Here's your guide to stocking your kitchen with healthy pantry staples that can be used for quick meals everyone will love. This resource includes a complete pantry staples printable list, from which I pulled out the top 17 kitchen essentials to have on hand from your pantry, fridge, and freezer to be able to make more than 55 recipes!
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With so many people eating at home now and needing to shop strategically and quickly, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of healthy pantry staples to keep on hand. With a master list like this, you can work to buy (or sometimes make) what you need to be able to put together quick healthy meals easily.
To create this pantry resource, I looked through my cupboards, fridge, and freezer and thought about the things that I used the most and were the most versatile. If you work towards having most of the things on this list, you will be able to make most of the recipes on AOC - and of course other recipes, too, lol.
This Real Foods Basics Pantry printable is free to all of AOC's subscribers - you can find it in the VIP Subscribers Library if you're already a subscriber, or fill out the form below to get the list delivered to your inbox AND receive my popular weekly newsletter full of useful things for a simple homemade life!
Since I wanted a complete real food pantry guide for you, the printable list you'll get is pretty much everything you'd find in my pantry, fridge and freezer most of the time.
However, if you're just starting out, or simply wondering what to focus on now, two pages might seem overwhelming (though there are spices and things you probably have if you have a kitchen, so it is basic essentials).
So I pulled out what I think are the top seventeen pantry staples from the list that you need to have on hand in order to create healthy, quick meals.
I'm sharing these picks below, along with at least three quick meal ideas you can make with them - recipes and side dish ideas. That's more than 55 recipes from 17 basic, real food pantry items.
So, cooking from home? You've got this!
Top 17 Pantry Staples for Quick Meals
Canned tomato products
Diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and homemade Freezer Roasted Tomato Sauce (or store bought quality jarred marinara) are the top three types of tomatoes I always have on hand. (Even when I didn't have a garden, I bought tomatoes mainly to make enough of that roasted tomato sauce for the freezer - it's SO good.)
Quick Meals with Canned Tomato Products:
- One Pot Italian Pasta with Sausage & Spinach - one dish meal
- Cheesy Baked Pasta - serve with a salad
- Best Homemade Tomato Soup Recipe - serve with grilled cheese sandwiches
- A classic that doesn't need a recipe: Tossing premade marinara (frozen or store bought) with pasta and topping with parmesan.
Canned beans (or frozen dried and cooked beans)
Having a couple cans of black, garbanzo, and white is a good base. You can always add other types of beans to that, especially pinto beans because then you can make your own easy refried beans whenever you want.
Quick Meals with Beans:
- Tuscan White Bean Salad - serve with crusty bread and cut up veggies
- Tex-Mex Salad with Ranch-Style Beans & Homemade Dressing - one dish meal
- Simple Black Bean Quesadillas - serve with salsa
Choose a couple varieties in a healthier whole wheat or bean variety. My favorites to have on hand are spaghetti or linguine, mini farfalle (bowties), and ziti or penne.
Quick Meals with Pasta:
- 20 Minute Mediterranean Chicken Pesto Pasta - serve with a green salad
- 30 Minute Italian Sausage Pasta Primavera - one dish meal
- Greek Style Pasta Salad with Green Beans & Tomatoes - one dish meal (or serve with grilled meat)
Whether you make it on the stove, in an Instant Pot, or a rice cooker, a batch of brown rice is easy to make and can be used as the base for burrito or other type bowls, stir fries, casseroles, and more. TIP: Make a double batch and freeze the extra in portions that you need for recipes.
- Grandma’s Baked Tasty Rice - serve with roasted or grilled meat and salad
- Sriracha Beef and Vegetable Rice Bowls - one dish meal
- Teriyaki Chicken & Rice Recipe - serve with stir-fried or sautéed vegetables
- Bonus: use any leftover rice for Parmesan Rice Cakes!
Canned Tuna and/or Salmon
You'll find both of these in our cupboards most of the time for topping salads, making tuna melts, or adding to casseroles or frittatas. TIP: Cheaper canned salmon doesn't really taste that different than tuna - splurge for the more expensive, sustainable canned salmon for better flavor.
Quick Meals with Tuna or Salmon:
- Greek Tuna And Tomato Salad - serve with crusty bread
- Tuna Salad with Artichokes, Olives & Feta - serve with crusty bread
- Salmon Patties with Flax (Gluten Free) - serve with green salad
- Greek Salmon Vegetable Frittata with Creamy Feta Sauce - serve with Caesar salad
Whole Wheat Flour
Quick Meals with Flour:
- Individual Homemade Pizza & Pizza Bar (or full pizza crust recipe) - serve with cut carrots
- Homemade Pigs In A Blanket (From Scratch In An Hour) - serve with fries and cut up veggies
- Easy Chicken Spinach Calzone (Ready in an Hour) - serve with green salad
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Every pantry should have a bottle of olive oil for lightly sautéing food, as well as a base for the best salad dressings of all - homemade.
Quick Meals with Olive Oil:
- Homemade Vinaigrette 4 Ways - serve over any salad, but Chef's Salad is a favorite main dish
- Easy Thai Grilled Beef Salad - one dish meal
- Healthy Sesame Kale Salad - serve with baked or grilled chicken
A Variety of Vinegars
Apple Cider, Red Wine, and Balsamic vinegars are three keys to homemade salad dressings, and also to lightly dressed slaws and main dish salads. I always like to have rice vinegar on hand, too, for Asian dishes.
