Whether it’s in my meal plans or not, there are some non-perishable items I always keep handy “just in case”. These basics allow my family some flexibility, for example, if I can’t cook due to an unexpected bout of overtime, or if I spontaneously need a batch of cookies in the house. They also let me explore different recipes on the weekends without taking away from those meals that are part of my well-thought-out family meal plan.
My main goal for having a well-stocked pantry is cost. Sure, it may cost a little bit more each trip to include items that aren’t on my meal plan. However, that small cost is well worth not paying for takeout due to “food boredom”.
There are plenty of thoughts on just what would be good to keep around. One that I’ve personally referred to over the past few years has come from CBC. Back in 2013, CBC had its own assessment of the basics as part of their “Live Right Now” program. (side note, “Live Right Now” seems to have died on the vine, but this reference sheet is pretty timeless).
Now, I’m not suggesting that the list above is the be-all and end-all of pantry lists. For example, I bought a small bag of couscous back in 2013 and I’m pretty sure it’s still in my cupboard… I’ve made my own personal list that meshes well with the types of meals and snacks my family consistently make.
These bare basics are things I never let run out, or else the ground will swallow me whole:
Raisins – This is the perfect snack-food for my daughter. Never mess with a hungry toddler.
Peanut butter – Another one that’s purely driven by my toddler. She asks for this specifically; a pretty large feat considering her toddler-level vocabulary.
Flour – I bake most of the bread in my home ($0.70 a loaf as opposed to $2.50), plus it’s used in a lot of recipes and sauces. I usually keep whole wheat, but if that runs out, there’s always another type of flour (white, pastry, or bread) to make due until the next grocery visit.
Sugar – Baking, cooking, or just in tea. This is a must-have, although we have been using less and less as our daughter grows. Looks like the little tyke is a good influence.
Spices – Without these, food would probably make me cry.
Salt – if you’re cooking from scratch, salt is a must to bring out flavours.
Pepper – Added at the table, pepper helps Gord and me spice things up while our daughter has a milder version of whatever we’re cooking.
Cumin – I don’t know why, but just a dash of this stuff brings out the flavours of whatever I’m cooking.
Garlic Powder – Used in a lot of my dishes, I always have a big 500g bottle of this in my cupboard.
Chili Powder – I cook a lot of tex-mex style foods. ‘Nuf said.
Cinnamon – Gord does breakfast most of the time, so this is his critical spice. Pancakes, french toast, random baking endeavours… this stuff is pretty tasty.
Canned Tomatoes – Tomatoes are used in practically everything I cook. I ran out of these once. There was a riot… Now I make sure there are at least 6 extra cans over and above my month-long meal plans.
With all the tex-mex style cooking and curries, I use tomatoes probably 3-4 times a week. Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with heartburn…
Beans – Canned and dried beans are always in my cupboard, at minimum chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans. A few times, we’ve had a lazy Saturday with baked beans and toast for lunch.
Lazy beans are the best, Yum!
Pasta – Need something quick? Tomoatoes + Beans + Spices + Pasta = quick, easy and tasty meal.
Rice – Whole grain rice (I use basmati a lot) is a must in our household. Take the same ingredients you’d use on a pasta dish, add rice instead, and you’ve got something brand new!
Canola Oil – Baking or cooking, we use a moderate amount of this in most of our meals.
Onion – When cooking from scratch, onions are the base to most of my home cooked meals.
Eggs – Breakfast, baking and the occasional lunch, I always have a backup carton of eggs on hand.
Over and above what meshes with the CBC list, I also have a few family “must haves”:
Frozen home-made dinners – Grab-and-go frozen lunches are a must-have when you have two working parents. Sometimes lunch doesn’t get made in time for work, so these frozen lunches keep us from buying fast food. Plus, it’s nice to have a home cooked lunch in the middle of a work day.
Chocolate Chips – CBC’s list says “Dark chocolate chips”, probably because of the sugar. But really, if you’re going to bake cookies, the chocolate chips aren’t what’ll break the sugar bank…
Onion Soup Mix – I actually use Onion Soup Mix more than I use bullion. I use neither that much, but I do use them enough to have some of each in the pantry.
Gravy Browning – If you’re from Newfoundland, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I always have this handy.
Bottled Butter Chicken Sauce – Gord’s all-time favourite meal is butter chicken. I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t have one of these handy at all times.
More ‘miss’ than ‘hit’
So, while the above list showcases my essentials, and I do take most of my pantry items from the CBC list, there are a few things on that list that I disagree with.
I suggest, like anything on the internet, that you take this list with a grain of salt. Assess what’s right for your family and be willing to experiment, but also know your own limits.
The following have made it to my, nuh-uh, “what were they thinking” list:
Wheat Bran/Wheatgerm – I bake with whole wheat flour and have never, ever needed just wheat bran or wheatgerm.
Dried Pears or Apples – I have never needed these dried fruit in the history of ever. Plus, I’ve never even found these items other than in one particular bulk store. Although, that possibly has something to do with the fact that I haven’t been looking too hard…
Agave Nector – This is one of those trendy “superfood” items that’s also “super expensive”. For the low amount of sugar we use, it’s not worth having a sugar substitute like this around. Honey is much more accessible.
Pumpkin seeds – I don’t know why this is on a list of “Staples”. I wish they had explained the items (like I’m doing here) to justify this one…
Flax Seed Oil – While I’m sure flax seed oil has some pretty neat-o properties, I’ve never been inclined to use anything other than canola and olive oils.
Fresh Beets – Gord won’t eat beats, and they go bad too quickly compared to potatoes. I buy these once in a blue moon, but they don’t make it to my “must have” pantry list.
Frozen tortillas and pitas – I’ve never had a frozen tortilla. Maybe I’ll add a few to my list next time and see what this one’s about. Maybe…
Sardines – Big fat fluffy nope!
Kale – I tried, I really did. I had eight kale plants growing in my garden. I tried it in a stir-fry (it took about 2 hours to become edible) and it was tough and unpleasant, and I tried it baked as desiccated kale chips. Neither one were worth the effort.
If you are about to say “smoothie”, I refuse to try a kale smoothie. After how aweful my other two experiences with kale were, that just sounds gross (I was vegetarian for two years; I’m no stranger to trying new things and still, the thought of kale smoothies grosses me out).
Swiss Chard – Another one that’s off the mark for me. While I’m sure it’s a perfectly lovely green, it doesn’t make it to my family’s “must have” list.
Couscous – While I’m sure the writer’s heart was in the right place, I’ve literally used couscous twice. And only because it was in my cupboard from this list. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy there. Quinoa, on the other hand? I use that all the time.
So that’s my list and my anti-list.
What about you? What’s in your pantry?