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Stock your Pantry with the Must-Have Essentials (Beginner’s Guide!)

New to cooking at home? Just moved into your first apartment?

This Beginner’s Guide acts like a sort of shopping list or check-list for all the must-have essentials to stock your pantry with for the first time. The first trip to the grocery store after settling into your new home can feel a bit overwhelming —  but, with a few basics, meal-time doesn’t have to be stressful.

Organize Your List

The most helpful thing you can do is organize your grocery list by kitchen area: refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and spice-cabinet. Having a list organized by section/area of the kitchen makes it so much quicker to get in and get out of the store.

You might not know the specific layout of your grocery store, but generally speaking all stores have this general layout: fruits + veggies near the front entrance, meat/seafood and diary products in the back, and shelf-stable foods in the center aisles.

I use the Notes app on my iPhone to make my list, but feel free to go old-school and just use pen and paper.

Start with the Basics to Stock your Pantry

This list is only a rough idea of the essentials. It’s meant to be a guide and to ease you into building a well-stocked pantry at home.

My essentials will not be your essentials. I gravitate toward Asian, Mexican, and Mediterranean style foods so my kitchen is stocked full of things like curry paste, soy sauce, avocado, black beans, garlic, and olive oil — because those ingredients are central to those cuisines.

This list is designed to be fluid and to be adjusted to your specifications. Stock your pantry with food you feel confident making and love to eat. Take charge here. #BYOC (Be Your Own Chef!).

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Pantry Basics

Oils and Vinegars: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Olive Oil, a neutral-cooking oil (such as vegetable, canola, corn, peanut, or safflower), white vinegar, and red-wine vinegar.

Canned or Jared Foods: beans (white, black, kidney, navy, or garbanzo), coconut milk, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce/puree, tomato paste, broth (vegetable, chicken, beef, or seafood), olives (black, green, or kalamata), chiles, and tuna.

Grains, Legumes, and Starches: white rice, brown rice, pasta (standard, whole-wheat, rice or egg noodles), lentils, grains (quinoa, couscous or farro), oats, breadcrumbs, bread (white, wheat, or whole-grain), and tortillas.

Baking Essentials: All-purpose flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, pure vanilla extract, brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar, chocolate chips, and cocoa powder.

Nut and Nut Butters: peanuts, almonds, walnuts, and peanut butter (smooth or crunchy).

Snacks and Cereal: crackers, chips, popcorn kernels, dried fruit, seeds, applesauce, granola, oatmeal, and cereal.

Drinks: coffee, tea, juice, and/or alcohol.

Refrigerator and Freezer Basics

Dairy: butter, cheese, cream, eggs, and yogurt

Produce: vegetables (onions, garlic, bell peppers, carrots, potatoes, etc), fresh fruits (apples, bananas , berries, avocado, watermelon, etc), and tofu.

Freezer: meat (beef, chicken, pork, sausage, fish, and/or seafood), and dough (pizza, pie, and/or puff pastry).

Note: Several fruits and vegetables take particularly well to freezing — and the quality is just as good, if not better during particular parts of the growing season.

Spice-Cabinet and Condiments

Herbs and Spices: all-spice, basil, bay, cardamom, cayenne pepper, celery seed, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel seed, marjoram, mint, mustard seed, nutmeg, oregano, parsley rosemary, sage, and turmeric. Consider a beginner spice set!

New to the world of spice? Download my Ultimate Guide to Common Spices and Herbs by subscribing to my monthly email list!

Condiments: mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, hot sauce, salsa, and soy sauce.

Beyond the Basics

Start paying attention to the meals and recipes you love to cook, and their ingredients. Start expanding your pantry beyond the basics by purchasing those foods and ingredients.

Build and maintain your pantry one recipe at a time! By familiarizing yourself with the ingredient list of your favorite recipes, you can get a pretty good understanding of what you’ll need come meal-time.

Tools and Equipment

Are you ready to start cooking, but don’t have the right tools? You might also like my list of 17 Kitchen Tools and Essentials Every Beginner Needs!

Do you have anything else to add? Share your suggestion in the comments below!


  1. This is such a helpful list. We’ve had to do this many times {we move a lot because my husband is active duty}. I always forget something! Thank you for sharing. ❤️

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