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These 13 items I recommend keeping on hand in your pantry so it’s always in stock and you have what you need to make a variety of different meals and food for your family without needing to run to the store.
After talking to you about what I planned to do to increase my food production self-sufficiency in COVID19 Food Production Plan & How to Plan for Livestock I thought it would only be fair to talk to you about the stuff that I can’t produce but make sure I have on hand at all times.
What I’m sharing are items that we normally always use and keep a back stock on hand. I realize the way that we live as modern homesteaders and those that live very rurally is different from that of a lot of other people. We keep a pantry stocked at a level that not a lot of people do unless you’re really focused on becoming self-sufficient. So I’m going to give you a list of the items that we keep on hand as well as suggested amounts.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #253 13 Pantry Items to Always Have on Hand of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
I’m also going to share where we’ve upped our stock of what we keep on hand in light of the coronavirus pandemic considering the stay at home/shelter in place orders that people are experiencing. Here in Washington state, we’re experiencing that. I also want to address some of the spots that I noticed where we had some holes or I’d gotten a bit lax in our food storage.
If you weren’t aware, this is part two of a series. If you missed part one you’ll want to check that out at Our Food Production Plan & How to Plan for Livestock. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had people ask about what we keep stocked in our pantry and what they should consider keeping in their pantry as well.
One of the most versatile things, and that I consider an important one, is flour. Flour can be used as the base for so many homemade things. The type of flour is going to vary. For some, it might be a gluten-free blend. Other it’s going to be just regular all-purpose. I do stock some all-purpose organic unbleached flour in the house. Others might stock einkorn, spelt or ancient grains. The form of it might be in actual grains or wheat berries for grinding your own flour. I’m a mixture of all those things.
I normally always keep at least 20 pounds of flour on hand in my back pantry, which doesn’t include the canister that I keep in my kitchen. I usually always keep about 25 to 50 pounds of wheat berries on hand. I normally buy them in 25-pound bags so it just depends on where I am with my stock of those wheat berries. I always practice rotation so I’m always rotating through our food so that that we’re using the oldest stuff first.
I have to tell you though, I had gotten a little bit lax on the items in our food storage and having my backups. When we first started to see the coronavirus here in Washington state and some counties not far away from me that were starting to stay at home and shelter in place before it actually hit our county, I started making sure that I had my back up stock. I have to say, I have a new minimum because I was very surprised at how fast things transitioned and things became sold out. I was very surprised at how fast it all happened so it made me aware that I needed to do a better job of keeping a minimum threshold of stock in my pantry.
Ideally, I’d like 50 pounds of already ground store-bought flour on hand. I have a mixture of all-purpose as well as some bread flour.
Wheat Berries: I am trying to keep that between 50 to 100. That varies because I use different wheat berries. Below in the resources section you’ll find several links to learn more about where to buy grains in bulk, which grains and flours are best for baking and cooking, how to grind flour, etc.
Spelt: I keep a minimum of 25 pounds of spelt grains on hand. Spelt is what I use more as my fresh ground pastry flour.
Einkorn: I also have about 15 pounds of einkorn, an ancient grain, on hand. I kind of use it as a pastry flour but it’s its own thing. The way you alter recipes and the way you cook with einkorn is different even from using spelt. I have a dedicated Baking Guide specifically for Einkorn in case you’d like to learn more.
Hard White Wheat: I’m now keeping 75 pounds of hard white wheat.
I don’t buy all of these from the same source. I’ve shared my favorite places on where to buy grains in bulk for you. When you’re first starting out it can be hard to know the best places to find these types of things.
When the whole coronavirus thing started happening I had been down to 20 pounds of all-purpose flour on hand but only had about 25 pounds of wheat berries…and that’s all the different types together that I had on hand. So I had gotten really lax with that but I’ve now corrected that.
As I previously stated, if you have flour, you can turn that into a variety of things. If you have flour and water, you can make your own yeast in the form of sourdough. You can create a sourdough starter and continue to feed it and out of that you can them make all of your bread without having to find yeast at the stores.
