodium. So opting for low-sodium or no-salt options is a good idea, especially if anyone in your household is on a restricted sodium diet.

7: Spaghetti Sauce

spaghetti sauce
Prepared spaghetti sauce will come in handy on those nights when you just don't want to cook a homemade dinner. Ezra Bailey/Getty Images

Spaghetti is a quick and easy meal you can whip up in no time. So no pantry is complete without at least a few jars of sauce. They'll come in especially handy when you don't have time to make your own. Most supermarkets today have so many different options available, so don't feel like you have to stick to just plain old marinara; consider other flavors like pesto, alfredo and even vodka sauce. They'll hold up for months in your pantry, and provide lots of different options for dinnertime. Just don't forget the pasta! (We'll talk about that next.)


6: Dry Pasta

Pasta comes in so many shapes, sizes and flavors, you can never have too much. FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

If you're going to stash several different sauces in the pantry, then stock up on a variety of pastas, too. Boxed pasta is inexpensive, has virtually no expiration date and can be used to create a variety of meals — think spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo or a fresh garden pasta salad.

Even if you don't have sauce on hand, you can always serve up some farfalle pasta with fresh garlic and butter as a quick-and-easy side dish, or make homemade macaroni and cheese with elbow pasta. You can make it in minutes if you have an Instant Pot. Add some protein like grilled shrimp or chicken and you've got a hearty meal.


5: Dry Beans

dry beans
Dry beans are a great source of protein and can be served on their own, or used in casseroles or to accompany other dishes like tacos. FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

Beans are a staple food item all over the world because they're cheap, easy to prepare, nutritious and filling. You can always keep some cans of beans in your pantry, but if you want to save some money, buy dry beans. They take a little longer to prepare, but they have zero additives and preservatives and taste better than canned. The trick with dry beans is to let them soak before you cook them; overnight is best. If you've never prepared dry beans, black, pinto and red beans are good staples, though you can usually find bean mixes, as well. You can speed up the cooking process, too, if you cook them in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker.


4: Rice

brown and white rice
This image shows what brown rice looks like (right) before the husk, bran and germ are removed and it becomes white rice (left). 4kodiak/Getty Images

Rice is a versatile food that can be the main component in dishes like casseroles and stir fries, or a light side dish served with any meat or vegetable main. It's also super cheap and can last indefinitely in your pantry when stored in a tightly sealed container. When choosing between brown or white rice, consider the nutritional breakdown between the two. Brown rice is a whole grain and therefore more nutritious than white rice. That's because during milling of white rice, the rice's husk, bran and germ are removed. That does mean white has a longer shelf life, but it also removes much of its fiber, vitamins and minerals. So you're better off sticking to brown.


3: Canned Tuna

tuna salad sandwich
Canned tuna is the perfect pantry staple for making your favorite lunch sandwich. EasyBuy4u/Getty Images

Tuna is a great source of protein, selenium and vitamin D, regardless of whether it comes from a can or it's freshly caught. However, tuna, like a lot of other fish, can be a source of mercury. So when you're stocking your pantry with canned tuna, look for cans of smaller fish, like skipjack rather than cans of albacore, yellowfin/ahi and bigeye tuna. And yes, you can feel safe about eating canned tuna. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it's just fine to eat at least two to three, 4-ounce servings of canned tuna a week. So go ahead and fill up your pantry so you have plenty on hand for your favorite classic tuna fish sandwich.


2: Peanut Butter

peanut butter and banana sandwich
Who doesn't love a peanut butter and banana sandwich? Of course, peanut butter can be eaten in all kinds of ways. Brian Macdonald/Getty Images

Peanut butter isn't just for PB&Js, though it was made for that role. You can also use peanut butter in a variety of dishes and dips, especially those with an Asian influence — think curries, satay and even Pad Thai. It's a great source of protein so when you eat it as a spread on fruits and vegetables, you're getting a double dose of health benefits. Add it to smoothies, spread some on a cracker or just eat it with a spoon — peanut butter is a must-have for any pantry. You can also head to your local natural foods store and get additive- and preservatives-free peanut butter that's ground fresh right in front of you. If the natural version isn't sweet enough, add a little honey to it for a taste your family will love.


1: Canned or Boxed Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes
Canned tomatoes (not to be confused with spaghetti sauce) are ideal for making everything from chili to shrimp creole. annick vanderschelden photograph/Getty Images

You'd be hard pressed to name a cuisine that doesn't utilize tomatoes in some way. It's the most versatile item from the garden and nothing beats the taste of a summer tomato. But if you want year-round tomatoes, there is a variety available by can or box. Your best bet is to keep on hand a mix of diced, crushed and whole tomatoes for a range of dishes, like chili, spaghetti sauce, shrimp creole and more. Of course, any of these will work if you have a cutting board and a knife, but it's handy to just dump the tomatoes straight into the pot.