Stuff I always have and use year round. This is a bit on the long side, but since I’ve been asked for a list like this a couple times I figured it might be worthwhile.
You’ll notice lean meat and low-sodium. I don’t like the extra step of draining grease, and I like to be in control of my salt. This also makes it less painful when I do decide to use something more processed, like the barbecue sauce or kielbasa mentioned below. I do try to generally make things myself, but I’m human, too, and I like what I like! I could make my own barbecue sauce and sausage if I really wanted to – but I don’t want to!
If the brand is important to me I’ll include it in the title, but otherwise, I generally check ingredients for anything extra (or missing) and just buy what’s cheaper.
Also, this list isn’t all-inclusive, it’s just things I reach for often in general for versatility or keep around for CYA purposes. The latter might hang around for a long time, but I’m always so so glad it’s there. That said, I’ll be doing spices, baking, freezer, gadgets, and backups (things I always have extras of) separately.
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Left to right:
- Less-Sodium Soy and Teriyaki Sauces
- These are a great way to quickly add a punch of flavor or an easy marinade.
- Apple Pie Filling and Spice Cake Mix
- With these and eggs a last-minute guest or potluck worthy spice cake can be thrown together.
- Peppermint, Lemon, and Peach teas by Bigelow
- Refreshing and soothing, steaming hot or iced down. I’ve also popped a bag into my favorite homemade body scrub for a nice scent boost.
- Plain Panko Breadcrumbs
- Low sodium, great crunch factor.
- Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue sauce
- As I’ve mentioned before, we eat something with barbecue in it about once a week. This is our favorite one. It’s perfectly balanced between sweet and tangy, with a peppery hint of spice.
- Unsalted Chicken Stock
- Need to deglaze? Add extra flavor to rice or quinoa? Make a quick soup?
- Cooking Oil Spray – Canola and Olive
- Canola for very hot applications or pancakes, olive for everything else.
- RealLemon and RealLime Juices
- A shocking amount of applications here, from cocktails to a quick pick-me-up for leftover rice or veggies.
- Crushed Tomatoes – No salt added (as often as possible)
- Again, a workhorse ingredient, from pasta and pizza to chili and soup.
- Whole Peeled Tomatoes
- Pretty much the same applications as crushed, but usually not seasoned so when you need to be specific, or want a chunky sauce, this is a great one to have around. I’ve even just chopped them up, warmed them with Italian seasoning, and used them as a light topping for garlic and olive oil pasta.
- Yellow (Spanish) Onions
- I use them in everything, raw, cooked, etc. These are my go-to. They are neither as sharp as red onion, nor mild as shallots.
- Shredded Cheese – Mozzarella, Italian Blend, Sharp Cheddar
- Another wide variety of uses, from eggs to pasta.
- Black Beans – No Salt Added
- Very recently I started buying these in the cans. We don’t do a lot of salt in our house so when I saw they had a No Salt Added version I decided to try. The hours saved definitely balance out the remainder of the sodium. I find myself throwing these in randomly when I want to add texture or protein.
- Real Butter
- Sometimes there is no substitute, I buy salted on this one because baking with it saves me the step of adding salt.
- Philadelphia Cream Cheese
- There is never a substitute. Philly 4 lyfe.
- Sour Cream
- My secret weapon. I definitely have favorite brands on this, but I usually buy what’s on sale.
- Whole Grain Spaghetti
- It’s much harder to overcook and better for you.
- Half & Half
- Obviously, we have a thing with dairy in this house, but at least I don’t use heavy cream for everything. Half & half cut with heavy cream or vice versa whenever I can get away with it.
- Vegetable Soup Mix Packets
- Another last-minute life-saver. Forgot to figure out what to bring to that cookout? Take 10 minutes to make spinach dip and grab a loaf of bread on your way there.
- King Arthur Unbleached Self-Rising Flour
- Three ingredient biscuits? Perfectly tender sugar cookies? I’m in. I’m also a King Arthur devotee. I keep their All-Purpose and Whole Wheat flours on hand as well.
- Bagged Salad
- Put a couple leaves under a piece of fish for plating, chop it up and put it in tacos, eat it by itself. Bonus points for staying fresh longer than the head of lettuce I have to chop up and saving me the trouble of shredding carrots and cabbage.
- Chicken Breast
- No wonder everything tastes like chicken, it’s certainly versatile enough.
- Ground Turkey (Shady Brook Farms or Butterball)
- Ground beef certainly has its place (there’s no substitute for a good burger, for instance), but for everything else, I use lean turkey. Shady Brook Farms is slightly less lean than Butterball, but I do prefer the tenderness this adds when I can get it.
- Shady Brook Farms Turkey Sausage
- I used to buy the store brands of turkey sausage because they were cheaper and who would know the difference anyway, right? But when Shady Brook came to the area a lot of the stores stopped making their own so I tried it on sale and I’m hooked. It’s the tenderness of the meat mentioned above, but well and perfectly spiced. I’ll never look back.
- Butterball Turkey Kielbasa
- Lean and not greasy with all of the flavor you expect. I use it like bacon, and a little goes a long way (even when you want more than a little).
- Prepped Cookie Dough
- I keep some form in my freezer, whether homemade or purchased. I currently have confetti sugar cookies all cut out in a container in there. Great quick fix for a small gathering or gift… Or, you know, sometimes you just need a cookie.
- Lots and lots of frozen steam-in-bag veggies
- Or at least brussels sprouts, carrots, corn, green beans, peas, and full or cut-leaf spinach. They lack the sodium content of cans and retain a little of their bite, where I often find the texture of canned vegetables unpleasantly mushy. Bonus points for going from frozen to edible in mere minutes – and for saving me the washing of a pot.
That’s it for now. Did I miss anything? What are your pantry essentials?