How To Stock Your Minimalist Kitchen + List: 16 Pantry Staples

The term “minimalist kitchen” is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? After all, many of us love cooking and the kitchen is one of the most complex areas of our home. Even with a tiny house, my kitchen is my “command center.” I like cooking. I keep my kitchen organized and clean it every day–it’s small and orderly…but does mean it’s a “minimalist kitchen?”

kitchen staples

At the heart of it, minimalism is all about embracing simplicity. When we have a bunch of expired ingredients on hand and storage for a small army we’ll never need to feed, it gets stressful. Rather than working through a cluttered kitchen and sorting through expired jars of who-knows-what, a minimalist kitchen list consists of items you use regularly for meals you enjoy. Stock your minimalist kitchen with the equipment you’ll use and the items needed to prepare your favorite foods. That’s it.

When it comes down to it, all you really need to store in your pantry or kitchen are the ingredients to tide you over until your next trip to the store. Now, that said, there are a few staples that are helpful to keep on hand. This is especially true if the weather gets bad or life gets busy and you need the components of a meal, fast.

So what items should go on your minimalist kitchen list? What are the basic guidelines for stocking a minimalist pantry and what ingredients will maximize your meals in a minimal amount of space, clutter, and stress? This is what I’ve discovered when it comes to keeping a small, but useful kitchen and pantry.

Guidelines for Stocking a Minimalist Pantry

If you’re ready to start cutting out pantry clutter, especially if you have a small storage space, there are a few guidelines you should follow:

1. Buy only what you like

buy food you like

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they stock a small pantry is storing extra food for special meals or occasions—from cake mix to cranberry sauce. Some people get a “food storage list” and assume they should buy every item on it. Only buy foods you like to eat and eat regularly. If you don’t bake, then don’t keep baking supplies on hand. If you aren’t a fan of beans, don’t feel like you should buy beans for your storage. This is especially applicable if your space is at a minimum.

2. Watch for items that go with many different meals

Ingredients like broth or canned tomatoes go with all sorts of dishes. It’s a good idea to keep a few cans on hand. The same goes for items like pasta, oil, spices, and rice. Look for simple ingredients that work into many of your favorite meals.

3. Stick to a meal routine

taco tuesday food planningJust like wearing similar outfits every day, sticking with a regular meal routine cuts out a lot of stress. If you know you’re always going to enjoy Taco Tuesday or fish on Friday, then you don’t need to spend time planning and ensuring you’ve purchased a bunch of different ingredients. Treat yourself by going out when you want to enjoy a meal out of the routine or plan a dinner at home for a special occasion. The rest of the time, stick with foods you enjoy and put them in a regular rotation.

4. Purchase shelf-stable items

Stocking a pantry, whether big or small, calls for shelf-stable items. When you purchase foods requiring cold storage like freezing or refrigeration, it takes up a lot of room. This is a problem if you don’t have a much fridge or freezer space. I have a very small fridge (a 4.4 cu ft bar fridge), which I use to house the basics: milk, meat, cheese and fresh vegetables. Many items (like eggs, butter and produce) are easily and safely stored right on the counter or on shelves rather than in your fridge.

5. Watch expiration dates

If you’re decluttering and organizing your pantry, watch your expiration dates! Anything past the “best by” date, get rid of! If you don’t plan to eat it (but it’s still good) consider donating it to a food bank. Don’t keep items you don’t like or won’t eat before their expiration date. Chalk it up to a good life lesson and toss it out.

when do food expire chart

6. Store only what you’ll need until your next trip to the market

You don’t need to store weeks or months of food in your pantry, especially if you’re applying a minimalist approach. Store only what you’ll use before your next trip to the market. Keep a few basic ingredients on hand to pull together meals you enjoy.

Minimalist Kitchen List: 16 Pantry Basics You Need on Hand

Obeying the guidelines above, these are pantry basics most people like to store. Again—follow your own preferences and habits. If you don’t bake, skip baking supplies. If you’re a vegetarian, then you won’t have much use for canned meat or jerky. Keep one or two weeks’ worth of each item on hand.

