Beyond basic salt and black pepper, dried herbs and spices are essential for flavorful cooking. Pre-packed spice racks can be found at Walmart for as little as $20, but popular seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder and seasoned salt are often not included in pre-packed racks.
Oil, vinegar, condiments
Different types of vinegar are used for different kinds of cooking, but if you want just one, red wine vinegar is a good all-purpose option.
Condiments such as mayonnaise, mustard, soy sauce, hot sauce and dressings are more specific to personal tastes.
Tip: Cooking sprays like Pam can be useful, but be warned — it’s recommended that cooking spray isn’t used on non-stick cookware because it can damage the coating of the pan.
Pasta and rice are versatile grains and can be cooked quickly. Unopened pasta will last in your pantry for up to a year, and varieties of white rice will last indefinitely if unopened.
Dried beans will also last for a while unopened and are a good source of vegetarian protein.
If you want to bake, you’ll also need to get all-purpose flour, granulated and/or brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda for most recipes.
Cans and jars
A jar of pasta sauce over spaghetti paired with a can of green beans makes for a quick, easy dinner on busy nights. Canned beans are versatile and easier to use than dried beans, which often need to be soaked overnight before cooking, and canned vegetables can carry you over between grocery trips after you’ve used up your fresh produce.
Canned meats like fish and chicken will last for years unopened in your pantry before being used in a sandwich or a salad.