20 Food Items All Busy Families Should Have in Their Pantry

I’m going to guess we’ve all experienced what I went through the other day. I came home from shopping, tired from a busy day and began preparing dinner -- only to find out that I was missing a key ingredient from my pantry. I could either scrap the whole meal, which was already partially created or I could make a quick run to the store to get the missing item.

I opted to run to the store and ended up walking out with 5 extra items that I thought of as I was passing through the aisles. That quick trip to the store cost me about $20 from my budget that I didn’t really need to spend. A well-stocked pantry would have saved me. A well-stocked pantry that included even those staples that you may forget to keep on hand.

We all know that a well-stocked pantry should keep things like flour, sugar, salt, the spices we use the most, a jar or two of pasta sauce and other items that we use on a regular basis. For me, it would be things like canned beans and tomatoes, tomato sauce, tuna, and pasta. I know with these ingredients that I can easily throw together a meal if something comes up and I don’t have one planned.

The following items are some of what I consider "must-haves" for all busy families to keep on hand for whatever arises!

Surprise Guest Comes to Visit

You’ll want to be prepared to offer that guest something to drink and a snack to enjoy while you chat. Be sure to stock in your pantry:
  • wine 
  • coffee 
  • tea 
  • salsa 
  • chips for dipping 
  • crackers - something slightly better than saltines to pair with cheese (you do have cheese in your refrigerator, don’t you? It might be a good idea to keep some on hand regularly.) 
  • smoked sausage - the kind that comes in a roll and wrapped in plastic. It can be paired well with that cheese and crackers 
  • cookies or pastries - whether it is shortbread cookies already made or all the ingredients to throw a scone together without much hassle, serving something with the coffee and tea is a great idea 
Guests will feel welcome any time you are able to easily entertain them with food and beverages.

Bake Sale Tomorrow 

This happens a lot to parents, I know. It’s the day before an event at school that requires a treat or a bake sale to help support the marching band, it’s 8pm and your child just reminded you. If your pantry isn’t completely stocked, you may be making a quick run to the store.

Hopefully, you have these items in your pantry:
  • cocoa powder - good for making cupcakes, brownies or cookies 
  • chocolate chips 
  • cupcake liners - I prefer the silicone reusable ones
  • brownie mix - for those truly last minute moments when you can’t make them from scratch or for when brownie mix IS your idea of “scratch” 
  • baking soda - even if you aren’t a baker, this is a great item to have in your pantry for cleaning naturally, for common household uses and in the event of a kitchen fire 
  • powdered sugar - this can be used with shortening to make a quick frosting or sprinkled on pancakes and french toast when the syrup is all used up 
Assuming you have the more common staples in your pantry -flour, sugar (both brown and white), vanilla extract and oil, you are going to be able to whip up a delicious sweet treat without a run to the store.

Throwing Together a Last-Minute Meal 

We’ve all had this happen, we forgot to thaw out the chicken, work ran late, and there’s not enough time to put together that lasagna.  Or maybe you just didn’t plan a meal for dinner and you need to put together something to feed yourself and your family.

If you have these items in your pantry, you could make a delicious meal without much hassle:

  • canned mushrooms - these go great into a jar of pasta sauce to improve the quality of your dish
  • canned beef - this could be added to a number of items to make a meal like a pasta dish, tacos or a quick chili soup 
  • dried lentils - this might not be an item you eat much of, if at all but lentils are a high protein food that could replace meat in your tacos, soups and pasta dishes. It’s quick and easy to make so it won’t halt your dinner preparation. 
  • broth - whether it’s chicken, vegetable or beef broth, with this in your pantry you can throw together a quick soup in no time 
  • canned veggies - it’s always good to have a can or two of your favorite veggies on hand for throwing into a last-minute meal. (Not a fan of the flavor or texture of canned veggies? Frozen veggies in a microwavable "steam" package taste great and are just as convenient!)
One of my favorite last-minute meals made from my pantry is nachos. I toss some refried beans or black beans (sometimes both) onto a plate, cover it with some veggies, cheese and salsa and pair it with tortilla chips, warmed up taco shells or soft corn tortillas. This is made with whatever I can find in my pantry or fridge and always fills us up. (For a more innovative nacho, you can also try our Totcho recipe -- made with tater tots!)

A well-stocked pantry only works when it contains items you will use and will use often. What items are missing from this list that you must have on-hand?

*Need to stock your pantry easily, without a trip to the store? We found that using Amazon's Prime Pantry option has helped us save money and avoid overshopping at retailers!


  1. We have to keep cans of tuna, crackers, and cans of mandarin oranges for those last-minute lunches where I discover all the fresh fruit has been eaten and there's no peanut butter or lunch meat left!

    1. Yes! We love mandarin oranges in the can, too! When we can go a week between trips to the store in bad winter weather, they sure come in handy!


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