27 Essential Food Items You Must Have in Your Kitchen (2021 Update)

The greatest takeaway of 2020 is: being prepared counts. Lockdowns, quarantines, and limited out-of-home activities made a lot of us take a look at what we have at home.

Many of us were forced to become creative, particularly when it came to food. But we’ll help you keep things under control by sharing 27 foods you must always have at home and mainly in your kitchen.

You don’t always have to be prepared and stockpile a lot of food – but having these foods around at all times is extremely helpful. You never know when you feel like preparing something and you don’t have it available right away.

Sure, you can always find a substitute for tomato paste at home… but that’s not always the case with all foods out there.

While things are getting better while precautions are in place worldwide, it is vital that we keep our kitchens stocked with the staples and create a good balance of food inventoried so we can cater to the different cravings in our household.

Here is a list of simple, to-go food items that won’t break the bank but will give you a good base whenever the urge to go master chef mode strikes.

(We have all details and whys for each food on the list, but if you’re in a hurry and just want to see the items without getting into the details, we’ve got you covered!)

Full Pantry
  • Honey
  • Salt
  • Dark Chocolate (Cocoa)
  • Yogurt
  • Minced meat (or Tofu)
  • Milk
  • Frozen Fruit
  • Dried Herbs
  • Garlic
  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Bulgur
  • Oatmeal
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Eggs
  • Apples
  • Banana
  • Fresh Herbs
  • Lemons
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar
  • Tomato Paste
  • Mustard
  • Tuna
  • Broth

Flavor Staples

1. Honey

This natural sweetener is not only versatile but it keeps well when stored in dry, well-sealed bottles.

Honey can be used as a substitute for sugar in baking, for certain drinks, and even used as a base for homemade holistic cures for cough, colds, or simple stomach ailments.

The distinct flavor of honey is also ideal for marinades, dressings, and some sauces.

2. Salt

No pantry is complete, of course, without the key staple for enhanced taste.

Aside from flavor, salt is also essential physically for proper absorption of nutrients and are important in fluid regulation, muscle function, and brain reception of signals from the nervous system.

You have a choice of rock, kosher, Himalayan pink, iodized, and even spiced salt. What you keep will depend greatly on need and availability – but you must always have at least some salt in your kitchen.

3. Dark Chocolate and Cocoa

Depending on accessibility and preference, add some fun to your pantry staples to have something on hand to satisfy any sweet tooth or bakery cravings.

While there are advocates for the numerous benefits for cacao, dark chocolate is also an excellent option to satisfy that food lust for chocolates.

You can munch on them, use them for baking, sauces, topping, and add into you drinks.

Fridge and Freezer Friends

4. Yogurt

yogurt

Yogurt is your probiotic must-have in the fridge for its health benefits as well as the variety of dishes that it can be combined with from sweet to savory.

Most of us eat this cold delight straight up or with a slice of fruit. Others combine it with other condiments to create dressing and sauces.

Many bakers have also opted for yoghurt to make cakes lighter and fluffier. It is also a yummy addition to meat marinades and can even be added to rice dishes popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines.

5. Minced Meat or Tofu

It is always handy to have on hand a bit of these protein and flavor punchers in your freezer. It all depends on your dietary needs and preferences.

Tofu can be stored in the freezer with proper care in the thawing to ensure that taste and texture are preserved. They are great additions to stir-fry, toppings, or steamed dishes.

Defrosting is easier and you don’t have to manhandle portions of meat with a cleaver as well!

6. Milk

As a straight up beverage or drink enhancer, or an ingredient in a dish or pastry, milk is an important staple to have in your pantry.

There is a slew of milk available from the full-fat dairy, skim milk options, to soy and almond milk.

If you want to make sure that it lasts longer than your fresh milk, go for the UHT option.

7. Frozen Fruit

Freezing fruits in season will be a boon when you have the desire for something sweet and fresh. Simply defrost and whip up a smoothie.

You can also use properly defrosted frozen fruit to make jams and syrups. Or. Simply eat it straight and get your fruity fix.

