How to stock a pantry for the first time, like a PRO!

Raise your hand if you come home tired after a long workday, feel like there’s nothing to eat or make in your refrigerator, and don’t feel like scrolling through Postmates or UberEATS to wait an hour for something to be delivered. I know this scenario happens to you like 80% of the time…am I right? You know you’re hungry and want to eat something delicious now! I feel you.
dry food pantry items in pretty glass storage staged in front of a couple of cutting boards and utensils

How to smartly stock your food pantry for the first time with the essentials to create quick, simple meals.

Your pantry should be your resource to unlock a myriad of meal possibilities. It’s all about combining the right flavor profiles, the perfect balance of protein and carbohydrates, and coloring your plate with vegetables to lead to that perfect bite! By taking the extra steps to stock a pantry for the first time, you can grab a few items and throw together a tasty meal in no time!

Here’s how to stock a pantry for the first time, like a PRO!

Know the basic categories/ staples of your food Pantry.

There are basic categories for our food pantry items.

They are:

  • Oil, Vinegar, Spices
  • Pasta + Grains
  • Dried Beans +Legumes
  • Canned + Jarred Items
  • Sauces + Condiments
  • Baking Supplies

Some chefs advise you to purchase several items in each category to have a well-stocked pantry and be able to tackle any recipe at hand. This suggestion is not entirely wrong. I advise this as well, just with more strategy and direction.

When stocking your pantry for the first time: Here is my strategy for creating the ultimate kitchen pantry that works for you.

I like to help people and teach them how to create meals from the categories above. I do this by outlining specific common staples in various ethnic pantries. By defining geographic regions, your pantry will be well-stocked and more strategic. It will give you a more precise direction of how to use your items for quicker and more seamless meals. 

These are three ethnic food pantries that will suit most cravings. 

I realize it’s hard to generalize our food pantries to specific ethnicities. With this being said, I like to offer more direction by honing in on three different regions. I have created a well-rounded global pantry by outlining Asian, Italian/Mediterranean, and Mexican food pantries. These pantries cover three different areas/regions of the world that will make your eating possibilities endless and diverse!

Can meals be made with just food pantry items alone?

Most dishes CAN be made on pantry items alone. However, adding five or fewer produce items will create healthier, more substantial, and more well-rounded meals that hit all areas of your palate. 

Here are my top 5 produce items that complement all food pantries. 

photo of produce: cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, lettuce, garlic, lemon, rosemary, cauliflower, and carrots all stacked up on one another.
Composition with a variety of fresh organic vegetables

The five produce items below are all you need to make that mealtime magic happen! Even if you have one of these items, you can make something glorious if your pantry is well stocked. It’s that simple. As a professional chef, these five produce items are my “tried and true” base for most meals. 

  1. Garlic
  2. Lemons or Limes
  3. Onion (any kind or color)
  4. Tomatoes (any type or color)
  5. Hearty Green (Napa Cabbage, Kale, Green Cabbage, Swiss Chard, Spinach, etc.)

Your charted guide to three ethnic food pantries

Below I have created three charts based on our chosen food pantries: Asian, Italian/Mediterranean, and Mexican, and an example chart with three possible combinations for each chart. For these charts, I have chosen EASY pantry items with a long shelf-life that can be used interchangeably for each chart. 

Here is a description of how I outlined the three primary charts 

  • Column A: Outlines your base layers. This column outlines all primary flavor profiles centered around your five senses for a well-rounded palate. Each flavor profile pairs with a pantry item. 
  • Column B: Centers around carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are necessary to create a substantial meal that nourishes and satiates you. This column lists two simple items in this carbohydrate category that can provide endless combinations. 
  • Column C: Provides examples of proteins. Again, I have specifically chosen proteins that can be stored in your refrigerator for an extended time and are easy to buy and find. Once you understand the charts and feel comfortable with them, you can add any protein you desire to make a fantastic meal.  
  • Column D: Supplies examples of dairy items.  These charts aim to help you create easy and well-rounded meals. You will see that the Asian pantry does not have column D, as I don’t think it’s essential for that pantry outline. Dairy adds a nice body and healthy fat to a dish. 

Here is how to use these charts to create delicious meals with four simple steps. 

The way I designed these charts is for you to purchase all the pantry items in each category and then follow these simple steps below to start becoming a master in your kitchen. 

Step 1: 

Choose a minimum of two items in column A.

Step 2:

With those two items in mind, select a minimum of one component in column B, one in column C, and if you are looking at the Italian/Mediterranean and Mexican food pantry charts, one item in column D. 

Step 3: 

Review the example chart under each pantry chart that displays meal combinations that are:

Drool-worthy: with just five chosen ingredients (there is one exception with the Mexican pantry: six selected elements are better for the minimum drool-worthy creation). 

