If you’re struggling right now to come up with meals from what you already have on hand, we’re here to help learn how to stock your kitchen with fridge, freezer and pantry essentials. We’ve got an easy to follow plan, plus free printable checklists to get you motivated.
Our super handy pantry essentials checklists will help you to plan for the long term. Learn what you should have on hand in order to make a month’s worth of meals, or more, without having to grocery shop.
**Scroll to the end of the post to download the free printable.
Meal Planning with What’s on Hand
Would you be able to feed your family a couple of weeks worth of meals with just what you have on hand right now? Chances are, you don’t, but we’re here to help!
Keeping a pantry, fridge and freezer stocked with essentials will help you be able to plan meals for weeks at a time. It’s important to be prepared for those weeks when the budget is a little tight, or for emergencies when you can’t get to the grocery store for a while.
It can seem overwhelming to get started with stocking your pantry, but just follow these simple steps and you’ll have tons of easy meals and recipes at your fingertips in no time!
- First, go through the freezer, refrigerator and the pantry and make lists of what you already have on hand. Organize into categories as you go to make it easier. Make sure you have a category for snacks and breakfast items as well.
- Then make lists of meals you know you could make from those ingredients. Consider what meals you eat on a regular basis and always have the ingredients for, like spaghetti or tacos. Once you know what you can already make, it will be easier to make a plan to stock up your essentials moving forward.
- Go through the checklists provided below and add the items you need to your shopping list. Add your own pantry essentials that may not be on the checklists.
How to Stock Your Pantry with Essentials
The pantry is the place you’ll keep most of your food on hand because these items are shelf stable, usually for several weeks, months or even years. You can use this checklist to mark off what you have on hand right now, and quickly see what is recommended to purchase when you can. Don’t worry about printing this image, the free pantry essentials printables will be available for download at the end of this post.
Each of the items on this list are shelf stable, meaning they don’t require refrigeration, although the length of time they remain fresh will vary, especially with produce. Store all pantry and shelf stable items in a cool, dry location. When items are opened, some may require refrigeration so be sure to read the packaging. Store opened dry goods in tightly sealed containers or resealable bags to further extend their shelf life.
Unlike pantry essentials that can last for over a year, refrigerator essentials are the items you want to use up first. When you’re meal planning, check your fridge first. Use up leftovers before grabbing anything from the pantry or freezer. You can make Chicken Salad or Loaded Chicken Nachos from leftover chicken or Vegetable Soup with leftover veggies.
A lot of fresh produce can stay fresh for several extra days by keeping it in the fridge.
You can get a little more creative with what you buy to store in the freezer. Consider adding breakfast items, frozen snacks, desserts or prepared meals to your list. The freezer is also a great way to extend the list of bread, cheese and milk. Pantry essentials undoubtedly have a shelf life, while most things will last indefinitely in the freezer. Although quality will begin to decline at a certain point, usually after 4-6 months. Be sure to properly wrap up anything you put in the freezer with plastic wrap, foil and resealable, airtight containers to avoid freezer burn.
How long are pantry staples good for?
The expiration of items will depend on several factors, such as how they are packaged, when they are purchased, and what the “sell by” or “use by” date is. You can use the dates below as a guideline, but use your own judgment as to whether an item is still good or not.
Each of these recommendations assumes that the item is properly stored in a cool, dry place; in other words, in your home pantry, fridge or freezer. Opened packages should be stored in airtight containers or in their own packaging. Read the instructions on the package to determine if the item is shelf stable once opened or requires refrigeration.
Most spices will last for 3-4 years so I’m not including them on the list.
Canned Goods, Grains and Pasta
I always have dry pasta on hand. We make bolognese at least a few times a month and use different cuts of pasta, from traditional spaghetti to rotini or even macaroni!
- Canned fruit and vegetables (1-2 years)
- Canned chicken or tuna (3-5 years)
- Beans (3-5 years)
- Olives (1 year)
- Canned Tomatoes (18-24 months)
- Pasta sauce (1 year unopened, 7-10 days in the fridge once opened; cream based will last 5-7 days in the fridge after opening)
- Chicken broth (3-5 years)
- Pasta (dried pasta will last 1-2 years after best by date)
- Rice (indefinite shelf life)
- Breadcrumbs (8-10 months)
- Cornmeal (1 year)
- Oats (1-2 years)
- Shelf stable milk (2-4 weeks past the expiration date)
- Potatoes (2-3 months in cold dark place)
- Onions (2-3 month in the pantry or fridge
When you think about the essentials currently in your pantry, it’s likely that baking items like flour and sugar come to your mind first. With flour and sugar always on hand you can make Beer Bread, Homemade Flour Tortillas or Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.
