What to Stock in Your Fridge and Pantry in an Emergency
These are the essentials you should have on hand.
By Leah Brickley for Food Network Kitchen
Stocking your fridge and pantry with the right foods and beverages can make all the difference when it comes to staying healthy and well-fed. It’s important to shop strategically. Below is a guideline for buying the best foods for your fridge. They’re categorized by foods that will: last a long time, save you money, make more than one dish and, importantly, bring some edible joy.
Long Shelf-Life Foods
Shop for peace-of-mind — these ingredients will last for a while.
Eggs can be eaten at every meal (and as snacks). They are protein powerhouses and will last up to 5 weeks from purchase date — store them on the bottom shelf of your fridge for best food-safety practices. Try making: Bacon and Egg Spaghetti for dinner, bake a breakfast casserole inspired by eggs Benedict or use your air fryer to hard boil half a dozen at one time.
Organic milk isn’t just a fancy option. Organic milk often has a much longer shelf life than non-organic. That's thanks to the bacteria-killing process of ultrapasteurization (milk is heated at a much higher temperature for less time than the more common pasteurization process). Unopened ultrapasteurized organic milk has a shelf life of 40 to 60 days compared to 15 to 17 days for regular pasteurized. You can stock up, but be sure to drink within 10 days of opening a carton.
Store-bought pickled foods often have long refrigerator shelf lives: an opened jar of pickles can hang out for up to 1 year. The same goes for most of your pickled favorites like string beans, okra and beets — all because of the highly acidic brine they're stored in. Also consider kimchi, which can store (after opening) for up to 8 months. Use some to make kimchi fried rice for dinner.
Certain fruits and vegetables can really cozy up in the produce drawer — carrots and beets last a long time. Be sure the cook their tops relatively soon after buying (or else they'll go slimy). Try sauteed beet greens and carrot-top pesto. Apples are all-stars up to 2 months in the fridge. Citrus fruits like grapefruit, oranges and clementines can keep for several weeks.
Stored in a cool and dry place rice will keep indefinitely. Pair with beans to make a complete-protein meal like red beans and rice.
Dried beans are packed with fiber and protein making them super filling, and they will last for quite a while in your pantry. Try them for breakfast on toast or make an Instant Pot black bean soup for lunch and dinner.
An unopened bag of dried pasta can last up to a couple years — after opening, keep stored in an airtight container in a cool and dark place. Enjoy the full spectrum of pasta shapes from wagon wheels to pappardelle.
Keep popcorn kernels on hand for a stove-top snack. Try popping them in extra-virgin coconut oil or sprinkle with nutritional yeast for extra flavor during movie time. Make your own special popcorn seasoning like pizza-flavored option.
Powdered milk will keep for a long time as long as it’s stored in a cool and dry place. Use it in a pinch for soups, desserts and baked goods.
Oats (steel cut, rolled and instant) will keep indefinitely if stored airtight in a cool and dry place. They're not just for breakfast (though these overnight oats are a time saver) you can also make "tortilla soup" oatmeal for dinner and a berry-studded oatmeal bake for dessert.
Honey has a low moisture content, meaning it lasts indefinitely and doesn’t really harbor bacteria. Keep jars on hand to sweeten everything from your coffee to yogurt. If it crystallizes, you can still eat it, or heat the jar slowly in simmering water until it’s liquified again.
There are so many vinegar flavors to choose from: a variety can make cooking more interesting, and they store indefinitely. Check out our vinegar 101 primer for a breakdown of types, along with the dishes they're best used in.
These foods are packed with intense flavor, so a little goes a long way.
It only takes a few slices of bacon to improve a recipe: crispy, crumbled bacon elevates a dish and the pan drippings can transform a vinaigrette into something special. Try for yourself in this satisfying weeknight BLT pasta skillet dinner.
Just a few ounces of fully cooked sausages or cured meats — like salami, soppressata and pepperoni — can add a pop of salty, meaty goodness to a recipe. These turkey burgers are magical thanks to just a few ounces of chopped pepperoni.
Hard cheeses — think aged Cheddar and Gouda, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano — bring great flavor across the board. They're tasty for snacking on or add nice saltiness when finely grated over a salad, soup or side dish.
Olives are more versatile than you might think, and the olive bar at your local market is a boon for mixing and matching briny flavors. Chop them up and add to salads, breads and braised dishes for some salty tang. They're a nice balance on a thrown-together cheese plate and they play nicely with this salmon dish.
Smoked fish like salmon and trout have concentrated flavors and last way longer than their fresh counterparts. Add to a salad or try this curried rice with smoked trout and an avocado toast topped with a little smoked salmon.
An open container of miso paste can last up to an impressive 1 1/2 years in the fridge. Packed with umami, miso soup is a classic also consider side dishes like spicy buttercup squash or a dressing like miso-sesame that can be drizzled on just about everything.
Canned beans are quick, easy and essential. They add heartiness to soups and salads and have enough protein and fiber to star as a thrifty main dish. Here’s a list of 10 unexpected ways to cook with canned beans.
Low-acid canned foods like green beans, corn, pumpkin and spinach will store for 2 to 5 years. They can be a great back-up if you don’t have fresh or frozen produce on hand.
Canned fish like tuna, salmon and sardines is a wonderful alternative to fresh, which can be pricey and is quite perishable. Tuna goes way beyond basic tuna salad. Try this pork tonnato dish (tuna helps make the magnificent sauce), open a can of salmon and make salmon cakes and if you're unsure about omega-3 rich sardines, try sardine salad as a first step.
Bouillon cubes, powder and paste take up way less space than boxes of stock or broth, and will add a punch of flavor with just a small amount.
