Building a Better Pantry

In our previous posts, we have shared quick and easy meal ideas and how to meal plan for your busy weeks. However, we know planning isn’t always possible and there is nothing more disappointing than wondering, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” after a long day. Whether you are planning to cook a large meal or looking for a quick snack, having a well-stocked pantry and freezer is key to making mealtime happen no matter what. We share EatLove’s favorite essentials to get you started, so you can easily whip up a nutritious meal in no time!


Aside from salt, dried spices are the foundation of flavor to boost up taste in any meal without adding additional sodium. Start with a handful of your favorite spices and after experimenting, continue to add to your collection. These are best used within a year as the flavor can mellow overtime.

  • Garlic powder
  • Cumin
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Curry
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary


Another level of flavor that can be layered on in cooking. It is the base for marinades and make excellent salad dressings. The simplest way to dress your greens is with an equal mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Store your oil away from direct sunlight to preserve freshness. Sauces like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and hot sauces should be stored in the fridge once opened.

  • Extra virgin olive oil — best for drizzling and salad dressings
  • Avocado or grapeseed oil — suitable for high heat
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Hot sauce


These are a lifesaver! Ready made stocks can be the foundations for soups and stews. Coconut milk can create curries and adds flavor when cooking rice. Canned fish and beans make an easy protein option to complete your meal. Keep an eye out for salt content on the nutrition labels, and opt for low-sodium when possible.

  • Low-sodium stock (chicken, beef, vegetable, etc)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Coconut milk
  • Canned fish, such tuna, sardines, and anchovies
  • Canned chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
  • Canned black beans


Whole grains are packed with B vitamins, fiber, protein, and minerals, and are a healthy way to add bulk to soups and stews, or can be enjoyed as a side dish. Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit make a quick snack or can be sprinkled over salads or oatmeal for an extra crunch.

  • Steel cut oats
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Lentils
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews)
  • Seeds (chia, sunflower)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries)


Don’t forget about freezer items! This is a great way to have protein sources on hand. Also, frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious, if not more, as their fresh counterparts. They are picked at their peak of ripeness before they are flash-frozen to preserve all their nutrients. Include a few of these in your icebox:

  • Frozen chicken tenders — smaller size thaws and cooks faster
  • Frozen salmon fillets
  • Frozen mixed vegetables
  • Frozen fruit (berries, mangos, or your favorite fruit)

We hand-picked a few recipes from our collection that you can make with our pantry essentials:

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken
Pantry Essentials: frozen chicken tenders, cashews, rice

Red Lentil and Rice Soup

Pantry Essentials: lentils, rice, vegetable broth
Pantry Essentials: lentils, rice, vegetable broth

This is only the beginning of your pantry list. As you continue to meal plan and cook, your list of items will grow, and you will know what to always have on hand for your favorite meals. What is your must have pantry or freezer item? Comment below!

Julie Shimko, MA and Minh Nguyen, MS RD