A well-stocked kitchen pantry is important for a couple of reasons. Not only will you have healthy and nutritious options on hand for cooking at home, but it also saves you money by not having to dine out. And who wants to stop at the grocery store after a long day at the grind? If you haven't seen the inside of your pantry recently, it's time to get in there and dust off those stacks of cans to see what you have. Take a trip to your local food bank with the items that have been around for a while, and then it's time to head to the grocery store. Here are 10 must-have items for a well-stocked pantry.
Extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO as Rachael Ray would say, is a must for any household pantry. You need some kind of fat to cook, and olive oil packs a punch with antioxidants that can help lower your cholesterol as well as helping to ward off heart disease and cancer. Besides that, it's the perfect cooking oil with its excellent taste and quick heating ability -- definitely a pantry staple. There are all kinds of extra virgin oils in a range of price points. If you're a "foodie" with a discerning pallet, you'll pay a little extra for gourmet brands. If you've just decided to give olive oil a whirl, you can go with a less expensive variety and refine your taste and cooking skills from there.
Garlic is the perfect herb. Slice it, dice it, mince it, crush it, roast it, sauté it, grill it -- you name it and garlic does it. It's versatile enough to use in everything from traditional Italian pasta to Thai and Indian dishes. And if the taste weren't enough, it's also great for you. It helps prevent heart disease, lowers your cholesterol and destroys free radicals better than anything man has created. You can buy fresh garlic in whole cloves or already chopped in a jar if you don't want to do the work. It's also available dried for a longer shelf life. So grab a clove and go to town.
Soups and casseroles are a great option when you're trying to eat on a budget or feed a family. That's why stocks and broths are must-haves for your kitchen pantry. You can use broths in place of water to add some zip to your dishes and even cook your rice with it for maximum flavor. Grab a variety of chicken, beef and vegetable stock, try them in different dishes and you'll be a broth whiz in no time. To keep the calories down, try low-fat or non-fat broth. As a rule of thumb, it's best to pair your broth with like-tasting dishes or use vegetable broth in place of beef or chicken stock.
No pantry is complete without a couple of jars of spaghetti sauce. In fact, you probably have one standing by with a fair amount of dust on it in your own kitchen. This is a great backup for when you don't have time to make your own sauce or just want to prepare a simple and filling meal. Packaged spaghetti sauce has a good shelf life, so buy a few jars and stick them in the back of your pantry for a rainy day. There are a large variety of fresh-tasting sauce brands and flavors to choose from. Tomato basil, garlic and herb, traditional marinara and puttanesca sauces are great to have handy for any quick fix pasta dish.
If you're going to stash some sauce in the pantry, then you'll need some pasta to go with it. Boxed pasta is inexpensive, has virtually no expiration date and can be mixed in with a variety of meals. If you don't have sauce, you can always make pasta with fresh garlic and butter as a nice side dish, or just toss it with some spices and grilled steak, shrimp or chicken. When it comes to picking pasta, it all comes down to which one you prefer. Noodles come in a wide variety of sizes, from thin angel hair to the extra wide and thick pappardelle, and tubular and "bow tie" pastas are popular with kids because of their fun shapes.
Beans are a staple food item all over the world because they're inexpensive, 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. It takes a little longer to prepare, but you get zero additives and preservatives and they taste better than canned beans. Just be sure to allow time in your meal prep for them to soak. If you're new to buying beans, start with a mix of black, pinto and red beans for your pantry's collection. Beans are great on their own served as a side dish to some veggies and meat. They also make a good addition to casseroles and cold salads.
Rice is such a versatile food. It can be the main component in a dish like a casserole or stir-fry, or a nice side dish to compliment any meat and vegetable. It's also super affordable and lasts a long time in the pantry. Whole grain rice is much better for you than enriched white rice, so for maximum nutrition, it's best to stick with whole grain. If you want to have rice on hand for any dish, get a variety of flavored "quick-cook" rice, a bag of whole grain and a bag of white. Try basmati for some Indian flair or if you really want to get adventurous, you can make your own short grain rice for home made sushi rolls.
Canned meats can be a little dodgy in the taste department, but not in the case of tuna fish. You can use it to make the classic tuna fish sandwich, or add it to a creamy casserole. You can make pan-fried, breaded patties your kids will enjoy. You can make a tuna melt. You can use it as a cold salad topper right out of the can. The options are endless. Choose water-packed tuna for the best health benefits, but eat it in moderation to avoid too much mercury intake. You can go for the chicken of the sea or spend some money on the gourmet albacore tunas, which often come in different flavors, liked garlic or smoked.
Peanut butter isn't just for sandwiches, even though it fits that role perfectly. You can also use it in a variety of dishes and dips, especially those with an Asian influence. 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. Visit your local natural food store to get additive and preservative-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.
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 freshly picked tomato. But if you want year round tomatoes, lucky for you there are a variety you can get in a can. Your best bet is to keep on hand a mix of diced, crushed and whole tomatoes for a range of dishes. Of course, any of these will work if you have a cutting board and a knife, but it's handy to just dump it straight from the can into the pot. This is one pantry staple you can't live without.
Did you know? Cooked tomatoes are better for you than raw tomatoes because the heat increases the levels of antioxidants.
Home Made Simple recipes are tasty dishes that even the most amateur cook can prepare. Try these deliciously simple recipes from the Home Made Simple.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Alt, Tracy. "10 Pantry Staples to Make Quick Cooking Taste Like All Day Cooking." Menus4moms.com, 2009.http://www.menus4moms.com/articles/10_pantry_staples_for_quick_cooking.php
- Fernau, Karen. " Pantry must-haves to prevent those late-night takeout orders." Tucsoncitizen.com, October 9, 2007.http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/ss/byauthor/65299
- Hanna, James. "Tips for a Good Spaghetti Sauce." Associatedcontent.com, December 5, 2006.http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/92537/tips_for_a_good_spaghetti_sauce.html?cat=22
- LoCicero, Joe. "10 Pantry Staples You Can't Do Without." Disney Family Food, 2009.http://family.go.com/food/article-62843-10-pantry-staples-you-can-t-do-without-t/
- "Pantry Staples List." Mealsmatter.org, 2009.http://www.mealsmatter.org/MealPlanning/Pantry/
- Parker-Pope, Tara. "Unlocking the Benefits of Garlic." The New York Times, June 19, 2009.http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/15/unlocking-the-benefits-of-garlic/
- Turner, Lisa. "The Top 10 Antioxidant Foods." Better Nutrition, January 2002http://www.crumcreek.com/library/antioxidant.html
- Zeratsky , Katherine. " What are the health benefits of olive oil? Is extra-virgin oil better than regular olive oil?" Mayoclinic.com, 2009. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-nutrition/an01037