Quick Meals with Vinegar:
- Kale Cranberry Salad Recipe with Feta & Pecans - add chicken or canned beans for a one dish meal or serve with roasted/grilled meat
- Orange Almond Salad with Orange-Balsamic Vinaigrette - serve with grilled sausages or chicken
- Naturally Sweet Apple Cider Vinaigrette Dressing - serve over any green salad
- Bonus! Make your own ketchup with vinegar and tomato paste: Quick Honey Sweetened Homemade Ketchup
Soy sauce is another staple condiment that allows you to make the recipes below or to simply stir-fry vegetables, toss with soy sauce and serve over rice.
Quick Meals with Soy Sauce:
- Soy Sriracha Marinated Chicken - serve with a salad and rice
- Homemade Spicy Peanut Sauce - serve over roasted/grilled meat with veggies and rice
- Spicy Chicken Noodle Salad - one dish meal
When you have potatoes, you always have the start of a meal! You can bake them and simply add whatever you can find as toppings: cheese, broccoli, bacon, leftover meats and vegetables, sour cream, you name it. A "potato bar" is always a hit with family and friends.
Quick Meals with Potatoes:
- Cajun Beef on Spiced Potatoes - serve with a salad
- Chicken Tomato Shepherd’s Pie - serve with a salad
- Vegetarian Indian Sub-jee Curry Wraps - one dish meal
Canned Coconut Milk
Thai and Indian flavored curries are quick and easy if you have a can of coconut milk on hand, plus it can thicken other recipes in place of milk products.
Quick Meals with Coconut Milk:
- Thai Inspired Turkey or Chicken Vegetable Curry - one dish meal
- Curried Turkey/Chicken and Rice Soup - serve with salad
- Coconut Rice: replace some of the water with a can of coconut milk when cooking - serve with stir fried or roasted vegetables
Organic Tortilla Chips
Not just for snacking, keeping a bag of tortilla chips in your pantry allows you to have meals in a hurry. And if all you have are corn tortillas, you can make your own chips in 10 minutes.
Quick Meals with Tortilla Chips:
- Chicken Nachos: spread a base of chips on a cookie sheet, top with grated cheese (key to not-soggy nachos is a layer of cheese!) and heat in a 375 degree oven just until starting to melt. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped rotisserie style chicken, drained black beans, onions and more grated cheese. Return to oven for about 10 minutes and serve with salsa.
- Haystacks: layer leftover chili or Spicy Beef, Tomato and Corn Stew on top of chips and top with grated cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, salsa and guacamole.
Yes, breakfast for dinner is great, but eggs can be a part of quick healthy dinners that aren't breakfast, too.
Quick Meals with Eggs:
- Roasted Root Vegetable Hash with Eggs, Bacon, Feta & Walnuts - one dish meal
- Chicken-Spinach Frittata with Feta & Tomatoes - serve with a salad
- Eggs Benedict with Easy Hollandaise Sauce - serve with fruit
With ground beef, chicken, turkey, or sausage in your freezer, cheap, quick dinners are only minutes away.
Quick Meals with Ground Meat:
- Greek Style Grilled Beef Lettuce Wraps - serve with pita bread (you can even make pita bread, too)
- 15 minute Rustic Italian Sausage Soup - one dish meal
- Quick Mini Meatloaves with Chipotle-Honey BBQ Sauce - serve with potatoes and salad
- Bonus! Soft or hard tacos: cook ground meat in taco seasoning - serve in tortillas or taco shells with lettuce, cheese, onions, and salsa.
Even though it's more expensive than some other protein sources, having a few frozen seafood options in your kitchen means fast meals, since they take just minutes to cook. And the flavor can't be beat.
Quick Meals with Seafood:
- Healthy Lemon Vegetable & Fish Foil Packets (Grill or Oven Bake) - serve with bread
- Garlic Shrimp and Green Bean Pasta 30 Minute Meal - one dish meal
- Baked White Fish with Parmesan-Herb Crust - serve with rice and salad
Frozen vegetables are the unsung hero of the real food pantry. Frozen at the height of their flavor and vitamin content, they are healthier than some out-fo-season fresh vegetables you might find. Plus they last a long time, so are always available when fresh runs out.
I make sure to have a stash of unblanched green beans, corn, peppers, snap peas, and beets in my freezer from garden produce, and I regularly purchase more corn (for fermented corn relish!), peas, broccoli, and cauliflower to have on hand, too.
Quick Meals with Frozen Vegetables:
- Long-Cooked Green Beans with Onions & Bacon - served with meatloaf and mashed potatoes
- Quick & Easy Roasted Corn Salsa - baked in sweet peppers or served alongside grilled chicken
- Amazing Cauliflower Cheese Soup (make with frozen cauliflower) - serve with bread
- Bonus! Roasted Frozen Veggies: toss any frozen vegetables together with olive oil and basic spice rub on a baking sheet and roast in a 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or browned.
Whether store bought or homemade and stored in the Freezer, having a stash of chicken broth allows you to make quick soups and recipes.
Quick Meals with Chicken:
- Quick & Easy Chicken Noodle Soup - serve as is or with a salad
- Fast & Easy Curried Red Lentil Soup - serve with a salad and bread
- Sriracha Chicken Noodle Bowls - one dish meal
So there you have it - the top 17 things from the Real Food Basics Pantry list that I prioritize.