Plague Kitchen Pantry

Obviously my "must have" might be your "oh god that's nasty do people really eat that?", but I've tried here to put together a list of things I think it's a really good idea to have on hand if you're going to be cooking three meals a day from scratch and only going to the grocery store every few weeks. (If you're a nurse who hasn't seen your house for a week, clearly this is not for you and I hope you're getting really good pizza.)  If you just want a list of things to buy if you want to cut your grocery budget way down, I made one at the bottom of the page.

Of course, the issue is that a lot of these things are other people's panic stockpile items too and you may be seeing variable availability.  The best we can all do is be flexible these days.

The goal here is to stock a pantry with things that don't spoil too quickly and aren't overly processed or just garbage food.

The one mega-perishable that I do need is milk; I have a kid and I tend to buy two gallons at a time so I have enough to make things like yogurt (and I keep my own kefir jar going because I'm a weirdo) - that's just one of those things and some of you might not need it at all.

Eggs: use in baked goods, for breakfasts, pickled hardboiled eggs, clean out the fridge frittatas - good easy protein.  You can safely ignore the hell out of the expiration date on eggs as long as you're cooking them - trust me, you will know if an egg has gone bad.  Like I've cooked them a month later.  All the time.
Potatoes: I like to get the gold ones because you can essentially use them for almost all of your potato needs, but your preferences may vary.  A baked potato can be an easy healthy meal, or add them to stews and roasts and everything else.  Mashed potatoes will make you feel better, whatever your problems are.  Mmm.  Potatoes.  Store them in a cool, dry place because you do NOT want to know what a rotten potato smells like.
Onions: buy a big old bag of onions because you'll be putting them in everything savory.  Yellow onions are your most versatile, sweet onions don't last as long but are far less sharp.  If they're sprouting you can still use them, but you probably want to take out the green bits.  Do not store the onions with the potatoes; they make them go bad.
Garlic: buy fresh or now they have these great little cubes of garlic in the freezer section - don't use the jarlic, it doesn't taste great.
Ginger: fresh ginger lasts a while in your fridge, or they also make little frozen cubes of it.
Carrots: "baby" carrots are convenient (I buy them!) but go bad faster than whole carrots you have to peel.  They're not even really baby carrots, they're just carrots that went through the carrot sharpener.  They're still pretty hardy though if you'd rather have the convenience - bunches of whole carrots are also cheaper though!
Winter squashes: not the soft yellow summer squashes but butternut, acorn, etc. - these last a long time in your kitchen if you like them
Lemons and limes: did you know you can get the big bag and freeze them?  Wash and dry fully and then just chuck them into a freezer bag, zest them fully frozen and thaw in the microwave or whatever for juice.  They won't look cute as lemon slices but will work just fine for zest and juice.  Or they also last a good long while just in your fridge, rolling around in a drawer.
Peppers: bell peppers of all colors last okay in the fridge - as long as it isn't actually slimy or moldy a wrinkly pepper is just fine!  Jalapenos are a good fresh food to add a lot to your meals and they do pretty well for awhile in the fridge.  If you want them less spicy, take out the seeds and ribs when you cut them up.
Butter: you can freeze it!

Avoid berries and grapes - get oranges, apples, grapefruit, etc.  You know that banana isn't going to last two weeks - but if it's going brown you can peel it and put it in a freezer bag, when you've got enough you can make banana bread and it won't matter how gross they look.  (The freezer will make them look hella gross.)

Most greens won't last very long - if you want salad greens, plan your salads for the first few days or get tougher greens like kale or cabbage.  If greens look kinda iffy but aren't actually slimy, you can still throw them in a soup or Sad Healthy Smoothie or whatever.

Frozen foods are often actually better than fresh - they're picked when truly ripe and frozen close to the fields, not picked green and ripened with gas after a trip across the country.
Fruit: this is where you get your delicate fruits like berries, peaches, etc.
Vegetables: get the big bags of the veggies your family likes and skip the little steam in bag ones or the pre-sauced ones.  It's cheaper and you can control what goes in it.  Frozen broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, etc. can be roasted, steamed, or chucked right into soups and stews and things.  Frozen peas and corn are much better tasting than canned and often don't even need defrosting, depending on what you need them for.
Pizzas: look sometimes you're going to be tired of cooking - get some emergency frozen pizzas.  What?  I'm not a monster!

