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9 Pantry Staples For Quick + Easy Meals

9 Pantry Staples For Quick & Easy Meals

After many years without a pantry, I finally got one when we moved last year. You know what’s nice? Having a pantry! It’s great to be able to keep staple foods on hand (and stock up when they’re on sale). And having staples on hand really helps when you need to put together a quick and/or easy meal.

9 Pantry Staples For Quick & Easy Meals

Brown Rice

Why I Love It: I admit, I do like white rice better than brown rice and when we go out to eat, I often order white rice as a treat. But at home, we only eat the brown kind because it’s much more nutritious. Brown rice has the bran and germ intact, leaving it with more vitamins and minerals (although calorie and carb wise, it’s not much different from white rice).

How To Use It: I use brown rice in place of white rice in everything I make–from casseroles to curries. Stir fry some veggies and tofu and serve it over quick-cook brown rice for a 15 minute dinner.

Make This: Sweet Onion Casserole


Why I Love It: Yes, I just wrote about couscous yesterday! I’m partial to the Israeli variety lately, but regular couscous is a staple in my pantry too. It’s a quicker alternative to pasta and rice.

How To Use It: Over the past few years I’ve cut down on boxed food and mixes, but I do keep some of those flavored boxed couscous dealies on hand for quick meals. I doctor them up by adding roasted vegetables, caramelized onions, or marinated tofu. For unflavored couscous, try making it with broth instead of water, then add fresh veggies, herbs, roasted chickpeas–the world is your oyster!

Make This: Warm Cauliflower & Israeli Couscous Salad


Why I Love It: I love quinoa because it’s got the personality of a grain, but it’s a protein!

How To Use It: You can use quinoa in place of rice or couscous in many recipes. When I was in grad school, I think we had quinoa once a week with frozen veggies to bulk it up a little–it is so easy! It’s great as a stuffing for vegetables and makes a mean burger too.

Make This: Stuffed Pattypan Squash with Quinoa & Fresh Corn


Why I Love It: Lentils are my favorite legume to cook with because unlike beans, there’s no soaking or long cooking times required. Just rinse the lentils (and pick out any pebbles–they always say this, but I’ve yet to find a pebble in my lentils), combine them with water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

How To Use It: Use lentils to make a quick salad or add them to pasta sauce. Lentils are also a great base for vegetarian burgers and meatballs. And you can’t beat lentil soup on a chilly autumn night!

Make This: Herbed French Lentil Salad

Pasta Sauce

Why I Love It: I stock up on good pasta sauces when they’re on sale. Get home late from work? Planning on making a salad for dinner and the lettuce went bad? Break out the pasta sauce!

How To Use It: One of my frequent busy day meals is whole-wheat pasta tossed with sauce, veggies (usually roasted broccoli or eggplant or sauteed zucchini, mushrooms, and onions), and a little cheese. If you have a little more time, you can use jarred pasta sauce to make a pasta bake. It also doubles as a pizza sauce!

Make This: Vegetable Baked Ziti

Simmer Sauce

Why I Love It: As much as I try, I can never seem to get Indian dishes right when I try to make them myself. Simmer sauces? So much easier!

How To Use It: Indian simmer sauces are great with cubed tempeh or canned chickpeas for protein and veggies like roasted cauliflower and eggplant. Serve them over brown rice or with packaged naan.

Make This: Indian Coconut Curry with Roasted Potatoes, Cauliflower & Broccoli


Why I Love It: Onions are good in just about anything! Especially when they’re caramelized.

How To Use It: I put onions on pizza, in pasta, and we often use them as a topping for veggie burgers. They’re a great way to add flavor to a meal without adding a lot of extra calories.

Make This: French Onion Soup Sandwiches

Whole-Wheat Pasta

Why I Love It: This kind of goes without saying, but pasta is one of those versatile ingredients that belongs in every pantry. When you’re stuck for a meal idea, look no further than pasta!

How To Use It: You can pair your whole-wheat pasta with a quick homemade pesto or pasta sauce or experiment with something a little different–lately I’ve been tossing pasta with a little olive oil, some fresh chopped herbs, toasted walnuts, and Parmesan cheese. Delicious! If all else fails, there’s always buttered noodles, right?

Make This: Mediterranean-Style Rotini with Toasted Garlic Panko

Bouillon Cubes

Why I Love It: Yes, it’s best to make your own broth, but who has homemade broth on hand at all times? I like the Rapunzel brand of bouillon because it’s lower in sodium and is made without MSG.

