The Pantry: What You Need In It Now

As much as I try to plan my meals and be prepared, sometimes life gets in the way. When that happens I have two choices, splurge on Postmates (rarely on something healthy) or throw something together with whatever I have in my pantry. 

The first is obviously the indulgence and the quick option for those nights when you can’t seem to get yourself into the kitchen to whip anything up, but the second is something that I’ve been trying to do a lot more lately.

Getting into good habits is hard. Keeping them is even harder.

 

But the best way to start, is to prep out your kitchen and your pantry areas with the right items so when the clock does roll around to 6:57pm on a work night your urge to quickly grab some takeout is overruled by the fact that you have everything you need in front of you to cook yourself up something delicious and healthy. All while doing it quickly (the most important thing when we are all juggling busy schedules).

And while I won’t profess myself to be a health-nut or experienced chef, I can confidently say that our resident health expert (and my friend) Zach Feldman is. A little bit of a back story. I first met Zach while filming the season 3 of Queer Eye. He was hired to work with the fab five to be available should we want a personal trainer or someone to workout with. (It’s a pretty wonderful perk, I know).

Zach’s expertise in not only in fitness but health, wellness, and cooking impressed me so much that I figured if I learned something from him that you could as well. So, I brought him onboard to join the team and he will now be our residential health and wellness contributor on the site.

So without further adu – take it over Zach.

Photo: Remodelista
“Eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard, you just have to help yourself out by having the right things in your kitchen and pantry.”
Bobby Berk
Photo: Bamboo Brush Society
Photo: Remodelista

What to keep in the pantry:

 

Rice & Other Grains

Rice is super easy to cook and can make the perfect base for whatever flavors you want to pair with it. I also like to keep a few other grains around to mix it up. My favorites are barley, farro, quinoa, and cous cous.

 

Cooking Oils

I mostly use extra virgin olive oil, but it’s important to have a few options. Every oil has a different smoke point (the temperature where it starts to smoke, produces toxic fumes, and just tastes bad). Olive oil and coconut oil are my go-to for low temperature cooking and avocado oil is what I use when cooking on high. I buy all three in bulk at Costco. They won’t go bad so don’t worry about buying too much. All three options are also great for making healthy dressings.

 

Vinegar

Oil and vinegar are the perfect base for a healthy dressing. Or just sprinkle some on top of your meals to add a little extra ‘zing.’ My favorites are apple cider, balsamic, and champagne. I use Bragg’s for apple cider vinegar and Colavita for balsamic.

Pro tip: Use a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar when making your own dressing.

 

Spices & Seasoning

Do yourself a favor and toss out the iodized salt. Use kosher salt or sea salt instead. Both are going to have a better, cleaner flavor that also means you won’t need to use as much. Some other basics to have are black pepper, granulated garlic, paprika, thyme, rosemary, and cayenne. There are some great sets of spices you can buy that will have all the basics you need. Or let the professionals do the thinking for you and buy premixed seasoning. Keep reading for a few of my favorites.

Some of my favorite spices:

 

Za’atar:

A Middle Eastern spice blend that typically contains thyme, coriander, sumac, cumin, sesame seeds, and salt. I lived in Israel for a year and put it on EVERYTHING! Ever since then I’ve been hooked. You can find it a Middle Eastern market or sometimes at Whole Foods, but I buy this kind on Amazon.

 

Blackened Seasoning:

If you want something with a ton of flavor try Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic. Obviously, it’s great on fish, but you don’t have to stop there. It’s delicious on chicken, steak, tofu, and even mixed into sautéed kale (don’t knock it til you try it). When I’m trying to prep healthy meals for the week I love baking chicken breasts smothered in this stuff.

 

BBQ Seasoning:

I’m from Kansas City, home of the best barbecue in the world (that’s not up for debate – it’s a fact). As much as I love being in California, sometimes I need a little taste of home. One of my favorite barbecue joints in KC (short for Kansas City for those of you not from there) is Joe’s and luckily I can have their seasoning shipped to me wherever I am.

It doesn’t matter how healthy a meal is if it’s bland! For those of you who are creatively challenged in the kitchen keeping a few delicious sauces around will make your life a lot easier. Here are some of my go-to sauces that I always have on hand.

BBQ Sauce:

Have I mentioned I love barbecue? The seasoning mentioned before is easy, versatile, and lower calorie, but sometimes I just want something slathered in delicious sauce! You may have heard of the Jone’s Bar-B-Q sisters on season three of Queer Eye. When I’m back home I always try to stop by and grab some extra sauce for later. Now you can try it too! Head to their website and order a bottle.

 

Curry Sauce:

A curry is one of the easiest meals to make. There are so many flavor options from Indian to Thai, mild to spicy. If you have an Instant Pot or slow cooker throw in some diced up chicken or tofu, some veggies, and a curry sauce. Cook it on low for a few hours and there you go! I currently love Madras Curry Sauce, and it comes in a few flavors which are all delicious.

Hot Sauce:

I keep a few types of hot sauce in my pantry depending on what flavor I’m going for. I always have some Cholula for anytime I make Mexican food. While it’s not exactly a hot sauce, I also use a lot of gochujang. It’s a Korean fermented chili paste that adds a bit of heat and a ton of flavor to any asian dish. My favorite is Mother In Law’s, which can be found at Whole Foods and comes in many different flavors.

 

Photo: Blisshaus

Canned foods aren’t just for emergency bunkers! They can be just what you need to bring a meal together. I always have a few cans of diced tomatoes and tomato paste around. I also love pinto beans, black beans, or chickpeas for a great source of protein (especially for any vegans out there). Last but not least here is a comprehensive list of just about everything I typically keep stocked in my own pantry, fridge and freezer. Happy cooking and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. 

