Shelf cooking is all about cooking with what you have on hand. In order to do that, you need to have a few things on hand! Here are a few pantry staples we think are necessary to be able to cook pretty much any meal, any time!

Various pantry staples on a counter, from Shelf Cooking

One of the hardest parts for those who are new to shelf cooking is knowing which staples to keep in stock in your pantry. How do you know what will go with anything, or what will make anything taste good?

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Well wouldn't you know it, it's your lucky day! Today we've got a GREAT list of the top pantry staples that will have you becoming a shelf cooking pro in no time. And better yet, we'll give you ideas of what you can use them for, too!


These pantry staples are protein-packed and will help to make your meals filling and delicious!

  • Canned Chicken – Great for chicken flautas, chicken spaghetti, and creamy chicken soup.
  • Canned Beef – You can use this for beef stroganoff, beef stew, and shepherd's pie.
  • Beans – Both canned and dry beans make such good additions to meals! You can make bean soup, baked beans, and refried beans.
  • Canned Tuna – This can be used for tuna patties, tuna pasta, and tuna melts.
  • Canned Salmon – Great for salmon fettuccini Alfredo, salmon patties, and salmon caesar salad.

Pro Tip: Beans are a very inexpensive option to help your meals go further. For example, add some black beans or kidney beans to your taco meat so you can feed more people for a fraction of the cost!


Tomato paste in a jar, from Shelf Cooking

These canned goods are going to take your meals that extra mile! You really can't go wrong adding any of these to your meals.

  • Pasta Sauce – Obviously you can use this for spaghetti, pizza, and lasagna roll-ups.
  • Salsa – You can use this in taco casserole, fish tacos, and chicken enchiladas.
  • Canned Tomatoes – These are great for making your own pasta sauce, stew, and chili.
  • Tomato Sauce – You can't go wrong using this in tomato tortellini soup, Mexican rice, and eggplant pizzas.
  • Tomato Paste – Great for tomato and spinach pasta, making pizza sauce, and adding to stews. (We have a few tomato paste substitutes that you should know about, too!)
  • Cream of Chicken Soup – This can go into so many different things! Just a few ideas are broccoli rice casserole, chicken and dumplings, and cheesy ham potato bake.
  • Cream of Mushroom Soup – This is another super versatile soup that you can use for green bean casserole, stuffed pork chops, and potato casserole. (You can also easily make your own cream of mushroom soup!)
  • Canned Veggies These are a great way to have your favorite veggies year-round! You can throw them into a stew, casserole, or just have them as a side by themselves.
  • Stock and Broth – Chicken, veggie, beef, you can't go wrong! These are great pantry staples to keep on hand. You can use them in soups, casseroles, and chicken spaghetti. (You can also easily make your own if you're in a bind!)

Pro Tip: We always stock up on these pantry staples when they're on sale because they last FOR-EV-ER. Just make sure you rotate through them and eat the oldest first so you never have to throw any expired cans away!


These pantry staples are really what gives your meals the bold and intense flavor that makes them so good!

  • Salt – While you don't want to go overboard, you really can't go wrong with adding salt to pretty much any recipe! You even need to use it when baking since it helps to bring out the sweetness.
  • Pepper – You can't go wrong with adding this to basically any savory recipe.
  • Garlic Salt – We love adding garlic salt to our chicken breasts and anytime we're making Italian (like this Italian cream cheese chicken).
  • Seasoned Salt – While you can use this for a lot of things, we love adding it to homemade french fries!
  • Cumin – This goes really good in all Mexican dishes.
  • Chili Powder – Hello, Tex-Mex! This can be spicy if you use a lot of it, but it adds a good flavor if you just use a small amount. It's perfect for making your own taco seasoning!
  • Garlic Powder – This is a great one to season meat and veggies with, especially if a recipe calls for fresh garlic and you don't have any.
  • Onion Powder – Here is another one that you can season pretty much anything with, especially if a recipe calls for onion and you don't have any.
  • Rosemary – If you like a Mediterranean flavor, then this is your spice!
  • Cinnamon – This is a great seasoning to bake with, but we also add it to roasted carrots or sweet potatoes to give them some sweetness without having to add any sugar to them.
  • Cajun Seasoning – While cajun seasoning is great to use in Cajun dishes, you can also add it to any recipe to give it a little kick.
  • Thyme – This is a great seasoning to add to any dish. It'll help to give a hint of lemon and mint.
  • Oregano – If you make pizza and Italian food, then you likely have this spice in your pantry.
  • Parsley – This a great one that will round out just about any dish.
  • Paprika – If you've ever seen the red dust on top of a deviled egg, then you've seen this spice. It helps to add a sweet pepper taste to your dish.
  • Mrs. DashThis original seasoning blend helps you add a ton of flavor to your meal without having to grab a bunch of different bottles of seasoning. It's salt-free, so it's great for those who have to stick to a low sodium diet.
  • Montreal Steak SeasoningThis seasoning is a great one to season pretty much any meat.

