This post may contain affiliate links. By browsing this website, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use.

This list of essential pantry staples is the only one you'll ever need! Whether you're a seasoned home cook trying to fill in the gaps or a college student starting fresh on your own, this list will help you make sure you're not missing anything! Use this pantry staples checklist to make sure you don't miss a thing during your next pantry restock. 

Photo of pantry staples in glass jars with labels.

In 2016, I had just graduated from college with $70,000 student loan debt. I learned quickly that eating out is significantly more expensive than cooking from scratch and went all-out on learning how to cook healthy meals from scratch for as cheap as humanly possible. 

During this time my husband and I were spending just $25 per week on groceries and very slowly built up the well-stocked pantry I cook from today. So if you're just starting out, PLEASE do not feel the need to go out and buy everything from this list today. Figure out how much to spend on groceries each month, then pick up one bulk item per week at Costco or another similar cheap grocery store and slowly build it over months, if not years! 

Instead, I'd recommend browsing this list of cheap vegan meals, finding 5-10 favorite recipes, and stocking what you need to make those 5-10 recipes by shopping at the Cheapest Grocery Stores in America

Or, find inspiration using a few of my real-life meal plan examples:

The Pantry Staples

Additionally, please keep in mind these are what we like to stock as people that eat a primarily plant-based diet. Depending on your lifestyle and diet, what you stock in your pantry might look a little bit different. But as a whole, I think you'll find most of these basic ingredients in any kitchen pantry, regardless of diet. 

Whole Grains 

Brown rice.

There are several types of whole grains that you can stock, depending on your diet, budget, and preferences. If you are just getting started or only have the budget for the basics, stock these top 3:

Other whole grain pantry staples you might want: Quinoa, Barley, Sorghum, Amaranth, Farro, Millet, or rice noodles/ramen! 

Legumes

Pinto beans.

The types and amounts of legumes you'll want to keep on hand will depend entirely on your diet. For example, if you eat a vegetarian or plant-based vegan diet, you will likely want to have a good assortment for an array of meatless recipes. If you prefer meat, or don't care for beans, you won't keep as much on hand, if any. 

Canned and Shelf Stable Goods

Jarred non-perishables.

Every home kitchen needs well-stocked canned goods. If you've got the essentials covered as well as a few whole grain or legume options, you can make most anything with these pantry staples! 

  • Tomatoes: It can be helpful to keep a handful of tomato products on hand like tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. 
  • Chiles and peppers: We eat a lot of Mexican cuisine and I usually keep green chiles, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and jarred jalapeño slices on hand. These products are all affordable, have a long shelf-life, and can add instant flavor to any dish. 
  • Marinara sauce: I usually try to make my Homemade Spaghetti Sauce and freeze the excess because it's filled with sneaky vegetables and is typically cheaper than store-bought options, but having a few jars of store-bought pasta sauce on hand is great for last minute dinners like Tofu Bolognese or a homemade pizza night
  • Coconut milk: ​This won't be an essential for everyone, but for family's like ours that follow a plant-based diet, coconut milk is great to have on hand to add richness to a dish. It's even helpful for making breakfast recipes and desserts like Quinoa Porridge and Lemon Poppy Seed Cake.
  • Canned fish: If you eat meat, keeping a few cans of tuna or salmon on hand is a great way to ensure you have a cheap protein source on hand. Use them to make delicious recipes like Spicy Canned Salmon Rice Bowls or Simple Tuna Salad Sandwiches!
  • Canned vegetables: Stock things like canned corn, canned peas, pumpkin puree, canned olives, and canned green beans. You can add them to almost anything for a boost of cheap nutrition! 
  • Vegetable broth: Once opened these need to be transferred to the fridge. But when sealed, unopened, they can last for years. I highly recommend buying Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base. It's a bouillon paste you mix with water to make vegetable broth (or chicken broth and beef broth if you prefer!). 1 small jar from Costco costs just $8.99 and makes 100 cups of broth. Very frugal, space-saving, and delicious. 

Condiments

It isn't a well-stocked pantry without a good amount of condiments to add flavor! Below are the most popular staples you can pretty much find in my fridge or pantry at all times.

Cooking Oils and Vinegars 

Oils and vinegar.

​I typically keep a few oils and vinegars on hand at all times, but if you're working with a small budget, you can absolutely get away with just one cooking oil and a couple of vinegars. I might recommend doing an olive oil or avocado oil because they're versatile enough to work with just about anything and then white vinegar, and either apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or white wine vinegar. 