Mix peanut butter powder with water and stretch into smooth peanut butter or a drizzle, for savories like grilled chicken or desserts like ice cream. You can also add a spoonful to a smoothie or a bowl of yogurt for an easy upgrade.
Very Versatile Buys
Ingredients that can multitask.
Lemons and limes are really 3-for-1: The zest and juice and brighten anything from smoothies to chicken. But don’t forget about the pulp! It can be chopped and added to your favorite salad for a juicy burst of citrus.
The humble cabbage wants to be more than coleslaw: it stores well and can be the star and sidekick in a myriad of dishes like soup and or this epic giant stuffed cabbage. Thinly slice it and add to salads for a crunch or turn into the perfect taco topping with a pinch of salt and a splash of lime juice.
Scallions are your new BF: The pungent white parts can be chopped and cooked in place of onion and shallot, while the greens add a pop of color and an herbaceous onion flavor.
Flat-leaf Italian parsley is not just for garnish — it is the finishing touch that so many dishes need. Chop it and stir into soup and stews at the very end or sprinkle over roasted meat and vegetables. Toss whole leaves into a green salad or make it into a condiment like this parsley-anchovy sauce and serve with braised or grilled meat.
There's always room for plain yogurt in the fridge: besides eating for breakfast it can make a dressing creamy, tenderize chicken as a marinade or make a tangy base for a dessert. Don’t forget about sour cream — it can do most of the heavy lifting yogurt can.
Cream cheese is more than a schmear. It can stand in for heavy cream when making a sauce — just add a few hunks and melt in the skillet/pot. It’s also a delicious alt the milk in mashed potatoes and can work as part of a filling like in these stuffed peppers.
Chicken thighs are affordable and stay juicier and more tender than chicken breasts. Buy a family pack and grill or roast a few, make a stew, a stir fry and some kebabs or put them in your slow cooker.
Consider pickled jalapenos a secret weapon in your fridge. They can add heat and brightness to just about everything: this creamy mac and cheese would be lost with them and they're the star in cheesy beer bread. Don’t forget about the brine: It's basically just spicy vinegar — try it in the slaw for these fried fish sandwiches.
Flour and corn tortillas (which can be shelf-stable, too) are here to make so many dishes: tacos, quesadillas, tostadas and enchiladas to name a few. Try an easy vegetarian tortilla casserole or chilaquiles for a special tortilla-packed breakfast.
Tomato paste is the ultimate umami bomb and is often the most important flavoring in dishes like chili and tomato sauce. Stock the double-concentrated tubes or cans — leftover paste can be frozen in ice cubes trays and stored for up to 2 months.
Canned tomato puree is the most versatile of all the canned tomato products: it can be used to make marinara, chili, soup and stews. Without the chunkiness of diced or whole plum tomatoes it also makes a great pizza sauce: stir in thinly sliced garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and pinches of dried oregano and salt and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
Grapeseed oil is neutral-tasting and high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. It's perfect for everything from stir-frying and sautéing to making vinaigrettes and dressings and baking.
There are certain spice blends that are workhorses: pumpkin pie spice is packed with several warm spices — for quick breads and muffins, of course, but also roasted carrots — and eliminates the need for individual bottles of spices. The same goes for their savory counterparts, curry and chili powders (chili powder, with an "i", often has paprika, onion powder and cumin in it).
Dried fruit can be snacked on, added to a cheese plate, turned into a sweet and saucy topping for yogurt, tossed into a chicken dish for a pop of sweetness or even subbed in for refined sugar in a dessert like with this apricot-, date- and raisin-sweetened snack cake with chocolate frosting.
Yes, tortilla chips are great with salsa and guacamole, but even after they've gone stale they can add flavor and crunch to dishes: this frittata is full of toasty tortilla chips, they’re part of a crunchy topping for breaded shrimp and pair with chorizo to make a Tex-Mex stuffing.
White whole wheat flour has the versatility of all-purpose flour without the intense flavor of whole wheat flour. Made from a special variety of white flour — with the same nutritional profile as whole wheat flour —it swaps beautifully for all-purpose. Try making these blueberry muffins.
The things that make you happier.
Nice salted butter: This is for tasting, not baking. Keep some good quality butter on hand to slather on equally good bread and make a meal of it along with fruit and cheese.
We all have our favorite hot sauces. Keep a few stocked in the fridge door to make taco, nacho or chili night more fun: include a classic (like Tabasco or Frank's Red Hot), a green version (Cholula green pepper hot sauce or Herdez's Verde Taqueria Street Sauce) and a specialty extra hot sauce for the adventurous.
Jams, jellies and preserves: A spoonful of your favorite fruit-based condiment can elevate plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream. Try spreading a thin layer on your next turkey or ham sandwich for a sweet and salty combo. Remember you can make a quick dessert sauce: loosen a little jam, jelly or preserves with a little water and microwave for a few seconds until pourable.
Keep a secret stash of your favorite chocolate — 70% cocoa or more. It will last a couple years unopened; eat within a year once opening.
Condiments: From ketchup to fish sauce — the list is endless. Take a walk down your grocery store's condiment and world food aisles and marvel at the possibilities. Try an unfamiliar one like ajvar — a roasted red pepper sauce from Serbia. It's perfect with grilled chicken or drizzled on an omelet. Or combine classic condiments to make new hybrid: how about BBQ mayo or hoisin ketchup.
Technically a pantry item, nuts store well in the fridge and freezer. It’s always smart to have your favorites on hand: add to oatmeal, salads or eat by the handful for a filling snack.
Both meat and plant-based jerky are indulgent treats that can last for up to 1 year unopened. Be sure to eat within a few days after opening.