Are you struggling with how to stock a single person pantry? It’s one of the biggest challenges when you’re cooking for one along with food waste and food costs. Because let’s face it – grocery stores are geared towards families. Bigger packages are better – or at least they’re usually cheaper!
This can make building a pantry for one person a difficult and potentially expensive task. It’s simply not practical to own every type of flour, specialty condiment, or 20 different shapes of pasta. And if you buy large quantities of food to save money (that is, if you have the space to store large quantities), you run the risk of food spoiling before you can eat it all.
But having a pantry that’s too basic can mean you get bored eating the same thing over and over again and that can lead to spending a lot of money on expensive takeout or not so healthy convenience foods or pricey meal prep services.
One way or the other, food costs can start to add up really quickly.
But fear not my friends…
I’m Going to Show You How to Stock a Single Person Pantry
Not everyone who cooks for one lives alone. Lots of you (myself included) live with others but for whatever reason, they cook for themselves and you cook for you.
I definitely have a few shelves in the pantry and fridge that are for “my stuff”. Fortunately for me, the person I live with doesn’t like about 90% of what I eat so I rarely have to worry about “my stuff” being used. If you’ve got a roommate or somebody who will scrounge for anything edible in the fridge, you’re gonna need some kind of system to identify what’s yours.
If you live alone, then it’s your kitchen and you make the rules – it’s one of the single person perks!
So let’s get started. I’m going to be focusing on dry pantry basics in this article but I’ll have more for you on fresh pantry basics soon!
How you store items is key to making your pantry functional. It’s no good if you can’t find your almond flour or your soy sauce, or worse, you find them and they’re no longer edible! And while I’ll delve into pantry storage in another article, there’s three keys to functional pantry storage that everyone should know:
- store your pantry items in sealed or air tight containers
- keep your pantry items containers that are easily identifiable
- store your containers so that you can see what you have on hand
Dry Pantry Basics For the Single Person Pantry
Dry pantry basics are the cornerstone of any pantry. If stored properly you can keep some of them for up to a year. If you have these items on your pantry shelf you can always whip up something to eat.
Lentils are pantry superstars. They’re easy to cook, they’re an excellent source of plant protein and fibre (which means they fill you up!), they’re a good source of iron, if stored properly they’ll last for up to a year, and…. they’re cheap! Like seriously… they’re the whole package!
Lentils come in red (red lentils are split lentils and the fastest cooking variety), green, black beluga and French green.
Beans and Legumes
Ok I’m going to admit it – this is not my favourite category. I love fresh garden peas and a wide variety of fresh green beans but the dried and canned beans aren’t my favourite jam. But they’re also cheap, easy to store and an excellent source of plant based nutrition so I create ways to eat them that I’ll enjoy. Here’s some of the key canned or dry beans that you’ll want to have in your pantry:
- black beans
- kidney beans
- chickpeas (use the canned ones to make your own hummus!)
- split peas
- baked beans
There’s a plethora of grains out there. Many of them come in multiple forms and varieties. Whole grains have the most nutritional value. Pick 3-4 that you like and that work with your diet and make those your staples that you always have in stock. My faves are rolled and steel cut oats, wild rice, barley, wheatberries and popcorn (Yes! Popcorn is a whole grain!)
- rice – there’s a whole variety here: brown, white, wild)
Pasta & Noodles
I feel like pasta gets a bad rap these days but it doesn’t have to. There are so many interesting kinds of pasta available now that have better nutritional values – whole wheat pasta, spelt pasta, buckwheat (soba) noodles – there are so many options to choose. Fresh pasta always tastes best but dry pasta is so easy to store and keeps for long periods of time.
Pasta is a staple in my pantry and you’ll find it in many of the recipes on this site. It’s a quick and easy dish to cook and it’s endlessly customizable with whatever you have on hand in the fridge. Choose 3-4 types of different shapes:
- a long skinny noodle like spaghetti or soba noodles
- a penne or macaroni style noodle works well in creamy sauces
- a corkscrew pasta like rotini adds some extra texture and interest and works well in cold pasta salads and non-creamy sauces
- couscous – it may be the fastest and easiest item to cook in your pantry next to eggs. You don’t even need to turn on an oven. All it takes is a boiling kettle, a bowl and five minutes!
- orzo – it cooks up quickly and is also easy to add to soups
- a dry Asian noodle that cooks up in 1-2 minutes – prepackaged ramen noodles work great!
Flours & Baking Supplies For A Single Person Pantry
If you don’t do a lot of baking then you probably won’t need much flour in a pantry for one. But, it is good to have on hand for sauces like a basic roue and a thickener for stews.