1. Beans

beans for pantry

Beans are inexpensive, easy store and a great source of protein. If your storage space is limited, beans give you a great shelf-stable option to dress up or dress down. Dried beans and chickpeas are typically softened by soaking overnight. Lentils and split peas will soften as they cook (no need to soak). Beans provide a nice, simple base for many dishes.

2. Rice

rice as pantry staple

Rice is another great, simple item to keep on-hand, especially if you don’t have much space. Store it easily—any dry spot will do. There are tons of meal options using rice as the base. Mexican food, Middle Eastern dishes and Asian meals all work well with rice. There are many different types of rice: Jasmine, Basmati, sushi…but buy basic white or brown rice (white takes less time to cook) if you only have room to store one type.

3. Baking Supplies

baking items - flour, sugar, salt

If you’re a regular baker, you may want to purchase baking supplies (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.). Buy only the basics you need in between your trips to the store and watch for items like Bisquick or cake mix which are used to bake several different dishes. When space is limited, baking supplies take up a lot of room, but for those who use them often it’s well worth the sacrifice of space. I personally prefer to buy a few pre-made baked goods, so I don’t need to store ingredients like big bags of flour.

4. Spices

piles of spices in spoons

Spices are an area where many people tend to go overboard. After all, they don’t require much space, they’re inexpensive and add flavor, so why not stock up on every spice, right? Well, spices actually have a very short shelf-life. Many ground spices only stay potent and flavorful for a year or two after opening. Dried herbs tend to last even less time. It’s better to buy small quantities you’ll use up quickly and regularly. Salt and pepper are exceptions of course. I keep my grinders along with Texas Pete (the best hot sauce ever–sorry Tabasco) right on hand at all times.

5. Pasta

keep dry pasta in pantry

Pasta is a fast, easy meal to enjoy all kinds of ways. Add peanut butter and soy sauce for Asian peanut noodles. Use pasta as a base for spaghetti or enjoy plain noodles with a little olive oil, cheese and egg. Dried pasta is easy to store, so it’s smart to keep a box or two ready for meals.

6. Canned Tomatoes

cans of tomatoes

Canned tomatoes can be pureed to make tomato sauce. Use them as a base for soup, stir them into pasta, or use them in chili. Canned tomatoes are another versatile and easy to store ingredient, even in the smallest pantry. They add a lot of flavor and stretch many different meals.

7. Oil

olive oil for cooking

There are many oil options. I tent to prefer olive oil because it’s shelf-stable and easy to use in almost any dish. Coconut oil is another good option because it’s used in both cooking and baking. Whichever type you choose, oil is a must-have for your minimalist kitchen list, especially if you’re looking for ingredients you’ll use all the time. Use oil to brown meat, keep vegetables from sticking or in pasta dishes. You can use olive oil as a swap for butter to dip bread. Add lemon juice or vinegar to oil and make instant salad dressing.

8. Dried Fruit

dried fruits

Dried fruit is one of those like it or hate it foods. Some people think raisins are the worst ever while others love them. As far as pantry foods go, dried fruit is pretty versatile. Use it in trail mix, add it to baked goods for sweetness, keep dried fruits on hand for snacking or adding into salads and sandwiches. If you like oatmeal or hot cereal, dried fruit is a nice addition. Again—choose only the type you like.

9. Cereal & Oats

dried oats and oatmeal

Basic cereals like Chex, corn flakes or Rice Krispies are great to keep on hand because you can use them as a coating for chicken or fish. Use them in rice crispy treats or snack mix. Then, of course, you can also enjoy them as a breakfast or snack with milk. You may also want to keep oats in your pantry too. Oatmeal is a great hot cereal and oats are often used in cookies and other baked treats.

