A good pantry can keep your whole family fed through disasters like extended power outages and ensure that you always have plenty of what you need. Alternatively, a poorly stocked pantry might only have wevils, mice or roaches, some outdated lima beans from a decade ago, and one bag of stale microwave popcorn. The difference is diligence, a few tips, and an excellent list to help you get stocked up.
In the Great Depression of the 1920s, when national food shortages were at their worst, some people had nothing to eat, and others had gardens and full pantries. It wasn’t about money as much as good planning. A hundred years later, you can still have a fully stocked pantry. It’s easy to fill up those shelves with tasty, long-lasting food with the right shopping list and a little motivation (like living through a pandemic that caused toilet paper and coffee shortages, for example). This article will walk you through all the options, give you an actionable shopping list broken into helpful categories, and make suggestions to ensure that you aren’t wasting food or money.
What Is a Pantry Staples List?
A pantry staples list breaks down all the things you can keep in a typical pantry so you know what to shop for. When you have the correct information, you can use and replace items promptly. Plus, there are plenty of great tips to help ensure you get what you need without waste and keep it in usable condition.
Are Pantry Meals Unhealthy?
The simple answer is no. Pantry meals are not unhealthy unless you buy them that way on purpose. Although there are plenty of sugary, salty, and starchy foods you can put in a pantry, there’s nothing inherently bad about canned, dried, rehydrated, or boxed food. If you’re concerned about the contents, change the way you shop. For example, organic, low-sodium, and low-sugar versions of the most common foods are available in stores. You don’t have to settle for junk food. A pantry can also be vegetarian, vegan, diabetes, or celiac friendly. Tailor your shopping to your needs.
You can cut down on waste and the chance of spoiled food easily. If you want opened packages to the last longer, invest in a vacuum sealer and reseal the unused portions. Keep cans and jars away from the light and any heat or cold sources such as vents. Likewise, you can put oxygen absorbers and moisture removal packets inside many containers, like pasta and flour storage. Then, when you open a container, give it a look and sniff it to make sure it smells the way it should, and you can be reasonably confident you’re serving healthy, safe food.
The Ultimate Pantry Staples List
A pantry is more than just a place to stick food you don’t want and some snacks. It’s where the nonperishables that don’t need a fridge belong. The ultimate pantry staples list below will help you organize your pantry into an easy-to-shop-for resource. Whether it’s a crisis or you need a quick snack, the pantry should always be full.
Baking at home can be rewarding and fun, but more importantly, it can save you money. However, yeast, in particular, requires refrigeration. Expect to make mostly unleavened bread and biscuits if the power goes out, but cookies and cakes are made with baking soda or baking powder. After each item is a ballpark shelf life, please read the packaging and stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations for safety.
- Flours (1 yr)
- Vegetable Oil (6 mos)
- Baking Soda (2 yrs) and Powder (Up to 1 yr)
- Salt (forever if kept dry)
- Sugar and Honey Powder (forever if kept dry)
- Cream of tartar (6 mos)
- Brown Sugar (2 yrs)
- Molasses (2 yrs)
- Honey, Maple, and Agave (2 yrs)
- Cake Decorations (depends on the type, usually 1 yr+)
- Flavorings (1-2 yrs)
- Genuine Vanilla Extract (5yrs)
- Premade Mixes (1-2 yrs)
Tips: Get sealable, airtight containers for your baked goods. Stackable square containers are handy.
Canned goods are very shelf-stable when undamaged. Cans may include metal and lined cardboard styles or glass jars with canning lids. Fortunately, you don’t need to learn how to can your own foods to keep the things you need on hand.
- Meats like Tuna, Chicken, Bacon, Hotdogs, and Beef
- Soups and Chilli
- Jellies, Jams, and Preserves
- Anything Pickled
- Miscellaneous Canned Food like Bread In A Can
- Baby Food
- Pet Food
Tips: Only buy cans of foods you will actually eat. You don’t need corned beef hash, vegetables, or Vienna sausages if you don’t enjoy them. Never eat anything that smells off or comes from a damaged or rusty can. Similarly, heat and cold can cause problems inside the can that you won’t always see or smell. Always stick to the manufacturer’s best-by date as some canned goods can grow mold and other toxic substances if they spoil.
Boxed & Packaged
Boxed and packaged goods vary widely. From bags of beans, cereal, and rice to boxes of ready-to-cook meals like Hamburger Helper that only need water and a protein added. Choose a wide variety of the foods you like to eat, but remember to add the food from your pantry into your meal plans for the next six months to a year in most cases. It’s essential to rotate out foods that are going to spoil.
- Instant rice and grains (6 mos-1 yr)
- Cereals (about 6 mos, more for some brands)
- Crackers (1 yr)
- Cookies (6 mos- 2 yrs)
- Candies (1-20 yrs depending on the type)
- Microwave Popcorn (about 1 yr)
- Non-Microwave Popcorn and Dried Beans (1-3 yrs)
- Ready-Made Boxed Meals (1-2 yrs)
- Pasta, Instant Ramen, and Cup O’Noodles (6 mos-3 yrs)
- Dry Pet Food (Never use more than a month after seel by date as fats in the protein can spoil and sicken your pet)
- Birdseed (1-5 yrs)
- Granola Bars (6 mos-1 yr)
- Packaged Pastries like Pop-Tarts (6 mos-1 yr)
- Trail Mix (6 mos-2 yrs)
Tip: Boxed goods stack easily. Lay the boxes face down on their front or back so the top label faces out to make the most of your space and ensure you can see everything available.
