Stocking the modern pantry

How to shop wisely for flexible meal planning!

Confession time: I love grocery shopping. I love it so much that I tend to shop for food at least 5 times per week. I realize that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for gathering foodstuffs so I decided to come up with a ‘grocery essentials’ list. I have chosen to include mostly items that are either shelf stable or have a long lifespan when refrigerated or frozen so that if you don’t use them up, they won’t spoil and have to be thrown out. For perishable items like fresh produce, it’s always a good idea to buy small quantities as you need them to reduce food waste.  While this list is aimed at people who are perhaps new to cooking from scratch, the intention is to suggest ingredients to have on hand to prepare a range of dishes. You might need to pop to the store for a few things to complete some recipes, but there are several, as you’ll see at the bottom of this post, that rely primarily on items from the list below.

Keeping a small but useful selection of shelf, fridge or freezer-stable items on hand means you can prepare many recipes on short notice without having to do a major grocery shop first.
Keeping a small but useful selection of shelf, fridge or freezer-stable items on hand means you can prepare many recipes on short notice without having to do a major grocery shop first.

My very basic list of kitchen staples would include the following:

  • olive and canola oils
  • cider and balsamic vinegars
  • all-purpose flour
  • white and brown sugars
  • onions
  • potatoes
  • butter
  • milk
  • eggs
  • dried seasonings (start with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, dill, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, chili powder, cayenne; add others to suit your tastes – best to buy small quantities of spices as they do lose their flavour and aroma after a few months)

Here is what I would add to the list for contemporary and more flavourful cooking:

  • Chopped garlic (jar)
  • Chopped ginger (jar)
  • Rice vinegar (for sauces, salad dressings and more)
  • Maple syrup (to use instead of sugar for sweetening sauces, salad dressings, etc.)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Canned diced tomatoes (low sodium)
  • Tube of tomato paste (keeps in the fridge for a long time; most recipes only call for a spoonful)
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Cooked meat + onions (buy packages of ground chicken/turkey/beef and cook up with diced onions then freeze in small packages)
  • Grated cheese (frozen)
  • Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • Dried pasta (long and short)
  • Canned tuna (low sodium, water-packed)
  • Worcestershire Sauce (fantastic ultra low-sodium flavour enhancer for many dishes)
  • Dijon mustard (also a great flavour booster)
  • Canned low-sodium chicken, beef and vegetable broth
  • Dried barley and lentils

From this list of basics you can prepare many meals without needing to purchase many additional ingredients. Here are links to a couple of quick, easy recipes to get you started. Happy Cooking!

Old Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese

Contemporary Cottage Pie (like Shepherd’s Pie – except better!)

Lentil-Barley Stew

Bacon-tomato pasta sauce

Fantastic French Onion Soup

Pasta with Tuna, Lemon, Capers and Olives

Author: Paula Roy

Welcome to my kitchen! I love simple dishes prepared with passion and am always seeking to find new methods to make food as fun and flavourful as possible. If you enjoy this space be sure to check out my Rogers TV Ottawa cooking show, Paula Roy's Favourite Foods, available on local cable, streaming and a dedicated playlist on Rogers TV's YouTube channel.

2 thoughts

  1. I was just wondering where to get tubes of tomato paste in Ottawa. This would be a lot more convenient than the cans. Thanks in advance for the info!

    1. It IS convenient! Any specialty food shop that stocks European-type products should have it; I have seen it at all the Nicastro’s in town (Preston, Glebe, ByWard, Wellington, Merivale) as well as other stores on Preston (ie Luciano’s). Ottawa Bagelshop as well and also Dutch Groceries on Clyde. Good luck!

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