Healthy eating often comes down to what food is available to you. If you bring a lot of processed foods into your home, then that’s what you’ll turn to in a pinch. One step toward better eating is making sure the food you have on hand is healthy and tasty. Here are some essential items to stock in your pantry that will keep you prepared for a quick meal or a surprise guest.

Must-have pantry items

Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste are the base of many recipes, from spaghetti to enchiladas. You can also make your own tomato soup or salsa.

Stock key flavor combinations

You can make a lot of things if you have tangy and sweet ingredients. Lemon, lime, and vinegar are tangy. Maple syrup, sugar, agave, or honey are sweet. Mix some of these flavors together and you have a vinaigrette or a marinade.

Essential spices

It’s healthier to season with spices than salt alone. Spices also have a cultural history as regional cuisines have relied for hundreds of years on local spices. For Italian food, keep oregano, basil, and thyme on hand. For Mexican, stock cumin and garlic. Asian dishes use soy, ginger, and sesame oil. Traditional American dishes often use onions and rosemary.

Handy foods to keep on hand

  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Tomato sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • Plain yogurt
  • Bread or tortillas
  • Cheese
  • Coconut milk
  • Fresh veggies (onion, garlic, carrots, peppers, cucumber)
  • Lemon and lime
  • Frozen corn
  • Noodles
  • Potatoes
  • Soup spice mix and/or well-stocked spice cupboard.