Many people are finding that yeast is difficult to find in the stores at the moment. I already had yeast because I buy it in a large bulk bag from Costco. I store it in the refrigerator so it extends the shelf life. You can also store it in the freezer so that it stays active longer. Yeast will expire and then it just doesn’t do its job. Nothing will raise. The yeast dies basically. So if you have flour and water, you can make a sourdough starter. If you would like to learn how to do that, my free series, Homemade Sourdough, walks you through every step of creating a sourdough starter, including gluten-free, ancient grains, fresh ground flour, or just regular flour from the store.
And I’ve discovered over the years of dealing with sourdough starters the best practices so that it stays active and doesn’t get too sour. My kids don’t like it super sour, neither do I. I need it to be really active because if your sourdough starter is not very active, it is not going to raise bread and you’re going to be sorely disappointed with flat, dense bread.
So yeast, flour, water, and a little bit of salt will allow you to create a bunch of no-knead artisan bread. By adding a little bit of fat like melted butter, coconut oil, or whatever cooking oil you like (my personal favorite is avocado oil) and/or eggs then you can create different textures and gives you a lot more versatility.
You’ll want to have some things that are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration, but I just can’t give up my butter. So I stock up on it.
Butter: I buy my butter in bulk. I never buy just one package of butter. I store it in the freezer. It stores wonderfully in the freezer for a pretty long period of time. I’m sure I’ve had some butter in there at least six months, if not longer. That’s one item that I do use my freezer because you cannot can butter at home. It’s not safe to do that. Don’t do it.
Oils: Coconut, Avocado, and Olive Oil are oils that we keep in stock and on hand.
Aside from tallow and lard from when we butcher once a year, fat sources aren’t something that is easy to get or grow at home. So I highly recommend having back-ups of everything. I have a backup by at least one and I’ve always done this and when able, we have tried to keep two backups available. I keep the open bottle in the kitchen and then I have one to replace it in my back pantry. When it was time to replace the bottle in the kitchen with the one from the pantry, I’d add it to the shopping list. Now my goal is to have two of those items on the shelf just in case. That should take us, depending on how fast we go through it, at least six months. Hopefully, by the end of that six month period, all of this will have been a distant memory.
Salt is another item. I purchase Redmond Sea Salt in a ten-pound bucket. Salt isn’t something that I can produce on my homestead and there isn’t a source to get it locally. I use salt obviously for seasoning. Do you need salt in your diet? Some people are on a low sodium diet for different health reasons, but you still need some measure of salt. I also use salt for preserving such as in my ferments as well as herb salts, which is how I preserve fresh herbs, especially herbs such as basil. Learn How to Preserve Basil in Salt.
The other thing that I had gotten lax on was not having on hand dried beans. I have all of my fresh green beans canned up and all my seed beans as well as some dried beans I’d grown, but I didn’t have very many dried beans on hand, which was almost comical when this hit because that’s what a lot of people consider a staple food. And it was one of the things that people were going out and getting. The reason for that is because they are so versatile from a nutritional standpoint for both protein and carbohydrates. They’re an excellent source that way for calories to feed a family.
But from the outset, I didn’t have very much. I’ve since stocked up on my dried beans as well as lentils and split peas. All of them can be turned into soups, for a main dish, a side dish, or use to stretch out some different cuts of meat and vegetables. Because of this versatility, I felt it was important to get restocked on them.
Rice can be used in a myriad of ways as well.
We love popcorn. It’s definitely a comfort food and something we look forward to having. Usually, we have a movie night once a week, sometimes twice a week so we definitely like to keep popcorn on hand. I think right now we have 20 pounds of popcorn on hand.
We live in a fairly small home. It’s a manufactured double-wide so not a lot of storage space. We don’t have a garage, nor a basement. I don’t have a root cellar either. So I speak from experience when I tell you, you can pack quite a bit in when you get creative.
We love chocolate so I need to make sure that we have it in a couple forms.
Cocoa Powder: I usually buy it in a 10-pound bag from Amazon (currently, 5 lb bags are stocked here)
Chocolate Chips: I only buy organic chocolate chips because of the soy that’s found in a lot of other chocolate chips. If we’re going to consume soy, I want to make sure it’s organic and non-GMO certified. I usually get my chocolate chips from Fred Meyers. That’s the best deal I’ve found. I try to have around eight bags.
