16 Staples you should always have in your pantry for last-minute meals

Oct 7, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. ET
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Keep these 16 staples in your pantry and you'll always have a backup plan when you need a last-minute meal.

1. Dried pasta

dry pasta in a pot

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Speaking of pasta, it's another great staple. You can use it with the spaghetti sauce above or try this creamy cheddar pasta salad.

2. Canned beans & legumes


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Canned beans and legumes (including refried beans) are fantastic sources of protein that can make you forget you're eating a vegetarian meal — like this quick Mediterranean chickpea salad.

3. Canned tomatoes

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Whether whole, diced or crushed, canned tomatoes provide the base for a number of dishes and, in most cases, can be easily substituted for fresh tomatoes. Try homemade Italian spaghetti sauce, which you can eat on any pasta you have on hand — you can even add a little ground beef if you want.

4. Rice


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Rice can be used with just about any ingredients you have on hand to create a hearty, comforting meal. For this creamy chicken and rice casserole, substitute a couple of cans of cream of mushroom or chicken soup for the homemade sauce and take advantage of even more pantry staples.

5. Canned cream of anything soup

creamed soup can

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Whether it's chicken, mushroom or broccoli, cans of condensed cream soups can find their way into many casseroles and one-pot meals. Try making cheesy broccoli chicken and rice to sneak some all-important veggies into your kid's diet with zero whine factor.

6. Potatoes


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Potatoes can quickly become a meal with a little leftover meat, barbecue or chili. Try this chili-stuffed baker for a filling lunch or dinner.

7. Oatmeal


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Oats are used to bulk up loads of healthy recipes, like this healthy turkey meatloaf.

8. Canned tuna or chicken

canned tuna

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Canned tuna and chicken can often be substituted for one another and used in dinner recipes that tend to utilize other pantry and freezer staples, so they're a protein-packed pantry requirement. Try this quick tuna skillet recipe with either tuna or chicken.

9. Broths and stocks

leftover chicken stock

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Whether you use canned, cubes or granules, chicken, beef or vegetable stocks and broths are extremely versatile. In addition to the obvious go-to of soup, we like this skinny chicken and broccoli Alfredo.

10. Peanut butter

jar of peanut butter

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We aren't suggesting you have a PB&J sammie for dinner (unless that's how you roll), but peanut butter is handier than people realize. Slather it on pancakes or waffles, use it to make homemade peanut butter dressings or try a tasty Asian pad Thai.

11. Pancake/waffle mix

pancake and waffle mix

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Pancake mix is really versatile and can be used to make a variety of bread and pastry recipes. You'll love this easy tostada pizza recipe as much as your kids do.

12. Crackers or pretzels


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Sure, they're great snacks, but they can also be crushed to make filler for meat loafs or burgers — or even used as a coating for something like pretzel-crusted chicken bites.

13. The "Big 10" spices

jars of various spices

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While it may vary by person, there are 10 basic spices (in addition to salt and pepper) every cook should start with. You can always add more to your collection.

  1. Italian seasoning
  2. Garlic powder
  3. Onion powder or flakes
  4. Cumin (lightly smoky, Mexican/Tex-Mex)
  5. Parsley or cilantro (fresh — different, but can often sub for one another)
  6. Chili powder (smoky, mild spice, Mexican/Tex-Mex)
  7. Crushed red pepper
  8. Allspice (can often be used instead of cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg)
  9. Sage or poultry seasoning (earthy, often used with poultry)
  10. Rosemary (fragrant, piney)

You may need some additional spices to make it, but this dry rub and seasoning mix comes together in a pinch.

14. Nuts and seeds

jar of nuts

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Think outside the snack box by using nuts as crusts for meats, additions to pasta or in salads — like chicken salad with grapes and walnuts.

15. Dried fruit

dried cranberries forming a heart

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Dried fruit can be tossed into pancakes or waffles, cereal or granola, but our favorite use is in salads like this simple mixed green salad with cranberries.

16. Oil & vinegar

oil and vinegar

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Oil and vinegar can be used together or on their own to make dipping sauces, to finish or brighten dishes and more. We recommend either red wine or balsamic vinegar, which are the most versatile for green or pasta salads (and red wine can often be subbed for others). This Greek dressing recipe uses several of your must-stock spices (just substitute Italian seasoning for the oregano and basil).

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