- Flour (1 year at room temp)
- Yeast (2-4 months past expiration date if unopened, 4-6 months in fridge once opened)
- Baking soda (2 years unopened, 6 months opened)
- Baking powder (9-12 months)
- Vanilla extract (5 years)
- Cream of tartar (6 months)
- Sugar (indefinite shelf life)
- Powdered sugar (indefinite shelf life)
- Brown sugar (indefinite shelf life)
- Cocoa powder (3 years)
- Chocolate chips (2 years)
- Pancake mix (opened for 1 year)
- Honey (2 years)
- Maple or agave syrup (2 years)
- Olive oil (2 years)
- Vegetable oil (6 months)
Did you know that refrigerating fruits like apples and bananas can actually extend their life? Apples can last up to a month in the fridge and fully ripened bananas can last at least another week. So you can make an Apple Smoothie or some Banana Muffins anytime!
- Cheese (block or sliced: 1-2 months, shredded: 1 week after best by date)
- Milk (5-7 days after expiration date)
- Butter (6-9 months)
- Eggs (3 weeks past printed date)
- Hard boiled eggs (1 week)
- Yogurt (opened 1-2 weeks, unopened 1-2 weeks after expiration date)
- Sour cream (3 weeks)
- Onions (2-3 months, sliced or chopped 7-10 days)
- Garlic (3-5 months)
- Carrots (3-4 weeks)
- Citrus fruit (1-2 weeks in fridge)
- Apples (3 weeks in fridge)
- Stone fruit like peaches and plums (3-4 days in fridge)
- Avocados (once fully ripe, refrigerate up to 5 days
Frozen foods are technically safe indefinitely if stored at 0 degrees F, but freshness and quality can decline considerably beyond these dates. Make a smoothie with frozen fruit or free a loaf of ready to bake garlic bread.
- Chicken (9 months raw, cooked chicken up to 6 months)
- Beef (best within 4 months)
- Fish (fattier fish 2-3 months, leaner fish 4-6 months)
- Cheese (6 months)
- Frozen fruits and vegetables (8-10 months)
- Bread (3-6 months in freezer)
- Milk (3 months, then 5-7 days once thawed)
Cooking with Pantry Staples
Now that you’ve got a fully stocked pantry (or you’re getting there), it’s time to start planning those easy meals and recipes! I’ve got a huge list of easy recipes to cook with mostly pantry ingredients or you can grab our FREE pantry cooking e-book that has ten of our favorite recipes that use a lot of the ingredients we talked about here.
To cook by ingredient, you can click on the different ingredient categories below or tap the search bar at the top of the page and enter an ingredients you’re looking for. These are some of the most common freezer and pantry essentials; I chose two of the most common produce items as well that we have a lot of recipes for.
- Beans – Recipes with canned or dried beans as a main ingredient, like Ham and Navy Bean Soup.
- Pasta – Recipes that use different kinds of pasta, or homemade sauces for pasta. Maybe try some Homemade Beefaroni.
- Rice – Rice is the main ingredient for these main dish and side dish recipes, like Authentic Mexican Rice or Egg Fried Rice.
- Tuna – a few recipes using canned tuna. My favorite is mixing it into some homemade Mac and Cheese!
- Chicken – Over 200 chicken recipes using all different cuts of chicken. Try some Chicken Enchilada Soup or Baked Chicken Breasts
- Ground Beef or Ground Turkey – These recipes call for either ground beef or ground turkey, but can easily be swapped one for the other.
- Broccoli – although fresh broccoli is only good 4-5 days in the fridge, frozen broccoli is a popular alternative and can be used for things like Broccoli Cheese Soup.
- Potatoes – recipes that include all kinds of potatoes, from russet and red to sweet potatoes. My Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes are a family favorite!
Supplement with Fresh Produce Delivery
For 2 years now, I have been getting fresh produce delivered by a company called Farm Fresh to You. This is not sponsored, I just really love the company! Every week I get farm fresh produce delivered to my door. I get to customize my box by choosing which fruits and veggies I know we’ll eat and removing things we won’t. This has been an especially useful service during these months that going to the grocery store is a luxury.
If you’d like to give this service a try and supplement your pantry essentials with some fresh fruit and veggies, use the code KRIS3589 to get $15 off of your first order! There is no commitment and you can cancel any time. They also have dairy and meat products, as well as pantry staples and bakery items. All organic! I know you’ll love it as much as we do!
If you don’t want to use a delivery service, do what you can to shop local and support local farmers and produce stands.
What recipes have you been cooking up from your pantry lately? Do you have questions or need recipes for certain items? Leave your comments below!
Please note that we offer these printables for free. They are protected by copyright and not to be used for resale or duplicated in any way.