An empty pantry. (Bigstock)

We recently moved. In the wearisome process of packing our house, I emptied the pantry, tossing anything that had expired and using up everything else. I resolved not to restock right away, having a minimalist’s dream that I could get by with less. This was not my brightest idea.

As a result of a thinned pantry, I experienced a handful of dinner debacles where I found myself lacking an essential ingredient to what is usually a simple meal. It’s hard to make tacos without chili powder. Impossible to make our beef and broccoli stir-fry without sesame oil. Tomato sauce needs a new name without tomatoes. Soup frankly just isn’t soup without vegetable or chicken broth.

These half-baked meals — the flavorless stir-fry, the no-bean chili — resulted in my kids picking at their food and consuming little. I couldn’t blame them.

My goal in cooking every evening is to fill my family with healthful foods. It had been evident to me in my old kitchen, yet here I was reminded, that having a stocked pantry is essential for cooking nutritious weeknight meals.

So I admitted failure at kitchen minimalism and hit the grocery with a master list of the items I needed to fill a highly operational pantry. Weeknight dinner, I’m back. This time prepared.

The prepared pantry

Spices and flavorings:

· Cayenne

· Chili powder

· Cinnamon

· Cumin

· Curry powder

· Powdered ginger

· Oregano

· Paprika

· Black peppercorn in a grinder

· Dried red pepper flakes

· Turmeric

· Vanilla extract


· Sea salt, coarse

· Sea salt, ground

· Gomasio (sesame salt)


· Extra virgin olive oil

· Sesame oil (for high heat and flavor)

· Grapeseed oil (for high heat)

· Walnut oil (for baking)

· Flaxseed oil (for dressings)

· Coconut oil (for baking, roasting and flavor)


· Apple cider vinegar

· Balsamic vinegar

· Red wine vinegar

· Rice wine vinegar

· Sherry vinegar

Sauces & other condiments:

· Hot sauce (sriracha, Tabasco)

· Tamari soy sauce

· Ketchup

· Mustard

· Chutney

· Light coconut milk

· Nutritional yeast

· Seaweed flakes


· Honey

· Maple syrup

· Brown rice syrup

· Brown sugar


· Lentils

· Black beans

· Cannellini beans

· Garbanzo beans


· Brown rice

· Quinoa

· Farro or barley

· Millet

· Rolled oats

Other pantry:

· Canned tomatoes, whole

· Canned tomatoes, diced

· Tomato paste in a tube (lasts longer than in a can once open)

· Dried pasta

· Bread crumbs

Nuts & seeds:

· Nut and seed butters: peanut, almond, sunflower seed, tahini

· Raw nuts: pine, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios

· Raw seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax or chia


· Grass-fed butter

· Eggs

· A hunk of Parmesan cheese

· Sauerkraut

· A jar of minced ginger

· Miso


· Chicken breasts

· Peeled shrimp

· Fish fillets

· Steaks

· Fruit for smoothies

· Homemade chicken and/or vegetable stock


· Garlic

· Onion

· Shallots

· Ginger root

· Lemons

Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.