Dec. 1, 2012 at 12:00 PM ET
When preparing meals on the fly, it is important to have a well-stocked pantry of general, non-perishable items. If you're not sure what your pantry should look like, follow our essential pantry ingredients list below, so that when the time comes, you can prepare a delicious meal without having to run to the store.
First, make sure to keep a list handy of what you use most often and what you need to replace on your next shopping trip. Absent from this list are the perishables—such as bread, milk and meat.
Almond extract: for adding a little extra flavor to desserts, pie crusts, vegetables and other dishes.
Apples: for long storage, eating out of hand and making desserts.
Applesauce: for snacking, cooking, baking and an easy dessert.
Balsamic vinegar: for flavoring dishes and making salad dressings.
Baking soda: for baking and cleaning.
Baking powder: for baking.
Barbecue sauce: for cooking and flavoring.
Bay leaves: for seasoning soups, stocks, roasts, sauces and poaching liquids.
Beans (dried and canned): for soups, stews and other dishes.
Boullion (beef, chicken, and vegetable): for soups, seasoning, casseroles and marinades.
Breadcrumbs: for toppings, stuffings and other dishes.
Brown rice: for casseroles, soups, stuffings and side dishes.
Brown sugar: for cooking, baking and seasoning.
Canned cream soup: for a quick lunch, or to add to side dishes, soups, casseroles and other dishes.
Canned tomatoes: for sauces, salads, soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes.
Canned tuna fish: for quick sandwiches and casseroles.
Carrots: for long storage, snacking, soups, side dishes, roasting meats, casseroles, stews and more.
Cocoa powder: for baking and making hot cocoa.
Cold cereal: for baking, topping casseroles, snacking and breakfast.
Cooking sprays: for greasing pans for baking or frying.
Cornmeal: for cornbread, breading proteins and for baking white bread.
Cornstarch: for thickening puddings, sauces, stews and gravies.
Crackers: for snacking, appetizers and topping casseroles.
Cream of tartar: for whipping egg whites.
Dried fruit: for desserts, sauces, roasting meat and poultry and snacking.
Dried herbs: for seasoning sweet and savory dishes (good ones to have on hand: basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, dill, cilantro, tarragon, chives)
Dried spices: for seasoning sweet and savory dishes (good ones to have on hand: cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, paprika, mustard, ginger, allspice, cayenne pepper)
Garlic: for flavoring or garlic bread.
Ginger: fresh for mincing or grating and adding to dishes for a spark.
Honey: for seasoning, cooking, or eating on biscuits or cereal.
Hot sauce: for adding a touch of spice to dishes.
Jams or jellies: for making sandwiches, desserts or sauces.
Ketchup: for flavoring sandwiches or other dishes.
Kosher salt: for seasoning
Lemons and limes: for squeezing into fresh juice or using the zest in cooking.
Lentils: for soups, stews and other dishes.
Maple syrup: for breakfasts and baking
Mayonnaise: for salads, sandwiches, salad dressings and many other dishes; low-fat or fat-free are also good choices.
Nutmeg: for sweet and savory dishes and sauces.
Nuts: a selection of your favorite nuts for breads, muffins, desserts, casseroles and side dishes.
Oatmeal: for baking, cooking and as a breakfast cereal.
Olive oil: for cooking, greasing pans or making salad dressings.
Onions: for seasoning meats, soups, stews, casseroles and many other dishes.
Pasta: for eating plain, with butter, or a sauce; also great for using in soups, stews, casseroles, or as a side dish.
Peanut butter: for cooking, baking and snacking.
Peppercorns: for including whole in soups, stocks, marinades and roasts and for grinding for cooking and table use.
Powdered sugar: for making frosting, cooking, baking and decorating.
Prepared mustard: for sandwiches, mayonnaise-based salads, salad dressings and marinade.
Potatoes, russet: for baking and mashing.
Potatoes, small red: for boiling and roasting.
Red wine vinegar: for cooking and seasoning.
Semisweet chocolate chips: for desserts and snacking.
Solid shortening: for baking and greasing pans.
Soy sauce: for flavoring and quick stir-frying.
Tomato paste: for making pasta sauces, stews, soups and casseroles.
Unbleached white flour: for cooking, baking, thickening.
Unsweetened chocolate: for baking and cooking.
Vanilla: for flavoring many dishes, especially desserts; only use the real flavoring or vanilla beans.
Vegetable oil: for frying, cooking, salad dressings and greasing pans.
White sugar: for cooking and seasoning.
White wine vinegar: for salads, flavoring and cleaning coffee pots.
Worcestershire sauce: for seasoning and adding color.
Yeast: for baking.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.