Keep It Simple: 16 Essential Kitchen Pantry Items

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Kitchen Pantry

While your apartment may not have a spacious kitchen, you can still find room for a stash of essential pantry items. Whether you’re snowed in, recovering from a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake, or just don’t feel like leaving home for a few days, a well-stocked kitchen pantry makes eating nutritious, good-tasting food easy. On top of that, a good pantry will also be stocked with a few staples that can be used in cooking and baking on a regular basis.

Baking Supplies

You probably already keep basics like flour, sugar, and baking soda in your pantry if you bake fairly often. Bags of flour and sugar are space hogs, so if you only bake on occasion, you’ll want to go for a box of baking mix instead. This can be transformed into pancakes, savory casseroles, sweets, and of course, biscuits.

Beans, Lentils, and Split Peas

Protein, low cost, easy storage, and long shelf lives make these gems great pantry items. They make tasty side dishes, and you can also use them as a base for soups, stews, and casseroles. Cooking them in broth or stock will add depth to their flavor.

Bread, Crackers, and Tortillas

Bread lasts for months in the freezer, but it only lasts a week or so in the pantry. For that reason, you’ll want to supplement your inventory with crackers and tortillas, both of which can last for months if left unopened. Besides sandwiches, you can use these starches for puddings, stuffings, casserole toppings, soup thickeners, and snacks.

Canned Meat/Fish

Tuna has always been a go-to protein because of its versatility. Tuna salad, tuna noodle casserole, tuna patties — all these foods are filling, delicious, and easy to prepare. Canned salmon and sardines are also good pantry choices, as well as canned chicken and ham. These meats are perfect for adding substance and flavor to soups and pasta dishes.

Canned Tomatoes

Every pantry should have canned tomatoes in as many versions as possible: diced, pureed, whole, sauce, paste, stewed, etc. They’re used in pasta sauces, chilis, soups, and casseroles, they’re easily elevated with dried herbs and spices, and they’re even healthier than fresh tomatoes.

Canned Vegetables & Soups

Canned vegetables get a bad rap, but in a pinch, they can actually taste pretty good, especially if you use them in soups or casseroles. Keep a few cans of corn, green beans, and peas in the pantry along with broth and boullion cubes for soup bases and gravy. Canned soups also make for some excellent quick meals that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Cereal & Oats

Simple grain cereals are satisfying straight out of the box and with milk poured over them. They also add taste and crispness to chicken and fish when crushed and used as a coating for baking and frying. Oatmeal’s a hearty hot cereal and a common ingredient in cookie, cake, and snack mix recipes.

Dried Fruit

Dried Fruit

Raisins are arguably the most well-liked dried fruit of all time. In recent years, many more dried fruits have gained popularity and become readily available at major supermarkets. Check out a few — they’re not for everyone — and store them in the pantry to add bursts of sweetness to your baked goods, sandwiches, and salads.


Jerky is another food that’s gained a lot of attention in the last decade. Beef used to be the only available type, but now it’s also made from other things like poultry, fish, and buffalo. Some brands are even infused with caffeine. Try out a few different options and keep your favorites in the pantry for a unique source of protein.


Oil adds texture and flavor to fried foods and transforms vinegar and herbs into an emulsion for salad dressing. Baked goods recipes often call for oil to add moisture without adding heaviness. A bottle each of olive, coconut, and vegetable/canola oil in your pantry should keep you going for months.


Ah, pasta. Whether you dream of being engulfed in a bowl of warm linguine or you only eat pasta occasionally, it’s definitely among the top five comfort foods. It’s also tops in versatility.

All you need is a big pot, salt, and water to cook pasta to an ideal al dente level. It pairs flawlessly with peanut butter and soy sauce for a simple Asian entrée, or you can take the Italian route and top it with red, alfredo, or carbonara sauce.

Peanut Butter & Nuts

Not so many years ago, many kids pretty much survived on peanut butter sandwiches. Filled with protein, super tasty, and affordable, the scrumptious spread also adds a special flavor to Asian and African dishes, celery sticks, and baked goods. Whole nuts are also good pantry items, and all these foods take up minimal storage space.


Debatably the most versatile food on earth (and consumed by more people around the world than anything else), rice is a staple that no pantry should be without. Almost every type of ethnic cuisine has at least one rice dish that’s associated with its culture. The best part is, rice is equally delicious hot or cold, savory or sweet, mixed with other foods or eaten by itself.

Shelf-Stable Dairy and Sauces

The miracle of food science now lets you keep whole milk, two-percent milk, half and half, chocolate milk, and whipping cream in your pantry indefinitely. And that Parmesan cheese in the green can is still shelf-stable and lasts for years without refrigeration.

Along with dairy, you should also stock your pantry with condiments and salad dressings, most of which don’t require refrigeration until opened.


Even though cookies and chips come in small packages and stay fresh until opened, you’ll still want to avoid overstocking your pantry with empty calories. Limit yourself to a bag each of sweet and salty snacks, and don’t replenish them more often than once a week.

Spices & Herbs

Imagining a world without herbs and spices is scary. At the very least, your pantry should always be stocked with salt and pepper, two of the most important spices ever.

Don’t take up space buying every spice you see. Stick with basics like garlic powder, cinnamon, and dried oregano and basil leaves. Replace dried herbs every few months, as they quickly dissipate in flavor after they’re opened.

Hopefully, you’ll never need to rely on your pantry items to survive. Nonetheless, you’ll rest better at night knowing you have good food on hand for whatever situation you find yourself in.

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