Cooking Essentials for Your Pantry & Refrigerator 

Whether you’re just starting out on your cooking adventure or you are ready to make some changes, it can be daunting to shop for pantry and refrigerator basics. With so many herbs, spices, and other grocery items to choose from, it can be difficult to know what will be most useful.  

Use this list of pantry essentials to start stocking up item by item, not all at once. Once you have a stocked pantry, be able to pull together meals on the fly without any extra trips to the store.  

Fresh Basics 

  • Refrigerated
    • Carrots
    • Celery
    • Lemons
  • Pantry
    • Onion
    • Garlic
    • Ginger root


  • Eggs
  • Tofu, extra firm
  • Low or Greek yogurt

Jarred | Canned

  • Peanut butter, sugar-free (or other nut butter of choice) 
  • Light (reduced fat) coconut milk 
  • Whole peeled tomatoes 
  • Diced tomatoes 
  • Tomato paste 


  • Extra virgin olive oil (store in cool, dark place) 
  • Avocado, grapeseed, or sunflower oil 


Choose 1-2 vinegars that you think you will use the most. 

  • Apple cider vinegar 
  • Balsamic vinegar 
  • Rice vinegar 
  • Maple syrup 
  • Honey 
  • Vegetable and/or chicken stock, low sodium 
  • Soy sauce or tamari, low sodium 


Select 2 types of beans or lentils to get started. Dried or canned beans will work – just remember to rinse canned beans before using.  

  • White beans (Cannellini, great northern, or navy beans)  
  • Black beans 
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) 
  • Red split lentils 
  • French green lentils 


  • Rolled oats 
  • Long grain brown rice 
  • Quinoa 
  • Whole wheat pasta 

Nuts | Seeds | Dried Fruit 

Nuts/seeds – look for no added oil and no salt; dried fruit – look for no added oils and no added sugar.

  • Sliced almonds 
  • Walnuts, whole (shelled) 
  • Raisins


Store these ingredients in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. 

  • Baking soda 
  • Baking powder 
  • Whole-wheat pastry flour (store in refrigerator or freezer to increase shelf life) 
  • All-purpose flour 
  • Evaporated cane sugar 
  • Vanilla extract 

Dried Spices/Herbs 

In addition to salt and pepper, select 2-4 spices to get your collection started. Store spices in airtight containers inside a dark cupboard, not out on a rack, to keep them fresh longer.  

  • Rosemary 
  • Oregano
  • Bay leaves 
  • Cumin, ground 
  • Cinnamon, ground 
  • Cayenne 
  • Ginger, ground 
  • Turmeric 
  • Mild curry powder 
  • Nutmeg, whole 
  • Black peppercorns (with grinder, if needed)
  • Fine sea salt and/or kosher salt 


  • Small garden peas 
  • Leaf spinach 
  • Blueberries or raspberries 
  • Mango chunks or peaches 

Nice-to-Have (But Less Essential) Ingredients 

These ingredients are beyond the basics, but you may notice them appearing in recipes once you start cooking more often. Once you begin to get more creative with cooking, many of these ingredients will help you to boost the flavor of your meals.  


  • Miso, white 
  • Tempeh

Jarred | Canned

  • Tahini (sesame seed paste) 
  • Almond butter 
  • Capers
  • Chipotles in adobo 
  • Dijon mustard 
  • Olives, pitted  
  • Artichoke hearts 
  • Sriracha sauce


  • Split peas 
  • Black-eyed peas 


  • Couscous 
  • Polenta 
  • Buckwheat noodles 


  • Red wine vinegar 
  • Mirin

Dried Spices/Herbs 

  • Chili/red pepper flakes 
  • Coriander, ground 
  • Garlic powder 
  • Paprika, Hungarian (or sweet) 
  • Paprika, smoked 
  • Parsley 
  • Sage 
  • Thyme 

In the next activity, you’ll learn more about how to select and store produce via the article titled: How to Make Choices for Common Products When Shopping

Previous Activity
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