How to Stock a Pantry

Although the subject of how to stock a pantry is covered in depth in an entire chapter of my Learn to Cook book (ahem, makes a great gift!) I hadn’t yet made a video about it. So here it is: how to stock a pantry. This is just the bare-bones beginner-level pantry: what I think are the most basic, most necessary items to have on hand in order to throw together a pretty fast and pretty healthy meal on the fly. Scroll down for the list and some ideas for quick pantry-meals.

How to stock a pantry video (scroll down for list)

Basic pantry list

Oils, Seasonings, and Spices

Olive oil – make a quick vinaigrette with 3 tablespoons oil + 1 tablespoon vinegar + salt and pepper + several pinches of dried herbs. Toss with lettuce. It’s way cheaper than bottled dressing!

Coconut oil – great for sauteeing, stir frying, and making popcorn on the stove; try it on baked sweet potatoes, winter squash, summer squash, green beans, asparagus

Apple cider vinegar – a mild, versatile vinegar good for vinaigrettes, marinades, stews, sauces, pasta salad, salad dressing

how to make a salad

Homemade Vinaigrette

White wine vinegar – another mild vinegar good for vinaigrettes, marinades, sprinkling on cooked greens and broccoli, pasta salad

Lemons and limes – squeeze fresh juice over cooked meat and fish, add zest to pasta dishes, sauteed vegetables and marinades; mix olive oil, lemon juice, salt and fresh minced garlic to make a sauce for simple steamed vegetables or meat; make a dressing for main-dish grain salad

Soy sauce (or tamari) – add depth to bean soup, grain salads, sauteed mushrooms, sauces, stir fry, marinades

Oregano – use to season taco filling, marinara sauce, seafood, chicken; add to salad dressing for green salads or Greek pasta salad

Chili powder – use as dry rub on meats, sprinkle on vegetables before roasting, make chili, enchiladas

Cumin – use in Tex-Mex and Indian recipes, add to beans, meat stews, roasted carrots, cabbage and roasted cauliflower. Do a whole roasted cauliflower or for a faster side, chop cauliflower or cabbage into 2-inch chunks, drizzle with oil, salt, pepper, and cumin. Bake at 425ºF for about 15 minutes until tender and brown and amazing.

Turmeric – great antioxidant benefits, fry a dash in butter before adding scrambled eggs, sprinkle on potatoes, add to rice before cooking; combine with cumin, garlic and ginger to make a quick vegetable curry

Bay leaves – add a leaf to simmering spaghetti sauce, beans, vegetable stew, steamed rice, roasted chicken

Garlic – fresh garlic makes everything better! Learn how to mince garlic quickly, then add to stir fry, sauces, rice pilaf, marinades, salad dressing, curries. Pretty much everything is better with garlic. Even cake! (Not cake.)

Ginger – fresh grated ginger adds spice to stir fry, Indian curries, Thai coconut curries; add a chunk to your morning smoothie to perk yourself up big-time!

Onions – caramelize a sliced onion for a quick, delicious topping for steak or chicken; make French onion dip; add a diced onion to your next pan of home fries; line a baking pan with onion slices and top with chicken or pork tenderloin roast

Pantry Staples

Pasta – small shapes and thin noodles cook faster; make pasta primavera, pasta salad, stir fried vegetables with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and noodles; add leftover pasta to a frittata or reheat in a pan with lots of butter, sprinkle with salt, black pepper and grated cheese

Tomatoes – those in a paper carton don’t contain BPA or BPS. Use with some garlic and oregano to make a quick spaghetti sauce; make a bolognese sauce; add onion, garlic, meat and chili powder for chili; make a vegetable curry

fried rice recipe

Simple fried rice

Rice – white rice cooks in the time it takes you to cook some stuff to put on top: steamed vegetables with a quick lemon-garlic sauce; butter-garlic sauteed vegetables sprinkled with cheese; lentils cooked in tomato sauce with onion and carrots; leftover rice becomes fried rice

Lentils – the only legume that cooks in 30 minutes or less with no soaking, cook them in broth with tomato sauce with garlic and vegetables for an easy soup; boil in water, then drain and mix with chopped vegetables and vinaigrette for a warm salad; cook and use for veggie burgers which can be made ahead of time and frozen for later

Quinoa – highly nutritious and quick to cook, make quinoa salad, use as a base for stir fry make or black bean quinoa burgers

Tortillas – add cheese for quesadillas and serve with black bean soup, a bowl of beans or lentils, or add cheese plus any leftover cooked meat or vegetables for quesadillas that are a meal; make breakfast tacos for dinner; reheat any leftover meat and fill tortillas, top with onion and cilantro or shredded cabbage and salsa; stir fry vegetables with soy sauce and garlic stuck in a tortilla, top with cheese and hot sauce

