9 Foods to Always Have in the Pantry

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When it comes to a well stocked pantry, you know the drill: flour, sugar, bread and pasta. Since you've got all those basics, if you want to take your pantry to the next level, you’ll need a few other items on the shelf. Whether you’re throwing together a last-minute dinner or an impromptu party, these pantry staples will keep you prepared for any meal emergency.

Stock or Broth

This basic ingredient in many soups and sauces can also replace water to add extra flavor to savory dishes like rice or cous cous. Create a baste for roasting meats by adding fresh herbs to hot stock. For different applications, keep a couple varieties on hand: beef, chicken or vegetable are the most common flavors, and try different forms of broth too including cartons, cans and dried cubes.

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Canned Tomatoes

A can of tomatoes is available in many forms -- whole, chopped, crushed or pureed -- that all have something in common: a low-calorie, high-vitamin, flavorful addition to stews, chili, Spanish rice, salsa or pasta sauce. If you have limited space, stock up on whole tomatoes, which can be chopped, crushed or pureed to fit whatever dish you’re making. Try experimenting with flavors like basil, garlic and fire-roasted.

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Dried Beans

Dried beans are affordable, versatile and pack in the fiber and protein for many recipes. Rehydrate the beans by soaking them overnight, then mix with chicken stock, chopped vegetables, meat and cooked pasta for a hearty soup or stew. Add cooked pinto beans to Spanish rice for an easy side dish, or throw black beans into your next salad for some added flavor and texture.

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Brown Rice

With higher levels of B vitamins, manganese, iron and dietary fiber than white rice, brown rice is a healthy and versatile pantry stable. Add it to stir-fry, stew or chili for a rich and filling meal or serve it mixed with fresh herbs and spices as a tasty side dish. Remember that brown rice will take longer to cook than white rice, so think ahead when preparing this starchy staple.

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Canned Chicken or Tuna

Cooking chicken or fish from scratch every night might not be a viable option, but canned chicken or tuna fish will provide an easy alternative with all the protein and omega-3 fatty acids of the fresh versions. Mix canned chicken with mayonnaise or creamy salad dressing, relish and some spices for a quick chicken salad. Tuna is a classic sandwich filling, but try adding it to salads or pastas for extra protein.

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There are dozens of types of vinegar available on the market, from the basic white distilled and apple cider vinegars, to gourmet varieties like aged balsamic, red wine or raspberry vinegar. With such a wide range of styles, vinegar can be used in countless recipes. Make a healthy vinaigrette salad dressing, add a tangy flavor to fresh fruit or add zest to pasta sauces. Vinegar can even be used to fix the flavor of a dish if you’ve added too much salt to the recipe.

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Honey is a natural sweetener that can be used to replace sugar or other artificial sweeteners in a variety of recipes. Because honey is sweeter than white sugar, you’ll use less of it, reducing your caloric intake. Mix it with tea, add it to plain yogurt, make a simple salad dressing or substitute it for refined sugar in baking recipes.

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Shelf-Stable Milk

It tastes and looks the same, and even contains the same nutritional value, but shelf-stable milk can be kept fresh for months outside of the refrigerator as long as the container is sealed. Processed at a higher temperature than regular milk, shelf-stable milk is not susceptible to bacteria in the same way as regular milk. If you have limited room in your refrigerator but want to keep a steady supply of milk in the house, it's a great solution.

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Chocolate Chips

Keep chocolate chips on hand to satisfy your sweet tooth. They're more versatile than you cookie lovers might suspect; chocolate chips can be melted and used to dip fruit or pretzels, for example. For an elegant dinner party, consider pairing chocolate with wines that have notes of chocolate, caramel or fruit, recommends sommelier Jordan Salcito. - in association with Rachael Ray

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