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Over the past year, many Americans have faced empty supermarket shelves and extended power outages for the first time. Supply chain disruptions, limited store hours, and hoarding due to the pandemic have been part of the problem. Severe storms, wildfires, and civil unrest have added to the unwelcome mix.
As a result, there has been a new focus on the importance of maintaining a survival pantry in your home. But stocking up on long-lasting foods and knowing how to feed your family with only those ingredients are two separate steps.
In this article, we’ll examine 20 main survival pantry staples and explore some of the many meals you can make with them.
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1. Canned Beans
Beans are an easy and tasty source of protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. You can mix them with rice or another grain, add them to a soup or stew, or eat them as-is on crackers or chips. We like black beans and chickpeas the best, but red beans are great too.
Pantry combo meal idea: Toss together a can of chickpeas with a can of tuna. Add a squirt of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crackers.
Canned tomatoes are high in antioxidants and work well in many sauces and soups. Stock both diced tomatoes and whole plum tomatoes.
Pantry combo meal idea: Toss together diced tomatoes with black beans. Add spices of your choosing (like dried cilantro) and serve with chips or tortillas.
Here’s a homemade tomato sauce recipe using canned tomatoes and other pantry ingredients.
3. Dried Pasta
You can’t have pasta sauce without pasta! Dried pasta is inexpensive, stores well, and comes in many shapes and sizes
Pantry combo meal idea: All you need to make a tasty Italian favorite, “Aglio e Olio,” are spaghetti, olive oil, and garlic. (Other spices are optional.) You can make it to your family’s taste, or here’s a recipe to get you started.
There are many good reasons rice is a pantry favorite. It’s cheap, shelf-stable, and you can use rice in so many different ways. You can try different varieties of rice too!
Mix it with beans or canned meat, or add it to a soup or salad. (Other grains, such as quinoa, are perfect for your survival pantry as well.)
Pantry combo meal idea: Here’s a chana masala recipe using rice, canned tomatoes, chickpeas, and some spices.
5. Nut Butter
Peanut butter or other nut or seed butters contain protein and healthy fats. You can use it to make a good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich or just spread it as is on crackers.
Pantry combo meal idea: Here’s a recipe for a Thai-inspired peanut sauce for a noodle bowl.
6. Canned Soup
You can eat canned soup as it comes, or you can combine it with other pantry ingredients to make a more complete meal. You also might want to stock shelf-stable cartons of beef, chick, or vegetable broth for soups and stews.
Pantry combo meal idea: Combine canned tomato soup with black beans, canned corn, canned chicken, water, and spices to make a quick and easy chicken soup.
Here is a recipe for a 10-minute vegetable soup that uses pantry ingredients.
7. Canned Tuna and Salmon
Most people use canned tuna for tuna fish sandwiches or tuna salad, but you can build many other nutritious meals around canned tuna or salmon.
Pantry combo meal idea: Mix one or both of these seafood staples with rice and beans for a protein-rich dish or combine with olive oil and spices for a pasta sauce.
Here’s an easy recipe for canned tuna pasta.
Oats are perfect for breakfast, but they also can serve as the main ingredient of cookies, bread, pancakes, and protein/energy bars. Learn about the differences between instant, steel-cut, and rolled oats here.
Pantry combo meal idea: Mix cooked oats with raisins (or other dried fruit) and honey for a delicious breakfast.
This recipe uses oats to make a long-lasting “survival bread.”
9. Canned and Dried Meats
You can find canned ham, bacon, sausage, beef, and chicken in your supermarket and online. You might want to check out canned roast beef to use in tacos or burritos or soups and stews. Dried meats are also an excellent addition to your survival pantry.
Pantry combo meal idea: Make an easy soup with canned onion soup, canned beef, canned or dried vegetables, and canned diced tomatoes. Add spices to taste.
Here’s a recipe for an easy pantry-based beef stew.
10. Canned and Dried Vegetables
Stock up on cans of the veggies your family enjoys. Corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes can be added to soups, stews, and salads for taste and nutrition.