10. Canned Vegetables & Soups

canned soups in pantry

As far as canned vegetables go, some people love them, while others can’t stand them. They’re certainly easy to store, especially if you’re living in a small space. Keeping a few cans of corn or another basic vegetable is smart, in case you need a quick meal or side dish. Similarly, soups are used for all sorts of meals, so storing a few cans of broth or soup makes a lot of sense for most people. To take up even less space, buy concentrated bullion cubes or paste, then just add water.

11. Peanut Butter & Nuts

peanut butter and nuts

Peanut butter is a great high protein snack and it’s also an ingredient in all kinds of meals. Peanut butter is used in Asian or African cooking. Peanut butter’s easy to store and almost everyone loves a PB&J when you need a fast, easy meal. Keeping nuts like cashews or almonds in your pantry is a good idea too. Add them in cereal, use them to top salads, add them to stir-fry and in other dishes.

12. Canned Meat/Fish

chicken for meals

Having a few packets or cans of tuna fish on hand is a basic for most pantries. If you need an easy way to add protein to your meals: just open a can of tuna and stir it into pasta or make a tuna fish sandwich. Canned chicken is also a good option to put together a chicken salad, use in soups, casseroles or pasta dishes.

13. Shelf-Stable Dairy & Sauces

shelf stable sauces

Parmesan cheese is shelf-stable and can be stored unopened in your pantry for a very long time. Soy or powdered milk is also a good idea if you only venture to the store occasionally and run out of regular milk between trips. It’s also used as an ingredient in many dishes. Most salad dressings, mayonnaise and sauces are shelf-stable until they’re opened. If you go through these items fast, it makes sense to add one extra bottle to your minimalist kitchen list.

14. Jerky

beef jerky lasts long in storage

Jerky is easy to store. It doesn’t take up much room and it’s great to keep on hand for a quick snack. Look for individually packaged sticks as well as different flavors and types. There’s turkey jerky, salmon jerky and even jerky with caffeine in it (a.k.a. Perky Jerky). If you need a high protein snack that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, jerky is a good option.

15. Bread & Crackers

crackers

Keeping bread and crackers on hand is a smart plan. Bread doesn’t last a long time though, so only store what you will eat within a week or two. Crackers are more shelf-stable and will last for months unopened. Tortillas are another option to keep on hand. If your space is small or if you’re looking for less clutter in your pantry, pick one type of bread you will use in several different ways.

16. Snacks

cookies

When it comes to snacks we all have our own preferences. Keep a few snacks on hand, but don’t go overboard. Cookies or chips are easy to store and don’t usually take up much room. Again, the best rule of thumb is to only store what you’ll eat within a week or two (between trips to the store). Most snacks aren’t used as ingredients for another meal, so there’s no reason to keep more than you need (unless you anticipate a snack emergency).

Your food storage is a lifesaver (literally!) if the weather is bad, if you live in a remote area or if you can’t get to the store for whatever reason. Keeping a minimalist kitchen should help make your life and meal planning less stressful. If you store only the basic ingredients you need for your favorite meals, you’ll always be prepared, even if you’re stuck at home or don’t have time to fix something big. Cut out the clutter and unnecessary items in your pantry today!

 Your turn!

  • What are your must-have minimalist pantry items?
  • Do you stick to a meal routine or mix it up?
6 Comments
  1. Great article except for the spices part. There is a series of articles in a UK paper at the moment about how long items will last and a surprising amount of spices (and other things) are still in use dating back some 70 years. Todays item was a jar of nutmeg purchased in the 1930s and still in use today by the 3rd generation of family. Keep cool and dry and things like ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon etc. seem to last just fine and it saves a lot of waste food when items are needlessly thrown out just because the best by date has passed (which was the theme of the original article sparking the replies of food items still in use decades past the ‘use by date’.)

    • Agreed. You can definitely keep spices longer if they are stored properly. I’ve got a significant investment in every known cooking spice because I love to cook. Current ones are all stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator. I buy in bulk and keep backups in the freezer for those I use most often.

