Friday, 23 May 2014

Pantry Essentials Part 1: Cans, Boxes and Bags

Learn which canned goods are pantry staples and which should, well, be canned. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The key to pantry essentials is purchasing items that are multi-use, that is, buying one item that you can use to make lots of different things. Essential doesn’t have to mean boring, “fundamentals are the building blocks of fun!”

Although it’s really important to get lots of fresh, unprocessed food in our diets, when it comes to pantry essentials, canned goods are a great start. Here are some ideas for some canned foods that provide a solid foundation for any pantry, with some suggestions for quick and easy meals you can make with them:


Photo by frakier

Big tins (or jars) of whole, diced or crushed tomatoes are an excellent addition to any pantry. They are the basis of so many delicious meals, such as pasta sauce, chili, and soups.

Also, if you’re super short on time and don’t feel like making your own pasta sauce from canned tomatoes, you can buy prepared pasta sauce in cans. There are lots of different flavours available: plain tomato, garlic, mushroom parmesan cheese. These sauces taste good right out of the can, but you can also beef them up by adding fresh veggies such as chopped and sautéed carrots, celery and onion for extra flavor. The only downside of some of these canned sauces is they’re often quite high in salt and sugar, so try to look for No Salt Added options and balance them out with some home made sauce every now and then.


Photo source Pixabay

"Legume" is a fancy word for a group of foods that includes beans, chickpeas, lentils… all those delicious, nutritious, protein packed foods we know and love. There are a wide variety of canned beans available at most grocery stores, including black beans, kidney beans, fava beans, black eyed peas… the list goes on! All of these beans can be added to soups, salads, chili and casseroles. You can also get handy cans of bean salad, which has a bunch of different types of beans already mixed together. These are a great option when you need to whip up something quick for a potluck, as it gives an appealing diversity of color and taste, but doesn’t take any extra time. 

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Canned chickpeas are also a wonderful option. They can be added to salads, soups, or used to make delicious hummus, a chickpea based spread with garlic and olive oil that tastes amazing on pretty much anything (veggies, pita breads, sandwiches). When you are buying canned legumes, look for no salt added. These nutritious foods have enough flavour on their own and you can always add just a touch of salt to taste once you’ve made your meal.

Canned Goods and Food Safety

Photo source Wikipedia.

Although one of the beauties of canned goods is that you can buy them and keep them in your cupboard for what feels like forever, its important to be conscious of signs of spoiling, just like with any other food. Here are some signs of potentially spoiled food (from
  • a bulging can or lid or a broken seal
  • a can or lid that looks rusty
  • food that has oozed out from the lid
  • visible bubbles when you open the can
  • food that looks moldy or cloudy or gives off an unpleasant odor when you open it
  • spurting liquid from the can when you open it
So. We have lots of basics for sauces and protein to add to casseroles, but what are you going to put it on? Two basic foods that are essentials for any pantry are rice and pasta. They keep for a long time and are quick to make (pasta usually takes about 8-10 mins to cook and rice takes a little longer, 20 mins). Be sure to store these dry goods in well sealed, dry containers.



Photo source Wikipedia.
One of the fun things about pasta is all the different shapes and names. Did you know that the different pasta shapes are designed for different dishes? Linda Bastianichi ( provides us with a basic run down for what shapes go best with which sauces: Shaped pastas, like farfalle (butterfly shaped) or rotini (spirals) are best for sauces with texture, such as those with pieces of meat, vegetable or bean in them. Short, tubular pasta are best for thick, chunky sauces. Long, thin pasta (like spaghetti or fettuccini) are best with olive-oil based sauces.

Aside from shape, there is great variety in pasta, which helps keep these essentials fun. Whole wheat or vegetable based pasta are a great healthy options and taste just as good as plain, white pasta! For those gluten free people out there, you can buy rice noodles which are great in stir fries, soups, or even any of your traditional tomato based pasta dishes. Just be careful with rice noodles not to overcook them, they can sometimes get a bit sticky if they’re left to boil too long.


Photo source Wikipedia.

Rice is another essential accompaniment to many dishes. White rice takes only about 20 minutess to cook and can be served with meat or fish, stews, or stir-fry. An excellent, healthier alternative to white rice is brown rice. It is an unrefined version of white rice., which means that it still has the hull and bran on the outside. This is where important protein, calcium, fibre and potassium are stored ( The only downside is it does take longer to cook brown rice (about 40 minutess). It’s worth it when you have the time though! Not only is it better for you, but it has more depth of flavour and texture.

Freezer Essentials

Photo source Pixabay

The final addition to your pantry essentials are bags of frozen veggies, such as peas, corn. You can also buy bags of mixed vegetables, which include carrots, cauliflower, squash, sweet potatoes Although, as we said at the beginning, fresh is best, these frozen options can be a good second choice. These veggies can be added to pasta sauce, soup, chili, casseroles… anything you want to add texture, flavor and colour to!

Keep checking the blog for next week’s installment of Pantry Essentials, will be focusing on baking essentials, so you can make homemade breads, cookies and cakes in a pinch!

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