If you're looking to stock all of the pantry staples I have, here's my favorites:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocado oil 
  • Coconut oil (mostly used in desserts)
  • Vegetable oil (mostly used for frying or baking)
  • Sesame oil (a total splurge that's great for Asian recipes)
  • White vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • White wine vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Rice vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar

Baking Essentials 

When you think of pantry essentials, you probably think of the baking essentials. And for good reason. When you're well stocked on flour, yeast, and sugar, you can make pretty much any homemade bread or baked good you'd like! 

If you cook from scratch often (which you should if you're trying to save money on groceries), here's the must-have pantry staples:

  • Flour: I like to stock a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. If you are into more specialty baking, bread flour, chickpea flour (besan flour) and almond flour are great flours to have which can be used to make Healthy Banana Muffins and specialty breads.
  • Cornmeal: Great for homemade Cornbread Muffins!
  • Sugar: ​White sugar and brown sugar are the most common and versatile choices. 
  • Yeast: ​Active dry yeast or instant yeast are the most helpful to have on hand for homemade breads, cinnamon rolls, naan, and more. 
  • Leavening agents: ​Baking soda and baking powder are essential for any home baking! 
  • Cocoa powder and chocolate chips: Optional, but great to have for homemade desserts or sweet beverages like Crockpot Hot Chocolate.
  • Cornstarch: ​A great thickening agent that is used in several types of recipes.
  • Liquid sweeteners: ​Maple syrup and honey are my top choices, but agave nectar is another popular choice with a long shelf life.
  • Vanilla extract: This can be quite pricy and is not necessary, but it does add a lot of flavor if you have the budget for it. 

Nuts and Seeds 

Walnuts, almonds, and cashews in individual bowls.

If you follow a plant-based diet, I highly recommend keeping a few types of nuts and seeds on hand. These pantry staples can be on the more expensive side, but if you purchase them in bulk at Costco, they can be more affordable. Nuts and seeds can go rancid quickly, especially in warmer climates, so for best storage, keep them in your fridge or freezer! 

​I don't personally stock pine nuts because they are wildly expensive and I'd pretty much only use them to make pesto. Instead, I've developed the BEST tasting pesto recipe​ made from almond butter instead. 

Nut Butters

  • Almond butter
  • Cashew butter
  • Peanut butter

Spices

Building up a well-stocked spice pantry staples stockpile takes time, so if you're just starting out grab 1 per week until you have a good collection. Here are a few of the top spices I recommend every home cook have on hand for making the best pantry meals. 

  • salt: I like to stock sea salt and kosher salt
  • black pepper: I stock peppercorns
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • paprika
  • cinnamon
  • red chili pepper flakes
  • bay leaves
  • curry powder (good to have if you enjoy Indian cuisine)
  • Italian seasoning blend
  • Taco seasoning blend
  • Nutritional yeast: ​For vegan and plant-based cooking! 

Miscellaneous Kitchen Staples

Russet potatoes.

These fresh ingredients have a shorter shelf life, but are additional “pantry staples” I like to keep on hand when possible to make weeknight cooking and meal planning as easy to do as possible. 

  • Butter: ​we use dairy-free butter because my husband is lactose intolerant and I don't tolerate dairy well either. 
  • Yogurt: ​Greek yogurt is great if you tolerate dairy. We use Coconut yogurt. 
  • Tortillas: I usually do corn tortillas (for tacos) and flour tortillas (for burritos). I either make them myself or buy them in bulk at Costco and keep the excess in the freezer. 
  • Potatoes: ​I usually have Yukon gold potatoes or russet potatoes and sweet potatoes on hand. Here are some of my favorite potato recipes.
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Eggs: ​I don't always have eggs on hand, but they can be a great source of relatively affordable protein and are useful in a number of recipes. The last time I had eggs on hand I used them to make Homemade English Muffins and Whole Wheat Pancakes and it was great! 

And there we go! The final pantry staples essentials list! Leave a comment down below if there's anything you add to your must-have kitchen stash.

12 Dirt Cheap Weeknight Dinners ebook page.
12 Dirt Cheap Weeknight Dinners ebook cover.

Wallet-Friendly Recipes & Smart Shopping Tips in Your Inbox

Plus get a free cookbook with 12 Dirt Cheap Dinner Ideas that’ll cost you $2 or less per serving.

leave a comment

I love to hear from you. Submit your recipe questions or review here and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 Comments

  1. Is there a replacement for the oil in your marinara sauce as we are added oil free? I am new to your sight and I can’t wait to try your delicious looking recipes! Thank you.

    1. Hi! You can definitely replace the oil with water (just to keep the liquid/veggie ratio the same!). It will still taste amazing. I hope you enjoy!

  2. June E Keller says:

    Like the new look. I especially enjoyed that I can pick recipes by cooking appliance like InstantPot or Air Fryer.

    Links in the Save with Ibotta are all over a year old.

    You may email me and I will send back screenshots of needed.

related recipes