Food shopping is a skill! I thought shopping would come second nature to me growing up around a Midwestern farm family. You know what? Until you are the person handling the food budget, planning the meals, making the lists, and stocking the pantry, you don't have experience.
That changed when I had kids. Those little mouths had to be fed and my culinary skills needed to be expanded! This basic pantry list might look a little different if you are a college kid, newly wed, out on your own for the first time, or newly single.
I'm going to give you the best I've got what I think should go on a basic pantry list. Some call it "essentials" or "staples" - it doesn't matter. It's your starter food stash for your pantry and you will be glad you have it in place. Let's start building your food pantry!
What is a pantry staple?
Pantry staples are food that can be used as a base for other meals and make up a regular part of a diet. Pantry staples should include foods that offer lots of flexibility in meal preparation.
Having pantry staples means you take a solemn oath that you are going to cook (at least minimal amounts of cooking). Continually eating pre-packaged, high-sodium foods are bad for your food budget and your health. The goal here is to enable you to gain a bit of food confidence, you can do it!
Why are food staples important?
Food staples are important because they supply a major portion of a person's food and nutritional needs, according to National Geographic.
If you're here trying to put a basic pantry list together for a college kid, you might want to hold off. I've found that most college kids the first year will have a food service plan. The parents end up just filling in with some snacks and a few home-baked cookies. I'm not really sure what those dorm fridges are for, the leftovers?
Eventually, the college kids move on to become first-time apartment renters. Maybe you are there now or out on your own for the first time. Eventually, you will need to get over the convenience store/fast food hump.
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A basic pantry staples shopping list
A basic shopping list is pruned down and doesn't include specialty food or any food that expires quickly. It's only what you, your family members, or roommates will be eating. I don't expect you to buy any food that doesn't appeal to you. This list only includes dry and canned food.
- The baking basics: flour and sugar. These two SUPER pantry staples are pretty much on everyone's essential pantry list. If you are not a baker, you could probably skip having this in your pantry. Besides baking, I will "dredge" meat in flour and fry it in oil in a pan. If you're into frying pan meals, then add flour to your list.
- Honey or other sweetener. I'm putting a plug in for my apiary bee-keeping neighbors. One could live without a sweetener, but then life would be bland, wouldn't it? Honey can be added to sweeten liquids and foods. It can be used for baking, but amounts might need to be adjusted compared to granulated sugar. Dripping honey over warm cornbread is an experience no one should miss. Of course, adding honey to tea has long been a strategy for a sore throat. Sounds like you need it in your pantry, doesn't it?
- Rice. This staple is accepted the world over. It makes a great filler, a base for casseroles and soups, or eaten as a side dish. Rice adds bulk and makes you feel full, and it's cheap! Rice is a neutral base food that can readily take on spices. This is important because it helps to create taste variety in your menu with just this one item. Feel free to include other grains in the rice family, including wild rice, blended rice packets, etc.
- Oats. Oatmeal is easy to cook. You can have overnight "oats" by adding milk or water and letting it sit overnight and then add goodies such as nuts, fruits, peanut butter, honey or maple syrup - it's already looking like a good flex champ. Don't forget that oatmeal is a key ingredient in many filling cookie recipes. Oatmeal can be cooked over a stove top, cooked in a microwave, or like my mom always did on the first day of school, mixed with water in a plugged in crockpot (aka slow cooker) overnight, ready to greet us for morning breakfast. Oatmeal comes prepackaged in individual servings with assorted flavors, but it really shines as a bulk food.
- Dry cereal and granola. This is a primary meal for many people new to grocery shopping. It's fast, easy, and convenient. Recently, companies have put a focus on increasing protein in cereal and granola products, which makes them an even more effective staple. Dry cereal and granola are a nice instant meal to have when you just have to have food now. Of course, the high-sugar cereals and even granolas should be viewed as more "dessert" foods than a healthy pantry staple.
- Potatoes. Millions of Irish and folks from Idaho can't be wrong! Potatoes make a good staple because of food options: baked potatoes, shredded hash browns, roasted potatoes, french fries, American fries (baked potatoes that are sliced and fried in a pan, yummy with onions!). Potatoes are a good source of fiber, which helps you feel full longer.
Potatoes are fairly cheap, especially in their original raw form. When food dollars must be stretched, your best bet is to spend it on a sack of potatoes. I grew up with happy memories of my father turning over the soil in our garden's potato hills. My siblings and I would eagerly grab the tubers, placing them in buckets that would later be stored in our farm's root cellar.
Potatoes have a bit of longevity to them if kept in a cool, dark place. Often people in apartments have limited freezer space, which already has other food in it. Having non-frozen or non-refrigerator food frees up space for other things.
- Vegetables. Vegetables in canned form are a must-have for a pantry staples list. In a less-convenient form, they can be included as dried vegetables. It's important to include vegetables in a balanced diet. Corn, beans, and peas are popular canned vegeteables.
- Noodles. Noodles are easy to re-hydrate, which makes them a pantry staple favorite. They can be eaten alone, served as a side dish, or combined with a casserole. Interesting sauces, toppers, and ingredients always make them a fan favorite. In addition, it comes in fun shapes: lasagna noodles, spiral, penne, macaroni, spaghetti, and couscous, to name a few. Of course, don't forget the Ramen noodles - friends to college kids everywhere!
