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Live Simply in the Kitchen: Real Food Pantry

Lately we have been discussing various aspects of our kitchen and how to live simply. We’ve talked about meat and what to buy and why. We’ve talked about dairy (here and here) and where to buy and why. Today we are talking about the pantry: how to stock a real food pantry!


The Challenge

The pantry is kinda sneaky, in my opinion. It’s sneaky because you don’t realize the vast array of “bad for you” foods lurking in the dark corner of that top shelf. Or the ones in the plastic cereal containers. Or the spray oil containers. Or the soup mixes. Canned goods. Etc. See what I mean? It’s pretty shocking how easy it is to look right past an item (or 50!) you’ve used for years…when all of a sudden, you see it for what it really is:

Processed. MSG. Citric Acid. High fructose corn syrup. Refined sugars. Bleached products. Unpronounceable ingredients. And so much more.

Now, if you’re planning to go through your pantry, a good rule of thumb is to toss (donate unopened items to a food kitchen!) any item that has more than 5 ingredients. And if all of the ingredients require a Masters Degree to be able to pronounce them, well, I’d toss those, too.

The Switch Out

It’s amazing how so many pantry items are sold to us as “convenient” when they are really not that much easier than a healthier version or option. For example, you could toss the:

  • Cereal for scrambled eggs
  • Pasta for quinoa or rice
  • Cartons of broth for homemade broth
  • Canola oil for coconut oil
  • Spaghetti sauce jars for homemade sauce (recipe here)
  • Packaged bread for homemade bread*
  • Soup mixes for homemade seasonings

And then obviously organic items are typically good substitutes for their non-organic counterparts. So, for instance, switch out those potato chips for organic tortilla chips. The organic canned tomatoes for the non-organic. And the organic condiments for the sugar and vegetable oil-laden non-organic condiments.

You’ve got to be careful, though, with organic pantry items. Oftentimes, organic canned goods contain unnecessary ingredients (organic, but still unnecessary). Or they might be made with organic evaporated cane juice (aka, sugar).

So now we’ve even eliminated most organic packaged products! And, while I have not made it to canning my own produce or making many of my own condiments – those are next in line in my kitchen, I have made the switch with most other products.

See the theme? We’re getting food back down to its most original form and purging processed sugars, salts, oils and a host of other detrimental ingredients from our pantries.

Some Must Haves

So, what should be in a well-stocked, real food pantry? In my kitchen, I’ve gotta have coconut oil. I use it every single day. And salt. All day long! I also use vinegars (balsamic and apple cider vinegar) to cook with on a regular basis. They also make great bases for salad dressings, since we tossed those store-bought dressings, too!

I also suggest a good stock of beans (how to prepare them correctly here). Beans are great additions for countless dishes! I usually make up a huge batch and freeze them in smaller batches – the cost savings is pretty crazy.

Spices – good ones – are super important. You’ve tossed your soup packets and mixes, so you need a wide variety of flavorings and seasonings with which to experiment! I’ve fallen in love with Mountain Rose Herbs. They have the best prices for organic spices, seasonings, etc. of any place around!

Raw nuts and organic raisins are also a staple in my pantry. They make a great snack and substitute for store-bought granola bars.


* Switching store-bought loaves for homemade is a really good baby step – make a loaf in a bread machine and it’s loads better. It’s still not the ultimate goal of eating traditionally prepared grains and bread, and using natural sources for yeast, but it will be a gentler path than going Nazi on grains. And I find gentler is often easiest with this particular food. More on grains soon.

What pantry items have you switched out? Which items do you have questions about?

This post is linked up at Wellness Wednesdays at Intoxicated on Life.


  1. I’ve done the switch, but do find citric acid in some of my organic products. What is that?

    • Liz,
      Citric acid is found in citrus fruits. But, when found in an ingredients list, it is most often derived from corn! Boo! ๐Ÿ™ However, if it is organic citric acid, then that means the corn was organic. My “beef” with that just sits with the fact that it is a processed food item – can I duplicate the same thing myself? Most likely! Make sense?

  2. I’m terrified of throwing out so much for fear of getting in a pinch and not having that “5-min mac and cheese” for “in case of emergency” type of meals (even though I know it’s so processed and unhealthy for me/us). BUT I am finding that I can see my freezer that same way. If I have frozen beans or little meals frozen and ready for a “just in case” type of moment then I don’t need the unhealthy, pantry fix.

    It’s a very slow process but thank for writing and all your encouragement. It helps me to keep reevaluating what I put on my table and in my mouth. It’s also very informative and encouraging.

    Keep it up! You are quite an inspiration to me.

  3. I’ve been working on cleaning up our pantry this way too! I make all of our bread and try to avoid anything processed, especially if I can easily make it myself!

  4. I meal plan so we eat clean and/or paleo. Not all of my meals are that strict but I’m working on it. With 5 kids with different grades of pickiness it’s not that easy! Still trying to figure out how to please everyone and not make 7 different meals.
    Most of my spices are organic, I buy organic dairy and produce. Organic junk food is still that- junk, so I don’t buy it. Instead I will make my own granola bars, baked goods etc


  1. […] through your pantry: donate, toss, and add healthy items to […]

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