10 Pantry Essentials That Make Weeknight Cooking a Breeze

By , SparkPeople Blogger
On busy weeknights when six o'clock sneaks up out of nowhere (again), does the sequence of events at your house go something like this: First, someone hollers that ubiquitous question, "What's for dinner?" Next, you or your significant other play the “The Pantry Showdown,” which involves standing in front of said space, scanning the shelves for the miraculous combination of ingredients that will rescue everyone from the hangry zone. And finally, if luck is on your side, some nights you actually manage to cobble together something that strikes an acceptable balance between yummy and healthy.
But then there are other times when nothing meal-worthy can be melded together from the ingredients in your house, and you have to succumb to a last-minute grocery run or takeout. Wouldn't it be nice if your pantry was always stocked with the essentials to whip up delicious, nutritious meals on command, without winding up with a surplus that gets wasted?
To find that ideal middle ground--somewhere between meal prep and “Doomsday Preppers”--we've created a list of 10 common foods to have in your kitchen.

1.  Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas lend their distinctive, nutty flavor and creamy texture to many different cuisines around the world. Chock full of protein and fiber, they provide a myriad of health benefits, from reduced risk of diabetes and cancer to improved heart health, bone health and digestion. You can find them year-round at most supermarkets, either canned or dried.

2. Rice

It may not seem terribly exciting by itself, but this multipurpose starch forms the foundation for countless cuisines, from jambalaya to casseroles to stir fry dishes. There are many different types of rice: Short-grain, medium-grain, long-grain, brown, white, wild, aromatic and thousands of regional varieties. Brown rice in particular is chock full of antioxidants, minerals and fiber. Stock up on all of them, or just your favorites.

3. Potatoes

Spuds may have fallen out of favor during the low-carb craze, but these days they're getting more recognition for their high nutrient and mineral content. Whether they're mashed, scalloped, fried or baked, taters get credit for improving heart health, reducing cancer risk and strengthening bones, among other benefits.

4. Quinoa

With its high content of protein, fiber and good fats, this go-to grain adds a nutritional boost to any dish and keeps you full longer. Registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey adds it to oatmeal, soups, roasted veggies, scrambled eggs and more. "The grain is high in protein, with eight grams in each cup of cooked quinoa," she told U.S. News. "It also has almost twice the amount of fiber as most grains and contains healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats."

5.  Avocado Oil

We've long sung the praises of the avocado and its healthy fat content. With benefits ranging from stronger immunity to lower blood pressure to reduced cancer risk—not to mention its delicious taste and smooth, creamy texture—what's not to love? Avocado oil delivers the same healthy fat profile as the whole fruit, with the added perk of a longer shelf life. Keep this adaptable oil in your pantry to add quick flavor enhancements to virtually any recipe. It also serves as a healthy, flavorful substitute for olive oil or butter.

6. Canned Vegetables

Fresh is always best, but when your produce supply is dwindling and you need a healthy ingredient in a pinch, canned vegetables are a suitable second choice. Today’s canning technologies are able to capture the nutrients, taste and texture of fresh veggies so you can enjoy them at your convenience. Another benefit of canned veggies is that you can find your favorites year-round instead of shopping at the mercy of the season. Plus, the lower cost helps you stay within your grocery budget.

7. Oats

It’s a given that oatmeal is a delicious and energizing way to start your day, but this healthy cereal grain can go well beyond breakfast. Versatile oats can play a role in many different recipes. Whether you enjoy them in bread, pancakes or bars, they add a generous amount of fiber and antioxidants to your diet.

8.  Nuts

Nuts have been often criticized for their high calorie count, but the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks. High in fiber, protein and vitamins, this healthy snack could actually help reduce the risk of heart disease and assist with weight loss. They are also a model of versatility: It takes just a second to add your choice of pecans, walnuts, pine nuts or almonds to your favorite salad, soup, yogurt, stir fry or pastry dough.

9. Peanut Butter or Almond Butter

PB&J has long been a staple of kids' lunchboxes, but the nutty condiment has made a surprise appearance in many delicious grown-up recipes. Peanut butter falls into the "good fat" camp, delivering generous doses of fiber, protein, potassium, vitamins and antioxidants. Plus, it keeps you feeling fuller longer, curbing the urge to over-snack. (For those with peanut allergies, almond butter serves as an equally healthy and tasty alternative.)


10. Whole-Wheat Pasta

Any busy parent has turned to spaghetti in a pinch. When it's made with whole-wheat pasta and spruced up with fresh veggies (and maybe some lean meatballs or chicken), it makes a surprisingly healthy and satisfying dish for the whole family. Whole grain pasta has a myriad of benefits over the refined version, including complex carbs for energy, healthier digestion, stronger bones and more efficient muscle recovery.

