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minimalist pantry - is it possible?

Noreen Claire

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The baby is 3+ weeks old now, and we've eaten through all the foods that I had made/freezed before he was born. My kitchen (and dining room, as the kitchen lacks sufficient storage space) is FULL of convenience food! Frozen chicken fingers and bagel bites, boxes of cereal, instant mac&cheese cups, pretzels AND crackers (we usually only have one kind at a time), refrigerated canned biscuits, etc... Once this food is all eaten, I need to get my kitchen back down to a (more) manageable state.


I usually cook about >80% of all our meals. I would like to add some variety to our meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner) while also pairing down my ridiculous pantry/fridge/freezer. (Does anyone else have 6 different types of vinegar in their pantry? Why do I have this much vinegar?)


What are the absolute 'must-haves' for your pantry/refrigerator/freezer? What are the ingredients that you have to have that are the most versatile? 


(FWIW, I used to make my own yogurt - the kids refused to eat it, so I went back to buying it. I would prefer to make homemade sandwich bread (the kids eat 2+ loaves/week), but with a newborn in the house, I don't think I could swing it again right now.)



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I love cooking and experimenting, but in a baby year I tend to get down to about 10 meals that are in regular rotation. These must be meals that are whole food, free of our many allergies, reasonably frugal, and simple to prepare. A benefit of having the rotation is that I also have a fairly standard grocery list that makes shopping easy.


We don't do a lot of snack foods. If we snack, it's usually apples or popcorn.


Breakfast is generally eggs and toast, sometimes raspberry oatmeal or pancakes.


Lunch is either leftovers or what my children have termed "the usual": a selection of hard salami or other meat, cucumbers, peppers, apples, gluten free veggie crackers, whole grain tortilla chips and homemade salsa, etc.


Some supper regulars are:


- roasted things (generally chicken thighs, sweet potato, broccoli or Brussels sprouts)

- roasted fish in lemon juice, with quinoa and broccoli

- quinoa bowls, with leftover veggies, meat, and goat cheese

- sausage penne

- burgers (summer)

- Crock-Pot pulled pork added to fajitas/salads/bowls

- sausage lentil soup

- Crock-Pot chicken curry over rice, with yogurt

- pork-sweet potato-squash stew


Staples that always mean I can make a quick dinner:


- frozen veggies (for us, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, peas)

- frozen Ziploc of Crock-Pot cooked meats

- butter

- fresh greens

- quinoa

- sausages

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Rice, some dried, some VeeTee rice trays for when I'm desperate for quick.

Breakfast cereals that my family and I will actually eat

Almond milk for me (unsweetened), 2% milk for the family



fresh fruit

fresh veggies and sweet potatoes

bagged salads

flat-packed meats for the grill (to thaw more quickly set them out on a metal pan)

tater tots (because one of my kids isn't fond of potatoes in most forms, but will eat my hash if I use tater tots)

spaghetti in the pantry, Bertoni tortellini in the freezer, spaghetti sauce in the pantry or fridge

ground beef (in freezer)

assorted frozen veggies we like

quick-fix soup mixes, ramen, canned pasta



fruit cups



I like to cook, but things get crazy busy at times.  Add on top of that a recent diagnosis of diabetes and I have to learn a different way to eat, relying on a lot less convenience foods and starches.  Right now my default meals tend to run to grilling meats with a veggie side, or making soup out of leftovers, meats we like, and veggies we like.  I don't plan on a meal progression that makes use of stuff I prepped on an earlier date because these plans always get derailed here, but I do declare "leftover night" whenever I'm too tired to cook or feel there's enough other stuff already cluttering up the fridge.

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We have 6 different types of vinegar. :blush:  But my pantry is 90% used for storage.  I have a shelf in the cabinets for spices/oils, but the pantry only has:

flour: cake, bread, unbleached

sugar: raw, powdered, brown




baking supplies: chocolate chips, flavorings, yeast

canned soup





I think that's it.  LOL  I didn't even have to look to see what was there.  We buy as we need it and don't keep things forever.  These things are used for the most part at least monthly, with a few exceptions.