Crave-worthy: using seven chosen ingredients

Swoonworthy: selecting eight ingredients 

Step 4: 

Cook your item(s) in column B (carbohydrates) according to the package directions.

Add your item(s) from column C (proteins) to your carbohydrates.

Then, season the total combination with your column A (base) ingredients.

Add in your column D (dairy) if using the Italian/Mediterranean and Mexican charts. 

ASIAN

ingredients you would find in an Asian pantry laid out on a whitewashed table.
Ingredients that display Asian cooking.

A B C

Column A:
Base
Column B:
Carbohydrates
Column C:
Proteins
Fat:  Sesame OilNoodles (Soba, Somen, Udon, Ramen)Tofu
Sweet: SugarSushi RiceEggs
Salty: Soy Sauce
Sour: Rice Vinegar
Bitter: Sesame Seeds
Umami: Miso
Heat: Garlic Chili Crunch

I suggest using the examples below until you’re comfortable with the charts.

EXAMPLES

Hunger ReactionIngredient 2Ing 3Ing 4Ing 5Ing 6Ing 7Ing 8
DroolSesame OilSoy SauceNapa CabbageTofuNoodles/or Rice
CraveSesame OilSoy SauceSugarGarlic Chili PasteNapa CabbageTofu Noodles
/or Rice
SwoonSesame OilSoy SauceSugarGarlic Chili PasteNapa CabbageGreen
Onion
Tofu

ITALIAN/MEDITERRANEAN

various types of pastas that you would find in an Italian pantry when learning how to stock a pantry for the first time.
Assorted pasta in a wooden box with cooking ingredients

A B C D

Column A: BaseColumn B:
Carbohydrates
Column C: ProteinsColumn D:
Dairy
Fat:  Olive OilDried Pasta (Linguine, Spaghetti, Fusilli, Orecchiette)Tuna in OilParmigiano Reggiano
Sweet: Tomato PasteArborio RicePine NutsFeta
Salty: Jarred Anchovies
Sour: Balsamic Vinegar
Bitter: Red Wine
Umami: Tahini
Heat: Chili flake

EXAMPLES

Hunger ReactionIngredient 1Ing 2Ing 3Ing 4Ing 5Ing 6Ing 7Ing 8
DroolOlive OilChili flake GarlicPine NutsPasta/or Rice
CraveOlive OilChili FlakeGarlic KalePine NutsParmPasta/Or Rice
SwoonOlive OilChili FlakeGarlicKaleAnchoviesPine NutsParmPasta/Or rice

MEXICAN

tomatoes, beans, garlic, chili peppers, olive oil on a slatted table top from a stocked pantry
chili con carne in a black bowl on a wooden table

A B C D

Column A:
Base
Column B: CarbohydratesColumn C: ProteinsColumn D: Dairy
Fat: Neutral Oil (Avocado, Vegetable, Grapeseed)TortillasPepitasCrema or Sour Cream
Sweet: Cinnamon and Mexican Dark ChocolateRiceBeans (Black, Pinto, etc.)Cotija Cheese
Salty: Salt or Tajin 
Sour: Apple Cider Vinegar
Bitter: Cumin or Coriander
Umami: Achiote Paste
Heat: Dried Chilies (Guajillo, Ancho, Arbol, Chipotle, etc.)

EXAMPLES

Hunger ReactionIngredient 1Ing 2Ing 3Ing 4Ing 5Ing 6Ing 7Ing 8
DroolNeutral OilCuminTomatoTortillaBeansCotija
CraveNeutral OilCuminTomatoOnionTortillaBeansCotija
SwoonNeutral OilCuminGuajilloTomatoOnionTortillaBeansCotija

How to stock a pantry for the first time, like a PRO conclusion.

These charts help you understand how flavor profiles combine with carbohydrates, proteins, dairy elements, and added produce to create excellent meals. They are a starting point and a guide.

However, once you get the hang of identifying which flavor profiles you are craving and experimenting by adding in the different categories, the sky is the limit for what you can create!

The proteins, for example, on this list are chosen to be basic and somewhat shelf stable for you to begin your journey.

Once you become a chart master, you can add items like scallops, ribeye, duck, edamame, or any protein that speaks to you:) With a bit of practice, you’ll get the hang of creating flavor profiles that complement each other and be able to mix and match like a confident kitchen wizard!

But to become that confident chef, you must start and understand the basics. These charts should be the easy and failproof templates to get your “magic kitchen ball” rolling!

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About Sarah
Sarah blair

Adding a generous dose of enthusiasm, excitement, and creativity to the culinary world, Sarah began her career at the French Culinary Institute in NYC. Sarah has worked for the past decade as a Culinary Producer and Food Stylist.

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