A plate filled with slices of rare meat with beautiful carmelization around the edges, asparagus, and tomatoes.

How to Stock Your Kitchen for Easy Meals

If you’re new to cooking, or if you’ve just moved out on your own, here are a few simple tips to help you to stock your kitchen so you can put together simple meals and easily prepare delicious, well balanced meals for yourself and your friends and family without breaking the bank. If you’re looking for information about breakfast or lunches, I apologize. This post is mostly focusing on dinner, or supper, ideas, but if you have access to a microwave, leftover dinners can make great lunches. In fact, it’s one of my favorite ways to pack lunch.

You need four components to put together a meal.

Our simple four part list really works well to put together a meal even if you don’t have a plan.

A platter loaded with beautifully carmelized steaks that is topped with fresh parsley.

1. Protein

This category would obviously include meat, but if you’re a vegetarian, this category still applies to you. While the carnivores might be picking up their protein at the meat counter, a vegan would pick up some dried or canned beans, tofu, or meat alternatives such as chicken-less nuggets and boca or beyond burger. If you’re vegetarian, but not vegan, you can add cheese and eggs to your cart as possible sources of protein, too.

A display of carrots, radishes, lettuce and other greens on display at the Farmer's Market

2. Produce

This seems like an obvious category, but only about 10% of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. Even vegans, sometimes, don’t eat enough fresh produce according to some vegan bloggers. It’s important, for good health, and longevity, to get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. In our house, we try to have two servings of vegetables with our evening meal on most days.

I realize that I labeled this category “produce,” but not every vegetable that you use for your meals needs to come from the produce section. Since fresh fruits and vegetables have a shorter shelf life, this category can also include frozen, and canned, vegetables which can be great building blocks for meals. Using these more shelf stable items, can help cut down on trips to the store which can help you to save money on your groceries, too. Shopping seasonal fresh produce sales will help save money, too.

A sheet of clean burlap is topped with a row of uncooked rice, a row of dried noodles, and a row of raw potatoes.

3. Sides/Starch

I don’t know why I used the words side and starch for this category because technically, non starchy vegetables are also a side dish, but, unless you’re on a low carb diet, starches should be included as a part of your meal according to the USDA. Starches include things like grains, rice, pasta, and potatoes. Starches are an inexpensive meal component which also helps to stretch your grocery dollars.

A row of spice bottles behind two part sauce containers.  Each container is filled with two spices.
Image by Steve Buissinne via Pixabay

4. Spices/Sauces

In order to create meals that taste good, you need to combine spices, or sauces, with these other three components in order to create more delectable meals. We have our favorite dried spices here at Patty Cake’s Pantry, but fresh spices are also an option, though, unless you’re growing your own, they don’t last long before they spoil.

There are other things that we use for flavoring our meals that can add tons of flavor with little or no extra effort. These things include bottled dressings and spice packets. Keeping a few of these things on hand can really help to boost the flavor in some simple, easy to prepare meals.

A large white bowl with a layer of brown rice, topped with broccoli beef and red and yellow peppers.  It's all tossed in a thick brown sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Stock foods from these categories to help create meals.

If you have items from these four categories always stocked in your kitchen, you will always have the building blocks for delicious meals. This will make it much easier for you to get dinner on the table whether it’s a meal for one or for a group. Each of these simple components, when combined, will help you to quickly throw together a meal.

How do these four components work together?

The process to prepare meals using this process is really quite simple.

We’re a family of carnivores, so I plug in my proteins first and figure out what else goes with them. When selecting sides that will go well with these proteins , I first see what’s already in the refrigerator. That helps to cut down on food waste. Wasted food is wasted money and you wouldn’t throw cash into the trash would you?

Oven Roasted Barbecued Chicken, browned to a beautiful brown sits atop potatoes and carrots on a baking pan.

Let’s look at a few different combination to see how this works.

  • Combine thinly sliced steak, broccoli, and bell peppers and cook in an Asian inspired sauce. Combine it with rice, and you have broccoli beef that’s better than take-out.
  • Chicken combined with mixed vegetables, a cream of something soup, and a crescent roll crust makes a simple chicken pot pie.
  • Roast chicken pieces coated in barbecue sauce on a sheet pan with potatoes and carrots for a complete one pan meal.
  • Brown ground beef or Italian sausage with onions, peppers, celery, and carrots and mix with canned tomatoes and spices or a jar of pasta sauce. Serve it over pasta, and you have a delicious pasta bolognese.
  • You can also cook some meat, slice it up , and serve it atop a green salad accompanied by a slice of warm garlic bread. You can do this with chicken, shrimp, steak, or even a diced up hamburger.
  • A vegetarian option could include beans, canned tomatoes, and spices served over rice or pasta like these Cannellini beans.
  • Soups are also great ways to combine all of the components into one simple dish. Add a slice of bread to this tomato lentil soup, and you have all of the components of a great meal.
A plate of mixed baby greens topped with chopped hamburgers, grape tomatoes, pickle slices, shredded cheese and green onions.  The entire plate is covered with thousand island dressing.

