The majority of cooking starts with pantry ingredients, so it's important to keep your pantry cupboards filled with the staples that make healthy eating simple. With the right ingredients on hand, grocery shopping is simplified and healthy choices are always available. All you need is the addition of fresh vegetables and a protein, if desired, and dinner is on the table before you know it. For the health-conscious cook, the pantry should be a balance of good-for-you staples, heart-healthy whole grains, energy sustaining protein, and flavorful condiments and spices that make the simplest dishes pop. Here's what we recommend having on hand.
Related: Healthy and Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Whole Grains
Start by stocking your pantry with the the grains that are used in recipes frequently: farro, quinoa, and brown rice. Then, rotate in a new grain or two each time a bag goes empty. Filling whole grains round out a meal as a standalone side or can be incorporated into dishes like salads, soups, and stews. When you're ready to try something new, pick up wheat berries, bulgur, whole wheat couscous, barley, or rye. If you're looking for gluten free options, try soba noodles (just make sure they are made from 100 percent buckwheat), millet, buckwheat, oats (look for a gluten-free label), sorghum, polenta, rice, teff, and wild rice.
Recommendations: Bob's Red Mill is the test kitchen's go-to source for whole grains. Lotus Rice sells a variety of heirloom rice; try their red rice ($4.69, amazon.com) or forbidden rice ($3.99, thrivemarket.com).
Oils and Vinegars
Stock the pantry with heart healthy fats and zesty vinegars. You'll want at least one everyday cooking oil for sautéing and making salad dressings plus one neutral high heat cooking oil for tasks like grilling and frying. Toasted sesame and high quality extra-virgin olive oil are great for adding flavor at the end of cooking. Purchase a few different vinegars; red and white wine, apple cider, and balsamic are good starts.
Recommendations: California Olive Ranch's Extra-Virgin Olive Oil for everyday oil ($13.98, walmart.com), grapeseed oil or Chosen Food's Avocado Oil ($14.98, amazon.com) for high heat cooking, and Enzo's Olive Oil ($39.95, williams-sonoma.com) for drizzling.
Beans and Legumes
For a quick, plant-based protein source, stock the pantry with cans of beans and bags of dried legumes. Unlike animal protein, beans are both protein and fiber rich which sustains a sense of fullness and gut friendly. Load beans and legumes into soups, stews, and salads then Explore our recipes that start with a can of beans for more innovative uses and check out our lentil recipes. If you're ready to try preparing dried beans, we have a guide covering everything you need to know about cooking them.
Recommendations: For dried beans, our favorite is Rancho Gordo.
Pastas and Starches
Right now the pasta aisle is exploding with options. Find brands that you love and stock up, and be sure to rotate in new shapes and sizes here and there to keep meals interesting. Select pastas made with whole grains and healthy flours, like farro, quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat. Keep at least one long pasta like spaghetti and one short shape on hand.
Recommendations: Substitute Monograno Felicetti's pasta for regular pasta in any recipe—try the kamut ($10.95, amazon.com) and farro ($25.99 for two, amazon.com). If you need a gluten-free option, we recommend Jovial brown rice pasta, especially the brown rice and egg tagliatelle ($5.99, instacart.com).
Condiments and Tomato Products
Great condiments brighten any dish, turning them into instant hits. Mix them into recipes, whisk them into dressings, spread onto sandwiches, or stir into soups—condiments can be incorporated into just about anything you're cooking. A few to keep on hand for mixing in are: capers, olives, mustard, tomato paste, preserved lemons, marinara sauce, fish sauce, and whole canned, peeled tomatoes. Others perfect for topping and spreading are: pickles, jams, nut butters, chile oil, and jars of sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented vegetables,
Recommendations: Maille grainy and Dijon mustards, Soom Tahini ($16.50 two, amazon.com), Mutti Tomato Paste, Sir Kensington's Mayonnaise, Mom's Mala Sichuan Chili Sauce ($13.49, amazon.com), Mother in Law's Kimchi ($8.99, instacart.com), Rao's Pasta Sauces, and Red Boat Fish Sauce.
Grow the tinned fish section of your pantry beyond a can of tuna. Tinned salmon and sardines are great last-minute protein additions to any meal and are packed with healthy omega fats. Use anchovies, a heathy and a sustainable seafood choice, sparingly to add umami to dishes.
Recommendations: For the best jarred fish packed in olive oil, look for Bela, Wild Planet, and Ortiz brands.
Dried Fruits, Nuts, and Seeds
Add texture, crunch, and an array of health benefits to meals with nuts and seeds. Some go tos: cashews, pecans, almonds, pistachios, pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds. Dried fruits add chew and a tiny burst of sweetness, so try cooking with tart dried cherries, Turkish apricots, and sultana raisins. Use dried fruit, nuts, and seeds on top of baked goods, in savory dishes, or just grab a small handful for a healthy snack.
Our spice cabinet has expanded over the years. Recent inclusions that we can't live without are Aleppo pepper, sumac, and turmeric but these nine spices are the ones we reach for most often. Consider adding a few easy-to-use and versatile spice blends, these are the spices blends we love using.
Recommendations: Two of our favorite spice sources are The Spice House and Diaspora.
Shelf Stable Dairy-Free Milk
It's extremely helpful to have dairy-free milk on hand. Cans of coconut milk can be used for curries, creamy soups, and more. The shelf-stable versions of pistachio, almond, and oat milk are perfect to have on hand for baking, coffee, cereal, and more.
Recommendations: For a treat, try Tache Pistachio Milk or Califia Farm's Shelf Stable Oat Milk ($3.99, instacart.com) or Almond Milk ($3.58, walmart.com).
Healthy Baking Essentials
Eating healthy doesn't mean you can't bake something sweet here and there. With the right ingredients on hand cakes, batches of cookies and brownies, and other treats can be made without a trip to the store. Most healthy baked goods use a combination of all-purpose flour and whole grain or nut flours like farro and almond. We suggest keeping these on hand as well a great gluten-free flour. Always have baking powder, baking soda, and active dry yeast for leavening baked goods. White, brown, and confectioners' sugar are standards for baking, and you can either combine them with healthier sweeteners such as agave, honey, or dates or replace them entirely. Don't forget a high quality pure vanilla extract. For healthy whole grain desserts check out our founder's cookbook, A New Way to Bake ($16.29, target.com), and her top tips for healthy baking.
Recommendations: Bobs' Red Mill for whole grain and nut flours, King Arthur Baking Company for all-purpose, bread, and pastry flours, Cup4Cup Gluten-Free Flour ($8.99, target.com), Nielsen Massey Vanilla ($11.95, amazon.com), and Guittard Chocolate for chocolate chips ($3.99, target.com).