You don’t need a lot of new ingredients to enjoy delicious meals. In today’s post, I’m sharing tips on the best items to stock your pantry with and how to use those staple ingredients to create meals your family will love.
Things to Know Before You Stock Up
1. Take inventory of the food you already have at home.
With pen and paper on hand, head to your pantry, fridge, and freezer and write down the foods you already have and can consume first. There’s no need to buy more pasta if you already have a dozen boxes of spaghetti on hand.
2. Make a list of meals you can make today.
Look at the items you wrote down on your paper and write a list of simple meals your family will eat you can make using the ingredients you have. Any missing ingredients can be written down on a separate shopping list.
And while you’re thinking about meals, jot down meals your family will enjoy eating for additional days. Meaning, if you only have enough food to cook 6 full family meals, write down 8-10 other meals you can make with a few ingredients for the rest of the 2-week period.
Remember to keep things simple. And by the way, repeat meals as necessary since this is temporary.
3. Repeat for all meals.
While you might associate “meals” with dinner, you’ll need to do this process for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
Now that you have the “on-hand” list, a “meals” list, and a “shopping list” with the missing ingredients to help you make those meals, let’s talk about what foods to buy to have on hand.
What Foods to Stock
Hopefully, you did the steps above to assess what your food needs are. Stocking up for emergencies can get expensive and it’s easy to “run out” without proper planning.
If you’re not the “planning” type and are thinking “just give me a list of food” I’ve got you covered.
Note that the meals you’ll be making with the ingredients below are not going to be a 3-course meal but you’ll go beyond eating “rice and beans” for two weeks.
1. Stock up on shelf-stable, meal-building, pantry ingredients.
Oats, pasta, rice, whole-grains, legumes, and flour are always a good idea. These ingredients only require water to be cooked and can often yield more servings than their measured volume.
These are also the least expensive items to purchase and a little goes a long way! Here are some examples of meals you can build with each:
- Base for recipes
- Plain, with butter
- Alongside beans
Like rice and pasta, other whole grains like quinoa, farro, and barley can be used as meal builders and sides for other meals.
Beans, or legumes, are terrific to build meals because they are a good source of fiber, protein, and nutrition. It’s an inexpensive way of providing nutrition and can be easily be prepared with water and seasonings.
Tips: if you are short on storage space, consider buying bulk beans instead of canned. While not as convenient, you can get 4-5 times the amount of servings for the same cost from bulk dried beans.
1 15-ounce can of beans = 3 servings = $1.59 (avg)
1 32-ounce bag of beans = 26 servings = $1.79 (avg)
2. Stock up on Frozen Items
Freezer-space permitting, frozen counterparts to fresh vegetables provide the same amount of nutrition and can be stored in the freezer for long periods of time (1-6 months).
Spinach, broccoli, green beans pack a lot of nutrition per bite. Other favorites: carrots, brussels sprouts, and stir-fry mixes
Blueberries, strawberries, peaches, cherries, and pineapple are all great choices because they are packed with nutrition from both vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.
I’m a big fan of keeping a stash of frozen proteins like chicken, pork, and beef roast, in my freezer at all times. These should complement the recipes in your meal plans and not meant to be the bulk of the meal.
If you buy fresh meat at the grocery to freeze, consider it cutting it into smaller pieces or preparing it for the recipe you mean to use it in, add the spices or seasonings, and freeze in a labeled zip bag. Label everything.
If you are having trouble finding what you need in grocery stores or want to limit trips to the store, see how I’ve been ordering chicken and other meats online for months now. This resource is coming in handy right now too!
Best meats to keep in your freezer to build meals:
- chicken breast
- whole chickens
- chicken thighs
- beef pot roast or shoulder roast
- ground beef
- pork roast, pork loins
When considering proteins to purchase to stock up for an emergency, always buy the meats you’re most familiar with and most versatile with recipes.