  2. Just some of my own ideas that I practice. While I have a lot of inventory, I still consider my kitchen to be minimalist for several reasons. The first reason is that I have a large stock of shelf-stable foods so that I don’t have to shop very often, and I grow sprouts, greens, scallions, ginger, and herbs indoors. It saves both time and money because I only buy food retail when it is at a good price. Many times I just order certain organic foods in bulk and have them delivered once a year: quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, whole wheat flour, masa, lentils, split peas, dried beans, and sprouting seeds.

    The second reason my kitchen is minimalist is that 99% of the items in the kitchen are a one-ingredient food from which I make everything else. If I want mayonnaise I’ll just whip some up. The same with mustard, catsup, and salad dressings. I keep mustard seeds, vinegar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, tomato paste, salt, herbs, spices, and eggs from my own free-range hens. If I want tortillas, cornbread, or dumplings, I make them from masa flour, which is nixtamalized corn flour (sometimes called “limed” corn). If I want chili I make it from orange lentils, brown rice, kidney beans I’ve already cooked from dried, onions and garlic from my garden, and a large can of diced tomatoes, along with herbs and spices.

    The third reason my kitchen is minimalist is that while there might be a large quantity of shelf-stable foods and spices, the actual list of items is smaller than when I had a processed foods-based kitchen. It’s much easier to know when I need to replenish the inventory since everything in current use is stored in clear glass containers, with backup storage in the cellar. If I need to refill a glass container I can check if the backup is getting low.

    The fourth and most important reason that my kitchen is minimalist is based on the principals of Zero-Waste. I use everything. Let’s say I am making potato salad from my own potatoes and onions that I grew, plus organic celery purchased at the farmers market, with vinegar and homemade mayonnaise. The eyes of the potatoes are gouged out and soaked, to be planted indoors for an early gardening start, so I don’t need to buy seed potatoes. The peelings are either baked into flavored chips or are composted. Any parts of the onions that are not going in the salad but are in ok condition are frozen to be made into vegetable broth at some point. The same with the celery. The leaves are either minced and dehydrated as an herb or added to the frozen vegetable container for making vegetable broth, along with strings and clean parts not going into the salad. This means that nothing needs to go into the trash. If a recipe uses carrots, the tops are soaked and planted to grow carrot greens indoors, a nutritious and tasty addition to salads and soups, and any bad parts or peelings go to the compost. Though, there is very little about an organic vegetable that I won’t eat, including the peel.

    I’m going to the store tomorrow, for the first time in over six weeks, primarily to use some free coupons for yogurt and cheese. I plan to buy nothing because there is nothing I really need. But, if there is a very good sale on organic citrus or avocados I will probably buy that. I process the heck out of the citrus while it is fresh–no moldy lemons for me! I wash and dry, then zest the fruit, which gets labeled and frozen. Then I juice and freeze the juice in ice cube trays, and later label bags with the date and type of citrus. I’ll take the remainder of the skins and process them as well, cutting them up and freezing them, labeling their purpose. Lemon rinds are great for facial and skin treatments. Chopped citrus rinds go into my “vitamin water”, which is a flavored water that I make every night before bed. I use orange vitamin water half-and-half with a red wine for a refreshing sangria after working in the garden. Less wine, more vitamins. Win-Win!

    • WOW!
      That’s an inspiration for sure. Good job.

  3. I’d strongly recommend this book also http://uk.phaidon.com/store/food-cook/the-kitchen-shelf-9780714871271/

  4. I have found treasures at the dollar stores! Living by my self I don’t need regular size food items. The dollar stores have small sizes of jelly, condiments, a 1lb box of sugar lasts me at least 2 months, I found a pouch of Velveeta cheese (good for tacos, mac n cheese etc.), check every aisle! Small items for consumption, cleaning, health, storage etc.! Dollar store can be a tiny living person’s best friend!

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