25 Pantry Essentials for Easy Meals

A well-stocked kitchen can be more valuable than a fully charged cell phone in the middle of a blackout. Having pantry essentials on hand means easy meals and endless inspiration for that age-old question: What’s for dinner?

Olive oil and vinegar bottlesOILS AND VINEGARS
Most recipes call for some type of oil, but not all oils are created equal. Meanwhile, having different vinegars available allows you to mix up a variety of palate-pleasing dressings, marinades, and glazes.

What’s in the bottle: Canola oil
What it’s best for: Baked goods, from cake to cookies to pie crust
Consider making: Heavenly but Healthy Cookies

What’s in the bottle: Extra virgin olive oil
What it’s best for: Sautéing and salad dressings that are way healthier than store-bought
Consider making: Sautéed mixed vegetables

What’s in the bottle: Balsamic vinegar
What it’s best for: Salad dressings, marinades
Consider making: Balsamic grilled pork chops

What’s in the bottle: Red wine vinegar
What it’s best for: Salad dressings, marinades
Consider making: Mixed greens with red wine vinaigrette

CONDIMENTS
Think beyond ketchup and mayo when stocking your pantry. Go for sauces that take ho-hum to “Oh, yum!”

What’s in the bottle: Hot sauce
What it’s best for: Jazzing up scrambled eggs, soups, and chilies; making wing or chicken taco buffalo sauce
Consider making: Buffalo chicken tacos

What’s in the bottle: Barbecue sauce
What it’s best for: Smothering chicken, pork, or brisket; BBQ pizza; perking up baked potatoes
Consider making: Smoky corn and black bean pizza

What’s in the bottle: Worcestershire sauce
What it’s best for: Making meats (especially steak) more flavorful, adding zest to veggie sides
Consider making: Roasted Brussels sprouts

What’s in the bottle: Soy sauce
What it’s best for: Stir-fry recipes and other Asian-inspired dishes
Consider making: Easy fried rice

CANNED GOODS
With the basics, you can whip up all manner of sauces, soups, and chilies.

What’s in the can: Tomatoes (whole, crushed, paste)
What it’s best for: Adding flavor (and fiber) to stews, enchilada fillings, and chilies; pasta or pizza sauce
Consider making: Healthier chicken or eggplant Parmesan

What’s in the can: Beans (from cannellini and chickpea to black and pinto)
What it’s best for: Soups and stews packed with protein
Consider making: Slow-cooker three-bean chili

What’s in the can: Broth (vegetable, chicken, beef)
What it’s best for: Flavoring grains and serving as a base for soups
Consider making: Winter vegetable soup

What’s in the can: Fish and meat (chicken, tuna, salmon)
What it’s best for:
Salads, stews, casseroles
Consider making: Tuna salad

PASTAS AND GRAINS
Having a variety of grains at the ready allows you to make hearty dishes fast.

What’s in the box: Oats
What it’s best for: Adding to oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt for breakfast; baked goods
Consider making: Granola

What’s in the box: Pasta (regular or whole-grain spaghetti, penne, rotini, or lasagna noodles; plus a package of tortellini or ravioli)
What it’s best for: Italian-style dishes and bakes, soups
Consider making: Simple lasagna

What’s in the box: Rice (white and/or brown)
What it’s best for: Asian-inspired dishes, soups, rice pudding
Consider making: Slow-cooker chicken and rice

What’s in the box: Quinoa
What it’s best for: Adding a protein punch to oatmeal, salads, chilies, and more
Consider making:
Black bean and quinoa salad

HERBS AND SPICES
Salt and pepper are givens (coarse sea salt and black peppercorns for discerning tastes), but a well-stocked spice rack will take your meals over the top.

What’s in the jar: Garlic powder
What it’s best for: Marinades, salad dressings, meatball and meatloaf recipes
Consider making:
Pork tenderloin marinade

What’s in the jar: Italian seasoning (a mix of herbs, such as oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary)
What it’s best for:
Marinades, salad dressings, pasta sauce, veggies
Consider making:
Italian-seasoned chicken

What’s in the jar: Crushed red pepper flakes
What it’s best for:
 Pizza and pasta sauces, stir-fry dishes
Consider making:
Slightly spicy tomato sauce

What’s in the jar: Cinnamon
What it’s best for:
Baked goods, stews, meat sauces, marinades
Consider making:
Cinnamon sugar cookies

What’s in the jar: Nutmeg
What it’s best for: Baked goods, squash-based soups
Consider making: Pumpkin pie

FROZEN FOODS
Your freezer is at least a few steps away from the pantry and a whole lot colder. But having some frozen staples will save you time and money.

What’s in the bag: Spinach
What it’s best for:
Side dishes, soups, pastas
Consider making: Spinach tortellini soup

What’s in the bag: Mixed veggies
What it’s best for:
Stir-fry recipes
Consider making: Easy stir fry

What’s in the bag: Broccoli, corn, and peas
What it’s best for:
Side dishes, casseroles
Consider making: Broccoli with cheese sauce

What’s in the bag: Berries
What it’s best for: 
Smoothies, breakfast, snacks, baked goods
Consider making: Blueberry muffins

The more you can cook with what’s on hand, the easier it will become to pull a delicious meal together in no time at all.