Everything You Actually Need to Properly Stock Your Pantry
With this information and a little extra time writing out your shopping list, you'll be ready to cook anytime.
Keeping a well-stocked pantry is essential for executing meal plans and throwing together last-minute dinners without a trip to the store. After you've stocked your pantry, supermarket trips may be less frequent. You'll only need to shop for perishable foods and anything needing replenishment. The physical pantry in your home is any cool, dry place you can store food items, such as kitchen cupboards and shelves (even a little floor space in a closet will work). But we're including the refrigerator and freezer as part of the "pantry" too, as there are cooking staples you can stock in each of them. Click the button below to download our free pantry list of the essentials you should always keep on hand.
What Is a Pantry?
Pantry items are considered dry goods or staples—things you always have on hand. Compiled in our downloadable checklist (button above), you'll want to keep cooking basics such as oils, salt, pepper, flour, and sugar around all the time. Ideally, they will keep for a long time in storage. Fresh, perishable foods regularly used up before they spoil (i.e. fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats) are also key components to the pantry. The idea is to avoid going grocery shopping every time you cook (a major hurdle when getting food on the table). You don't have to buy everything at once; just buy what you eat fairly often in small quantities, so foods stay fresh and don't go to waste. Build up your pantry gradually and be sure to wash any produce well before storing or cooking.
Refrigerated and Frozen Pantry Items
These foods generally have a short shelf life. Buy only those that you consume frequently, such as milk or eggs. If celery tends to get all slimy before you finish the bag, buy only what you need. On the other hand, some refrigerated foods that you use fairly often, such as cheeses, yogurt, and tortillas, are considered staples. Cheese that keeps well in the refrigerator includes Parmesan and Romano. Some frequently used soft cheeses such as mozzarella and cheddar may also be considered staples if you use them so frequently they don't spoil. The freezer is also an excellent place for pantry items. Freezer favorite meats and veggies (download the comprehensive list below for even more ideas beyond the essentials), can be frozen (depending on the product) up to a year. Pantry staples such as flour and nuts will also last up to a year in the freezer.
Keeping Your Spice Pantry
Store dried herbs and spices in a cool, dry place (not above the stove) to keep them at their peak of flavor. You probably already keep vanilla extract around for baking, but you'll find herbs like ground mustard, paprika, and curry powder on our downloadable list below. Mark the date on the bottom of the spice bottle the day it's opened. Ground spices start losing flavor after one year. For the most intense flavor, buy whole spices and grind them at home.
Liqueur and Wine Pantry Staples
Flavored liqueurs have highly concentrated flavors, making them a great cooking and baking staple (like in these coffee cookies). Stored in a cool, dark place, they last almost indefinitely. Buy small bottles, especially when trying something new to you (download our list below for ideas). Wines also contribute a rich and subtle flavor to recipes. Store corked wine bottles on their sides in a cool, dark place. This keeps the wine in contact with the cork, avoiding any chance of sediment buildup.
After you're satisfied with your up-to-date pantry essentials, figure out how to organize the space in a way that best suits your daily cooking needs.