Pro Tip: While you can easily keep these in your pantry, we love to keep ours in a drawer in our island where we do all of our meal prepping. It's easy to open the drawer, pull out what we need, and put them back without having to run into the pantry. A seasoning drawer organizer can really helped to keep it all organized!


Sweet potatoes in a wooden bowl, from Shelf Cooking

Oh, the carbs, we can't forget about these pantry staples! These babies will help to make your meal go that extra mile. Even if you barely have enough leftovers to feed your family, just make one of these sides and you'll be golden!

Pro Tip: Some of these can go bad relatively quickly. Make sure you use them before they get to that point or freeze them. Check out our list of things you can freeze to see what all made the list!


These are sure to add some pizzazz to your meal and really takes them that extra mile!

  • Oil – Olive, vegetable, avocado, coconut, there are so many oils to choose from! We like to pan-fry our meat in whatever we have on hand.
  • Soy Sauce – This is a great one to keep on hand for when the urge for Chinese food hits you! Just make sure you put it in the refrigerator when you open it.
  • Worcestershire Sauce – Oh, this is that fun sauce that nobody can say! It's great to add to hamburger patties or steaks as a marinade.
  • Ketchup – This is definitely our kids' favorite condiment! They will dip pretty much anything in it. Refrigerate after opening!
  • Mustard – Not everybody is a fan of this condiment on their burgers or sandwiches in our house, but they'll all put away some mustard potato salad and deviled eggs. Move it to the fridge once you open it.
  • Mayonnaise – Use this to make chicken/tuna/salmon salad, put it on sandwiches, and so many other things! Just refrigerate after opening.
  • Barbecue SauceThis one obviously goes well on barbecue meats, but you can also dip your chicken nuggets in it or throw it in the crockpot with some lil smokies. Refrigerate after opening!
  • Lemon JuiceThis is great for squirting on your seafood right before you eat it to give it an extra delicious kick. Throw it in the fridge when you're done.
  • Lime Juice Keep this on hand to use for making fajita marinades and squeezing over fresh fajitas off the grill. If you have any leftover, stick it in the fridge!
  • Vinegar – This is good for tenderizing fresh cuts of meat and using in marinades.

Pro Tip: Always stock up on condiments and items like these whenever your store has them on sale! They'll keep for a long time in the pantry, but move them to the fridge once they've been opened.


Baking pantry staples in containers, from Shelf Cooking

While these staples are great for baking, that's not all that they're used for! Get some ideas for some of your favorite baking pantry staples.

  • Rolled Oats – These are great for oatmeal (overnight, baked, or regular), can be used as a binding agent in meatballs or meatloaf, and can make some awesome pancakes!
  • Peanut Butter (and any other nut or sun butters) – You can use nut butters to make energy bites, add to oatmeal, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, of course.
  • Honey – We love using it for honey dijon chicken, sweet potato honey cornbread, and honey muffins.
  • Flour – This is obviously great for making bread, but you can also make gravy and fried chicken, too.
  • Yeast – Great for making your own bread! Store this in the fridge or freezer once I open it.
  • Sugar – Obviously this is a good one for baking with, but you also use it to make a fajita marinade.
  • Brown Sugar – I not only bake with this, but we'll add it to our slow cooker ham to give it a little extra sweetness. If you run out, try these brown sugar substitutes before running to the store!
  • Powdered Sugar – This is great to make your own frosting with. We also like to sprinkle our German pancakes with it on special occasions to make it extra fun!
  • Baking Powder – Most baking recipes call for this to help increase the volume and make it light and fluffy.
  • Baking Soda – This is another one that helps to increase the volume and make baked goods light and fluffy. It's also good at neutralizing odors and cleaning around the house!
  • Chia Seeds – These healthy little seeds can be added to pretty much anything! Add them into baked goods, smoothies, and even yogurt.
  • Flax Seeds – The same goes for these, you can bake with them, add them to cookies, and oatmeal.
  • Chocolate Chips – Keep a bag of chocolate chips on hand because you never know when you're going to need them! You can stick them in the freezer to make them last longer, too.
  • Nuts – We like to bake with nuts in our house, they make brownies go that extra mile. They're also great to snack on, too!
  • Vanilla Extract – If you love to make homemade brownies, cookies, and all things delicious, then you always want to have this on hand! You can also make your own vanilla extract.

Pro Tip: For big items like oats, flour and sugar, it is best to buy them in bulk and have larger containers to store them in for easy access while baking.

Whew, what a list! What are some of your favorite pantry staples you always keep on hand? Let us know in the comments below!

Image with text that reads "pantry staples to have on hand" from Shelf Cooking

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Now get to stockin'!