Noodles are basically just flour, water, and egg. If you want a more nutritious product, shop for types that have whole wheat in it. You can even get noodles made of vegetables such as beets and beans. Noodle companies are also upping the protein factor in their products. All of these options are amazing way assure you have the most nutritious food stored in your pantry.
The other day my mother-in-law handed me a big bag of homemade noodles. She wanted to use up the eggs I had given her from my chickens - what a novel way to turn eggs into a long-term storage product!
- Canned cream of soup. This is the key ingredient in the impressive trifecto of a good, midwestern casserole: cream of soup + rice/noodles + protein. To explain to anyone out there with question marks hovering over their heads, you basically mix the three together with a liquid, such as milk, put it into a casserole dish and bake a 350 degrees for 1 hour. No recipe required.
- Chicken or beef broth. Broths are the base for any soup, one of the world's most filling food. When my kids say there is nothing to eat, I pop a box or can of chicken broth open and dump it into a cooking pot, along with frozen vegetables... and... get ready for it... a protein. Yeah, it's kind of the same thing as the magic cream soup trifecta. I prefer to chop fresh carrots, celery, even cabbage and add it to the broth gently bring it to a boil, and then add cooked chicken or leftover meat. You can't beat the taste!
Even though it is a shortcut to use canned or boxed soup, it's still very satisfying to add the fresh ingredients Making your own broths is also something you can do, which are super healthy and can be frozen for later use.
In addition to broth, there are plenty of cream soup recipes that are delicious. If you don't feel ready to cook soup from scratch, there are plenty of varieties to choose from on supermarket shelves. However, I challenge you to make soup from scratch - it's a good skill to have and you can control the sodium amount (sodium-loaded canned varieties contribute to health problems).
"Soup kitchens" can be traced back to the Great Depression in America. When times were hard and people were out of work, they could find a free source of food when money was short. Often funded by charitable organizations, the filling soup and bread gave comfort and some satisfaction during difficult times. Soup was economical because water could be added to serve more people. This is a reason why soup makes a good staple in a pantry.
- Hearty soup and canned stew. Hearty, warming and perfect for cold winter nights. Do you know that soup is not just for winter? I had a retired teacher friend who spent the summers painting houses. A crew member clued him in to eating soup on breaks, and he has been a convert ever since! Again, canned hearty soup and stew are economical and convenient. I'm adding "hearty soup" here to differentiate from broth. Hearty soup has rice, noodles, meat and vegetables already added, making them a complete meal.
- Bread. Bread is a staple because it can be combined to make great sandwiches! Sandwiches are a complete "meal in a hand." Bread can even be torn into pieces and added to other food or casseroles. Bread comes in all forms and flavors: hamburger and hotdog buns, french bread, rolls, and sliced bread. Don't forget other members of the bread family including tortillas, etc. Bread can be frozen, so when you see it on sale, toss one into your home freezer if you can spare the room.
- Beans. I know not everyone are bean fans. I'm going to do some good arguing here... Beans can be rehydrated and they have a long shelf life as such. This makes beans a wonderful emergency food. Beans provide fiber and help you to feel full and satisfied compared to other food options. Beans come in dried versions and canned options.
Beans are cheap, and perfect for a tight budget. Beans can be added to casseroles and soup (such as kidney aka "chili" beans). Baked beans make a great side dish right out of the can (warmed up, of course!). Besides dried and canned forms, you can add noodles to the list. Red lentil penne and chickpea casarecce are some of the options. Lentils and chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are part of the legumes family.
Not only are beans a great source of fiber and proteins, they count as a vegetable! According to Healthline, they have even been considered as their own food group. That qualifies it as a superfood.
- Nuts and seeds. Besides nut in raw form, peanut butter is a reliable long-term source of protein.
- Oils and vinegars. Olive oil, coconut oil, palm oils for cooking are a must. Vinegars can be a base for sauces and salad dressings.
- Condiments and spices. My husband would say that this should be moved to the top of the list. Judging by all the assorted dressings, sauces, and spices he has added to our pantry, I would guess others agree. If you have a condiment or spice you can't imagine life without (like ketchup/catsup) then make sure it makes your list.
- Special mentions. These items are added because they would expect to be on a basics pantry staples list, but not necessarily long-term food storage. These include bread, milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy products, long-storage fruits and vegetables (those that don't quickly rot, such as carrot, turnips, apples) and proteins such as eggs, fish, pork, chicken, and beef.
Random pantry staples list questions
Are potatoes a staple food? Potatoes are considered a staple food because they contain most of the vitamins needed for sustenance and don't require refrigeration, ideal for long-term food storage.
In addition, potatoes reduce land use for staple crop agriculture and are "drought-resistant and more geographically adaptable, making them more resistant to a changing climate." In terms of food security, even countries like China, historically known for their rice production, are implementing plans to increase potato production.
Which staple food is the healthiest? Healthy staple food includes a group of balanced food choices, including whole grains, lean meats, leafy greens, and fruits and vegetables.
What is the best staple food? The best staple food is food that is healthy, has a long shelf life, and offers flexibility in meal planning.
What is the most widely eaten food in world? The most widely eaten food in the world is rice, providing nutrition to over half of the world's population. It is also the most eaten grain in the world.