How To Use It: You can use bouillon as the base for a quick soup! Add a little miso paste, cubed tofu, and spinach for an easy miso soup. By using broth instead of water to cook lentils, quinoa, or rice, you can add more flavor to the finished product too.

Make This: Vegetarian Chicken Noodle Soup

What are your favorite pantry staples?

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  • Reply
    Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell
    September 18, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I have yet to try quinoa but you just convinced me that it’s a must. Oh, I like those flavored couscous boxes too. LOL

    • Reply
      September 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      I think you will like it! It is pretty inoffensive. Not like mushrooms or tofu. 😉

    • Reply
      Rachel @ following in my shoes
      September 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm

      You HAVE to try quinoa, Liz — it is so good and so easy!

  • Reply
    September 18, 2012 at 10:59 am

    I totally agree on the Indian simmer sauces. Indian food is so time-consuming, and those sauces are really good! I need to have on hand a jar of roasted red peppers and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes. In the freezer (not technically pantry, but still), it’s corn, beans (love the frozen green garbanzos), and a pie shell.

    • Reply
      September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm

      I love jarred roasted red peppers! I know they’re easy to make yourself, but I like the slightly picked flavor they get from the liquid–you know what I mean, right? 🙂 They are so good on sandwiches! I’ve never seen green garbanzo beans–they sound so good!

  • Reply
    shelly (cookies and cups)
    September 18, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I love how your pantry staples are so different from mine.
    Mine consist of marshmallows, brown sugar, canned pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk…ok, you get the idea…
    I need to get my act together and start over!

    • Reply
      September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm

      Bwahahaha! Your pantry sounds so much tastier than mine…

  • Reply
    September 18, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Love this!! I agree with your list and I would add garlic and chocolate! 😀 Chocolate for the obvious reason…to snack on while you’re cooking.

    • Reply
      September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm

      I use an insane amount of garlic! I could put it in everything. Chocolate too. 😉

  • Reply
    Kelly @ Texas Type A Mom
    September 18, 2012 at 11:43 am

    This is such a great resource! I, too, prefer white rice but always buy brown at home because of how much more nutritious it is. This is probably a silly question but do you use instant rice? I usually do and have the hardest time getting it where it’s not crunchy. I need to try out those simmer sauces too.

    • Reply
      September 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      I use instant rice and regular rice. Depending on how much time I have. 🙂 I don’t have the crunchy issue with the instant rice, but it never seems quite right. I’ve noticed there are more of those microwave-in-bag type rices popping up on store shelves, so I’ve been thinking about buying those as an alternative…

  • Reply
    Lisa | With Style and Grace
    September 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    These are excellent staples and have the similar ones on my list as well!

  • Reply
    [email protected]'s Recipes
    September 18, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    My favoruites pantry staples are spelt, wholewheat, oats, nuts, onion, brown rice, lentils, beans…too many. I need to store some quinoa though.
    p.s. Spekulatius cookies are traditional Christmas spice cookies in Germany. The spices used to make these cookies are a mix of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander, anis, nutmeg, ginger, white pepper.

    • Reply
      September 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm

      Aha, I knew I recognized that word, but I couldn’t quite place how or why–it was from the cookies! I think I’ve had them around Christmastime.

      I need to start baking with spelt more often! I notice it in a lot of your recipes. 🙂

  • Reply
    Courtney Rae Jones
    September 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Love this! I agree, it’s essential to have brown rice, lentils and quinoa on hand at all time. I always have a few cans of beans too. And canned tomatoes. With that and a few spices, I can throw together chili, pasta or curry. PS. I have to try that french onion soup sandwich ASAP! 🙂

    • Reply
      September 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      Yes! I also have lots of canned tomatoes on hand. I’m currently in flux between using canned beans and bagged ones though–I can’t decide which to stick with. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Mmm onions…definitely a staple! When I met my husband he claimed they gave him heartburn but now I have him eating them raw in bean salads. In my pantry, I have everything except the bouillon and simmer sauce. I gave up bouillon when I saw the brand I was using had some bad ingredients (can’t recall, maybe msg?). Where do you buy yours?

    • Reply
      September 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      Yup, I realized that the brand I was buying had MSG in it too and I decided to stop buying it. I think it was one of the first ingredients listed! I found this brand at a local natural foods store, but I’m sure Whole Foods would have something similar…

  • Reply
    Stephanie @ henry happened
    September 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I just bought one of those simmer sauces yesterday! I was planning to make w/ chicken but I love your idea of chickpeas instead. (Beans are one of my main staples along with cheese, hah!) And now I’m totally craving roasted cauliflower!

