Now that we’re finally past the panic buying part of this pandemic (I hope), maybe it’s time to take a look at what items we really need to keep stocked up. Even when we’re not buying bunches of groceries to store against the latest apocalypse, most of us buy a lot of food that we never eat.
There are lots of reasons this happens, and they may even vary from person to person. But the big problem with this kind of buying is that it creates a huge amount of waste, and we know what a problem that is for our environment.
It is interesting to me that one of the first chapters in many cookbooks is a description of what constitutes a well-stocked pantry. Now, I have gotten some great ideas perusing those chapters, but I’ve also bought a lot of food that I never used. So, the first part of stocking your fridge or pantry is to ask yourself, “Am I or someone else in my household really going to eat this?”
If you and your family love, love, love fish of all kinds and would eat it until you grew gills, then, yeah, it makes sense to keep a couple cans of mackerel or salmon in the pantry. At some point, you will probably open it to make a mackerel salad or salmon croquettes. It isn’t going to happen in my household, although I do occasionally buy such things for my husband, who does love fish. We keep cans of tuna, since we do like the occasional tuna salad or melt.
The second thing to ask is if this is going to make your life easier? Pre-grated cheese is a major no-no in gourmet circles. Bugger that. It makes my life so much easier that I buy it. I do not buy a lot of pre-made food, but that little bit I do.
Which leads to the third question, is this good for me? The reason I do not buy a lot of pre-made food, even though it would make my life easier, is that it’s usually loaded with salt, sugar, and fats, which are really hard on the anatomy. It is harder to make my food from mostly fresh ingredients, but the food is generally tastier and I know I don’t put on as much weight.
So here are a few things that I consider staples. These are go-to items that I know when I have them, I can get a decent dinner made.
Canned tomatoes – Yes, I prefer fresh, but in a soup or stew, you lose that completely. With a can or two in the pantry, I’ve got soup, or maybe a stew or skillet casserole.
Chicken and beef broth – Make your own, say the wags. Feh. I’ve got better things to do and not enough storage, anyway. Find one in the paper boxes rather than cans. They don’t taste as tinny and you can use just as much as you need, then re-close the package for another time.
Ground beef and turkey – They thaw in the microwave fairly easily and you can do all sorts of fun things with either.
Salad veggies – Lettuce, carrots, celery, radishes. Nothing like a fresh salad or veggie sticks.
Frozen chicken thighs – Extremely versatile, you can thaw them quickly, or even partially thaw them, then cut them to bits and cook them. They’re great for a wide variety of dishes.
Pre-grated mozerella and sharp cheddar – Get good ones, but having some to sprinkle on some leftover meat for lunch, or to make quesadillas with or dozens of other applications makes life a lot easier.
Whole wheat pasta – I haven’t been able to indulge in this that often of late because my doctor pushed me onto a low-carb diet. But these can punch up a skillet casserole or be served with a sauce that you have leftover, all sorts of meals.
I also usually have the usual staples: milk, eggs, a wide variety of cheeses for nibbling rather than the pre-grated stuff. I also have fresh vegetables, such as broccoli and green beans, onions, garlic and several dried herbs.
I keep a lot of other fresh ingredients as my menu changes. But the above items are the backbone of my kitchen. The important thing to remember is that your basic items will not be the same as mine. Maybe you deeply loathe chicken or tomatoes. Maybe you love having your favorite pre-made hummus around for quick snacking. It’s not about me dictating to you what you should keep. These are just suggestions and if they work for you, great. If not, I’m good, too. And if you have a particular go-to ingredient that you like, please leave a comment.