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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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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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
fresh veggies... Report
We always have a selection of root veggies, beets, rutabega, sweet potato and potatoes, I love roasting them and having them with broiled fish. Another staple of ours is canned sodium free tomatoes, and lastly, olive oil packed tuna and a variety of dried beans and grains for stews and soups. Report
Too many carbs - and I hate canned veggies! Report
These staples seem very rich in carbs - but I guess as long as you only use them as part of your meal as the main part... The only thing I'm really not convinced by are canned vegetables. They tend to be quite slimy... I prefer frozen as a last resort Report
Too many carbs! Really can't stand canned veggie! Frozen's OK. About the only thing I use is Peanut or Almond Butter! Frozen cauliflower instead of rice. I'm In Brazil, so I always have Avocado at hand, Fresh or frozen. Chia instead of Quinoa, more fiber, less carbs. No Potatoes, don't eat those, rarely eat roots. Paleo , Ketogenic, that Pantry's not for us! Report
Great article! Report
I have everything except the avocado oil - but I do have an avocado! (Well, half of one!) I also keep stocked on canned low sodium kidney beans and no salt added diced tomatoes. Report
I would love to see a low-carb version of this article. I don't eat most of this stuff. Report
I always have all those... except avocado oil (overpriced) and canned vegetables - I absolutely despise the texture and taste. I go with frozen veggies instead :) Report
Good article! LOVE that you included some recipes just to get us jumpstarted.

Just one thing -- I think the caveat for canned vegies as a "good" second choice to fresh would be to make sure they are low sodium. Otherwise, I would think that frozen would be #2. Report
Canned mushrooms, canned beans, black and white. Low sodium canned tomatoes. Canned artichoke ,canned water packed albacore tuna, and., coconut milk. I always keep these on hand plus what was listed. With some frozen foods also on hand and lots of spices I can whip together some awesome meals Report
I need to organise my pantry because I tend to forget what I already have and then end up buying more of it. I know for sure I have rice, peanut butter, canned vegetables, and pasta (neither my husband or I like whole wheat pasta) but the other stuff we don't. Nuts is a definite no as my husband is allergic to all except peanuts. I do want to get lentils and quinoa though. Report
I have most of the items. I also add pasta sauce, variety of canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Report
they are all in my pantry! Report
I would guess that staples would be better if they are things you use all the time, I don't use some of these things in regular cooking so they will not be part of my staples. Where I live there is no running to the store to get forgotten items so the pantry is always stocked, I can't imagine not having a stocked pantry. Report
Great article! I need to stock up on these items. Another few fav stock up items for me are canned tuna and black olives. Since
I'm always looking to add more protein and fill my fat sources from healthy fats, these two are easy budget friendly items to have on hand. I like to have canned fruit-the kind packed in its own juice- because dessert is often a "necessity" in this house according to the kids. Report
Black beans are my go-to before garbanzos. You can cook rice ahead & freeze it in zip locks for "instant" rice. Love Quinoa. It is a complete protein with all amino acids! Report
This was a good article. Turns out I had all but garbanzo beans in my pantry. I live with my daughter and son-in-law and I don't know if they would like them, but I'm the cook, so I'm going to find out. LOL ! Report