I highly recommend purchasing seafood and fish if it’s available and your family will eat it. Remember, you’re meal planning for an emergency period. Ounce for ounce, seafood is more expensive than other animal proteins.
If you’re unsure whether or not you’ll eat the fish in the freezer but would like to get some of the benefits from seafood, consider buying canned seafood (see list below for recommendations).
Best Recipes Using Pantry Staples
Now that you know what to stock your pantry with, it’s time to get inspired on what to make!
Recipes with Beans
Beans are an inexpensive source of protein and super versatile, making them an excellent addition or replacement for meat in many recipes. Often I’ll use beans in place of ground beef for tacos, soups, and stews. Below are a few examples of simple and crowd-pleasing meals and side dishes you can make with canned and dried beans.
- New Orleans Red Beans & Rice
- Burrito Bowls
- Vegetable Minestrone
- Southwest Quinoa Salad
- Italian Baked Beans
- Black Bean Veggie Burgers
How to cook dry beans
Canned beans are handy, but they have nothing on the taste and creamy texture of home-cooked dried beans. If you think it’s complicated and tedious, think again! I’ve dedicated an entire post on how to cook dried beans in a slow cooker, instant pot, and on the stove-top, you can check those recipes out here.
Recipes Using Rice
Rice is another versatile ingredient that can be used to bulk up soups, stir-fry’s, and power bowls. Stocking up on your favorite variety is always a good idea.
If rice isn’t something you make often and aren’t sure how to cook it tender and fluffy, this post is the perfect place to start. Some of our favorite rice recipes include:
Recipes Using Oats
Oats- one of the best ingredients for delicious breakfasts and baked goods! Not only is it easy to whip up baked oatmeal and overnight oats, but you can use it to make homemade oat flour for muffins, bread, and cookies.
Due to their high moisture content, oats have a shorter life span than dried beans, rice, and canned goods. To stretch their shelf-life seal them in an airtight container and store in the pantry for 3 months or refrigerate for 6 months. Now for the oat recipes!
More Recipes with Pantry Staples
With pasta, spices, canned, and frozen goods, the options for incredible meals don’t run short. The recipes in this post, as well as the 2 Week Pantry Staples Meal Plan, are designed to be nutritious, simple, and flexible, meaning you can enjoy a balanced meal with pantry basics and swap ingredients with whatever’s available.
Here are a few more recipes you can easily whip up with simple ingredients:
Don’t have ground beef for the goulash? Swap it for 2 15-ounce cans of beans. No bacon for the carbonara? Use chopped deli ham instead.
You can also turn the Black Bean Breakfast Tacos into a bowl by servings the ingredients over cooked rice.
Leftovers are life-savers and can save you ample time in the kitchen when it comes to making multiple meals a day.
You don’t have to reinvent to wheel each meal! Why not make something new with ingredients from a previous meal?
So instead of guessing what to make for lunch, you’re prepared to serve that extra rice from Monday’s vegetable stir-fry with taco night leftovers for burrito bowls.
Have extra baked chicken? Good! Reserve it for a stove-top chicken stew with veggies from the pantry and freezer. See where I’m going?
The goal here is to eat what you have on hand all while saving time, money, and unnecessary trips to the grocery store.
How to Build an Emergency Food Supply
The most conservative approach to building an emergency food supply is to buy what your family will consume (realistically) for 14 days.
The best foods to use for an emergency food supply should require minimal cooking, versatile for multiple recipes, and you can eat it on repeat.
Besides the above pantry staples and freezer items, canned goods are always a great idea.
Best Foods to Stock for Emergencies
At the end of the day, remember that the best foods to stock for emergencies are those you are comfortable cooking and your family will eat. Why waste your time and precious storage space on items you’ll never use? Exactly.
You can get ahead of the game by preparing some meals now with the food that you have at home and freezing it. This will save you time and open up fridge and pantry space for new ingredients.
Tip: freezing items flat in a zip bag will take up less room. And remember to label the contents inside the bag.