I know, we don’t love that we eat sugar. But it is something that I use in my regular baking when I’m not doing Keto. I’ll list out what I do use when I’m doing Keto shortly.
Sugar: Sugar is easy to have on hand and is really good to have when you’re doing comfort baking. I usually keep about 20 pounds on hand so that if I get into canning season I’ll have enough to do my fruit preserving.
Most of my jam and jelly recipes are low sugar and have a small amount. I do use the low sugar variation for my jams and jellies. I don’t use raw honey in my canning for a couple of reasons: Raw honey is expensive and the heat from the canning process destroys all the benefits of the raw honey.
Honey: Can be used as a sweetener, just don’t heat it up, otherwise you lose all those wonderful benefits.
Keto sugar alternatives:
In baking, you need a leavening agent. Not all recipes need it, such as sourdough bread or regular sandwich bread or artisan loaves, but other items like Chocolate Sourdough Quick Bread, pancakes, and waffles do. In those I’m either going to be using baking soda or baking powder, sometimes both depending upon the recipe so I want to make sure I’m well stocked on them.
I make sure to stock up on store-bought apple cider vinegar (ACV) even though I make my own (here’s How to Make Raw Apple Cider Vinegar at Home). The reason is that when canning the vinegar has to be 5% acidity in order to make sure that your canning recipes are safe, especially your pickling recipes. So I have extra on hand to ensure I can get through the canning season.
The only organic vinegar that I can find is ACV. So even though it’s raw ACV and organic and I’m killing the benefits of it being raw when canning, it’s important to me that I have organic when it comes to vinegar. A lot of white vinegar is made from corn or other grains that we don’t know are GMO-free so to avoid this, I purchase what I know to be GMO-free, which is the organic apple cider vinegar.
A lot of herbs I can and do grow myself. Herbs such as:
I know, garlic and onion aren’t technically herbs, but they are used in flavoring cooking. I don’t have to buy them from the store. I use garlic and onion every day. It doesn’t matter what I’m cooking I pretty much use both every day in a dish. I highly encourage you to grow them too. If you’re worried about shelf stability of fresh onion and garlic, dehydrated onion and garlic are a great option.
If you’re interested in growing both you’ll want to choose a variety that is good storage variety.
Onion storage varieties that store for a really long time:
Garlic storage varieties that are good for long-term storage:
Despite having fresh onions and garlic on hand I do keep garlic and onion powder in stock too.
While you can grow some different varieties of chili peppers to make your own spices, I don’t because our weather is not always conducive to growing hot peppers. I may experiment with this in the future. In the meantime, I make sure to have the following on hand:
Pretty much if I have all those spices on hand plus the herbs that we already grow, I can pretty much flavor and make almost any dish that I want to.
For the majority of those spices, I like to keep a pound on hand. What I do is take a pint-size jar, which holds 2 cups worth and keep it in my spice cabinet. Then I like to have a backup bag.
You’re noticing a trend here, right? I like to have what I’m using. I like that amount to be full and then I like to have a backup in the back pantry in order refill my kitchen stock without having to go to the store right away.
When it comes to dairy items we have to purchase from the store since we don’t have a dairy animal.
Butter and shredded cheese freeze really well. Block cheese does not freeze well unless you want crumbled cheese. It will not slice after it’s been frozen and then thawed.
Milk can be frozen but I generally don’t because it takes up a lot of space in my freezer. So I’ll ferment it into yogurt which extends the shelf life in the fridge or I’ll turn it into cheese. Even if you don’t freeze cheese it will stay longer in the fridge than just the milk itself.
A shelf-stable option for milk would be powdered milk, although I’ve had a tough time finding it. It’s not something I use a lot but it’s great for use in baking and cooking.
By having the basics you can eat really well from your pantry, which is a new series I’m doing inside The Pioneering Today Academy. I’ll be doing some videos on YouTube as well, so if you’re not following me there, subscribe to my YouTube channel. I’ll be doing some different cooking from the pantry and home-preserved items and showing how to turn those into different meals and snacks to feed you and your family.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.