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I always have on hand:


We can't eat legumes or gluten, so these are always in our house,  


Frozen vegetables (singles and blends)



Oils and vinegars to make salad dressings and marinades, so I do have 6 types. :D

Herbs and spices 

Carrots, celery, peppers, onions, garlic


canned pumpkin


Peanut Butter

Cocoa powder



With these, plus a selection of meats in the freezer, I can make breakfasts, lunches, snacks, dinners and desserts for a week.  The herbs and spices keep it from getting bland and boring.  The fruits become more flavors than anything.  When we didn't know about the food issues, I kept dried beans, flour, and baking soda on hand.  With these I could make, without too much fuss, five soups, four muffin flavors, three or four other quick breads, and a few beans and rice varieties.

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I do a main shopping trip once a week. Costco is once every 6 weeks. Trader Joe's is once or twice a month. I am not minimalist--I like a well-stocked pantry, stocking up on staples when they're on sale, and not having to stop at the store for an ingredient or two for dinner. If I've recently been to Costco and the grocery store, here is the expected inventory on hand:


Dry storage on shelves in the garage:

-Home canned peaches, blueberries, and jams--enough for the year

-Diced unsalted tomatoes--6-12 cans

-unsalted tomato sauce--2-3 cans

-tomato paste--2-3 cans

-low salt chicken broth--will be 12 cans after November sales

-canned beans--4-6 cans total of white, black, and chili less-salt beans

-6-9 cans pumpkin bought cheap this time of year

-1-2 packs of toilet paper

-2-8 rolls of paper towels

-1-2 jars apple sauce

-1-2 jars salsa

-napkins, foil, saran wrap, parchment paper (bulk purchases-extra stored in garage)

-the next box of Tide and next box of Finish tabs for dishwasher

-1 bottle of juice

-12 pack or two of soda (they last 3-6 months as we don't drink a lot)


Garage freezer

-2-10 lbs ground beef

-1-5 packages of flank steak and/or tri-tip steak (more in summer, less in winter)

-6 packages of chicken breasts

-currently 17 quart bags of frozen blueberries picked in July

-4-pack of low-sodium bacon from Costco

-frozen bread products from Costco--torta rolls, breadsticks, french bread

-Costco frozen quiche for disabled dd--4 boxes purchased in December

-Taquitos for another kid

-2-10 lbs butter purchased on sale


Kitchen cupboard

-full spice collection

-canola oil, peanut oil, EVOO

-red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, balsamic vinegar (yes, we use them all)

-other condiment typ stuff--Worcester, cholula hot sauce, hot chili oil

-12 boxes thin spaghetti bought on sale (the pasta we eat most)

-1-2 boxes each of elbows, orzo, penne, farfalle

-6 boxes shells and cheese

-6 boxes mac and cheese (Annie's, bought on sale)



-baking supplies--AP flour, WW pastry flour, bread flour, baking soda/pwd, cocoa, sugar, brown sugar, pwd sugar, chocolate, corn starch

-jasmine and basmati rice, quick oats and old-fashioned oats, about 4 varieties of tea, hot chocolate, syrup

-some cereal--3-6 boxes total

-4 cans chicken noodle soup, 1 carton low-sodium tomato soup

-2 cans tuna

-Costco almonds and peanuts

-pad thai noodles

-grab and go snacks: raisins, fruit wraps, 2-3 types of granola bars

-goldfish crackers, ritz crackers for disabled dd

-peanut butter

-1-2 bags tortilla chips, maybe one other chip

-little bags of popcorn

-box of chocolate chips bought cheaper at holidays for whole year



-10 chobani individual yogurts (dh lunch)


-homemade salad dressing in 1 cup mason jars--2 or 3

-mayo, mustard, ketchup

-sesame oil, oyster sauce, soy sauce, minced garlic and ginger jars


-3 gallons milk

-large tub of yogurt, cottage cheese (dh)


