If you're struggling right now to come up with meals from what you already have available, we're here to help you learn how to stock your kitchen with a fridge, freezer and pantry. We have an easy to follow plan plus free printable checklists to get you motivated.
Our super handy list of essentials will help you plan for the long term. Learn what you need to have available to get a month's worth of meals or more without having to grocery shop.
Meal planning with what's available
Would you be able to feed your family a few weeks worth of meals with what you have right now? Chances are, you won't, but we're here to help!
Storing a pantry, fridge and freezer equipped with essentials will help you plan meals for weeks at a time. It is important to be prepared for the weeks when the budget is a little tight, or for emergencies when you cannot get to the grocery store for a while.
It may seem overwhelming to get started stocking your pantry, but just follow these simple steps and you'll have many easy meals and recipes at your fingertips!
- First, go through the freezer, fridge and pantry and make lists of what you already have available. Organize into categories as you go to make it easier. Make sure you also have a category for snacks and breakfast items.
- Then make lists of meals that you know you could make from these ingredients. Consider which meals you eat regularly and always have the ingredients for, such as spaghetti or tacos. Once you know what you can already do, it will be easier to make a plan to give your essentials forward.
- Go through the checklists below and add the items you need to your shopping list. Add your own essential items that may not be on the checklists.
How to stock your pantry with essentials
Pantry is the place where you keep most of your food available because these items are shelf-stable, usually for weeks, months or even years. You can use this checklist to mark what you have right now and quickly see what is recommended to buy when you can. Don't worry about how to print this image, the printable free pantry essentials will be available for download at the end of this post.
Each of the items on this list are shelf-stable, which means they do not require refrigeration, though the time they remain fresh will vary, especially with products. Store all pantry and shelf-stable items in a cool, dry place. When opening items, some may require cooling, so be sure to read the packaging. Store open dry goods in tightly closed containers or resealable bags to further extend their shelf life.
Unlike everything that is needed with a pantry that can last for over a year, refrigerator is the stuff you want to use first. When planning meals, check your fridge first. Use leftovers before grabbing anything in the pantry or freezer. You can make chicken salad or loaded chicken nachos from leftover chicken or vegetable soup with leftover vegetables.
A lot of fresh produce can stay fresh for several extra days by storing it in the fridge.
You can get a little more creative with what you buy to store in the freezer. Consider adding breakfast items, frozen snacks, desserts or cooked meals to your list. The freezer is also a great way to expand the list of breads, cheeses and milk. Pantry essentials undoubtedly have a shelf life, while most things will last indefinitely in the freezer. Although the quality will start to decline at a certain point, usually after 4-6 months. Make sure you wrap everything you put in the freezer properly with plastic wrap, foil and sealed, airtight containers to prevent the freezer from burning.
How long are pantry staples good for?
The expiration of goods depends on several factors, e.g. How they are packaged, when they are purchased and what the "sell with" or "use after" date is. You can use the dates below as a guideline, but use your own judgment as to whether a product is still good or not.
Each of these recommendations assumes that the item is stored properly in a cool, dry place; in other words, in your pantry, fridge or freezer. Opened packages must be stored in airtight containers or in their own packaging. Read the instructions on the package to determine if the item is shelf-stable when opened or requires cooling.
Most spices will last for 3-4 years, so I don't include them in the list.
Canned, cereal and pasta
I always have dry pasta on hand. We make bolognese at least a couple of times a month and use different pieces of pasta, from traditional spaghetti to rotini or even macaroni!
- Canned fruits and vegetables (1-2 years)
- Canned chicken or tuna (3-5 years)
- Beans (3-5 years)
- Olive (1 year)
- Canned tomatoes (18-24 months)
- Pasta sauce (1 year unopened, 7-10 days in refrigerator when opened; cream-based products 5-7 days in refrigerator after opening)
- Chicken Broth (3-5 years)
- Pasta (dried pasta lasts 1-2 years after best by date)
- Rice (indefinite shelf life)
- Bread Bread (8-10 months)
- Cornmeal (1 year)
- Oats (1-2 years)
- Shelf-stable milk (2-4 weeks after expiry date)
- Potatoes (2-3 months in cold dark place)
- Onions (2-3 months in pantry or refrigerator
When you think about the essentials in your pantry, baking products like flour and sugar are likely to come to your mind first. With always flour and sugar on hand, you can make beer bread, homemade melt tortillas or chocolate chip cookies.
