What Do You Absolutely Need in Your Pantry?

colorful dried beans in bags

When major events shake our communities, it can be hard to get food for a little while. And when times are tight, we sometimes have to go down to just the staples. When you can't buy things you're used to having for any reason, it's easy to feel pretty lost. But if you keep a few essential items in your pantry, you can make filling, nutritious meals even if you aren’t working with a ton of ingredients.

The Condiments

With the right condiments, you can make any food delicious! Make sure you've got some basic condiments and you can cook just about anything.


Oils can be a great base to cook other foods with, or a tasty garnish on top. Most things you can cook in a fat like butter can be cooked in oil instead. Some of the healthiest options are olive oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil (though there are some pros and cons to that one).

glass jug pouring olive oil into a dish


For some people, food just isn't even food without ketchup. This incredibly useful stuff can complement a wide range of dishes, and if you're a tomato gardener, you can make your own at home!


Whether you get the fancy Dijon or the plain yellow squeeze bottle, mustard is a must. It's one of the healthiest condiments, it makes any sandwich better, it tastes great in homemade salad dressing, and it's another ingredient you can grow yourself.


Of all the foods in the world, honey is the only one that absolutely never goes bad. Even if the honey in your pantry is 150 years old, it's perfectly safe to eat. Plus it may confer some allergy resistance, especially if harvested locally (we haven't yet seen science on that claim) and can deliver your body an antioxidant boost. Keep some honey on hand—this amazing sugar substitute is an easy way to add a sweet flavor to all sorts of recipes.

Safety note: Some health organizations recommend against giving honey to children under one year old.

The Spices


An assortment of spices make it possible to cook a variety of dishes. Make sure you've got sugar, salt, and pepper, of course—these are all pretty standard. But you also may want to add some garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder to the spice rack. When you can't get your hands on fresh foods, you can still get the flavor and aroma you want with some powdered aromatics.

The Canned Goods

Canned goods last for a long time, and they're portable and easy to cook with, so they're definitely a pantry staple. Try to keep at least a few basics in the pantry at all times so you can whip up a quick meal even when supplies are running low. Remember to sort by when things will expire, and check through your collection once or twice a year to make sure nothing's past its date.

rows of cans


Any veggies will do, from spinach, to corn, to peas. A few cans of tomato chunks can also be great to have for making sauces.


When the grocery store is out of meat and you have a stocked pantry, you can laugh all the way home. Sure you're used to meat, but beans are an amazingly healthy and highly filling protein that can easily be substituted for meat. Use beans to make tacos, pasta dishes—anything you like. You can even mix a can of beans with some cooked rice and you've got an entire meal just like that.


Tuna, sardines, and salmon are all available in canned versions that can sit on a shelf for months, or even years, and still be perfectly edible.


Several soups make fantastic bases for a casserole. Cream of anything will work with your tuna, veggies, and pasta (look for cream of mushroom, cream of broccoli, or cream of whatever other flavors you want).

While you're at it, grab a couple cans of cheese soup. This is an excellent way to make canned veggies taste better. You can add it to potato dishes, casseroles, and any number of recipes to add some great flavor to your food even if you can't find cheese anywhere in the dairy section.

The Dry Goods

Dry goods are the foundation of any pantry meal. They're easy to store, long lasting, and often relatively cheap.


Macaroni, angel hair, rotini—take your pick, or pick up whatever shapes are still available. For a health upgrade, look for pastas made from chickpeas or quinoa.


White, brown, wild, or regular, rice can be served on its own or mixed with vegetables and/or any meat to become a filling meal.


Crackers aren't just for snacking—they can be used as a breading to fry meats or vegetables, as a topping for a casserole, and added as a filling agent to meatloaf and other dishes.


wooden bowl of oats

You can actually eat oats with milk or water and have a hearty, filling meal or snack. You can also use them as a filler for casseroles and meatloaf, and they can be a baking ingredient, too. Oats are a great way to stretch a meal, or fill yourself up when you need a little something. They're very low on the glycemic index, which means they take a long time to turn into sugar, providing you with energy over many hours.

Nuts and Seeds

An excellent source of vital nutrients and fats, nuts and seeds last a long time and they're much more satisfying and filling than chips or sweets. They also offer major health benefits.

Flour and Eggs

With flour and eggs, you can bake almost anything. They're the main ingredients in bread items and fresh pasta, not to mention cakes and cookies. Flour and milk make a gravy. All by itself, flour makes a tasty breading for fried foods, too.

The Meals You Can Make

With just what’s in your pantry, there are many different meals you can make. Sometimes, you may have to use tap water instead of milk, or skip the mayonnaise because you can’t get the grocery items you need, but you can still create plenty of filling and tasty dishes with just a few essentials.

Toss some cans together with rice or pasta, add some condiments and spices and suddenly you’re eating well even when no one can find any meat anywhere. Maintain the essentials in your pantry and you’ll maintain a healthy diet, even when the world is in a crisis.