The last time I had a bare pantry may have been never. (Ask my family or friends. The thought of me without food just doesn’t compute.) I can always rustle up a meal because the basics are at hand. Where to start if your pantry is empty or you just moved and have to set up a kitchen? If you want to start with the basics, here are my top 10 pantry foods.
I’ve listed 10 basic categories rather than exact items. But you can start with 1 or 2 items in each category & add if you have the space, money and inclination. Your own list will vary according to dietary preferences or needs. This pantry list does not include ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and other items that require refrigeration after opening. I promise that we’ll get to refrigerator basics and my favorite herbs and spices in an upcoming post.
The inspiration for this list (and much of the site) is my daughter, Eleanor, who graduated from Colorado College in May and moves to Chicago for a job in August. From the time she was old enough to talk, her favorite word has been why. So for each item, I’ve anticipated her first 3 – of many – questions (1) what kind to buy first, (2) why buy it (what can you use it for) and (3) how much does it cost?
The Top 10
- Cereal – Got to start morning off with something. Eliminate if you start with a smoothie, yogurt or something else healthy. Look for high fiber, unsweetened or lightly sweetened (lower calorie) - e.g. bran, shredded wheat or chex-type.
- Beverage (coffee or tea) – OK, I admit I’m an addict. If you’re not then skip, except what will you offer guests with a treat when you invite them over?
- Oil – Olive for salads, plus canola or another less flavorful oil for frying.
- Vinegar – Balsamic (deep red) for salads, unseasoned rice wine vinegar for salads & cooking
- Salt & pepper - Regular iodized salt for baking and coarser (kosher or sea) salt for cooking and salads. Peppercorns in grinder for cooking and salads.
- Pasta – Spaghetti type for Italian-style and Asian noodles, bow tie or rotini (spirals) for salads
- Rice – White (I prefer Jasmine) tastes better to me, but brown is healthier. Side dish & salad ingredient
- Beans – All types are great in tossed salad or other, more exotic salads. Other ideas - garbanzos or chick peas for hummus or with pasta (trust me, it sounds crazy, but it’s delicious), red kidney beans for chili, black beans with rice, cannellini (white) beans for soup, pinto (mashed they may be labeled “refried”) beans for burritos. Canned are quicker than dried, but many cooks prefer the taste of dried, which have to be soaked overnight or quick cooked for about an hour before using them.
- Grains – Cous cous for light salads and sides, and barley or quinoa for more substantial sides.
- Chocolate – Bars and bags of chips. If chocolate doesn’t do it for you, substitute whatever brings a smile to your face and a contented yum to your lips. I prefer semi-sweet and bittersweet (over milk and white) for eating as well as baking.
Budgeting for the pantry shop
|Ingredient||Low Cost||High Cost||Cost Explanation|
|cereal||$3.00||$5.50||20 oz box bran-type cereal|
|beverage||$3.00||$11.00||20 tea bags or 12 oz bag coffee|
|oil||$10.00||$15.00||17 oz extra virgin olive + 24 oz canola|
|vinegar||$7.40||$14.60||16 oz balsamic + 12 oz unseasoned rice vinegar|
|salt & pepper||$5.20||$7.50||reg'l salt, kosher or sea salt + whole pepper in grinder|
|pasta||$2.00||$3.20||2 boxes pasta - spaghetti-type + rotini|
|rice||$1.80||$5.80||2 lb bag|
|beans||$5.00||$10.00||5 cans of various types (bags would be cheaper)|
|grains||$3.30||$5.80||10 oz box of cous cous + 12 oz bag of barley|
|chocolate||$7.30||$16.40||12 oz bag of chips +|
- The next 10 pantry basics
- Stocking the refrigerator
- Condiments for all seasons
- 10 herbs and spices take you a long way toward food nirvana