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. Try using chickpeas in these delicious recipes:
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.
Use rice to make:
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.
Use this versatile root vegetable to make:
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."
Use quinoa to make:
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.
A few ideas for introducing avocado oil:
  • Use it as a marinade on top of salmon, tilapia or other light meats before baking.
  • Drizzle the oil on top of a homemade flatbread pizza.
  • Add a little avocado oil to your favorite smoothie or shake.
  • Swirl it into a stir-fry recipe while cooking.
  • Use it as a topper for a fresh fruit salad.
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.
Canned veggies can be used in countless recipes, including:
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.
Try oats in these recipes:
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.
Nuts add extra flavor and crunch to these recipes:
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.)
Use your favorite nut butter in any of these yummy recipes:
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.
Whole-wheat pasta can be subbed for white in any pasta dish, including:
What are some staples in your kitchen? Tell us which versatile cooking essentials you'd add to this list.

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EO4WELLNESS 10/17/2018
Hadn't run across this article before. So glad it is included in the new 28-day welcome to SP. Great idea. Report
KHALIA2 10/15/2018
Thank you for these great ideas! Report
1SUZIQ11 10/5/2018
I didn't even know you could buy avocado oil... may need to try it. Report
KACEYSW 8/24/2018
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
FANCYQTR 8/20/2018
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
NANAW12001 8/20/2018
Great article. Report
HOLLYM48 8/20/2018
Great article! Report
I would add garlic and onions too. Report
MSROZZIE 8/19/2018
Good information, very helpful! Report
DMORIN6 8/19/2018
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
CHRIS3874 8/19/2018
thanks Report
97MONTY 8/19/2018
Thanks, I think frozen veggies would work great Report
-POOKIE- 8/19/2018
Frozen veg is great too. Report
LOSER05 4/16/2018
great. Report
ZIMMEBRI 4/13/2018
I keep most of these in the house. Great tips! Report
These items are almost always on hand at my house. Report
CHERYLHURT 3/16/2018
Thanks 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
KHALIA2 12/11/2017
I really appreciate this one! Thank you! Report
Thank you! Report
Thank you. Great ideas! Report
While this isn't in the pantry, I almost always have washed and prepared fresh veggies in my 'fridge. I have put burgers on the grill and assembled a fresh veggie tray and called that dinner....... Report
I would have added canned meat and fish as well as some canned soup and black or baked beans instead of chickpeas. And canned tomatoes. Everybody is different for me this list seemed more for a non animal protein eater. Report
Thank you!!! Great article! Report
I would have to add canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce, combine with your favorite ground protein for a quick marinara, chili, or sloppy joes, add to quick soups from leftover vegetables. Also canned tuna, salmon, or chicken. make salads, or casseroles. Cartons of chicken broth, or vegetable broth make a great base for soups and add flavor to rice and pasta dishes. Of course you have to keep onions and garlic too. Report
I, too never am without onions or garlic. I have reduced my carbs to very few. Report
Each kitchen will have different staples according to how they cook, I never run out of onions and garlic, never have store bought canned goods, but lots of home canned veggies. Report
Avocado oil is a bit of an unsung hero. Makes great homemade mayo. But it is a bit spendy. Report
Instead of canned vegetables, use frozen. So much healthier. Report
I am allergic to potatoes, chickpeas, whole wheat products, need gluten free, dairy free, avocado's, certain nuts and high acid fruits & vegetables. I buy oatmeal from Quaker that is not cross contaminated. I use different kinds of Quinoa and can use white, brown or wild rice. I do a lot of home baking that is gluten free with stevia in it. I found rice flour in the east indian section of the supermarket for $2.00 for 2 pounds, in another health food section in the same store, the same amount is $6.00. They have other health foods in that section and much cheaper spices for the exact same spice. Report
I've always got onions and fresh garlic! Report
great. Report
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and doing new things, because we're curious
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Have most of these in my pantry! Report
Great ideas Report
This was an interesting article, but I would suggest frozen over canned, because it's less processed that way, contains less salt and is more of a 'whole' food. When they can, it's placed in heat, which cooks it also. You can do better, by cooking your own food at home. And the plastic lining of the cans contain BPA, usually, which is an endocrine disrupter that can negatively affect your ability to have healthy children. Also, you can find freeze-dried veggies and fruit in bulk online for emergencies. I would have liked to see carrots in your list! and sweet potatoes! Report
Great ideas! Report
I have all of them except the avocado oil. Report
learning to use more can beans in place of red meat Report
Canned veggies are fine, they make them better now. I learned to keep plenty on hand because freezer space is tight for frozen veggies. Always have potatoes on hand for baked potatoes, always have fresh onions. Garlic in a jar. Shredded cheese. Canned soups. Dried onion soups. Bisquick. Nuts. Vanilla. Report
Not bad. I prefer other beans to garbanzos but might consider trying some of the recipes. Beans and rice are my go to foods along with pasta so I always have canned beans, tomatoes, and mushrooms in my pantry. I'm not concerned about BPA or too much sodium since I can my own food. Report
I keep 6 out of 10 of these items in my cabinet at all times. I use canned veggies, however, I chose low sodium when available and rinse off several times before using. Report
Canned veggies often have added sodium and carry the risk of BPA. Frozen is better and just as easy to keep on hand. Report
Carbs, carbs, carbs! I can make dinner almost any night with frozen veggies, beans, eggs, and lean meat, fish, and poultry. Oh, and a well stocked herb and spice rack is a must! Report
checked the recipes and didn't see canned veggies in couple.....? Report
Canned vegetables....really? They are full of salt, and the cans leak BPA which is really unhealthy for you. To top it off, canned vegetables are mushy and overcooked. I would definitely add garlic and onions. Report
Lemons and garlic are essentials for me. Report
I would suggest frozen veggies and not canned (ever, except for emergencies perhaps). Report
Cool I have everything on the list in my pantry. Not too many canned vegetables as I usually have frozen vegetables instead. Report
way too carb loaded for my diet Report