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THINCPL2004 11/14/2020
Have to agree! Report
WALKZWDOGZ 10/18/2020
Love garbanzos & quinoa. So versatile. This list sounds pretty current actually--pandemic pantry staples! :-) Report
CECELW 10/12/2020
I have to agree. We keep most of these staples handy Report
NIOMIW 7/7/2020
This is helpful, thank you. Report
JUNEAU2010 5/25/2020
The target audience is probably those who eat the Standard American Diet. I cannot eat grains, except for quinoa and beans are problematic. I would like to see SparkPeople add articles for people who eat differently whether it's due to medical reasons or different food choices. Report
ETHELMERZ 5/17/2020
Article needs to be updated and corrected...... Report
Great article. Very helpful! Report
Great article. Very helpful! Report
SNUZYQ2 4/21/2020
Such wonderful foods to have in one’s kitchen always. Thanks! Report
DANJODEA 4/3/2020
Two comments... three comments.. four. Bet you didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!

- For gluten allergies, celiac and the like, find gluten-free pasta.
- Even modern canned goods have too much sodium. But they do have a long shelf life.
- I would include canned tuna for protein. You can eat it right out of the can, or add oil (instead of mayo) to make a good tuna salad.
- A good, solid list. Thanks! Report
CECELW 12/25/2019
I love every one of those suggestions! Report
DGRIFFITH51 12/5/2019
I have all items listed. Report
Skip the garbanzo beans but canned & dried navy or pinto or kidney beans always I'm my pantry. Also tomato sauce, paste & diced peeled tomatoes; spaghetti sauce; & frozen meatballs. Tortillas too for burritos, tacos, wraps, pizza rolls, pinwheels, chips & strips for salad or soup. Carrots, celery, peas & onions for soups, stews, roasts & side dishes. Cheeses, milk or substitutes. Report
Very nice and well-written article. Just like certain items of clothing are essentials to a wardrobe, these foods really do make the kitchen meal-ready anytime! Report
I have these items. Thanks. Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Some of those recipes sound really good. Thanks for the article. Report
I am not one who uses canned veggies very often, we prefer fresh or frozen veggies best. I do keep rice on hand, as well as pasta, whole wheat pasta when I can get them. Report
Great Ideas Report
Like all of these suggestions!!!!! Report
Very good, thank you! I plan to put the avacado oil on ky next shopping list. I currently use the olive oil cooking spray with the only ingredient being pure olive oil. It can be drizzled on salads as well as cooking with it. It is zero cals, fats, carbs, etc. Does great making a fried egg without the fat. It is a good price for my limited grocery budget. I keep lemon juice as a fridge staple to help spruce flavor in place of high sodium.

-Canned Beans
-Canned Tomatoes
-Canned Tomato Sauce
-Fresh Onion
-Fresh Garlic Report
Canned veggies are not a good choice- BPA and Sodium. Frozen is best Report
Canned veggies are not a good choice- BPA and Sodium. Frozen is best Report
Seems I keep some of these on hand, but still have some work to do. Report
Frozen veggies, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, garlic and onions are always to be found in my home. Report
Thank you! Report
Fantastic article!!! Report
Helpful article Report
Thank you for all the wonderful recipes... Report
We do not get canned or frozen vegetables here Report
I do not stock a lot of canned veggies -- but tomato products and canned pumpkin are staples for us. Have a low carb hubby so some of the higher carb "stock" is kept to a smaller extent for me and our adult daughter. Agree that onions are a staple. Report
Hadn't run across this article before. So glad it is included in the new 28-day welcome to SP. Great idea. Report
Thank you for these great ideas! Report
I didn't even know you could buy avocado oil... may need to try it. Report
I love improvising with what I have. It makes life more interesting. I can only use nuts, avocado oil, salt-free canned veggies/frozen veggies, and almond or cashew butter from this list due to some major food sensitivities. Report
I'd like to see a pantry that isn't based almost totally on high carb. There are only a couple of things on here that I could eat. PB or Almond butter, nuts, maybe the avocado oil if it's not to high priced. Report
Great article. Report
Great article! Report
I would add garlic and onions too. Report
Good information, very helpful! Report
I soak and freeze legumes for quick cooking. I like to make soup and freeze it. Cottage cheese and lentils are both good to have on hand. Eggs are quick too. Tuna is fast and versitile too. Iceberg lettuce keeps well in a spinner and is cheap. My mom's favorite was a grilled cheese with soup. Also, breakfast for supper is nice. Report
thanks Report
Thanks, I think frozen veggies would work great Report
Frozen veg is great too. Report
great. Report
I keep most of these in the house. Great tips! Report
These items are almost always on hand at my house. Report
I always have chicken or turkey sausage, and a bag of slaw or some kind of kale/broccoli g mix on hand. A quick saute or crack slaw. Report