To help combat these cooking ruts, I have found it helpful to have a well-stocked pantry with staples that can be used to serve up a plethora of meals without much extra thought or effort. In addition, having a core pantry/fridge/freezer list allows us to invite company over at the last minute. Carpe diem, right?
This is not an exhaustive list. I keep the everyday essentials like flour, milk, eggs, potatoes, carrots and apples around, but this list highlights the the lifesavers in the kitchen for a last minute cook like me. Here are the staples that we use to whip up meals and entertain “off-the-cuff”:
Cooking – Canned Goods
Canned tomatoes: Buy a quality brand (no additives) for soups, casseroles and pasta sauces.
Canned marinara sauce: A jar of quality marinara sauce doubles as a quick pasta (with veggies and meat added) or as pizza sauce.
Canned lentils, kidney beans, white beans: saves time because you don’t have to soak and pre-cook the legumes
Coconut milk: Essential ingredient for quick curries and beverages.
Cooking – Rice & Grains
Pasta: I keep linguine and/or spaghetti, penne, macaroni and one more fun shape, just because!
Rice: Basmati or jasmine, wild rice and rice noodle stick (vermicelli and Thai) cover the gamut.
Quinoa and/or couscous: We use these for side dishes and salads — and even breakfast!
Oatmeal: We prefer large flake for granola, baking and porridge.
Quick rise yeast packets: These are perfectly portioned for grilled flatbread and pizza crust.
Chocolate: Semi sweet squares for delicious brownies do the trick.
Dried fruit: Raisins, cranberries, dried cherries add sweetness to granola and baking and trail mix.
Seasonings, Oils & Vinegars, Spices & Sweeteners
Honey and/or agave syrup: These are handy for iced coffeed, cocktails, tea and my daily Matcha.
Maple Syrup: This is liquid gold — because we’re Canadian, eh!
Kosher salt & pepper
Popcorn kernels: Buttery popcorn is good enough for company, right?
Salt and Vinegar Chips: Quality, kettle cooked chips and white wine are my vice.
Nacho chips: Salsa and chips fill the gap for teenage boys and their friends.
Nuts: Cashews and almonds stand well quick afternoon protein snacks and charcuterie boards.
Olives & Capers: Ingredients Artisan Market in Saskatoon has wonderful marinated olive and the bright green Cerignola olives we love.
Parmesan cheese: Use every bit in salads, pastas and saving the rinds for soup.
Cheddar cheese: Everything is better with cheddar.
Mozzarella cheese: Necessary for aforementioned teenage nacho feasts (and family pizza night).
Feta cheese: This adds an unexpected savoury hit to eggs, burgers, and especially good on beet salad.
Cream: This adds a bit of luxury to pasta sauces and whipped cream tops our weekly Saturday brunch pancakes and fruit.
Buttermilk: This is an underrated cooking workhorse for marinating chicken, baking, salad dressings and more.
Sour cream and/or plain yogurt: I use in everything from salad dressings to tzatziki to yogurt breakfast parfait.
Mayonnaise: I don’t always make my own, so keep this handy.
Garlic: Keep at least 3 bulbson hand at all times.
Onion: I like red and white – for cooking to salads, onions are a clutch item to add savory flavor.
Lemon: I keep fresh lemons for zesting, making salad dressings generally amping up flavour.
Lime: These are great in global cuisines and essential in my daily Matcha energizer.
Gingerroot: I freeze whole pieces of ginger and easily grate it into marinades, curries and dressings. I also use it daily in my Matcha tea drink.
Salad stuff: I keep various greens, cucumber, peppers and whatever other green foods inspire me for the daily salad. Bright colours = nutrition= energy & health.
Condiments & Oils
Dijon Mustard: I keep both smooth and grainy mustard — a solid base for salad dressings.
Vinegars: Aged balsamic, red and white wine, and rice vinegar cover all the baes.
Soy sauce: It adds depth to many dishes.
Worchestershire sauce: I use in everything from burgers to Caesar salad dressing.
Sriracha / your favourite hot sauce: I love this for General Tso’s chicken and so much more.
Ketchup: It’s not just for hot dogs, but for a hint of sweet in pasta sauces and Asian marinades.
Fish sauce: I used to think this was optional. It is a unami ingredient now.
Marmalade: Weird huh? I won’t use it on toast, but I use this in many Asian dishes and it makes a great glaze for chicken wings when mixed with garlic, soy and fish sauce.
Curry paste: Green, red and Indian curry paste cover the range of cuisines and you don’t need to buy prepackaged sauces.
Olive oil or cold pressed canola oil
Vegetable or other neutral cooking oil: It’s a pantry staple for high heat cooking and when you don’t want an oil taste.
Sesame oil: It adds depth to salad dressing and marinades.
Bread: In addition to white and whole grain bread baked by my neighbour, I keep frozen baguette at the ready.
Vanilla ice cream: It tops our warm brownies. Need I say more?
Bacon: We are spoiled because we have freezers of protein just steps away from the house, but somehow bacon is special. In soup, topped on homemade mac ‘n cheese, in a BLT, or for breakfast — a little goes a long way.
Bone broth: I make a stock pot full and freeze in 2 cup portions for sipping or using in risottos, sauces and soups.
Proscuitto and other thin sliced deli meats: These are in our deli keeper for sandwiches, chopped in omelets or on a charcuterie board with olives, nuts, cheeses and baguette when company arrives.
What ingredients can you just not do without? Meal prep tips for the everyday cook? We’d love to hear from you.