A well-stocked pantry makes it easier to cook healthy meals for your family. That’s great, but what if you, like many other people, don’t have the luxury of a stand-alone pantry? When that happens, standard pantry items are often kept in a kitchen cupboard with limited space. That makes it hard to keep a good variety of grains, oils, vinegar, or other healthy pantry items on hand.
I thought about that as I cleaned and organized my pantry the other day. What if I only had room for a limited number of items? What would they be? I came up with a list of my top fourteen essential pantry items that help me prepare nourishing meals for my family. Here they are:
Top 14 Essential Pantry Items
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – This is hands down my top essential pantry item. I use it almost every day, and is my oil of choice for most of my recipes. It’s filled with heart healthy mono-unsaturated fats. It also adds a nice, light olive flavor to savory dishes. The biggest downfall for me is its lower smoke point, making it less desirable for cooking at higher temperatures.
- Canola Oil – My second go-to oil, canola oil, has a good amount of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids; and sports a slightly higher smoke point than extra virgin olive oil, making it useful for cooking at higher temperatures. It has a light, neutral flavor, making it suitable in preparing baked goods where the taste of olive oil is not desired.
- White Vinegar – I like white vinegar because I find it so useful, not only in cooking, but in other tasks around the house – like cleaning my coffee maker. It works well in recipes for marinades, vinaigrettes, and sauces
- Balsamic Vinegar – My other favorite vinegar, balsamic, finds its way into many recipes here on Healthy Ideas Place. It imparts a sense of sweetness to a dish without adding sugar. Use it alone as a topping for salads, as part of dipping sauce with olive oil for bread, in marinades and sauces, or with bruschetta to name a few ideas.
- Kosher Salt – I like cooking with kosher salt because the larger grains make it easier to control than when I use table salt. It’s easy to pick up a pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle it over whatever I’m making. With table salt, I tend to get too much or too little. Additionally, one teaspoon of kosher salt generally has slightly less sodium than one teaspoon of table salt.
- Whole Wheat Pastry Flour – Whole wheat pastry flour makes the list because it’s a whole grain and is higher in fiber than all-purpose flour – and we can all use a little more fiber in our diets. It works well in many types of baked goods. Oftentimes, you can substitute whole wheat pastry flour for all or part of refined white flour.
- Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats – I love the versatility of this product. It can be used in meatballs, meatloaf, energy bites, muffins and breads, or as a hot cereal for a filling breakfast. It’s a whole grain and high in soluble fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol levels and promote heart health.
- Whole Wheat Pasta – When you need a quick, healthy meal, whole wheat pasta fits the bill. High in fiber, it’s easy to prepare and then toss with pesto or tomato sauce.
- Brown Rice – This is another easy to prepare dinner option. Cook as you need it, or make a larger batch earlier in the week for use in your recipes all week long. Meal prepping in advance like this saves a lot of time. Brown rice also offers more nutrients and fiber than traditional white rice.
Canned or Boxed Goods
- Lower Sodium Chicken Broth – I always have a 32-ounce box of lower sodium chicken broth in my pantry. It especially comes in handy during the colder months when I want to put together a quick soup for an evening meal. It’s convenient and lower in sodium than regular broth or soup.
- Diced Tomatoes – With diced tomatoes I can make a number nutritious dishes for my family – spaghetti sauce, goulash, soup, salsa, and more. Canned tomatoes are low in calories and fat and good source of lycopene. Look for lower sodium varieties if you’re trying to reduce your sodium intake.
- Canned White Beans – I never think ahead to have dried beans ready to use when I need them. But canned beans are still a nutritious and convenient choice. White beans work well in dips (like hummus), chili, stews, soups, and casseroles. They are a fantastic source of fiber and other nutrients. If you’re watching your sodium intake, try purchasing lower sodium beans and rinse before using.
- Peanut Butter – How many school children in years’ past have survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch? Lots. Peanut butter is a convenient, high protein food source that you can use in sandwiches, smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, energy bites, or even sauces like peanut sauce.
- Honey – The last on my list, I keep honey available for times when I need to sweeten a dish just bit, for use in baking, making vinaigrettes, and sometimes to add to my tea.
Keep in mind that your list of essential pantry items will likely look different from mine. That’s okay. We all have different tastes. I am hopeful that this list gives you some ideas on how to stock your own pantry, or cupboard, with items that make it easier to cook healthy, nourishing meals at home. Is there an item you would add or take away from this list? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.