Perfecting Your Pantry – 10 Things to Always Have on Hand

Follow these tips for organizing your pantry (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Check to see if you have these must haves in your pantry (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

One of the best ways that families can stretch their food dollar is to cook their meals at home using fresh, locally grown Arizona ingredients.  But we all have very busy lives and it isn’t always possible to stay on top of the grocery shopping or remember everything you have in your pantry at home during a quick stop at the farmer’s market or grocery store.  After a hectic day, most people would toss in the towel and order in rather than cook at home.  While this is totally understandable, one unplanned meal out can easily bust your food budget for the whole month.  There is another option that takes a little planning and preparation but ensures you will always have something at home that you can whip up into a quick, healthy, low-cost breakfast, lunch, or dinner, a well-stocked pantry.

Here is a list of the 10 things you should always have in your pantry.  These staples enable you to make a variety of healthy meals with just the ingredients listed here.  They also give you the peace of mind of knowing what you have at home so that a quick stop at the local market really is quick.

1.     Oil

Oil is an essential ingredient to many meals and having a few different kinds on hand enables you to cook many different kinds of food.  Whether you are marinating meat, sautéing vegetables, or baking goodies, it is likely you will need some kind of oil.  A well-stocked pantry should have olive oil, vegetable oil, and sesame oil. A great place to find locally grown and produced olive oil is the Queen Creek Olive Mill.

2.     Sugar and Spice

These cooking basics are essential to a well-stocked pantry.  Stock your shelves with standard granulated sugar, brown sugar, and confectioner’s/powdered sugar and you will be able to meet every need for sweet that comes along.  To spice things up, every pantry should have the following spices at a minimum:

  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Rosemary
  • Curry Powder
  • Chili Powder
  • Black Pepper
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Dried Basil

 3.     Pasta and Rice

These two staples can create the foundation for a meal made with almost anything else.  There are so many options available when it comes to pasta that it really comes down to what your family likes.  Choosing several different varieties ensures you will always have just the right pasta on hand to create a quick and easy meal for your family.  Consider including spaghetti noodles, shells, rotini, and one other variety.  The same is true for rice, you have many options to choose from and the most important thing is to choose the kinds your family likes.

4.     Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds make a great healthy snack while also enhancing and enlivening salads, baked goods, and other recipes.  For your pantry, a good mix of nuts and seeds includes sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and pecans.

5.     Oats and Flour

When it comes to staples, these are two you are likely to find in every well-stocked pantry.  Choose a variety of flours that includes unbleached white, whole wheat, and bread or cake flour and you can rest assured that no matter what kind of flour a recipe calls for, you will have what you need.  You should include two kinds of oats in your pantry, the traditional old-fashioned kind and the quick cook kind, for maximum versatility.  Oats make great thickeners in meatloaf and baked goods and can also be used for breading meats and making healthy snacks like granola.

6.     Canned Fish (Salmon, Tuna)

These shelf-stable meats can be great in a pinch and are perfect for tossing with a salad or creating a sandwich.  Keeping a couple cans of each in your pantry gives you another protein option that is precooked and ready to go right out of the can.

7.     Broths and Stocks

Stocking pre-made chicken and beef stock gives you a lot of options in the kitchen.  You can use them as the foundation for soup, to create a sauce, to add moisture to a dish, and as a replacement for oil and butter in some circumstances.

8.    Vinegars and Sauces

Vinegar is one of the most versatile liquids in your kitchen that is often overlooked in our modern day meal planning.  Keep a bottle of white, cider, and balsamic vinegar in the pantry along with a bottle of soy sauce, hot sauce, barbecue sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.

9.     Dry and Canned Beans

When it comes to versatility and multiple uses, nothing can beat the bean.  Packed with fiber and protein, beans can add texture, flavor, and volume to almost any recipe.  Pick a wide variety of beans for your pantry including black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, split peas, chick peas, and navy beans.

10.  Canned Vegetables

When you are short on time and short on energy, canned vegetables can be just what you need to complete a quick and easy meal with little effort.  Stock up on cans of your family’s favorites and use them to supplement your meals when you don’t have time to run to the farmer’s market for something fresh.  Make sure you include the most versatile of canned vegetables, tomatoes and tomato sauce.

On your visits to the Arizona Farmers Markets, look for the staples listed above, including locally grown herbs. Stocking up on staples and creating the perfect pantry for your family is a great way to stretch your food dollar while filling your plate.

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