If you like doing any kind of baking – even savoury baking like bread, biscuits or savoury breakfast muffins, then keep your favourite type of flour on hand in small quantities in an air tight container. Buy flours in bulk where you can – this will allow you to buy a small amount that you can use quickly. Flour can go rancid quickly so don’t keep large amounts unless you know you can use them (flour can also be frozen if you find yourself with a bigger amount than you can use in a timely manner)
Here are a few other basics you’ll want to have on hand in your single person pantry even if you don’t bake regularly:
- baking soda
- baking powder
- chocolate chips or chunks
- vanilla extract
- cocoa powder
Spices and Herbs
Your spice rack is the flavour cornerstone of your pantry! But when you’re stocking a single person pantry, this can be one of the trickiest items – you don’t want your spices to lose flavour and intensity (which can happen quickly). Buy your spices in bulk where you can to avoid this and make sure you store your spices properly (air tight containers in a cool cupboard).
If you enjoy it, don’t be afraid to buy whole spices and toast and grind them yourself.
When it comes to herbs, fresh herbs are one of the hardest things to buy in small enough quantities that they don’t go bad before you can use them when you’re only cooking for one. This is the biggest reason I try to grow as many herbs as I can – so I can just snip off a bit when I need it. But I can’t grow everything and winter is a struggle so I do keep dried herbs on hand. Here’s a good basic list to get started with – buy them as you need them and you can expand as you get more adventurous.
- salt (kosher is my preferred if I can only have one type)
- pepper – freshly ground black pepper will give you the best flavour
- garlic and ginger powders (I mostly buy fresh garlic and ginger but the powders are nice if you want to create your own spice rubs or mixes)
- cinnamon (if you like to bake you may want to also have allspice, cloves and nutmeg on hand)
- curry powder
Sweeteners can be a very contentious topic but we’re not judging here. Try to go easy on the refined sugars (white and brown sugar are both refined) if you can – there are so many other options out there to try and many of them can be subbed on a one to one ratio with refined sugar.
- white sugar
- brown sugar
- maple syrup
- blackstrap molasses (I put this in my chai every time I make it!)
- coconut sugar
Nuts, Seeds and Dry Fruit
Other dry pantry staples include nuts, seeds and dry fruit. Not only do most of these have excellent nutritional values but they add a little je ne sais quoi to your meals. They’re great for finishing off salads, soup, dips, a great pasta dish, or a bowl of leftovers. And they’re a good alternative to a potato chip when you need a filling, fueling snack. These are the ones I live best and always have on hand
- pumpkin seeds
- dried cranberries
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- sesame seeds
There are a million types of oils out there for cooking (well not quite a million but, you know…) and oils are another one of those pantry staples that can get confusing. Is it good for you? Is it good for the planet? And you’ll read and hear conflicting reports on all of them. You don’t need all of these. Just pick a couple that work for your diet. I use mainly olive oil, sesame oil and occasionally ghee. I’ll also use canola oil for deep frying.
- extra virgin olive oil
- a vegetable oil (when you see this in a recipe it’s referring to either canola or sunflower oil)
- coconut oil
- sesame oil
- grapeseed oil
Oh condiments. I love condiments. I could have a fridge that’s entirely full of condiments! Even though most condiments do have a long shelf life, it can still be hard to use them all up before they go off. So here’s a list of the basics and then supplement them with a few more unique ones that you love and will cook with regularly.
Just a note – I rarely buy salad dressing. It’s so easy to quickly make your own dressings in a small quantity that you can use up a reasonable amount of time.
- mustard – yellow and dijon
- peanut butter (although personally, peanut butter is it’s own food group in my kitchen. I eat it a LOT!)
- soy sauce
- vinegar – regular and balsamic or red wine vinegar (add rice wine vinegar if you do a lot of Asian cooking)
- a hot sauce of some kind (sriracha, gochujang, regular hot sauce)
- sour cream (cashew cream is a good vegan alternative) or plain greek yogurt
- green relish
- dill pickles
I also usually have the following on hand:
- hoisin sauce
- mango chutney
- some type of fruit jam
- red curry paste
- Worcestershire sauce
- sun dried tomato pesto
Canned Goods or Tetrapaks
I don’t use a ton of canned goods with the exception of tomatoes but, having a few basics in your cupboard can sure help you out in a jiffy when you have no idea what to cook.
- tomatoes (diced, stewed and crushed)
- tomato paste
- black beans, lentils and chickpeas (rinse before using!)
- salmon or tuna
- coconut milk
- fruit – pumpkin, peaches, pineapple
- single serve tetrapaks of stock: chicken or veggie (even if you make your own stock – which is super easy – sometimes it’s really handy to have a couple of these in the pantry)
- tomato soup
Fresh Pantry Basics
I classify fresh pantry basics as the more highly perishable items that you’re keeping in the fridge or freezer: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, bread and baked goods, vegetables and fruit.
We’ll be talking about those more in a future post.
I hope you found this helpful. You don’t need to stock your single person pantry all at once. Do it in steps and buy items as you need them – this will be easier on your wallet and make sure you don’t have items hanging around that you’ve never tried and aren’t even sure if you’ll like!
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