You might want to make some breakfast muffins or other baked goods and freeze them too.
Best Canned Goods to Stock Up On
Fruit: fruits without added sugar are a good idea. Look for fruits with a high vitamin C content, like peaches, oranges, pineapples, and grapefruit.
Vegetables: I recommend having some canned vegetables on hand because they are a great source of fiber, vitamin C, and other nutrients. Corn, carrots, peas, and green beans are great options. Another favorite: canned pumpkin. It’s not just for fall!
Beans: stock up on all varieties of canned beans (that your family will actually eat). Typically, I recommend 2 cans per meal, for a family of 4. Beans are easy to use, require no cooking, and can be turned into a meal quickly!
Recipes to make with canned beans:
Pasta: this suggestion might make your kids extremely happy and give you a day off from cooking! Many canned pasta varieties are high on sodium so keep an eye out for that.
Simple canned cheese ravioli are kid-friendly, provides protein, carbohydrates, and are low in saturated fat.
Fish: love canned seafood because they are a wonderful source of omega 3s and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Stock up on:
Canned fish can be used in sandwiches, salads, and even “fish nuggets“.
How to Store the Food
While some people have large pantries, others do not. When space is limited, you’ll want to store shelf-stable pantry items in temperature-controlled rooms for maximum life-span.
Creative spaces to store food:
- In bins or boxes under beds.
- In your laundry room
- In the space under your staircase
- In your closets, high up or at ground floor
- In the water heater closet
- Under the couch
- In the basement, if you have one
Fresh foods to buy for food storage – Perishables to keep on hand
While it seems like you’re preparing for an apocalypse, remember you’re preparing to be self-reliant for a 2-week period (more with proper planning).
Dairy: items like fresh milk can go bad before your 2-week period, so I recommend having on hand what you will consume before the expiration date. Otherwise, purchase shelf-stable milk or dairy-free alternatives that do not require refrigeration.
Did you know that milk can be frozen? It can! If you have the freezer space, buy milk in quart or half gallon sizes and freeze it. When ready to use, thaw it out in the refrigerator overnight and consume within 5 days.
Cheese: block and shredded cheeses last about 2 weeks in the refrigerator after opening so make sure to keep those packages sealed tight and only open when necessary. Some cheeses like Cheddar and Parmesan last about a month.
Fruit: although I just suggested that you stock up on frozen and canned fruits, some fruits have longer shelf life than others. Berries and other soft-skinned fruits have a short life-span, about 3-5 days post-purchase in the refrigerator, while others longer. I recommend you purchase and keep in the refrigerator:
- Apples (all varieties)
- Oranges & clementines
- Bananas (buy green keep on counter, peel & freeze when very ripe)
I love stocking up on bananas. When they go ripe, I make Banana Oatmeal Muffins with many pantry staples.
Vegetables: few fresh vegetables will last longer than 5 days. This is fine if you’re purchasing foods for two or three weeks. The first week, use up everything fresh and after that, hit up the stash in your freezer.
Some longer-life veggies:
- Broccoli (keep in fridge)
- Butternut Squash and spaghetti squash (tips on cooking spaghetti squash)
- Cabbage, green and purple
Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes: when kept in a cool, dry place like your pantry these can last up to 3 weeks.
Onions & Garlic: they add lots of flavor to your meals and can also last up to two months when stored in a cool, dry place like the pantry.
Eggs: eggs have a long life in the refrigerator. It’s best to keep them in their original carton and they are usually labeled with an expiration date (about 3 weeks from the time of purchase). You can also freeze eggs!
Butter: essential to baking, spreading and cooking you can keep this in the fridge for a few months or in the freezer for a year.
Bread (sliced, muffins, tortillas, bagels, English muffins): no doubt, the bread you purchase today at the grocery will have a printed “Best by” date. You can extend their shelf life by refrigerating the bread or by keeping it in its original packaging and freezing, then toast or warm at room temperature as needed.
