A smartly organized pantry is an awesome thing. It helps you eat healthy, makes meal prep quick and easy and can really save you money. It also means you have food on hand in an emergency (like snow days). Figuring out what essentials to stock is the thing, especially if you’re challenged with limited space or a limited budget — or both. The trick is to buy ingredients that you’ll use frequently and that are versatile enough to be included in lots of recipes (couscous, anyone?). And here’s the real kicker: Think ahead to those nights when you come home late and face an almost empty fridge and pantry. What to make then? Here are some surprisingly versatile staples you’ll want in your pantry at all times.


1. Oats: Often overlooked these days in favor of trendier quinoa or rice, oatmeal is a superfood that’s full of fiber and protein. It’s great in breakfast bowls and smoothies, but it can also be cooked up savory-style. (Photo + Recipe via Heartbeet Kitchen)

See also: 24 Healthy Oatmeal Recipes That Aren’t Overnight Oats


2. Black Beans: Great for your health and your budget, black beans are super versatile to cook with. They can be used in dips and side dishes, but they can also take center stage as an entrée in the form of chilis, soups and veggie burgers. Did you know they’re also a secret ingredient in some delicious and decadent black bean dessert recipes? (Photo + Recipe via Green Kitchen Stories)

See also: 20 Protein-Packed Black Bean Recipes


3. Rice: Buddha bowls were so on trend earlier this year, filling up everyone’s Instagram feeds — and with good reason. A bowl of rice topped with veggies, meats and even fruit is healthy, filling and oh-so comforting. The really great thing about rice, though, is its versatility. Top it up with almost anything you have on hand and you have a delicious meal. Plus, don’t forget how much you LOVE the ease of the one-bowl clean-up. (Photo + Recipe via Half Baked Harvest)

See also: 15 Ridiculously Good Rice Bowl Recipes to Serve Tonight


4. Pasta: You’ve gotta love pasta for its shelf life — it keeps forever — and flavor as a staple. Seriously, if there’s such a thing as a *bad* pasta dish, we haven’t heard about it yet. Noodles taste great prepared very simply with just olive oil, salt and pepper, but add grated cheese or some jarred sauce, and it’s a feast. (Photo + Recipe via Damn Delicious)

See also: Give These 18 One-Pot Pastas a Twirl Tonight


5. Ramen: Okay, we mentioned “economical” and “noodle,” and of course that has you thinking of the obvious — ramen noodles! Once a dorm room staple, ramen has gone all upscale these days, with those in the know lining up at trendy restaurants for a bowl of the good stuff. But there are endless ways to dress up a bowl yourself at home, and they are all so removed from the kind you microwaved back in your college days. With a few simple hacks, you can transform a pack of instant noodles into a meal. (Photo + Recipe via Pickled Plum)

See also: Slurp-Worthy: 16 Ramen Soup Recipes


6. Rice Noodles: The “pasta” for us gluten-free folks, rice noodles and cellophane noodles are the perfect comfort foods. They’re also great for a quickie meal, because they’re so thin and tender, they only need to be soaked in hot water until soft. Toss in a few veggies and some frozen shrimp, then spice it all up with soy sauce or Sriracha and you’ve got a tasty meal. (Photo + Recipe via Passports and Pancakes)

See also: 40 Must-Try Asian-Inspired Noodle Dishes


7. Couscous: Super easy to make, extremely versatile and a healthy substitute for heartier carbs, couscous cooks up quickly and provides a tasty base for some substantial dishes. When the cupboard is almost bare, just cook up some couscous, throw on some poached eggs and garlicky greens and you have the perfect quickie meal that works for breakfast, lunch or dinner. (Photo + Recipe via Love and Lemons)

See also: 20 Crazy Good Ways to Eat Couscous


8. Sweet Potatoes: Take advantage of the upcoming holidays to stock up on sweet potatoes. They’re a great staple to have on hand year round. They’re great alone or simply baked with butter and salt, and they make a hearty addition to savory soups and stews. Sweeten them up with pumpkin pie spices when you’ve got a sweet tooth. (Photo + Recipe via Cooking Classy)

See also: 23 Ways to Rock Sweet Potatoes All Year Long


9. Pumpkin Puree: In the season of the pumpkin, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include this as one of the most versatile pantry staples. It’s a filling addition to just about anything you can eat or drink, and it has a long shelf life — canned pumpkin keeps for up to two years. (Photo + Recipe via Cookin’ Canuck)

See also: 40 Recipes That Use Canned Pumpkin


10. Coconut Milk: A not-so-surprising health food trend given the popularity of coconut oil and coconut flour, coconut milk has become a key player in tons of healthy recipes these days, from Paleo to dairy-free to vegan. It’s always been a staple of Thai cuisine — it’s delicious in curries, fish stews and creamy soups. And it whips up sweetly in warm beverages as well. (Photo + Recipe via With Food + Love)

See also: 15 Clever Ways to Cook With Coconut Milk and Starbucks Who? 10 Coconut Milk Drinks You Can Make at Home


11. Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are one superfood that packs a serious health punch. High in protein and fiber and an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, their absorbent qualities make them helpful in controlling your appetite. When mixed with coconut milk or other nut milks, they make a tasty pudding for breakfast. They’re also a good egg substitute in vegan baking. (Photo + Recipe via Kitchen Konfidence)

See also: 20 Ways to Add Chia Seeds to Your Diet


12. Sriracha: Sriracha is one spicy condiment you’ll want to have on hand when your pantry stores get low. Not only is it great in dipping sauces, but it adds flavor to leftover meat, scrambled eggs and… well, almost anything you choose to put it on. You’d be surprised at some of the cool and crazy uses for Sriracha. (Photo + Recipe via Taste Love and Nourish)

See also: 22 Unique Ways to Use Sriracha (+ How to Make Your Own!)