    • Reply
      September 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      If you’re feeling really adventurous, they make a good pizza sauce too. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    I love this post and agree with all your staples, except for the simmer sauce because I’ve never heard of it! I’d also add garlic and canned chickpeas – if I have nothing to make, chickpeas make for such an easy salad as long as you have at least one other fruit or vegetable in your fridge!

    • Reply
      September 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      Maybe you call them something different in Canada. 🙂 But they’re ready made sauces (usually Indian, but I’ve seen some Thai ones too)–you just have to add veggies and/or protein to them, simmer until it’s warmed through, and serve over rice. So easy!

  • Reply
    Michelle @ Find Your Balance
    September 18, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Can’t live without a stocked pantry! We use an Ikea wardrobe type thing since our house doesn’t have an actual ‘pantry’

    • Reply
      September 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm

      We had to use a shelf next to the washer & dryer for the longest time–our food would get lint on it! I wish I had thought of the Ikea wardrobe back then. That’s a really good idea!

  • Reply
    Alaine @ My GF & DF Living
    September 18, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    I love quinoa. I love quinoa. This is a great list of staples!

  • Reply
    Brenda Williams
    September 19, 2012 at 12:00 am

    We always keep oatmeal, grits, pinto beans and garlic in stock at our house. I love your pantry staples and how to use them. You are a great teacher.

    • Reply
      September 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      I always have oatmeal and garlic too. Grits are big here in the south–I should try them!

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    September 19, 2012 at 2:43 am

    I like lentils for the same reason you like – you don’t need to soak them overnight and they are always soft when the dish is ready.)

    • Reply
      September 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      Yup–I never remember to soak beans overnight when I need them for a recipe! 🙂

  • Reply
    Meghan @JaMonkey
    September 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Great list! I’ve never tried Quinoa but it’s on my list!

  • Reply
    Jackie @ The Beeroness
    September 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Excellent list. I also keep oatmeal, because I seem to use it a lot more that I think I do. I don’t have a pantry right now and I hate it. It’s so hard to try and fit it all into a small cupboard.

    • Reply
      September 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      I go through an insane amount of oatmeal. I wish I could find it in bigger packages…

  • Reply
    Anna @ hiddenponies
    September 20, 2012 at 1:22 am

    Great list! Pasta is a definite must in my pantry, and lentils.

  • Reply
    Rachel @ following in my shoes
    September 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Definitely whole grain pastas and rice . . . chicken stock (always) . . . onions and garlic (but I use jarred minced garlic because it’s just a time-saver) . . . canned tomatoes (I know, I know … CANS) … and then I have a whole slew of staples that are always in my freezer. Sigh… I sound like a food hoarder.

    • Reply
      September 24, 2012 at 10:50 am

      I used canned tomatoes a lot too. They’re good for soups and stews!

  • Reply
    September 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    i love this list!

  • Reply
    Heidi @ Food Doodles
    September 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I completely agree! Great list!

  • Reply
    October 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Thank you for this post! I’m new to your site (saw Angela mention it on Cityline), but as it so happens, I spent an hour yesterday trying to search out quick vegetarian meal ideas, only to get full recipes “in under an hour!” While I have no problem with cooking for one hour, or three, when I’m in the mood, I was looking for options for those days when I DO NOT feel like cooking, but am trying to save myself from ordering a pizza. This list is perfect, especially since I keep most of this on hand anyway! Currently obsessed with simmer sauces (Trader Joes Masala Simmer Sauce ftw) and adding lentils to anything. One of my most recent go-to meals is a combination of a lot of this: whole wheat pasta, toss in some pre-cooked lentils to warm up while the pasta cooks. Mix in some pesto and some cheese, and all is good!

    In short, I love this list because a) it validates what I’m already doing, and b) it gives me new ideas that I will actually use! Sometimes you just need meals, not recipes….

    • Reply
      October 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      Thank you for the kind words! I’ve actually been working on including more ideas & non-recipe posts on my blog. I’ve had a lot of people email me because they’re trying to either cut down on or eliminate meat and they need easy meal ideas that don’t require a lot of advance planning. So I’m glad to hear that you found this useful–yay! 😀

  • Reply
    November 4, 2014 at 4:50 am

    I wish I could cook more with Quinoa. Unfortunately in Spain 500g cost around 5€, it’s probably cheaper to eat gold dust instead.

    How much is a bag of quinoa in the US? Is it much more cexpensive then oats for example?

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