The Meal Planning Pantry: 10 Essentials to Have in Your Pantry for Better Meal Planning

updated May 4, 2022
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There are two types of ingredients that bring your meal plan to life: those that are specific to each recipe, and pantry ingredients you find yourself using over and over again. So if you’re ready to make meal planning a bit easier, the answer lies in strategically stocking your pantry.

The items you always keep on hand are meal plan power players. They’re the versatile basics that can be worked into a wide range of different meals, and will appear in recipe after recipe. Even on the days when you feel like there’s nothing to eat, these core ingredients turn eggs into a hearty frittata, pasta into a delicious three-ingredient dish, or rice into a one-pot wonder. Here are 10 staples to keep stocked in your pantry to make your meal run smoothly.

1. Olive Oil

Cooking oil is an essential component to your pantry and will be used on a near-daily basis. Olive oil is a universal option that will work for everything from making basic vinaigrettes to roasting meat and vegetables. Pick one you love to cook with and enjoy drizzling over salad greens.

2. White Wine Vinegar

Not to be confused with the more harsh distilled white vinegar, white wine vinegar is slightly more mild than its red counterpart and a good all-around vinegar to keep in the pantry. It adds a light, bright finish to rich sauces, offers a non-alcoholic option for deglazing your pan, and works as the fresh base for vinaigrettes.

Go beyond white wine vinegar: 5 Essential Vinegars for Your Pantry

3. Salt and Pepper

Kind of obvious, but considering how critical salt is to most recipes, it’s something you want to keep tabs on in your pantry. Get started with kosher salt and stick to one brand so you become familiar with the feel of it in your hand. For black pepper, go with either ground black pepper or whole peppercorns (if you have a grinder).

Chicken and Biscuit Casserole (Image credit: Lauren Volo)

4. Stock

Take your pick between chicken or vegetable stock (they can be used interchangeably, so pick what’s right for you). It’s always smart to have an extra carton or can stashed in the pantry. It’s an ingredient that will show up in soups, sauces, casseroles, skillet dinners, and so much more.

5. Rice

From a simple side to pair with your stir-fry to a quick skillet dinner, rice is an ultra-versatile pantry staple that can work its way onto your plate in so many different forms. Not into rice? Swap it for equally versatile substitutes like quinoa, farro, or orzo instead.

Turn Rice and Grains into a Meal

6. Pasta and Noodles

Not only is a saucy bowl of spaghetti totally comforting, but it also makes for a quick dinner on most weeknights. Not feeling regular pasta? Keep a package of soba or rice noodles stocked in the pantry instead.

7. Beans and Lentils

Wholesome and protein-packed canned or dried beans and lentils can turn a simple salad into a meal, create the base for a hearty soup or curry, and do so much more.

Turn Beans and Lentils into Dinner

8. Canned Tomatoes

Whole, diced, and crushed canned tomatoes are pantry superstars. This versatile ingredient can be cooked into a quick marinara sauce; blended into soup; or stirred into chili, spiced curries, casseroles, and braises.

Get inspired to cook with canned tomatoes: 5 Incredible Ways to Use a Can of Tomatoes

9. Sweeteners (Maple, Honey, or Agave)

A basic sweetener is the pantry ingredient to lean on for a quick pantry sauce, a balanced vinaigrette, and a simple glaze for meat and fish. Choose between maple syrup, honey, or agave.

10. Coconut milk

A can of coconut milk is the pantry ingredient that brings an air of luxury and richness to dishes. Use it for creamy soups and stews, spiced curries, or a more flavorful whole chicken.

Get inspired to cook with coconut milk: 17 Absolutely Delicious Ways to Cook with Coconut Milk

Your turn — what are the most important staples in your pantry that make meal planning easier?