A Quick Guide to Setting up Your Pantry

A Quick Guide to Setting Up Your Pantry - Una guía rápida de cómo configurar su despensa - Cook for Your Life

If you’re just starting out on your cooking adventure, it can be daunting shopping for pantry basics. There are so many herbs, spices, and other grocery items, it can be hard to know what will be useful. This is our list of the basics that crop up recipe after recipe. It may seem like a lot, but you can start stocking your pantry slowly, not all at once. And once you have a stocked pantry, you’ll love being able to pull together meals on the fly without any extra trips to the store.

Fats & Oils:

I always use these oils. I love coconut oil too, but you don’t need it to start out with. Store olive oil in a cool dark place.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Canola or grapeseed oil
  • Unsalted butter (use sparingly)

Dried herbs and spices:

These are the basics. Turmeric is on the list because it has definite antioxidant cancer-fighting properties. I use a lot of smoked paprika, as it adds a meaty taste to greens and soups, but you don’t need it to start out. I’ve also added basic baking items used in simple muffins, cakes and pancakes.

  • Herbs: bay leaves, rosemary, oregano
  • Spices: cumin, cinnamon cayenne, ginger, turmeric, mild curry powder whole nutmeg whole black peppercorns, fine sea salt and/or kosher salt
  • Baking: baking soda and baking powder

Nuts and Nut Products, Seeds, Dried Fruits:

Nuts are great as snacks, and for adding healthy oils and protein to salads, breakfast grains. Keep all nuts, seeds and nut products in the fridge where they will keep indefinitely.

  • Sliced almonds and whole walnuts.
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste), sugar free peanut butter, coconut milk
  • Unsulfured raisins and cranberries.

Grains & Flours:

This is a short list. As you get cooking it will lengthen. If you find you like risotto, you may want to add white Arborio rice to your list. Store whole-grain flours in the fridge.

  • Rolled or steel cut oats
  • Long grain brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat pastry flour
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • White rice (for when you need something easy on the stomach)
  • Couscous
  • Polenta


There are SO many varieties of these to choose from. Stick to these to start out with and you’ll be golden. None of the dried legumes here need soaking. Soy products like miso, tofu and tempeh are important to a vegetarian diet, otherwise they can be bought as needed.

  • Canned: Cannellini beans, black beans chickpeas
  • Dried: Red split lentils, green French lentils, split peas, black eyed peas
  • Soy products: miso, tofu, tempeh

Frozen & Canned foods:

We’ve already mentioned canned legumes, and canned tomatoes are always a better alternative for hothouse grown fresh in a pasta sauce. I find frozen fruits and veg a great standby. Frozen on the farm, they often have a better nutritional value than the same fruits and veg bought out of season, plus they will keep in the freezer for months. Frozen green peas and lima beans add protein and a dash of color to pastas and soups, while spinach saves time. Fruits can brighten up a winter meal in compotes, crumbles or delicious gelato.

  • Veggies: small garden peas, baby lima beans or edamame beans, leaf spinach
  • Fruits: blueberries, raspberries, mango chunks or pulp, peaches
  • Canned: whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes.

Fresh Basics:

Some fresh items to keep replenished in your pantry at all times. You will always find a use for them. You can always blend parsley into a pesto with a little olive oil and freeze it:

  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Italian parsley
  • Eggs
  • Ginger
  • Lemons


Registered Dietitian Approved

There are many misconceptions about nutrition and cancer in widespread media. By using current scientific literature, plus recommendations of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society, our Registered Dietitian, Kate Ueland, MS, RD, and our team of editors work to help our readers discern truth from myth.

The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Always consult your physician or registered dietitian for specific medical advice.

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