Dried, Powdered, or Freeze Dried
There are no expiration dates in this section because there are many different ways to prepare and store dried, powdered, and freeze-dried goods. In general, freeze-dried goods will taste the same and retain their nutritional value the longest, and some have an unopened shelf life of up to 30 years. Powdered goods do well in airtight packaging but spoil fast if any moisture gets inside. Dried foods are usually meant for consumption within 1-2 years.
- Rice, Couscous, and Other Grains
- Baby Formula
- Milk and Creams, Including Non-Dairy ‘Milk’ like Powdered Coconut and Almond
- Drink Powders
- Protein Powder
- Vitamins and Supplements
- Fruit like Raisins, Cranberries, and Banana Chips
- Potato Flakes
- Beard Crumbs
- Other Proteins like Soy
Tips: You can get large freeze-dried ‘Number 10 cans’ of familiar foods like cheese and butter, meats, premade meals, and fruit slices. These giant cans stack well and last practically forever. Many canned goods can last well beyond their expiration dates, but if you’re concerned, throw them out.
Not every food does well in the dark, cool environment of a pantry, but quite a few do. These items will have to be used much sooner than prepackaged or canned goods, but they keep in a dark, dry environment as long as they don’t freeze or heat up.
- Onions (2-3 mos)
- Garlic (3-5 mos)
- Carrots (4 days)
- Turnips (5-8 mos)
- Potatoes (3-5 weeks *Please note that rotting potatoes emit gasses that are toxic to humans!)
- Butter Inside a Butter Bell (1 mo)
- Nuts (3 mos)
- Hard Cheese Wheels and Blocks (6 mos)
Tip: You might be surprised by what doesn’t need to go in the fridge. A lot of vegetables will last days or even weeks on a shelf.
Shelf-stable foods are not dry or canned. Instead, they typically come in cartons and jugs. This is another area where the contents and life of the products vary widely. Those items with more fats will go off first, while vegetable stock and pudding powder may last many months unchanged.
- Potable Water
- Soup Stock
Tip: The FDA has information on every type of food you could store in your pantry. They even have an app that will help you tell how long you can keep them. You’ll find more information on that here (https://www.fda.gov/media/101389/download#:~:text).
Spices & Miscellaneous
Spices are essential to any pantry because food needs flavor. Add redundant backups of any herbs you like in large containers, and try to find freeze-dried versions where possible instead of dehydrated ones because they last years longer. MREs and Survival bars are also a good idea to place in your pantry for serious emergencies when you can’t cook for days or weeks.
- Hot Cocoa
- Syrups and Sauces
- Sweet Spices
- Savory Spices
- Hot or ‘Spicy’ Spices
- Spice Blends
- Flavor Packets
- Condiments in Individual Packages like Ketchup Packets
- Vitamin and Supplement Pills
- MREs and Survival Bars
Tip: Once you start looking around, you’ll be shocked at what you can find for your pantry. Don’t be afraid to search for your favorite foods, from exotic items like the alligator in a can and whole chickens to freeze-dried steaks and ice cream. Google the name of your food and then ‘canned,’ ‘shelf-stable,’ ‘dried,’ or ‘freeze-dried.’
More Tips on How To Keep A Well-Stocked Pantry
Diligence and keeping up with your pantry will go a long way. A good rotation schedule and regular deep cleaning will go even further. Keep in mind that once you open or use something, it has to get eaten within two hours, refrigerated or frozen in most cases. Dehydrated or freeze-dried goods can be resealed and kept, often for up to a year, and un-cut, uncooked fresh food like potatoes can go back into their storage containers.
Shopping For Your Pantry
The most important tip about shopping to stock your pantry is that you should never buy something you won’t eat. For example, SPAM is a very polarizing food. Some people love it, and others wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. If you’re in the latter category, it doesn’t matter how long it lasts or who recommends it, don’t buy SPAM.
Another essential trick is to get something for your pantry every time you shop. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed if you can’t stock every shelf today. Instead, break it up into easy-to-shop-for segments that your budget can handle. Whenever possible, buy the foods you use a lot in bulk because it will save you money. A membership at Sam’s Club or Costco will save you a ton of money if you plan ahead.
Getting Organized In Your Pantry
Getting and staying organized is key. If you need to invest in shelf storage bins and soup can holders, do it. You can label shelves or develop your own system, but it is essential to know what you have and how long you can keep it before it must go on the menu and get replaced. Remember to rotate stock like a grocery store. Put new items in the very back and slide the oldest food forward to the head of the shelves.
Once per month, pull everything out and clean the shelves. Take this opportunity to wipe off cans, bags, and boxes. Double-check labels to ensure you don’t have damaged or outdated food packages. If you have pests, add roach traps, ant bait, or other ways to keep them out of your food behind the food containers.
Consider putting your shopping list on the outside of the pantry. You can even add a stock list inside to check what’s in and when it expires at a glance. Having either or both lists right here will help you stay organized.
A good pantry is a full pantry. If you work on it a little at a time and keep track of expiration dates, you can provide food security for your family and pets. Filling your pantry is always a wise plan, whether you worry about rising costs, supply chain issues, emergencies, or having enough easy meals to last. Use the ultimate pantry supply list as a jumping-off point to help you get organized, but remember only to buy the items or categories of food you will use. That way, you aren’t throwing away money and meals. Very few people want fifty cans of lima beans, but an extra bag of chocolate chips or can of your favorite soup is almost always welcome.