Tips From Mom: Must-Have Pantry Staples for 20 Somethings

pantry staples

By Cyndi

I could not wait to have my own kitchen when I moved out after school. I wasn’t going to have shelves in my fridge and pantry loaded with useless stuff I didn’t need, or so I thought! Suffice to say that I didn’t have a clue about what I needed to stock on those bare shelves in order to feed myself, much less anyone else. So whether or not you can cook or want to learn to feed yourself simple basic meals, these are pretty much required necessities for all newly emancipated fledglings!

Here is my “must haves “pantry staples for 20-somethings (including you guys that don’t want to live on beer chips and take-out). It is also a good guideline for those of you who think that fridges and shelves just always have “stuff” on them.

Dry Goods

Sorry y’all, there are multiple levels to this list.

  •  Flour. I love White Lily All Purpose, unbleached only. This soft southern wheat flour is good for everything from baking to thickening gravy!
  • Sugar. Like flour, just good old Dixie Crystals, good for any sweetening from ice tea to baking. If you want to make the occasional batch of cookies, you need brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda as well.  If you don’t use the soda for six months open it and stick it in the fridge or make a paste with water and clean your sinks, counters and tub with it. Makes a great non-scratching scouring powder!
  • Salt and ground black pepper. I keep both sea salt and kosher salt, as well as black peppercorns, but for frugality, go for S and P in shaker pairs.
  • Spices. A lot depends upon your own tastes, but I feel you can’t go wrong by stocking up on these:  Red pepper chili flakes, as well as good Mexican chili powder, chili flakes for pizza, seasoning sautéed spinach, and extra heat in any dish. And of course you can’t make even the simplest chili without chili. And for good measure add a small tin of cumin, it goes a long way in Mexican dishes. In addition, you will find many uses for onion and garlic powders And finally, buy a large tin of Italian seasoning which is just a mixture of oregano, thyme and basil. Again, a must have for marinara success.  Last, but not least, you must have cinnamon, for toast, mulled cider, and baking.

Wet goods

You thought your shopping list was through, didn’t you?

  • Extra virgin olive oil. Sounds foodie, I know but you can’t cook anything without a good quality fat. If you bake you need canola and/or Crisco shortening. Shortening is solid vegetable oil, just so you know!
  • Worcestershire sauce. Don’t try to pronounce it, just use it for steak sauce, extra flavor in your hamburgers or God forbid your meatloaf, I know, dirty word but meatloaf goes a long way on a small budget!
  • Hot Sauce.  A must have for extra heat and putting on or into those mistakes you are bound to make.  I could practically drink Crystal, and when I can’t find it I make do with Texas Pete, I am NOT a fan of Tabasco, but it’s your choice.
  • Vinegar. There are many many kinds of vinegar and they cost the gamut from 99 cents for white up to almost $20 for aged Italian Balsamic. If you don’t have room, money or the acquired taste, a good all purpose is Apple Cider vinegar. It is a good taste for very little money, and has multiple uses from salad dressings, cole slaw to dressing German potato salad. Makes good glass cleaner as well as removing water rings from furniture .
  • Pam. Good for oiling your grill, all you amateur BBQ’ers, just don’t spray it on an open flame! Your eyebrows will be removed.  Also, cooking spray will do in a pinch if you have run out of all other fats and want to fry an egg or make grilled cheese.
  • Mustard, Ketchup and Mayonaise. Plain yellow mustard, French’s has a good deep vinegary taste. And of course Heinz  ketchup goes with out saying, and I love Dukes mayo, (so many recipes!) but Hellmans comes in a close second. For all you Kraft salad spread lovers, you are on your own. Just ick!


  • Always, always, always keep two boxes of pasta. One 1 pound box of spaghetti and one box of short pasta like penne or elbow macaroni.
  • No pantry is complete with out canned tomatoes, sauce, and tomato paste – you can’t make chili or marina without them!!
  • The last three items on my must have list are these: Peanut butter and grape jelly, as long as you have these essential ingredients and a loaf of bread, well, you won’t starve!!

And a little something extra for your parents…

And my very last must have is a good bottle of Bourbon.  What you say? This is for your dad, you can ply him with a stiff drink when you inevitably have to have him to dinner so he can see just how well you used those thousands of dollars a year he spent to educate you (if you’re lucky!) so you could move out and have your very own PANTRY!!!

Photo by Jano Silva

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About Cyndi

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assorted fruits on white surface

8653312034_129d71844a_qMother of Katie Hope, Cyndi learned how to cook through necessity and by watching her own mother burn everything she touched. She’s spent her life fattening up her kids, husband, horses, dogs, cats, fish, and yes even gerbils at one point. She’s a traditional Southern lady with a healthy dose of mermaid tendencies and tree hugging dirt worshiping. At a solid 5 feet tall, Cyndi’s spent her whole life with a big opinions, big trucks, and big dogs, and yes, maybe she has a Napoleon complex, but it’s ok, she’s passed it on to her daughters. She never met a critter she didn’t love, a child she didn’t spoil, or a meal she didn’t want to make. 


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Have a Mom with some worthwhile Life Lessons to pass on? Tell her to get in touch. We’re looking to have a semi-regular column with “Tips from Mom,” so tell yo’ mama to start writing!


View Comments (2)
  • I love this, and y’all’s mom is adorable, but she forgot one very important thing – always have CHOCOLATE. For the cookies. Or for when your friend gets broken up with (I would also advocate for always having a pint of ice cream around). Or, let’s face it, for breakfast. I also read a book once where the writer mentioned a glamorous woman who always had a bottle of champagne in the fridge – I think this is a good idea too, makes you feel fancy.

    • You make an excellent point Erin, and one we wouldn’t have thought about. Growing up with a diabetic mother and one of us being allergic to chocolate (technically) means we all tend to forget it exists. Which frankly just makes us weird ;).

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