I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am a pantry chef! Our budget has mandated that I cook from our pantry, making use of every ingredient we have. Creatively, I put together simple (but tasty) meals using everyday ingredients. Keep in mind, a foodie I am not. (If you are checking out my blog for the latest and greatest in organic, ethnic, pretentious cuisine, you should probably look elsewhere.) Out of both necessity, and personal taste preferences of my family and I, I like to make casseroles, comfort foods, and quick and easy family-pleasers. I love to cook, stretch my dollars, and please my family. When one recipe can do all three for me, I know I’ve got a keeper. Towards that end, my pantry may look a little different than yours (and that’s okay!) However, a friend asked me to list what I consider to be “Pantry Essentials.”

First, I think I should define what I consider to be a “pantry item.” I asked people to comment on their favorite pantry item once on my facebook page, and got responses such as “eggs.” So, to clarify, to me, a pantry item is a food item that is not refrigerated or frozen. Here we go!

Canned Goods:

Canned Vegetables- These are great to use as a veggie side dish when you are in a rush at dinner, or to serve to your kids alongside their lunchtime mac and cheese. They can also be used in a variety of soups and casseroles. I never go without having canned beans, peas, carrots, and corn.

Canned Tomatoes – Canned tomatoes are amazing! I get them in several varieties (petite dice, Italian style, diced with green chiles) and use them in a TON of my recipes.

Canned beans- Refried, black beans, kidney beans…whatever type your family eats and enjoys. Adding beans to your meal can help stretch a dollar and get your family some good protein.

Cream of ______ soup – I keep cream of chicken, mushroom, celery, and broccoli on hand nearly all of the time. You can use this stuff in SO many recipes! They are great in casseroles, pasta dishes, sauces, on top of chicken, as gravy…the list is endless!

Canned Fruit – Certain varieties of fruit are not available all year, and are not affordable. Keeping cans of peaches, pears, oranges, etc is  a simple way to serve your kids some fruit when it may not be in season. I also use canned fruit in several desserts.

Soup – Keeping soup on hand is a great idea. Grabbing a can of soup for lunch is quick, easy,and healthy. I tend to keep several different varieties of soups I enjoy on hand at all times. I also use varieties like tomato and golden mushroom in a lot of my cooking.

Tuna- Gotta love the tuna! Sandwiches, casseroles, salads..yum!

Diced Green chiles – I put these in everything! I seriously love the smoky, slightly sweet flavor they give my Mexican dishes.

Dry Goods:

Pasta- I always have at least 6-10 different varieties of noodles in my pantry. I like to keep spaghetti, farfalle, lasagna, manicotti, orzo, penne, macaroni, and rigatoni at all times.

Rice – I always have regular rice, Minute rice, rice pilaf mix, etc. You can use rice in so many casseroles, and it is an amazingly easy side dish. I love to serve up lots of meat dishes on top of rice as well.

Biscuit mix – Having a box of Bisquick in your cupboard will save you time! You can make biscuits, coat chicken, make breakfast foods, quiches, impossible pies….handy little mix.

Pancake mix- I personally do NOT care for home-made pancakes, and frankly do not have time on a school morning to whip some up. So, I buy Krusteaz mix in the 10lb bag. It’s so easy to just add water and make up a little batch of pancakes.

Muffin mixes- Need to bring something to a brunch? Need a quick bread item at dinner? Keep several kinds of muffin mix on hand!

Cake mixes – I always have several varieties. You can use these not just to make cake, but cake balls, cookies, cobblers…so many quick desserts!

Oats – Always have a can of cooking oats on hand. You can use them to make cookies, breads, and as a binder in your meatloaf.

Breadcrumbs – I love to use pre-made breadcrumbs. They are seasoned and ready to go when I need them.

Quick Sides – Let’s face it, we do NOT always have time to make award winning side dishes every night. So, buy some rice a roni, pasta boxes, stuffing mix, instant potatoes, etc. and save yourself some time!

Macaroni and Cheese – Not only do the kids love it, but you can add SO MUCH to a box of macaroni and make about a thousand tasty dinners.

Flour and Sugar – White and whole wheat flour, white sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar


Granola bars



Microwave Popcorn

Fruit Snacks

Chips (especially corn chips, which can be used in a TON of fun ways!)


Peanut butter! – I use this not only for sandwiches, but in a ton of desserts as well!

Jello- Having jello and jello pudding mix on hand is awesome. It is a quick and fun way to do dessert, and can be used in a lot of different ways.

Chocolate chips – You HAVE to have these on hand!


Seasoning bags – I like the little seasoning envelopes..Taco, spaghetti, chili, gravy…always on hand at my house. You can’t beat a 33 cent way to make your dinner taste better.

Drink mix – I like Wyler’s Light. It is cheap, makes 10 quarts, and has no sugar. A great alternative to sugary juice or Kool-aid.

Syrup – We always have maple syrup on hand.

Pasta Sauce – Buy several varieties and flavors, and experiment with brands until you find a go-to sauce you can use on nights you do not have time to make your own.

Chicken Stock – I like to buy the stock “box” , so that it is easy to re-use and refrigerate!

As you go to set up your own pantry, I hope you will consider using this list as a handy guide! If you have a pantry item you can’t live without that isn’t on the list, make sure to mention it in the comments section! Happy pantry organizing!