Pantry combo meal idea: Mix together canned chicken, frozen corn, and jarred salsa to make an easy taco filling.
Check out this easy minestrone soup recipe.
11. Canned and Dried Fruits
Everyone loves the taste of fresh fruit, but canned and dried fruit are the next best thing. Become a label reader and avoid fruits canned in sugary syrups. Dried fruit is good for snacking and provides a quick energy boost.
Pantry combo meal idea: Add dried berries and raisins to granola for breakfast or mix with nuts to make trail mix for a healthy snack.
We’ve suggested crackers as the base for a few of your staples already. You can also crumble them as toppings for soups and stews. Store crackers in an airtight glass container for best results.
Pantry combo meal idea: Spread nut butter on crackers for a protein-rich light meal.
Here’s a modern recipe for an old food – hardtack.
13. Shelf-Stable Milk
You can choose from dairy-based and plant-based shelf-stable kinds of milk, but you’ll want to have an adequate supply in your pantry to drink and to use in recipes.
Pantry combo meal idea: Use leftover cooked rice and shelf-stable oat milk, and just a few other pantry ingredients to make a tasty rice pudding. Scroll down to the end of this post to find the directions.
Here is a handy guide that explains the different shelf-stable milks and how to cook with them
Nuts are high in protein, healthy fats, fiber, and B vitamins, and they offer quick and portable energy. Our top picks for the survival pantry are almonds, walnuts, and pistachios.
Pantry combo meal idea: Eat them as is or top your oatmeal or granola with them for added nutrition and energy.
Try these easy no-bake apple peanut butter energy balls. (You can substitute dried apple.)
Honey or another natural sweetener is an important pantry staple. Use it to flavor and add a bit of nutrition to your beverages and your baked goods. Honey can crystalize in long-term storage, but it is still safe to use.
If you want to remove the crystal, set the jar in warm water for about an hour or so until it returns to its liquid form.
Pantry combo meal idea: Here is a five-ingredient milk and honey bread recipe.
16. Olive Oil
You can use olive oil for so many purposes around the home, but we’ll focus on its uses for meals here. Store olive oil in a cool, dark location and keep the bottle tightly capped.
Pantry combo meal idea: We’ve already mentioned that olive oil can star in simple olive oil and garlic pasta dish. You can mix it with a can of tomatoes, olives, and herbs for a tomato-based pasta sauce as well. Mix leftover pasta with olive oil, herbs, and spices for a cold salad.
17. Tea and Coffee
Pantry combo idea: You can sweeten your tea with honey and add shelf-stable milk to your coffee if you like.
Flour is in many of the foods we make, and if you handle it right, it stores well. This article explains the tips for storing flour that is bought in bulk quantities.
Pantry combo idea: Check out the many shelf-stable recipes that use flour here.
19. Potato Flakes
This video gives essential storage and usage information for potato flakes.
Pantry combo idea: Add potato flakes to soups and stews to give them a creamy texture. Or you can use them in recipes as a substitute for bread crumbs.
Here’s an easy recipe for potato soup using potato flakes.
20. Cornmeal, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Condiments, and Spices
This last item on our list is a catch-all for the many “extra items’ you’ll need.
This list can vary greatly, depending on the meals you like to make and your family’s taste. For example, my family really likes cilantro, so I stock dried cilantro. You may not need that one, though. Most pre-ground spices last well for years.
Here is a list of some of these “extras” to consider.
- Baking chocolate
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Chili powder
- Cocoa powder
- Curry powder
- Garlic powder
- Granulated sugar
- Italian seasoning
- Lemon juice
- Minced onion
- Soy sauce
- Vinegar (white, red, apple cider)
Many people had a crash course in setting up a survival pantry over the past year. But now that you’ve got one, rotation is the key to keeping it going. As you shop, put foods with the furthest “best by” or “use by” dates at the back of the shelf. Consume the items with the most current dates first.
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