Keep these essential ingredients on hand and you'll have the makings for endless easy, delicious dinners.

By Betty Gold
Updated March 17, 2020
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Cooking at home is made simpler, speedier, and so much more pleasant when you're stocked up. Here, we're covering the foods that you'll want to have on hand at all times; those that your arm practically reaches for on autopilot (thank goodness for muscle memory) as soon as you walk into your kitchen.

Below are 40 essential ingredients—we organized them by pantry, fridge, and freezer—that put in major overtime, along with 25 easy-to-make recipes you can make with them. If you spot an ingredient you're lacking (or that the grocery store is sold out of), don't sweat it. You can either omit it, or find a simple substitute in this guide, or this one for baking substitutions.

Pantry Staples

  • Brown rice, quinoa, farro, and/or barley
  • Lentils
  • Pasta
  • Polenta
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes
  • Onions and garlic
  • Canned beans
  • Canned broth
  • Bread crumbs
  • Red or white wine
  • Jarred marinara sauce
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, and spices

Refrigerator Staples

  • Fresh herbs of choice
  • Mixed greens and/or kale
  • Cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Ginger
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Lemons, limes, and other citrus fruits
  • Parmesan
  • Butter
  • Hummus
  • Sour cream
  • Eggs
  • Dijon mustard
  • Milk or non-dairy milk alternatives
  • Cheeses of choice

Freezer Staples

  • Mixed berries
  • Frozen vegetables (broccoli, peas, spinach, cauliflower)
  • Tortillas
  • Bread
  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Chicken breasts, thighs, and/or whole chicken

Here are 25 easy recipes you can make using these ingredients.

Soups

High-Protein Mains

Pasta and Rice Dishes

Sides