- Flour (1 year at room temperature)
- Yeast (2-4 months after expiry date, if unopened, 4-6 months in refrigerator when opened)
- Baking powder (2 years unopened, 6 months opened)
- Baking powder (9-12 months)
- Vanilla extract (5 years)
- Tartar cream (6 months)
- Sugar (indefinite shelf life)
- Powdered sugar (unlimited shelf life)
- Brown sugar (unlimited shelf life)
- Cocoa powder (3 years)
- Chocolate Chips (2 years)
- Pancake mix (opened for 1 year)
- Tax (2 years)
- Maple or agave syrup (2 years)
- Olive oil (2 years)
- Vegetable oil (6 months)
Did you know that cooling fruits like apples and bananas can actually extend their lives? Apples can last up to a month in the fridge, and fully ripe bananas can last at least another week. So you can make an Apple smoothie or some banana muffins anytime!
- Cheese (block or slice: 1-2 months, shredded: 1 week after best by date)
- Milk (5-7 days after expiry date)
- Butter (6-9 months)
- Eggs (3 weeks after the printed date)
- Hard boiled eggs (1 week)
- Yogurt (opened 1-2 weeks, unopened 1-2 weeks after expiry date)
- Escape (3 weeks)
- Onions (2-3 months, sliced or chopped 7-10 days)
- Garlic (3-5 months)
- Carrots (3-4 weeks)
- Citrus fruit (1-2 weeks in refrigerator)
- Apples (3 weeks in refrigerator)
- Stone fruit like peaches and plums (3-4 days in refrigerator)
- Avocados (when ripe, cool up to 5 days)
Frozen foods are technically safe indefinitely if stored at 0 degrees F, but freshness and quality can drop significantly beyond those dates. Make a smoothie with frozen fruit or release a loaf ready to bake garlic bread.
- Chicken (9 months raw, cooked chicken up to 6 months)
- Beef (best within 4 months)
- Fish (fatter fish 2-3 months, leaner fish 4-6 months)
- Cheese (6 months)
- Frozen fruits and vegetables (8-10 months)
- Bread (3-6 months in freezer)
- Milk (3 months, then 5-7 days when thawed)
Cooking with pantry staples
Now that you have a full pantry (or you will get there), it's time to start planning these light meals and recipes! I have a huge list of light recipes that can be cooked with mostly pantry ingredients, or you can grab our FREE pantry cooking ebook that features ten of our favorite recipes that use a lot of those ingredients , we talked about here.
To cook by ingredient, you can click on the different ingredient categories below or tap the search box at the top of the page and enter an ingredient you are looking for. These are some of the most common freezers and pantry; I chose two of the most common products on which we also have many recipes.
Supplement with fresh product delivery
For 2 years now, I have had fresh products delivered by a company called Farm Fresh for you. This is not sponsored, I really love the company! Every week I get fresh produce delivered to my door. I will have to adjust my box by choosing which fruits and vegetables I know we eat and removing things we do not want. This has been a particularly useful service these months that going to the grocery store is a luxury.
If you would like to try this service and supplement your essentials with some fresh fruits and vegetables, use the code KRIS3589 to get $ 15 off your first order! There is no commitment and you can cancel at any time. They also have dairy and meat products as well as staples and bakeries. All organic! I know you will love it as much as we do!
If you do not want to use a delivery service, do what you can to shop local and support local farmers and produce stands.
What recipes have you been cooking from your pantry recently? Do you have questions or need recipes for certain items? Leave your comments below!