Spicing It Up

8.Dried Herbs

For your personalized selection of dried herbs, consider what recipes you incorporate in meal planning and buy accordingly.

These flavor boosters are a must not only for the taste factor, but also for the health benefits we get from adding herbs to our dishes. Ditch the pre-mixed herbs and get the basics.

You can learn how to make your own mix, controlling the quality and taste to your liking.

A well-rounded herb list would have thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, cumin, curry, onion and garlic powder, anise, nutmeg, basil, oregano, paprika, cayenne, black and white pepper at least at the basic.

What a long way ordinary bread or pasta will go with a dash of the right herbs and some olive oil.

9. Garlic

garlic stockpile

This is another flavor staple that might cause quite a bit of controversy. You either love it or you hate it. Garlic morphed to being just a flavor enhancer to become a healthy addition to drinks and herbal concoctions.

So, even if you aren’t exactly in love with garlic, have a few heads lying around. It might come in handy (and we are not just talking about vampires)!

Sure, it might be difficult to get the garlic smell out of your containers, but it’s totally worth it!

The Granary

10. Beans

One of the best sources of fiber as well as protein, beans can stay in your pantry for a long time. Yes, there are canned options and you can have some of them but the best is to have the dry variety.

Stock up on all kinds of beans – chickpeas, black-eyed peas, fava, mung, kidney, red beans – the list goes on!

With beans you can make everything from yummy desserts and tasty fillings, to comfort-bearing hummus, and savory falafels, and soups.

They are a good addition to salads, making them complete meals. Just remember to store in dry, sealed containers. And please label them if they come unnamed!

You don’t want to be staring at a bag of beans wondering what kind they are. Trust me, they don’t reply when asked.

11. Quinoa

This superfood has emerged to become one of the increasingly popular food staples. It is high in protein, gluten-free, rich in fiber and minerals.

This staple is easy to prepare and can be consumed by itself, as a substitute to grains such as rice.

It can also be added to meat and vegetable dishes to create easy, healthy, one-pot meals.

12. Rice

This important source of complex carbohydrates is a staple in many cuisines. The range of recipes that this grain can be prepared are endless.

It is always handy to have some in case you prefer this fluffy blank slate to pair with your other dishes.

rice

13. Bulgur / Cracked Wheat

This is one of the most ancient processed grains. You can make hearty porridge and sweet dishes with this as a base.

This fiber rich grain is also great for stuffing poultry and vegetables to make savory Mediterranean dishes.

It is quite simpler to prepare than most grains and can be quite satisfying, even with just a dollop of honey and some cinnamon.

14. Oatmeal

Oatmeal has been elevated from being the superstar breakfast staple to being key in making pastries and breads healthier. It’s a great fill-er-up staple that can be eaten sweet, and yes, savory.

It can be added to some clear soup and is quite a hearty option for a quick meal. It’s quite easy to prepare and add on so having it in your food inventory is quite helpful.

15. Flour

This versatile ingredient made from grinded raw grains is useful for baking, and thickening sauces and gravies. There are many types of flour to choose from depending on what you use more often.

Just take care to transfer opened flour packages in dry, airtight containers to avoid spoilage.

16. Pasta

A packet or two of easy-to-boil pasta of your choice is always useful if you want to make quick some comfort food.

You can go simply with a drizzle of olive oil and some parmesan and thyme – to something that needs more effort like a lasagna.

Keeping It Fresh

17. Eggs

Boiled, poached, fried, or any which way – the egg in itself is a meal. Now let’s not get started with the countless ways we can use it in our dishes.

Unless you’re allergic, this one is a must-have in the fridge. Just make sure you store them right and buy only amounts that you can consume.

18. Apples

Apples keep well and cook well. Aside from that, they are quite reasonably priced as well as available. Just grab one and munch or add into pastries and sauces.

It is also a nice addition to certain stews to give it that distinctive tangy-sweet kick if you do not prefer citrus.

19. Banana

banana

Easily available and economical – the banana is a quick snack when necessary.

When you are feeling creative, it can be added to breads and pastries (we love banana cake here!), or simple combined with yoghurt for a healthy and tasty treat.

