How to Stock Your Pantry, Fridge & Freezer
Most modern definitions of pantry stretch to include the refrigerator and freezer as well as more traditional dry goods. A well-stocked pantry puts a delicious weeknight dinner within reach at any time – and helps you stay prepared in case of emergencies. Whether you're a beginner cook or a pro, you can put a meal on the table anytime with this comprehensive list.
by Amanda McFarlane
Photo: Getty Images
Whether you're a beginner cook or a pro, you can put a meal on the table anytime with this comprehensive list. While some of these ingredients may be out of your comfort zone, we promise that you can find a tasty way to use them in your cooking, perhaps even pushing you toward new horizons in cooking, expanding your tastes, and making you a better cook. If you're really averse to some things on this list, there's no need to buy them. Why have canned tuna if you don't like fish?
These are things that really can last — but that doesn't mean you should hang on to them forever. Find ways to use them up, and when you have, put them on your grocery list to replenish your supply. This way, you always have them on hand. You'll know you have a well-stocked pantry if you only need to purchase a few fresh ingredients to cook a recipe.
Here's how to get started on stocking your pantry:
- Pull everything out of your pantry and decide what you want to keep and what you can get rid of. If something looks bad, smells bad, you don't know what it is, or it's been in the hidden depths of your pantry for years, toss it! Expiration dates and "best by" dates are not the best guidelines to follow as many items can last for quite some time after those dates.
- What's survived your purge? Make a list, then organize it — whether that's by cuisine, meal (breakfast, dinner), or by type of container (canned goods, boxes, bottles, etc.).
- Make a list of our pantry staples, then compare with what you have and what you may need or want to purchase. Food can be costly, so you don't have to stock up all at once. Do it in waves if that's more cost-effective for you. Buy what you like on the list below or substitute our suggestions with your favorites (e.g., sub black beans for pintos if that's what you like), but keep an open mind — you may find a new favorite by experimenting with new ingredients and recipes.
- Take inventory regularly to ensure your pantry remains well-stocked.
- Keep a list of what's in the freezer so you know what may be buried at the bottom or in the back, and cycle things out of the freezer regularly. This will help reduce waste and freezer overfill.
- Cook ingredients that are on their last leg. They will last longer than if left fresh.
- Buy ground spices and herbs in the smallest possible quantities. Their flavor begins to deteriorate as soon as they are opened — but this doesn't mean they "go bad." It just means they lose their flavorful punch over time.
- Label and properly wrap and store ingredients, especially things like cooked ingredients going into the fridge or meat going into the freezer.
- Meal plan! This will help you stay organized, be more motivated to cook, and make breakfasts, lunches, and dinners easier and less stressful. This also helps you plan ahead if you need to get something out of the freezer to thaw. Here's our ultimate meal planning guide with some of our best tips and tricks.
Nuts and nut butters: pecans, almonds, cashews, peanut butter or almond butter
Dried or canned beans: chickpeas, cannellini beans, black beans
Canned goods: tomatoes, coconut milk
Tinned fish: anchovies, sardines, tuna, salmon
Sweeteners: honey, avage, maple syrup
Dried pastas: several different shapes of your choice
Grains and starches: farro, couscous, rice, lentils, crackers, chips, panko bread crumbs
Pickled items: pickles, cornichons, kimchi, sauerkraut, capers
Baking ingredients: cornmeal, flour, sugars, chocolate, baking soda/powder, vanilla, yeast
Condiments and sauces: mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, Hoisin, sambal oelek, Worcestershire, tahini, fish sauce, gochujang, red curry paste, harissa, miso, hot sauces
Vinegars and oils: extra virgin olive oil & neutral oil like vegetable or grapeseed, several kinds of vinegar
Spices: cinnamon, cumin, coriander, chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, cardamom, dry mustard, nutmeg, paprika, and any other spices you love to use
Stocks/broths including Better Than Bouillon
Dried fruits and jams/preserves
Dairy: eggs, hard or aged cheeses, like Parmesan, Pecorino, Gruyere, and cheddar, packaged processed cheeses, like mozzarella and Monterey Jack Feta, milk, cream, buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, butter
Olives and dates
Cured meats: salamis, prosciutto, pepperoni
This list contains some items that last in the refrigerator for quite awhile. Onions, garlic, and potatoes do NOT need to be refrigerated.
Cabbage, kale/Swiss chard, and romaine
Ginger and garlic
Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts
Citrus: limes, oranges, lemons
Chiles: jalapeno, serrano, or Fresno
Hardy herbs: rosemary, thyme, sage
Frozen proteins: 3–5 kinds of meats, like chicken, ground beef/pork, steaks, bacon, pork tenderloin/chops
Frozen fish/seafood: 1–2 kinds of fish, seafood like shrimp/scallops
Bread and puff pastry
Frozen vegetables and fruit: corn, artichokes, broccoli, peas, edamame, berries, bananas
Some fruits and vegetables are great frozen, like the ones listed above. They're often packed at the peak of freshness, so they may even taste better than when bought fresh and out-of-season.
Prepared meals: make some freezer-friendly meals ahead of time and keep well-wrapped in the freezer for busy nights
It never hurts to have a couple bottles of wine — for cooking or drinking (or both)!
With this list, your grocery store runs should only have to be for restocking, fresh ingredients that don't last long, and any specialty ingredients that may be specific to a recipe you want to cook.