Dry goods:
Dried beans: better texture and cheaper than cans, last a long time in your cabinets, if you don't hate them you can't beat dried beans for a plague pantry!  Also I have heard they are good for your heart.
Other dried legumes: black eyed peas and lentils cook quicker than standard beans; chickpeas take longer but you can make hummus!
Rice: I get a big bag of basmati rice every so often and keep it in big lidded Cambro containers; it doesn't go bad if you keep the critters out and you have it whenever you need it.  You can do a lot worse than beans and rice with different seasonings for healthy dinners forever for practically no money.
Other grains: quinoa, brown rice, farro, spelt, whatever, etc - for grain variety!
Oats: you got time, make steel cut oats for breakfast!
Nuts: can be pricier but it's nice to have them for snacks, baking, adding crunch to salads, putting on your oatmeal or cereal, etc.
Dried pasta: get a variety of shapes for the pasta dishes you like to make
Spices: if you don't already have a full spice cabinet, think about the cuisines you like - if you want to make Mexican you need cumin, oregano, ground cayenne or chipotle, etc.  If you want to bake, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Baking things:
Flour: all purpose is, of course, your workhorse flour.  Bread flour, cake flour, rye flour, etc only if you need it.
Cornmeal: cornbread!
Masa harina: if you want to make your own tortillas
Baking powder: not the same thing as
Baking soda
Cornstarch: if you want to be able to thicken things like pudding
Yeast: evidently sold out lots of places - they had plenty at a restaurant supply place I tried though.

Cans and bottles:
Tomatoes: one of the things that is often far better in a can!  Get the big cans of peeled tomatoes because you can turn those into anything; diced tomatoes are treated to remain firm which is often not what you want
Tomato paste: when you open a can of tomato paste and just need some of it, take an ice tray and spoon the rest of it out in tablespoon portions to freeze and then bag.
Canned or pouched tuna and salmon: if you like it, a great protein addition to salads and sandwiches
Mustard: I keep yellow for hot dogs, dijon for most other things including salad dressings, and a strong hot one for sausages and things
Vinegar: I keep cider vinegar for pickling and salad dressings and white vinegar for all that plus cleaning, fixing that weird smell in the washing machine, etc.  Add red and white wine vinegar plus balsamic for more dressings and sauces.
Oil: keep at least one neutral oil (canola, soybean, "vegetable" which means whatever was cheapest when they were bottling) and one decent olive oil - for everything from sauteeing to sauces

Ready made foods:
Tortillas: if you don't want to make your own
Shredded cheese: it does come with starch on it for anti-caking, but I get shredded cheese instead of block cheese just because everybody has their one convenience thing and this is mine.
Bread: I bake bread but I don't do it hard enough to be responsible for everybody's bread needs.  Too much pressure.
Salsa: if it isn't the middle of July, the fresh tomatoes suck hard enough that I don't bother to make my salsa.  YMMV.
Tortilla chips: Will it nacho?  Yes, it will probably nacho.
Chicken broth: these days I don't buy enough chickens to have bits around to make stock; if you do, awesome!  Better than Bouillon is great and lasts forever.

What to absolutely not get IN MY OPINION:
Things you know damn well your family won't eat.  People will be flexible somewhat in times like this, they'll try some things.  But my husband is NOT going to eat an egg that tastes like an egg; he's just not.  So I could get all aspirational and start making clean-the-fridge-out fritattas, but they'd go uneaten so why?  Don't buy vegetables you know your family is dead set against just because you think it's what you should be eating - push a LITTLE, not a LOT.  Maybe try putting some broccoli in that homemade mac and cheese.
Most baking mixes: seriously have you looked at what's in pancakes?  The hard part is NOT putting together those things that come in that box.  The hard part is not making ugly ass pancakes, which the mix does not help with.
Fake butter: gross y'all, just eat less of the real thing.
Kits: you'll pay more for a box that has twelve sad stale taco shells in it, a pouch you can't reseal of picante sauce, and a packet of taco seasoning than for just the parts you really want.  If you make a lot of tacos you can get a big ol' thing of seasoning mix, or make your own.  Get the jar of picante sauce - it has a lid.  Unless you really, really want those tiny taco shells that always break and you still have to toast in the oven.
Gravy packets: pure sodium and full of garbage; let me teach you how to make a roux.
Frozen foods that are preassembled versions of things you can make easily yourself: French toast, garlic bread - lots of bread stuff.  You could make it just as fast.
Canned soup: if you get used to making your own, you won't be able to go back.  It tastes like sodium because that's the only thing in it that tastes like anything.  (I realize this is a comfort food for lots of people.)

Should you get some convenience foods if they're going to bring some solace and comfort to your family?  FUCK YES.  If the food you're considering is on that above list, obviously ignore me.  But think a couple times before just automatically grabbing something that you've always gotten - it might honestly be more expensive and less good for you and not even a time savings once you actually think about it.

Low-Cost Stock Up:

If I had not a ton of money and a fully stocked grocery store and nothing at all at home, I might buy:

Oil and/or butter
Dried beans (pintos are pretty versatile)
Canned tomatoes
Seasonal sale veggies on sale to throw into tomato sauces
Steel cut oats for breakfast
Frozen veggies you know your family likes

You could do pretty well with that.  Make yourself some bean tacos, shakshuka, tomato sauce on your pasta, baked potatoes, beans and rice, frittatas, vegetable sides - you can eat well and with a good bit of variety if you plan out your meals and leftovers.
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