Your essential pantry guide for a pandemic

Pantry staples. Those two words have taken on an entirely new meaning as Canadians continue dealing with the uncertainty and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pantry staples, once reserved for “emergencies only,” are now becoming the everyday norm as we are forced to get creative with shelf-stable, frozen and canned foods. Flours and yeast have all but disappeared from local grocery stores shelves as many experiment with sourdough and no-knead bread making.

Pandemic or not, a well-stocked pantry is the foundation of healthy home-cooked meals. When a pantry contains foods that are quick and easy to use (like beans, rice, and a variety of spices) we’re more likely to cook a dish from scratch versus reaching for unhealthier options like takeout. Shelf-stable and frozen are not less nutritious than their fresh counterparts.

If you’d prefer to keep closer to home, many grocers are offering online shopping options. In most cases, you select a delivery time slot, shop for your groceries — which can be more convenient than being in-store thanks to the search function — and have your week’s shopping done and delivered to your doorstep.

Check with your local small grocery stores that might be offering click-and-collection options for curbside pickup. They can be less busy than larger stores, plus you’re helping to keep your neighbours afloat.

Before heading out for your weekly shopping trip or sitting down to place an order, do your homework and plan your meals for the week so you know exactly what ingredients you need. Make a list of what you need so you can spend less time in the store (it’s all about getting in and out as quickly as possible these days!).

Regardless of your selected recipes, you should always have the following pantry staples on hand.


Canned goods

The ability to preserve food in cans revolutionized the way we eat. Foods that would typically spoil quickly, like tomatoes and peaches, could now be kept for years under ideal conditions. Stocking your pantry with canned foods ensures you always have access to important basics that lay the foundation for a tasty and healthy meal. From fibre-rich beans to protein-packed fish, these canned items can be used in a magnitude of ways.

• beans (black, butter, navy, kidney);

• chickpeas and lentils;

• tomatoes (diced, crushed, whole);

• tomato paste;

• soups & chili;

• stock (vegetable, beef, etc.);

• beans in tomato sauce;

• seafood (tuna, sardines, salmon, crab, anchovies, etc.);

• vegetables (corn, peas, carrots);

• fruit (peaches, oranges, grapefruit, fruit cocktail);

• coconut milk.


Frozen goods

When freezer space is at a premium, it’s best to stock up on frozen whole foods instead of ready-made dinners — things like peas, blueberries, chicken, and shrimp are versatile ingredients in many meals, versus only being able to cook that ready-made lasagna once. Fun fact: Frozen foods contain the same amount of nutrients as their fresh counterparts (sometimes even more) because they’re frozen at the peak of freshness. Meats can be kept frozen for up to six months depending on your freezer conditions. Just avoid thawing and refreezing meats as harmful bacteria can multiply and grow.

Go ahead and load your ground beef casseroles with frozen carrots, peas and corn, they add flavour, texture and most importantly, nutrients!

• vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, peas, carrots, corn, asparagus, peppers);

•  fruit (peaches, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, mango);

•  meat (chicken, beef, pork);

•  seafood (fish, shrimp, mussels).


Dry goods

While some of these pantry staples are harder to come by these days (where did all the yeast go?), they are essential building blocks for nutritious and filling meals. You would be surprised with just how many things you can bake with flour, sugar, yeast and baking soda/powder!

Nuts and seeds are also beneficial to have on hand for tossing on top of a salad or sprinkling over hot oatmeal, and grains like rice, quinoa and farro make excellent bases for burrito or Asian-style bowls. Oh, and don’t forget the coffee!

• pastas and noodles;

• grains (barley, rice, farro, wheat berries, quinoa, barley, bulgur);

• nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts);

• seeds (chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, sesame);

• sugars (white sugar, brown sugar);

• flours (whole wheat, white, as well as

• yeast;

• vanilla extract;

• oats (quick, large flake, steel cut);

• cornmeal;

• high-fibre cereal;

• baking powder and soda;

• breadcrumbs;

• coffee and tea.



Spices are the most undervalued item in the pantry yet are an essential ingredient. They help to build deep, rich flavours and bring together a variety of ingredients creating a balanced dish. While “must-have” spices and seasonings will vary based on personal preference, you can be sure that these basic seasonings will deliver all the flavour you need!

• salt and pepper;

• curry;

• garlic powder;

• onion powder;

• cinnamon;

• allspice;

• cumin;

• Italian seasoning;

• taco seasoning; and

• red pepper flakes.


Miscellaneous items

While these might seem like one-off items, these miscellaneous pantry staples should not be overlooked. Oils are essential for cooking, as well as making homemade dressings and marinades. Honey and maple syrup can be used to sweeten baked goods, while lemon juice and vinegar can add acidity and zing to sauces (or if you’re trying your hand at quick-pickling). And nut butters? They are a must-have for when you are feeling snackish.

• nut butters (peanut, almond, etc.);

• sauces and condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressings, bbq sauce);

• oils (olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil, sesame oil);

• honey;

• maple syrup;

• jams (strawberry, blueberry, etc.);

• lemon juice;

• vinegar (white, rice, red wine, balsamic);

• shelf stable milks.


Fresh essentials

Just because you’re limiting your grocery shopping to one trip per week (or less) does not mean you have to forgo fresh options. There are plenty of fresh foods that have a longer shelf including apples, citrus fruits, potatoes, onions, eggs and cheese; all can last more than two weeks when stored correctly.

• milk/milk alternatives and cheese;

• eggs;

• bread;

• bananas and apples;

• onions;

• potatoes;

• carrots;

• yogurt.

If you find yourself in a position of excess, consider donating to your local food bank — almost all organizations accept non-perishable goods or cash donations and often post a list of items in high demand on their website.

As the pandemic continues, we should all take comfort in knowing we are in this together. Stay home and make something delicious from your pantry!