Fridge and Freezer

Huevos Ahogados - eggs poached in salsa

Huevos Ahogados – eggs poached in salsa

Butter – butter makes everything taste better: top steamed vegetables; fry eggs; add to rice and pasta; gently fry chicken breasts or pork chops

Cheese – at least one kind of cheese that’s good for melting (cheddar, jack, gouda) can be used in quesadillas, grilled cheese, tacos, with crackers or apples for a snack

Eggs – make an omelet, frittata or breakfast taco any time of day; fried egg sandwiches with cheese and tomato

Frozen vegetables – when you’re all out of fresh vegetables, steam a side of frozen broccoli or green beans to go alongside your quesadilla to balance that sucker out; steamed mixed vegetables with butter also go fine on top of rice, quinoa or baked potatoes, especially smothered in cheese

P.S. These are the amazing (and expensive) salt and pepper grinders that I LOVE (affiliate link)


  1. Brian on October 17, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Various Cheese (a sharp cheddar, a blue, and hard ptarmigan) coconut milk, fish sauce. tomato paste (tube or can), chili sauce.

    • Hilah on October 18, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Those are all great to have on hand!

  2. Conz on October 17, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Just saw the video and one thing I thought of when you mentioned ginger (and that it doesn’t last as long as garlic) is that one can peal and slice up ginger (into half inch slices, or thinner) and keep in the freezer. It’s a really smart thing to do when one finds low priced ginger 🙂

    • Hilah on October 18, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Thanks, Conz!

  3. birdman on October 23, 2015 at 8:56 am

    My go-to seasoning salt is Goya’s Adobo. I love to put it on vegetables and corn instead of regular salt. I also recently discovered Kerrygold Irish butter, made from grass-fed cows. I use stick butter when I need to measure tablespoons, just because it’s easier, but I love the Kerrygold on veggies and breads (especially grilled cheese sandwiches).

    I also keep TrueLemon and TrueLime on hand. They’re little packets of crystallized citrus juice. Being single and having a schedule that sometimes leaves me unexpectedly not cooking dinner, one of my biggest problems is trying to use up fresh produce before it spoils. I’d end up using half a lemon then forgetting about the other half for a week, and it turns soggy. Or worse, the whole lemon rots before I even use it. But with TrueLemon, I always have it handy. The only thing I miss is being able to grate the zest!

    • Hilah on October 23, 2015 at 9:22 am

      I LOVE Kerrygold butter! It’s so much richer colored and flavored than other butters. Good to know the TrueLemon is a good product. I’ve seen it before but didn’t trust it to taste the same. Thanks for writing!

      • birdman on October 23, 2015 at 9:32 am

        Yep, tastes just like lemon. You just have to add water if you need actual juice (I’ve made single glasses of lemonade with it too). Aside from the lack of zest, the other downside is you don’t get to fill your kitchen with that fresh lemon scent!

  4. Lorena on October 26, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    I would love to see how you make your lentils! Do you add the soy sauce after or during? Thanks for the video 🙂

  5. Melody on November 3, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Great blog and videos…do you have a post on Kitchen Essentials?

  6. Sexy on November 7, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Loved your video and your kitchen essentials pretty much match what I have in my pantry.
    As far as spices go, I always have basil (sometimes I cheat and substitute oregano), freshly ground 3 colour pepper ( we get it here in packets and there’s white,black and red, which is awesome flavour wise), and some rosemary, tyme and dill on hand (the dried stuff is flavourless). I love making mediterranean food and I always have a fresh supply of olives and try to get feta cheese at least once a week into my menu (think greek omelette with olives, feta and spinach). My freezer is also packet with chicken, lean beef or lean pork for the mandude in my life.

    I’m more of a savoury type of gal but I have phyllo dough and puff pastry in the freezer because it’s just so easy to make into 100 different things in such a small amount of time (like spanakopita, apple tart, cheese filled puffs pastry, mini pizza puff pastry rolls….).

    Also frozen veggies have always been a favourite of mine. Peas,spinach,corn…pretty much the stuff you need to make awesome appetizers with the puff pastry you already have on hand or just to turn into and amazingly easy meal.

    I always try to have fresh tomatoes on hand for sauces but in the wintertime I just stick to the ones in cartons, I am as freaked out by canned food as you are.

    Other than that I cannon imagine not having potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic in the house. They’re staples of any pantry and you can do so much with them. As is rice and pasta.

    As far as cheese goes, I always have at least 2 types on hand. One for eating, one for the drama in my life 🙂

    • Hilah on November 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      This is such a great pantry list! Thanks for sharing!

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