These are just a few examples to help you create easy and delicious meals from a few simple building blocks that you can pick up at the store and keep in your kitchen. There’s just one more thing that I want to share with you to help you make your life easier.

Don’t forget about your freezer

This shows the door of an over the fridge freezer.  The food items are organized neatly to make it easy to find things.

Even the smallest kitchen freezer can be a huge help with planning meals. If you have leftovers that you know you won’t be able to eat before they’ll go bad, stick them in your freezer. (There are a few things that you shouldn’t freeze, but you can read about that here.) Leftover soups and sauces are great things to keep in your freezer. You can also freeze the meat that you purchased for the week if the best by date is before you plan to use it. Frozen vegetables are a great help for meal prep, too.

Make use of your freezer. It’s even okay buy some convenience food to have on hand, especially if you’re new to cooking. Yes, it often costs more to buy convenience foods than to make them from scratch, but convenience foods are less expensive than picking up takeout or going to a restaurant. Besides, everything doesn’t have to be made from scratch. It’s okay to have a frozen lasagna or some frozen pot pies for those days when you don’t have time or energy to work your culinary magic on those four meal components. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect. It’s completely acceptable to just be human.

This is a card which has the following written on it in teal letters on a white background.  "Stocking your kitchen:  You need four components to create Easy Meals."  On the bottom of the post is a picture of a white plate which has sliced seared meat on it, along with asparagus, roasted tomatoes, and some micro-greens for garnish.

What do you think? Is this information helpful? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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Thanks for visiting Patty Cake’s Pantry.

24 thoughts on “How to Stock Your Kitchen for Easy Meals

  1. This is great advice! I love having a few building blocks to mix and match making it easy to have a variety of tasty meals with minimal food waste! I feel good at the end of the week when I’ve actually eaten all the food I purchased at the store. I also feel good about saving money by avoiding the fast food lines!

  2. Thank you so much Patricia! These simple tips are so helpful. Love all the guidelines and advice given here! 🙂

  3. Stocking up my freezer and always having good spices on hand is so important! Spices make every meal better.

  4. My favorite combination meal is the chicken pot pie made with crescent roll crust. Looks easy to make – and I love chicken pot pie.

  5. Great info Patty! I know that my young adult children could learn so much from this, as they’re just learning how to go to the grocery store on their own and feel clueless about how to shop.

    1. Karen, I remember those days,and feeling clueless, even though I used to always go to the store with my mom. It took me quite awhile to figure out what to buy and ho9w much. I wasted a lot of money, so that’s why I share what I’ve learned. I want to help other people not make the same mistakes.

  6. These tips are excellent! I’m not new to cooking, but it’s always great to have these reminders on how to maximize your pantry. Frozen veggies are a big life saver for us too, especially in the winter months. Really love your suggestions on how to use up leftovers – I hate to see those go to waste.

    1. Hi Nicole! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it. Frozen veggies really are a great resource during the winter, and they’re a great money saver, too.

  7. Great tips for stocking the pantry. I agree, having high-quality proteins and fresh produce is very important.

    1. Natalie, Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it. Protein and produce are important. Some of my favorite meals are just protein and produce (meaning entree salads and sheet pan dinners).

  8. Thanks for such a helpful post! I’ve been slowly stocking up my kitchen with many of these essentials. We’ve also started freezing leftovers before they go bad so that we don’t toss them. It’s great for those lazy days I don’t feel like cooking too lol!

    1. Anaiah, you’re right about frozen leftovers being a lifesaver for those days when you don’t feel like cooking. I mentioned in the post that leftovers are my favorite grab and go lunch. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it.

  9. This is such a helpful post for those who are just starting new or leaving parents house. Same here, leftovers are always sealed and packed and goes in the freezer for later.

    1. Hayley, Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Leftovers are one of those things that I believe are seriously under-rated. Making good use of them saves so much money. I had a friend who used to throw away any leftovers. I shudder to think how much money she wasted.

  10. These are some great tips—I feel like every week I’m scrambling to decide what to make and it would help to have more options if my pantry was properly stocked!

  11. Great tips, I love having my freezer well-stocked with frozen veggies, and phyllo dough sheets. It’s amazing the number of meals you can prepare with these ingredients.

    1. Sylvia, We use a lot of frozen veggies, so I’m with you, but I always forget about phyllo dough. I love phyllo dough as well as puff pastry. Thanks for your comment, and for reminding me about phyllo dough.

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