 

OtherS TO ALWAYS HAVE STOCKED:

  • Nuts- Almonds, cashews, and macadamia are my favorite
  • Lentils- Easy to cook and super filling!
  • Honey – Fun Fact: honey is the only food that never expires
  • Chicken broth – Go with a low sodium version and then season it yourself to taste
  • Soy sauce
  • Salsa
  • Onions, shallots, garlic
  • RX Bars – by far my favorite bars!
  • Dark chocolate chips (maybe you don’t actually NEED these, but I always like to have them around)

WHAT TO HAVE IN YOUR FRIDGE/FREEZER:

  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Parmesan cheese- it lasts for months and a little goes a long way
  • Frozen berries – perfect for an impromptu smoothie!
  • Carrots – lasts a long time and makes a great snack
  • Greek yogurt
  • Ezekiel bread- if you’re going to have bread this is your best choice! Keep it in the freezer so it won’t go bad
  • Shrimp – most shrimp you buy has been frozen anyway, so grab a bag from the freezer section and defrost it as needed
  • Ground turkey – easy to cook and super versatile!

  1. Heading to the store now to buy all of these! This is such a good list – and just what I needed to get me started. Can’t wait to see more about food and health on here. So excited about this new site Bobby.

    1. I love this! Simple & not too “hoity toity , things i can actually find at my locsl grocer & those I can’t, well now I have the link! This has me excited to get in the kitchen now!

  2. Hi Bobby! I love that you brought on experts too! I’m totally going to try meal prepping on Sundays. March is the new January for resolutions. ha!

    1. Good luck! Zach has so many good ideas so you will be seeing a lot more of him over here on the site. Stay tuned!

  3. Love this! I frequently find myself with no motivation to cook and I’m trying to curtail takeout – what are some of your quick and easy recipes for those days?

    1. Recipes are coming soon! I’ve been testing and fine tuning a bunch of recipes. I can’t wait to share them with you!

  4. Thanks so much Bobby and Zach. Really like your style and great recommendations.
    Cheers!
    Maggie

  5. I have 2 small children, so my go to when I don’t have a plan is brown rice, black beans, a little cheese, and a fried egg. If I have an avocado, it’s the perfect, satisfying, easy meal!

    1. That’s a perfect quick meal! You have your carbs, protein, and healthy fat. Maybe try mixing in a little chopped up spinach or kale for some extra nutrients. I also like to keep some soft (or hard) boiled eggs around. It’s easy to make a bunch at once and then you skip the need for all the oil you use when frying eggs.

      1. That’s a perfect quick meal! You have your carbs, protein, and healthy fat. Maybe try mixing in a little chopped up spinach or kale for some extra nutrients. I also like to keep some soft (or hard) boiled eggs around. It’s easy to make a bunch at once and then you skip the need for all the oil you use when frying eggs.

  6. 1. Newest season of queer eye has me HOMESICK.
    2. I love how KC natives maintain our “fight me” attitude when it comes to protecting our best BBQ status.
    3. Great job on the site and this post — looking forward to see more!!

  7. Looking at the photos not only relaxed me, it made me happy. Peaceful. Practical.

  8. Love your design sense! I have one more spice to add to your fab list. It’s expensive but such a luxurios taste – saffron! Rocks any grain or ground meat with subtle, amazing flavor. Queer Eye 3 is fabulous and you guys are the best!

  9. Loved this insight and motivation!

    This Mama of four is always exhausted and running behind once dinner rolls around. I get lazy, then feel guilty. I would love some quick, healthy recipes to feed a family, if you’re willing to share.

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback! We’ve been working on some recipes and we plan on getting them out to you soon!

  10. Loved this! I’ve been nervous to try cooking curry because it’s so different from anything I’ve made- but you’ve made it sound so easy. Gonna grab some sauce when I go do my next grocery!! Side note – love the “shop the story” section. Didn’t know I needed that target can organizer 👀👀

  11. Just went to Target and rearranged my whole kitchen/life for less than $150. LOVED seeing everything put together like this with affordable & accessible products!

  12. Great list, Bobby. Something I will share to my friends who always ask me why I have time to cook! I have similar essentials as yourself 🙂 xx

  13. Hey Bobby,

    LOVE your website – congrats on how minimalist yet resourceful you made it!
    I know you are a strong environmentalist like I am, so let me share a few concerns I have everytime I hang on design/fashion website.
    Readers, please, before putting everything to trash to find new stuff for your home and wardrobe:
    – try upcycling your stuff ! Painting them, rebuild them, changing them
    – be conscious where you left them if you want to leave them: give them to somebody if it’s still ok or can be fix, or recycle it, try to find it a new home or at least a clean way to destroy it in a way that will reuse some of it component

    I am putting that here because I see tons of cool kitchen with expensive glass storage… that’s the same logic ! Before creating new demand, try going to a good grocery store, and buy yourself a fancy glass of bean for instance. You’ll see, they’ll come in a fancy glass jar that you will be able to reuse for your package-free shopping!
    Cost less, and you get food!

    Please, readers, try to be mindfull when buying 🙁

    Love from Paris, France <3 <3
    Hana

  14. Love this advice on larder organisation. I have a cupboard under my stairs beside my kitchen that I really want to use as a larder. I had no idea where to start with layout etc so thank you so much x

  15. I love this. I recently put all of my different flours (which ended up being like 15 varieties) into glass canisters similar to this and it has streamlined my cooking so much since I don’t have to dig through all my cupboards to find things

  16. I am totally going to get these for college(well at least some) so its easy to have on-hand and eat healthy while at it. Thanks for the tips!

  17. Thanks I am a mother and very busy! This helped me alot!

  18. Everything is very open with a really clear description of the challenges.