-flour tortillas, corn tortillas

-string cheese and cheddar cheese sticks

-cheddar 2 lb block

-grated colby/jack and mozzarella--couple of bags

-American cheese

-sliced Havarti

-individual guacamole (3 in fridge, rest in freezer from Costco 12 pack)

-lower sodium ham

-2-3 dozen eggs

-12 fuji apples, bag of grapes, maybe one other seasonal fruit

-onion, lemon, lime, bag of romain heads, other veggies planned for dinners that week



-foods for disabled dd--hashbrowns, quiche, sausage biscuits, homemade waffles

-box of turkey sausage from Costco

-frozen leftovers--pulled pork, chicken broth, enchilada sauce, spaghetti sauce, chili, grilled meat

-frozen pizza


-wheat bran, wheat germ, more yeast

-ice cream

-potstickers, baos from TJ's



And finally, on the counter-top

-6 bananas

-2-3 tomatoes

-1-2 head of garlic

-maybe an avocado

Edited by Ali in OR
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What are the absolute 'must-haves' for your pantry/refrigerator/freezer? What are the ingredients that you have to have that are the most versatile? 


These are the things I have to have every week:



peanut butter








maple syrup

cocoa powder  

canned beans

canned tomatoes and/or spaghetti sauce


crackers and dried fruits


milk and almond milk

yogurt (I mix with milk instead of buying buttermilk for pancakes)



turkey cold cuts


canadian bacon











a box of four baby head lettuces


snacking fruit


ground beef

whole chickens

b/s chicken breast

a roast or two

frozen peas

frozen corn

a frozen pizza or bag of popcorn chicken or fish sticks

stockpile of frozen homemade pesto






Edited by SamanthaCarter
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Is the issue that you have too much in the pantry? Or is it that your pantry is cluttered with ingredients you bought for for some recipe you never actually got around to trying?


This is a good point. I've been thinking I need more space in my pantry. But the other day I noticed we have all these lentils that dh and I bought (separately, so we have twice as much) that no one is going to eat because no one has liked any of the lentil dishes I've tried. I really need to clean out those bags and free up that space. I fairly recently cleaned out some random ingredients from the fridge too. And there is still more to be cleaned out in both areas.


I've been doing a better job overall of meal planning which helps the budget and has also helped me not gather strange ingredients that take up space going bad.

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Is the issue that you have too much in the pantry? Or is it that your pantry is cluttered with ingredients you bought for for some recipe you never actually got around to trying?


I guess that my complaint is that I have too many different things in the pantry/fridge/freezer (mostly in the pantry/fridge). I would like to have a pantry/fridge/freezer that is stocked with items that I can get the most bang for my buck in terms of flavor/number of recipes I can make/cost/space/etc... I guess I just feel the need to simplify, if that makes any sense?


I *do* stock up on things that we use a lot if I can get it at a good deal (flour, chocolate chips, oats, goldfish crackers, cheese sticks, granola bars, canned goods, etc.). We've only lived in this house for a year, so I am still moving things around in the kitchen/dining room storage, trying to figure out where to best keep the overflow items. Honestly, just this last week did I finally find a suitable place to store my potatoes - it will only fit a 5lb bag, though, so no stocking up there. 

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We have 6 different types of vinegar. :blush:  But my pantry is 90% used for storage.  I have a shelf in the cabinets for spices/oils, but the pantry only has:



When I call pantry I guess should really be called the kitchen cabinets. I don't know why I call that the 'pantry', sorry if I confused anyone!


I have 2 above-counter cabinets for food (12 linear feet, total), one 2ft wide drawer for canned goods, and a tiny built-in cabinet in the dining room that holds the overflow flours/baking goods. My fridge is average-sized (though WAY bigger than the one I grew up with) but the freezer on the bottom seems pretty tiny to me. I'm hoping for a chest freezer or a second fridge/freezer some day, but we haven't been able to figure out where to put it because this house was built in 1947 and just doesn't have enough electrical outlets!

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