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How to Stock a Pantry for Every Skill Level: Novice to Pro

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

What Is a Pantry?

pantry /ˈpæntrɪ/ noun (pl) -tries

A small room or cupboard in which provisions, cooking utensils, etc, are kept; larder

Word origin: Early 14th century, from Anglo-French panetrie (Old French paneterie) "bread room," from Medieval Latin panataria "office or room of a servant who has charge of food" (literally "bread"), from Latin panis "bread"

How Are Pantries Used?

The large houses and estates in Victorian-era Great Britain had separate rooms for each distinct stage of food preparation. The washing, peeling, and chopping of food was done in the larder, the kitchen was for cooking, and the storeroom was for food storage. The scullery was where dishes, pots, and pans were washed. The cleaning of fish and cutting of raw meat (a messy job that required a source of water) were also done there. The pantry was also where the china, glassware, and silverware were stored.

In America, pantries evolved from early colonial-American "butteries," a cold northern corner in the house where butter was stored. In middle-class America, butler’s pantries or china pantries were built between the dining room and the kitchen.

Today, a pantry is a room or cabinet where non-perishable foods are stored. It can be as simple as one or two shelves in your kitchen cupboard or as elaborate as a walk-in room with labeled shelving, bins, and storage containers.

Do You Need a Pantry?

Everyone who cooks needs to have a "pantry," but don't get hung up on the concept of having a large space reserved in your home or your kitchen for storing "stuff."

The "how" is not as important as the "what." Although organization is important, you first need to consider what you need to have on hand to be able to put together easy and healthy meals for yourself and your family. Here are some ideas.

What You Need in Your Pantry

  1. Canned and Jarred Goods
  2. Baking Goods
  3. Dry Goods
  4. Herbs and Spices
  5. Condiments, Sauces, and Spirits
  6. Oils and Vinegars

1. Canned and Jarred Goods

Cans of peas and corn and jars of peanut butter might sound pretty boring, but where I live, we maintain a disaster kit—foods we know we can rely on if and when there is a prolonged power outage from a storm or a cut-off of access to services from an earthquake.

Canned goods are important for all of us. When I mentally look across our country, there is not a single spot that is safe from disaster. All of us a likely to be assailed by earthquakes, ice storms, tornadoes, or cyclones. So let's stock our pantries with at least some essentials to help us when we cannot rely on running to the grocery store (or our favorite fast-food place). Please make sure to have some vegetables, fruits, canned tuna, and peanut butter in a safe place in your house.

But aside from that, you should also have a few things on hand to help you prepare easy, quick, healthy meals for your family. Here are some suggestions.

Items for the Beginner's PantryAdd These If You are Comfortable in the KitchenAnd Add These If You Dream of Being A Gourmet Cook

beef stock

canned salmon

anchovy paste

black beans

kalamata olives

Asian fish sauce

cannellini beans

mild curry paste

Asian plum sauce

chicken stock

roasted red peppers


chunk light tuna

sun-dried tomatoes

clam juice

diced tomatoes

crushed ginger

garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

light coconut milk

minced garlic

mango chutney

peanut butter


tomato paste

vegetable stock

Baking goods

Baking goods

2. Baking Goods

There are also some things you should have in your pantry for baking. I'm not suggesting that you become a 5-star cupcake master. Perhaps you just want to be able to whip up a batch of biscuits to have with beef stew or waffles for Sunday breakfast. If you are a bit more adventurous, you might think of baking a cake or a loaf of bread. Here are the things you might want to have on hand.

Items for the Novice BakerAdd These to the List If You Like to BakeAnd Add These if You Are Better than Sara Lee

baking powder

bittersweet chocolate

dried apricots

baking soda

dry yeast

pastry flour

brown sugar

sliced almonds

pine nuts

confectioners sugar

unsweetened cocoa poweder

pumpkin seeds


whole almonts

turbonado sugar

dark raisins

whole wheat flour

white raisins (currants)

dried cranberries

yellow cornmeal

granulated sugar

non-stick cooking spray


pure vanilla extract

semi-sweet chocolate chips


white flour

Dry goods

Dry goods

3. Dry Goods

Dry goods are typically the starchy, carbohydrate part of the meal. Pasta, rice, dried peas, dry beans, and dry lentils are all necessary to provide a balance to our diets. Here is a suggested list of items to keep on hand.

New in the KitchenAdd These if You Are Handy with a StockpotAnd Add These if You Proclaim "I'm an Iron Chef"

dried lentils

brown rice

peal (Israeli) couscous

dried pasta

bulgur wheat

polenta (not instant)

dry bread crumbs


rolled oats (not instant)

white long-grain rice

pearl barley

white arborio rice


whole-wheat couscous

wild rice

Herbs and spices

Herbs and spices

4. Herbs and Spices

Spices are the spice of life. Salt and pepper are easy, inexpensive, and commonplace. If these were the only seasonings you had, you could certainly exist. But there are opportunities for so much more. Try new tastes from different places. Herbs and spices provide so much interest in our foods. Let's explore.

Seasonings Ever Cook Should HaveAdd These to Your List as Your Repertoir ExpandsAnd Add These to Pretend You Have Your Own Cooking Show

dried oregano leaves (not powder)

dried bay leaf

cinnamon sticks

dried thyme leaves (not powder)

dried crumbled sage (not powder)

coriander seeds

chili powder

dried dill weed

curry powder

garlic powder

dried tarragon

dry mustard

ground black pepper

nutmeg (whole)


ground cinnamon

red pepper flakes

smoked paprika

ground cumin


ground ginger

vanilla bean



Condiments, sauces, and spirits

Condiments, sauces, and spirits

5. Condiments, Sauces, and Spirits

Do you know someone (perhaps yourself?) who cannot eat a meal without having a bottle of ketchup at the ready? My dad was one of those—ketchup on the meatloaf, ketchup on roast beef, ketchup on breakfast eggs—the list goes on. I think he might have skipped pouring it on spaghetti, but that might be the only food that escaped.

Yes, I am poking a bit of fun at those who bless their meals with a daily baptism of the sweet red sauce-in-a-bottle, but I will acknowledge that condiments have a place in the well-stocked kitchen. Sometimes a dab of Dijon mustard, a spoonful of honey, or a dash of soy sauce is just the bit of magic needed to transform a sauce, gravy, soup, or stew from wimpy to wonderful.

Basic Condiments and SaucesAdd These As You Gain ConfidenceAnd Add These When You're Rockin' the Stockpot

barbecue sauce

chile-garlic sauce

hoisin sauce

dijon mustard

dry sherry

marsala wine

dill pickles

fish sauce

madeira wine


maple syrup

oyster sauce


whole grain mustard

light corn syrup (Karo)



soy sauce

teriyaki sauce

worcestershire sauce

Pils and vinegars

Pils and vinegars

6. Oils and Vinegars

Every kitchen should have a basic bottle of cooking oil for frying and sautéing, but you might be wondering why vinegar is on the list. I'm not suggesting that you start making your own dill pickles. Vinegar, just a touch, is sometimes all you need to add a bit of punch to a dish. That tang of sour fools our palates into thinking "salty," and reducing the amount of sodium in our diets is a good goal to keep in mind.

Does your spaghetti sauce seem to be lacking "something?" A teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar might be just what it needs.

Just Getting StartedThen Add These as You GrowAnd Then Buy These to Make Those Ultimate Meals!

extra virgin olive oil

balsamic vinegar

rice wine vinegar

apple cider vinegar

red wine vinegar

sherry vinegar

safflower oil

sesame oil

white wine vinegar

© 2015 Linda Lum