13. Ginger: You may know it best as a pickled condiment for sushi, but ginger is a great staple to have on hand in your kitchen. You can keep a small chunk of it on your countertop, then simply use a spoon to peel away the skin and shred some into simple soups or salad dressings to take the taste to the next level. (Photo + Recipe via Brit + Co)

See also: 20 Ways to Cook With Fresh Ginger


14. Broth: There’s actually a lot more you can do with stock than just make soup. In fact, stock can be used to flavor up so many dishes, making it one of the most versatile staples around. Whether you prefer chicken, beef or veggie broth, it’s definitely one pantry item you never want to be without. (Photo + Recipe via A Beautiful Plate)

See also: 15 Delicious Ways to Use Up Leftover Stock


15. Nut Butter: Whether you favor peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter or a more exotic blend, nut butter is one of the most useful ingredients you can have in your kitchen. They’re great spread on toast or mixed in dips, or even eaten straight out of the jar, but they can be a bit spendy. You know we’re always fans of a DIY, so if you love nuts and you’ve got a food processor, you can make your own and keep a good stash on hand at all times. (Photo + Recipe via Bakerita)

See also: 12 Awesome Homemade Nut Butters to Put on *Everything*


16. Cookie Butter: Okay, it’s not as healthy as nut butter by ANY stretch, but this yummy spread is so great to have in your pantry when a craving for something sweet hits. It’s great on toast or in baked goodies, but in a pinch you can eat it by the spoonful while watching your fave shows. Consider that future craving crushed! (Photo + Recipe via My Tiny Oven)

See also: 23 MORE Cookie Butter Recipes You Need in Your Life


17. Tomatoes: Whether you’ve got ’em diced or stewed or in the form of paste or sauces, canned tomatoes really deliver when the pantry gets low. They’re great substitutes when fresh tomatoes are out of season, and they can be used as a base in soups and stews when you’re out of stock. But more than anything, they can so easily be spiced up and reduced in a saucepan, then poured over noodles for a delicious meal. (Photo + Recipe via Ambitious Kitchen)

See also: 8 Delicious Reasons to Keep Your Pantry Stocked With Canned Tomatoes


18. Corn: Versatile and delicious, corn can be tossed into a salad, turned into a soup or made into a salsa — and it’s always delicious. Canned corn has a long shelf life, and with so many ways to eat it, it’s a staple you’ll want to keep in your pantry at all times. (Photo + Recipe via Vegan Yak Attack)

See also: 45 Fresh Ways to Cook With Corn


19. Tortillas: From wraps to quesadillas to burritos to tacos, there are so many great things you can make with tortillas. They were likely staples in your dorm room, and for good reason. They keep longer than bread, and they’re versatile and quick and easy to cook with. You may be older now, with better cooking skills and more gear, but there’s definitely still a need for tortillas in your life. (Photo + Recipe via Bits of Umami)

See also: 20 Quesadillas for Weeknight Meals in a Hurry


20. Potatoes: The spud might just be the one ingredient we’ve done the most recipe roundups on. We’ve brought you mashed potatoes and latkes and potato salad, just to name a few. The things you can do with potatoes are seemingly endless: Hasselback, scalloped, au gratin, casseroles and even the humble baked potato with butter and sour cream are SO yummy and filling, they can be eaten as a side or as a meal by themselves. (Photo + Recipe via Lil’ Luna)

See also: All Potato Everything: The 23 Most Searched Potato Recipes


21. Dates: Dried fruits are a useful pantry staple. They can be added to oatmeal and salads, or eaten just as they are as a snack. Dates are especially versatile. When you’re out of sugar or other sweeteners, dates can be chopped up fine or processed in a mini chop and added to baked goods or sauces. (Photo + Recipe via Paleo Foodie Kitchen)

See also: It’s a Date! 20 Date Recipes to Try Now


22. Hot Cocoa Mix: You’ll recall from your dorm room days just how awesome it can be to come across that lone pack of cocoa mix when you thought the pantry was completely cleaned out. But those handy little packets are actually good for more than just drinks. They can be used in everything from baked goods to frozen treats. (Photo + Recipe via My San Francisco Kitchen)

See also: 19 Nifty New Ways to Use Hot Cocoa Packets


23. Popcorn: When it comes to our favorite time of day, snacktime is certainly a solid contender. Tipping the scales in its favor are these terrific popcorn recipes that practically explode with flavor. Whether you enjoy a handful of kernels between meals or as a nibble during your next movie night, we promise you can’t go wrong. (Photo + Recipe via Lady and Pups)

See also: 17 Popcorn Recipes That Are Poppin’ With Flava

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