My meal planning comes in waves. Sometimes I am good at sitting down and deciding what I want to make. Other times we just throw meals together based on what we have on hand. If it weren’t for keeping these “staple pantry items” on hand, we would probably eat out more or starve…Now, some of these aren’t actual “pantry” items. They are just items to keep on hand either in pantry, fridge or freezer.

Staple Pantry Items

Cooking Soups and Sauces

Cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, cream of celery, cheddar cheese soup, etc. Also spaghetti sauces and alfredo sauces.

We love to use canned soup to make what we call “chicken dinner” It is cream of mushroom or chicken with frozen veggies and chicken added, put over rice or noodles. Super easy and somewhat healthy. This meal often saves me from buying meals at work so it is definitely worth having on hand.

Spaghetti sauce or alfredo sauce are great for quick meals too for Spaghetti or chicken alfredo. We also use alfredo sauce on pre-made ravioli sometimes.

I also recently started making my own cheese sauce using cheddar cheese soup. I will get the recipe up soon. We love it since we love all things Mexican(see below)

 Frozen veggies

As mentioned above we love to use these in “chicken dinner”. You could also use them in a stir-fry or as a side to any meal. I love the “steamer” versions that you just throw in the microwave. Cooking vegetables just right can be hard but these steamer versions always turn out great. Making veggies easier to make/serve is important, even though my kids still won’t eat them right now(You have to keep trying though right?)

Frozen Meat

I always have frozen chicken on hand. I love the chicken tenderloins because they are a good size for thawing out and cooking easily.  I have started buying meat ahead of time at Costco and freezing it. This is a much better deal. Costco has some great options for “healthy” meat too. Grass-fed beef, wild caught cod, etc. Ground beef or turkey is great to have on hand for spaghetti or chilli as well.


These are great to add to any meal depending on your preference. We use the noodles to make “chicken alfredo” sometimes or the rice as mentioned in our “chicken dinner”. It is nice to have these on hand so that you can throw meals together last minute.


I am not a big sandwich person, but my kids are. They could eat sandwiches for every meal. Usually pb&j or tuna. We also love grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup(another great item to keep on hand). We like to buy the “healthy” bread too. We absolutely love Daves killer bread because it has no added sugars or preservatives. Healthy bread is an easy way to add nutrition to a meal that otherwise wouldn’t be healthy.

Mexican Pantry Items

Mexican food is always our go to. So here are a few more items that we always have on hand. We can almost always throw tacos or nachos together which is great because we love them.

Tortilla chips

We also love chips and salsa so having extra tortilla chips on hand is always ok! (This is a must buy at Costco)

Refried beans

Not much needs to be said here. Refried beans are absolutely necessary for Mexican food. They are easy to make too. I usually dump a bunch of salsa verde in the saucepan with them which helps make them smooth and yummy.  They have a lot of low sodium/fat options now too.

Spanish/Mexican rice-

Love these, but I have recently noticed how full of sodium and preservatives these pre-packaged things are. They are cheap and quick to throw together though. A fun healthy alternative to these though is sweet potatoes. To make sweet potatoes equally as easy as packaged rice, you can cook them in the microwave. Just poke some holes in it and cook for about 8-10 minutes (depending on size and power of microwave).


I buy 4-6 at a time. You can never have too many olives! They are considered healthy fat 😉

Favorite salsa/hot sauce

Right now I am loving Herdez’s guacamole salsa. We also love green sauce or salsa verde.

Shredded cheese

We are all about convenience here in the Drennan home, haha. Who has the time or motivation to shred cheese? Not us, haha. Yes, it may be a little more expensive but not enough to matter.

Sour Cream

Mexican food means you have to have sour cream. We often buy the big tub from Costco. It is an absolutely necessary item to always have on hand in the Drennan home.

Your list may look different

This list is not meant to be a list of items you have to keep on hand. It is meant to inspire you into having your own list of staple items. Now I also realize that not all of these items keep long-term and some require refrigeration. In my opinion, though, they keep for a surprisingly long time and we use them quick enough anyway.

Having foods on hand like this is meant to help you cook, even if you have a hectic or random schedule(like me). I work swing shift which means I am often gone for dinner time. Having food on hand has been helpful because I can cook a quick meal before work or ahead of time. What do you always have in your pantry?

For other thoughts on meal planning see this post I also wrote

How I finally started meal planning and quit buying fast food

If you want more ideas for staple pantry items see this post from

25 pantry staples for last minute meals


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