This fruit also has nutrients and minerals that are essential to your daily health.

20. Fresh Herbs

While we have our stock of dried herbs, fresh herbs are still a welcome addition to our meals. They are great add-ons to pasta and potato dishes, as well as soups and for some, even in sandwiches.

Have a sprig of something fresh on hand like rosemary, thyme, basil, coriander, dill, or parsley.

Make sure they are clean and moisture-free before storage. Also, check for any spoilage before use.

21. Lemons

Packed with Vitamin C, lemons are refreshing as a drink and flavorful when added to meat marinades. Its distinct tangy flavor balances out any food that tends to be on the oily side.

Many cuisines also preserve and pickle lemons to be served whole as appetizers and are eaten with the pickled peels. One can never get too much lemons.

If you feel like you can’t consume your lemon stash, simply squeeze out the juice and freeze in an ice cube tray. You can pop them out and store in a water-tight plastic and put them back into the freezer!

Bottled Up

22. Olive Oil

This healthy food option is one staple many households must consider having, not only for benefits to the body, but also for how tasty this can make our dishes.

It is used mostly for salad dressings and pastas. But many have come to appreciate how a drizzle of olive oil plus a sprinkling of herbs can jazz up a boring piece of bread.

23. Vinegar

Most salad dressings require it, and you can even use it to clean your greasy kitchen cabinets if needed.

Vinegar is extremely versatile and a must have food in your kitchen, all year long.

24. Tomato Paste

When we want a certain umami taste but do not dare reach for that MSG, a spoonsful of tomato paste makes a whole difference in your recipes. You can also use it for dipping or basting sauces.

If you are not a heavy user of tomato paste, buy those in small packets so you don’t have to store them too long in the fridge. For this lycopene-rich ingredient, a little goes a long way in terms of flavor.

25. Mustard

mustard

This condiment packs a punch with its distinctive flavor that you simply cannot substitute easily. It is great for sandwiches, pairing well with meats and cheeses as well as other bread spreads.

Mustard is a favorite for marinades, dressings, and sauces. It is also part of secret mix for breading and coating fried chicken or pork fillets.

Not only does this condiment make food taste great, it is also touted to have anti-cancer elements and immune-boosting properties.

In the Can

26. Tuna

Craving seafood? Popping open some canned tuna is a quick and tasty fix. You can eat it out of the can or make a sandwich spread with it.

Tuna is a great source of high-quality protein as well as omega 3-fatty acids.

It is easy to prepare – spicing up your varieties of pizza, salad, rice toppings, and even tuna patties.

27. Broth

Many times, we find ourselves unable to make proper broth so the canned variety is a great ingredient to have in your pantry.

You will be ready for stews and soups, gravies and sauces. Broth is also great for steaming and as substituting oil in stir-fries.

Always try to purchase low sodium varieties and check the ingredients to ensure they fit your diet needs and preferences.

More about the foods you need to have at home at all times

Every household has its own unique needs. Adjust and modify the list to suit the specific needs of your culinary and dietary needs.

You will be surprised to find out that these staples and ingredients will enable you to assemble great dishes and nutritionally comprehensive menus with minimal trips to the supermarkets for fresh food, produce, dairy or milk.

Here are some super tips as you build your pantry and create the perfect food list for your family:

  • Always remember that all foods have their corresponding shelf life – even the ones in the freezer. Always try to use the first-in, first-out (FIFO in accounting for easier recall) method so you won’t end up with a bunch of spoiled food.
  • Note expiry dates for preserved food.
  • Plan your menus and get the staples that you can truly use.
  • If you do acquire that one-of-a-kind staple that you know don’t use that frequently but would like to have lying around in your cupboard, make sure to occasionally plan a dish to use it.
  • Always keep in mind food allergies of family members when buying canned or preserved products.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the list. Build your pantry, not only to be ready for a lockdown, but to increase the versatility of your kitchen prep.

This will also encourage you to become acquainted to the many more affordable, healthier, and easier to prepare alternatives than dining out or ordering takeaway food.

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