So, you have decided to jump on the Meal-Prep train! Toot toot! Health improvements and budgets are the top two reasons why one chooses to make this lifestyle change. Other than cooking and shopping, planning is the fuel that will keep that train engine running. Having a properly-stocked pantry is a crucial key in the planning stage. This element will ensure that you save time and money when it comes to shopping and less money on takeout. To help eliminate some of that overwhelm you may be feeling, I have gone through my own pantry and gifted you this list of 15 must-have meal prep pantry ingredients.
Chicken, vegetable, and beef broth are all a crucial part of meal prep. Frequently, I use chicken broth to flavor my quinoa and rice. All three broths are bases for sauces and soups. Going for the low-sodium version will help monitor your sodium intake. Personally, I purchase the 32 oz cartons of broth. You get four cups of broth in each carton. Because it comes with a screw-top cap, you can save any unused broth for future fun flavor in other recipes.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin Olive Oil is a healthy fat that can be used to lubricate your pan before cooking your food. Use it to toss your freshly cut veg or potatoes prior to oven-roasting. Getting a larger bottle of this oil will be more affordable in the long run and it will last a long time. Other oils you can stock for healthy cooking and meal prep are coconut, avocado, and sesame oils. They bring an extra element of flavor to dressings, sauces, and marinades while being good for you.
Regular white vinegar is a basic vinegar that will bring out different flavor profiles of the food you are making. Consider adding balsamic, red wine, and rice wine vinegars to your pantry as well. All are great for marinades, dressings, soups, and salad enhancers. You will find all four of these ingredients at the base of many recipes. Because the required amounts are measured in table and tea spoons, you will not have to replenish these vinegars often…unless you are like me and find excuses to use them on breads and cheese.
4. Dry Beans
Dry beans are very inexpensive, healthy, and hearty. Cooking dried beans is healthier and more cost-effective than canned beans. Keep navy, pinto, and black beans on hand in your pantry turn into soups, added to protein bowls, and enhance casseroles and breakfasts. If you are like me and geek out on storage containers, check out these OXO containers to break the beans out of the bag!
Quinoa is considered a superfood due to its many nutritional benefits. This whole grain is very versatile and can be substituted for rice and oats. Frequently, I will make quinoa as a side, utilizing left-over broth, onion, pepper, mushroom, and a teaspoon of butter. It can also be used to make overnight breakfast quinoa vs oats. Quinoa tabouleh is another great, healthier version of the original tabouleh. Because it has more fiber and protein than white or brown rice, quinoa is a common healthy swap for me. Just remember that for every cup of dry quinoa, you need 2 cups of liquid to cook. To save time and multitask, cook your quinoa in a rice cooker on the brown-rice setting.
Steamed rice is always a great alternative than French fries. It can be seasoned with broth, butter, and veg or cooked plain. You can utilize leftover rice for many things. Add to casseroles or make homemade fried rice. Jasmine and Brown rice are great bases to keep on-hand for most recipes. Add other types to your pantry as you begin trying new recipes and find your favorites.
7. Rotel Tomatoes with Green Chiles
For those of us who love adding spice and zest to our dishes, I feel this is a delicious ingredient to keep stocked. This adds depth and zest to any recipes that call for diced tomato. Use when making your taco meat, chili, soups, enchiladas, breakfast bowls, etc.
8. Seasoning Packets
You can make your own seasonings if you wish, but let’s face it. Time is money. When you get the time to make your own, then do. But for now, let the grocery store take that weight off your shoulders. French Onion Soup mix packets, taco seasoning, ranch, and Italian packets are great to always keep stocked. Use these to make quick dressings or dips for lunches, add to quinoa or rice to season, or to use as a marinade for meats. Some casseroles or crock pot recipes will call for these seasonings often as well, so stock up!
9. Brown Sugar
Whether light or dark, brown sugar is a staple to many recipes. Not only can you season your oatmeal or overnight quinoa with it, but you can also add to dressings and marinades. Brown sugar can be used in stir-fry and other Asian dishes. Glaze meat, salmon, and veggies with brown sugar base for added flavor. Combined with mustard, brown sugar is a common ingredient as a rub for pork. Check out my favorite recipe for oven roasted pork loin. Brown sugar will harden over time, so make sure to keep it in an air-tight container.
First off, everyone should have all-purpose flour in their pantry, unless you have certain health or dietary requirements that restrict you from using it. All-purpose flour is used as a thickening agent for sauces, breading base for anything to be fried, and goes in breads, muffins, etc. which are utilized for meal prep. If you are looking to take a healthier approach, try using almond flour or coconut flour. You can use these as substitutes on many recipes that call for all-purpose flour.
11. Dry Pasta
Pasta can be used in so many different ways, its affordable, and it comes in many different shapes and sizes. Whole wheat and cauliflower pastas are becoming more common and affordable and make great substitutes for regular pasta. It is a common ingredient used in soups, crockpot meals, and casseroles. Paired with a sauce, it makes the perfect, easy weeknight meal by adding protein. Have some fun by adding color and different shapes to your sauces and recipes. I buy my pasta in bulk in the dry good section at WinCo for a better price!
Some people gag when you mention that “M” word, but mustard adds a flavor component to so many different recipes that is unmatched by other spices or condiments. Dijon and whole-grain mustards are the most used for meal prep recipes and dressings. Both are frequently combined with brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey for pork recipes, dressings, and marinades. Mustard goes great on sandwiches too, especially blended with a bit of mayonnaise.
13. Pasta Sauce
There are so many different kinds of pasta sauces. The one that is stocked regularly in my pantry is a basic spicy tomato based pasta sauce. I love the Newman’s Own sauces. Try to find pasta sauces with ingredients that you can pronounce and that do not contain high fructose corn syrup. You can also make your own if you prefer. Pasta sauce can be used for raviolis, baked lasagnas, baked ziti, eggplant or chicken parmesan—All of which are great recipes for meal prep. Pair your pasta sauce and dry pasta with my Baked Italian Turkey Meatballs for a delicious week night meal that makes extra!
Overnight oats are a huge meal prep trend right now. With so many ways to make these, having oats in the pantry is a healthy no-brainer. Grounding rolled oats into a flour is great when you are making protein pancakes. Steel cut oats are heartier and take a little longer to cook. Steel cut oats make a great hearty breakfast that can be combined with fresh or frozen berries, a pinch of brown sugar or maple syrup and some crushed almonds or walnuts. Steel cut oats can also be used as a savory component verses pasta or rice. Bake oats with bananas, protein powder, and sweetener for a delicious meal-prep breakfast.
15. Cream of Mushroom Soup
You can make your own, or you can stock up with a few cans from the store. Cream of mushroom soup is a common additive to crockpot meals, skillet or baked pork chops, roasts, and other casseroles. I would suggest having at least 2 cans in stock at all times.
In conclusion, having a properly stocked pantry will ensure you have options for meal prep on busy weeks and not having you throwing your hands up in the air and ordering McDonalds on the way home. Having these listed basic ingredients will save you trips to the store and will allow you options when shopping from your pantry. If you are on a budget, add a few of these ingredients to your weekly shopping list and slowly build up. You will find that you will need fewer items from the grocery store as you continue to stock up. Save money on your meal prep by using recipes that build off these basic items and venture out with new things as you try awesome new recipes.
What are some PANTRY ingredients you always keep on-hand? Let us all know in the comments so we can add them too!
Until next time, keep life zesty!