Other Cooking Essentials to Have on Hand
While you might only be thinking food that needs to be heated or cooked, there are other essentials most people overlook that are almost necessary to cook meals.
While it’s not necessary to stock up on these items, consider having these on hand:
- seasonings and spices
- oil spray and cooking oils
- coffee (always a good idea IMO)
- condiments and sauces
Snacks to keep on hand
While you might be inclined to purchase a bunch of “single packs” for snack time, stress eating is a real thing and can hit any of us at any time. Those granola bars? Gone. 100-calorie packs? Gone.
Try having these snacks in your pantry instead:
Dried Fruit: a small serving is nutrition and fiber-rich; so keeping these in your pantry is always a good idea. They can be used to top your oatmeal and baked goods. You can also make your own banana chips or apple chips to keep them longer.
Nuts and Nut Butter: an often overlooked source of protein that lasts a long time is a terrific option for snack time. A small handful of nuts have essential fats and minerals. Buy a big bag of your favorite and remember to seal it well to keep them fresh or keep them in the freezer (if you have room) for ultimate freshness.
When it comes to nut butter you’ll only need a couple of jars. There’s nothing wrong with making a PB&J sandwich and calling it a meal, that’s comfort food for many!
Seeds: also rich in nutrition seeds like flax, chia, and hemp are great to keep in your fridge. If you don’t typically use seeds, skip them. They aren’t cheap and while nutritious, save your money.
I placed seeds in the snack category because they are great to top yogurts, add them to smoothies, or add them to your morning oats.
Other Food Items to Consider
If you have a young child or baby, consider having enough baby food or formula, this is especially the case when it comes to special dietary needs.
If you have food allergies or special dietary needs in the family, make sure to have enough on hand so that you can provide safe and nutritious meals for everyone.
If you have pets, remember having extra pet food for them as well.
How much is a 2 Week Supply of Water?
The CDC recommends that you should have at least one gallon of water per person (and per pet) per day in your emergency stockpile. That means if you have four people in your family, you should have four gallons per day, and that’s just for drinking.
You can consider purchasing a filtration pump or LifeStraw pitcher or personal filter to make sure you have access to clean and safe drinking water.
How to Freeze Food for Storage
Below you’ll find some helpful posts on how to freeze many of the items suggested to stock up on. I bet you didn’t know you could freeze some of these!
- How to freeze milk
- How to freeze eggs
- How to freeze butter
- How to freeze pizza dough
- How to freeze muffin batter
- How to freeze waffles
- How to freeze pancakes
- How to freeze berries
- How to freeze pasta
- How to freeze rice
- How to freeze smoothies
- How to freeze sandwiches
- How to freeze bread
- How to freeze bananas
How to Make Fresh Food Last Longer
If you’re wondering how to make some foods last longer, like lettuce and berries, I totally get you! I too would love to eat fresh salads!
- How to keep berries longer
- How to keep lettuce fresh
- How to boil an egg that’s easy to peel
- How to peel hard boil eggs easily
In the end, no matter what you are planning your real-food storage for, remember to not over-do-it, plan smart, and create a plan for the food you purchased.
Cooking With Pantry Staples
Beef & Broccoli
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 cup beef broth
- 4 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon chili paste
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 ½ pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cubed or
- Sesame seeds
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 cups white rice
- 1 ½ pounds broccoli florets, about 2 crowns
- Inside the slow cooker’s dish, whisk the honey, soy sauce, beef broth, grated garlic, sesame oil, vinegar, ginger, chili paste, onion powder, and pepper.
- Add the cubed beef to the sauce and toss to combine.
- Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
- In the final 30 minutes of cooking, cook 2 cups of rice according to package directions. Steam the broccoli on the stovetop or in the microwave and season as desired.
- Prior to serving, sprinkle the sesame seeds and green onions, if using, to the beef, stir and cover.
- To assemble, scoop cooked rice into a bowl, top with beef and steamed broccoli.