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?”
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
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
Just 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
- What are your must-have minimalist pantry items?
- Do you stick to a meal routine or mix it up?