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The REAL LIFE Pantry List

pantry stuff

Probably the single-best kitchen tip I’ve ever received is to keep a well-stocked kitchen and pantry. If you’ve got the basics on hand, making a delicious meal becomes a much easier job. Here’s what I consider the essentials.

Dry Storage

Oils & Fats: Extra virgin olive oil; some fancy stuff for salads and a jug of your favorite organic store brand for (lower-heat) cooking. Coconut oil, expeller-pressed canola oil, and organic butter for higher-heat cooking. Flavored oils such as lemon and basil for salads; toasted sesame oil for stir-fries.

Soy Sauce: We buy San-J reduced-sodium tamari; it’s gluten free.

Vinegar: I like having an assortment including apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s), sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, and rice vinegar vinegar.

Chicken Broth: Get the reduced-sodium organic kind, such as Pacific or Imagine; also Vegetable Broth.

Canned Tomatoes: Muir Glen crushed tomatoes, Muir Glen Fire Roasted tomatoes, Pomi strained tomatoes, and San Marzano tomatoes.

Tomato Sauce: Daves’ Gourmet Heirloom tomato sauce comes in handy.

Pasta: Organic whole wheat rotini, fettucine, and gemelli, plus regular shells and penne. If you’re gluten free, I like Tinkyada brand brown rice pasta.

Rice: Organic short grain brown rice, sushi rice, and basmati are my three go-to’s.

Other grains: Farro; a delicious, high-protein whole grain, but it’s not gluten free. Also, buckwheat and quinoa.

Flour: Unbleached all-purpose flour, plus brown rice flour, and whole wheat flour. I love almond flour (or almond meal) for gluten-free applications, plus tapioca and coconut flours.

Beans: Canned and dried, including black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, and cannellini beans; look for BPA-free cans, such as Eden Organic, and boxed beans, such as 365 Organic.

Lentils: Red and green

Honey: Local raw honey makes a great, unprocessed alternative to sugar and agave.

Coconut Milk (full fat).

Dried Fruit: Includes raisins, dates, cherries, and apricots, unsweetened.

Nuts & Seeds: Raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, and cashews; plus sunflower seeds.

Salsa: Newman’s Own organic or 365.

Taco Shells: Buy organic because conventional corn is almost all GMO.

Olives & Pickles: Green and black olives, dill pickles; my kids love these as snacks.

On the Counter

Bread: Rudi’s Organic Honey Sweet Whole Wheat.

In the Refrigerator

Milk: Organic milk does not contain antibiotics or bovine growth hormones; I buy 2%.

Heavy cream: Again organic (for coffee).

Eggs: The free-range ones are higher in omega-3s. I buy large brown eggs.

Butter: Unsalted, organic.

Yogurt: Organic plain Greek yogurt for breakfast, smoothies, and sauces; Noosa (yum) for a treat.

Cheese: Hard grating cheese such as Parmesan or aged gouda, plus Swiss or pepper Jack, and sometimes goat (I try to get organic, except the Parm, which is from Italy where I don’t think they use growth hormones).

Nitrate-Free Preserved Meats: Such as bacon, Spanish chorizo, and pancetta; these are mostly for flavoring, and a little bit goes a long way; keep in the freezer if you don’t eat them often.

Breakfast Sausage (I buy the organic chicken sausage links at Whole Foods).

Mayo: Try the olive oil–based kind from Kraft.

Ranch Dressing: I make my own (try this recipe) and keep in a jar. Makes veggies a lot more palatable for kids.

Ketchup (try to get the kind without High Fructose Corn Syrup)

Mustard: French’s yellow, spicy yellow, Grey Poupon, and German.

Tomato Paste: I buy the kind that comes in a jar and keep in the fridge because I only use a couple tablespoons at a time.

Breadcrumbs: I make these from the heels of my bread, just toast and pulse in food processor; store in a jar.

Maple Syrup (real). For sweetening things. And pancakes.

Peanut Butter: I like creamy; buy organic because conventional peanuts are heavily sprayed. I actually like Kirkland peanut butter a lot.

Almond Butter: Raw, for adding protein to smoothies.

Jam: We have quite an assortment, mostly homemade from nice friends and relatives; I add to yogurt for the kids and sauces for meat, plus PB&Js.

Hot Sauce: If you’re into that kind of thing… we love Lingham’s, Marie Sharp’s, Sriracha, and Cholula.

Miso: I buy Sweet White Miso paste.


Lime Juice: I keep a small bottle or plastic lime since fresh limes don’t keep very well. If your limes start to turn brown, squeeze them into a jar and store the juice.

Pine Nuts



Apples: A good vehicle for peanut butter; always buy organic apples as they are one of the most contaminated crops.

Greens: Usually lettuce (romaine or green leaf), kale, and arugula – all organic if possible.

Parsley: I buy Italian flat-leaf parsley, wash, and wrap in paper towels; it keeps for a couple weeks and is delicious in almost anything.

Other veggies (such as broccoli, bell peppers, scallions, etc.) —preferably organic.


Tortillas: Corn tortillas and whole wheat flour; look for as few ingredients as possible.

Dry White Wine (chardonnay): Excellent in risotto, also nice for drinking.

In the Freezer

Frozen Veggies: A lifesaver when you haven’t been to the store in a while; I like organic frozen green beans, broccoli, peas, corn, and edamame.

Frozen Berries: Great for smoothies

Fish Fillets: (they thaw fairly quickly and are a good substitute when there’s no decent fresh fish at the market).

Dark chocolate bars: for emergencies (70% cacao or higher).

My Spice Drawer

Kosher Salt: Cook with this, then finish with sea salt.

Sea Salt: Maldon, Celtic, and several flavored varieties.

Black Pepper: I buy the disposable grinders and love them.

I don’t use as many spices as I used to, but I do reach for these pretty often: Red pepper flakes, Paprika, Ancho chile powder, Garlic powder, Cumin, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Dried Sage, Bay Leaves, Tarragon, Harissa

Plus: Baking supplies (baking powder, sugar, chocolate chips, etc.), snacks and crackers (Nut Thins, Kind Bars), breakfast stuff (rolled and steel-cut oats, granola, tea, coffee), and Williams-Sonoma Hot Cocoa.

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Denver, Colorado