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

Updated on January 17, 2020
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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 is 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 Pantry
Add These If You are Comfortable in the Kitchen
And 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 | Source

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 Baker
Add These to the List If You Like to Bake
And 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 | Source

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 Kitchen
Add These if You Are Handy with a Stockpot
And 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 | Source

4. Herbs and Spices

Spices are the spice of life. Salt and pepper are easy, inexpensive, and common-place. 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 to our foods. Let's explore.

Seasonings Ever Cook Should Have
Add These to Your List as Your Repertoir Expands
And 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 | Source

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 Sauces
Add These As You Gain Confidence
And 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 | Source

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 Started
Then Add These as You Grow
And 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

Questions & Answers

    © 2015 Linda Lum


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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        2 years ago from Washington State, USA

        Mary, thank you so much for your support. I have been spoiled rotten. Our home is a 2-story farmhouse and the space under the stairway is where we have our pantry. It goes all the way back under those stairs and I use every square inch (I'm only 5 ft tall).

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        2 years ago from Brazil

        I have the perfect place for a pantry, alas my husband has it filled with tools although he has at least 3 other sheds he could use for these. My makeshift pantry is a refrigerator that no longer works.

        It keeps everything dry. After reading your list, I need to stock up. There aren't a lot of canned foods here, luckily there aren't many natural disasters in this area.

        I am bookmarking this to use as a guideline.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 years ago from Washington State, USA

        Rachel L Alba - We found space for a pantry under the stairs in our 2-story house. It probably wouldn't work for everybody, but I'm only 5 ft tall so I have no problem. Thanks for your kind words and support.

      • Rachel L Alba profile image

        Rachel L Alba 

        5 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

        I'd give anything for a pantry. I have a very small house and very little room for can goods and other pantry items. I really envy people with pantries. Nice hub.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        5 years ago from Washington State, USA

        Oh dear Bill - Please don't view this as an indictment. Think of it more as a goal. Your cooking can be as simple or as adventuresome as you wish. Hugs.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Ummm...if you ever come to Olympia, I won't let you see our pantry. In fact, I wouldn't even be able to find it to show it to you. LOL My goodness gracious...we are woefully lacking at our house. :)


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