How to Stock Your Pantry Like a Pro

Cooking a healthy meal shouldn't mean you have to run to the store for ingredients. Here are 21 items to always keep on hand.

Last week I sat down with Be Well Philly editor Emily Leaman to ask for feedback about my recipes that were part of the BWP Office Challenge. One comment she heard was that some contestants felt the recipes were too expensive because they didn’t have all the ingredients on hand, especially when it came to spices or dry items.

So today I want to tell you what items I always have in my cabinets, and how I use them. This list is in no way extensive but highlights the ingredients I use the most frequently or can do the most with, especially in a pinch—you know, when there’s no food left in the house. This list does not include any fresh items or things that need to be refrigerated. That’s for another post.

But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What staples do you always make sure to have on hand?

Quinoa >> This high-protein grain is a great substitute for pasta or rice dishes, but what many people don’t realize is that it works just as well for hot breakfast cereal. Prepared like oatmeal, it’s delicious with a smidge of maple syrup, cinnamon, apples and walnuts.

Rolled oats >> Great for breakfast, but also added to baked goods or ground up into flour.

Organic chicken stock >> A base for many soups and sauces, of course, but you can also use it to cook grains and greens for added flavor.

Extra virgin olive oil >> As if this needs an explanation.

Balsamic vinegar >> See above.

All-natural peanut or almond butter >> Of course, nut butters are great to have on hand for snack time, but have you ever thought to add a spoonful to a smoothie instead of sugary protein powder?

Raw honey >> When raw, honey is said to have many medicinal values, including working as an antibiotic and a natural allergy remedy. Use in salad dressing, yogurt, nut butter or to sweeten any baking recipe.

Chickpeas >> Hummus. Period.

Black beans >> Add girth and Mexican appeal to any salad or stir fry. Or refry them yourself. Or make soup.

Crushed tomatoes >> A staple for many soups and sauces, and great for a basic marinara.

Dried cranberries >> Dried fruit makes any salad just a little bit better.

Walnuts or almonds >> Add healthy fats to salads, breakfast grains, smoothies or baked goods.

Panko bread crumbs >> This Japanese bread crumb is lighter than the ones you’re used to.

Sesame seeds >> Add to salad dressing for an Asian flavor or sprinkle over stir fry for added crunch and great visual character.

Sea salt >> Say good-bye to Morton’s. This staple is rich in minerals the body needs. Experiment with different varities

Cumin >> Smoky and full of flavor, cumin adds depth to beans, Mexican dishes and chili. Combine with sea salt and garlic powder for a zesty rub for chicken.

Dried ginger >> Try adding dried ginger, sesame seeds, honey and fresh OJ to soy sauce for an easy Asian-style marinade or dressing.

Garlic powder >> If you don’t have fresh garlic around, this does the trick. Without stinking up your fingers!

Dried basil >> To make any dish more Italian.

Dried cilantro >> To make any dish more Mexican.

Hot pepper flakes >> To add heat.


Maura Manzo is a yoga teacher and health coach specializing in integrating diet, health and wellness. She supports others in becoming their best possible selves. Maura is available for private instruction and coaching, as well as on-site corporate classes and speaking engagements. She is co-creator of the Beyond Asana 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training and the Art of Letting Go: Maya Tulum Mexican Yoga Vacation. Learn more about her teaching schedule, coaching practice and yoga trainings at