In an ideal world, we would all be able to go to the grocery store on a whim, fill our fridge with fresh produce and not have to worry about the next time we could stock up our pantry. Alas, that’s not the world we live in, and sometimes you have to be prepared for anything. Thankfully, a well-stocked pantry can get you far in an emergency (i.e., a hurricane, blizzard or global pandemic), as long as you know the essential items to fill it with. Here, 17 non-perishable foods to always have on hand (you know, just in case).
First, what are non-perishable foods?
This might sound like a silly question—it’s not! Basically, non-perishable foods are items that have a very long shelf-life and don’t require refrigeration to prevent spoilage. While your mind probably goes first to canned items (which do make up a large portion of non-perishable foods) many other foods are included in this group. Think: beans, grains, nuts and nut butters, as well as spices, jerky, packaged crackers and snack foods. The good news? Most non-perishable foods are staples you already cook with and keep in your kitchen all the time.
Of course, you can’t stock an emergency pantry without keeping nutrition in mind. Processed snacks might technically have a long shelf-life, but they offer little in the way of nutrients to fuel and nourish your body. Our advice is to go back to the basics and rely on foods that are protein-rich and high-energy to keep you full (and healthy).
And while you should be aware of expiration and best-by dates, know that there aren’t always hard-and-fast rules for shelf-stable foods. Per the USDA, “most shelf-stable foods are safe indefinitely,” and canned goods will last “for years, as long as the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents or swelling). And packaged foods (such as cereal, pasta and cookies) are technically safe to eat past the best-by date, “although they may eventually become stale or develop an off flavor. Many dates on foods refer to quality, not safety.” The USDA even has a handy spreadsheet detailing the shelf-life of many non-perishable foods. Our advice? It’s always best to taste and use your best judgment before you toss an unopened item, and of course, follow the ABCs of expiration dates: always be checkin’.
Now that you know the basics, these are the 17 non-perishable foods to stock in your kitchen.
1. Nut Butter
Aside from being calorie-dense and packed with healthy fats and proteins, nut butters (such as almond, cashew and peanut) are delicious on crackers, stirred into sauces (soba noodles with peanut sauce, anyone?) and eaten plain with a spoon. Unless it says so on the jar, these don’t have to be refrigerated, although that will keep them fresh for longer. According to the USDA, commercial peanut butter (not the natural stuff) can be stored in a cool, dark pantry for up to three months once opened. Natural nut butters will go rancid more quickly and should be stored in the fridge after opening (where they’ll keep for up to six months). And if you have an unopened jar of nut butter, it will keep in your pantry for up to two years. Lucky you.
You’re stocked up on nut butter, so you’ll need something to eat it on. Crackers have a low moisture content, so they aren’t susceptible to mold and won’t go stale as quickly as regular bread will. Once opened, it’s important to properly seal your crackers to keep them fresh—we like OXO clips or a vacuum sealer if you want to be extra fancy. As we noted earlier, these types of packaged foods will technically last nearly indefinitely unopened, but it’s always best to taste them to check for staleness (and nine months is a good rule of thumb for replacing). Use crackers anywhere you would normally reach for bread, as with this avocado chicken salad.
3. Dried and canned beans
As if you weren’t already a bean lover, this will seal the deal: Both dried and canned beans are non-perishable heroes, lasting months to years in your pantry. Canned beans will last two to five years, while dried beans can last up to ten if stored in an airtight container (although we hope you eat them before then). Plus, beans are a great source of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. They’re delicious additions to soups, stews and rice bowls, and with a few herbs and spices, they’re tasty on their own. Tomato and white bean stew on toast is a good place to start.
4. Canned Vegetables
Like beans, canned vegetables are a nutrient-dense addition to your pantry collection. Low-acid canned veggies (such as potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, beets, peas and pumpkin) will last up to five years on the shelf, while high-acid veg (like tomatoes, citrus fruit and anything pickled) will last up to 18 months. Nope, they’re not as fresh tasting as the real deal, but they’re still good for you and will add variety to your diet whether stirred into soup—like this sausage, corn and poblano chowder—or served as a side dish.
5. Tinned Fish and Seafood
Anchovy and tuna lovers, this is your time to shine. Tinned and canned fish provide essential protein and will last up to two years in the cupboard. Sometimes, tuna and other seafood can be purchased in lightweight packaging called retort pouches, which will last for 18 months on your shelf. Not sure what to do with, say, a tin of sardines? Eat them on crackers, toss them in pasta or use them as a healthy, filling salad topping à la this 15-minute Mediterranean couscous.
6. Nuts, Seeds and Trail Mix
Like nut butters, nuts provide plenty of protein and fat and are a healthy snack option when a craving strikes, or a crunchy topping for pasta dishes. Vacuum-packed containers will last the longest, but on average, nuts and needs will stay fresh for four to six months at room temperature, and up to a year in the freezer. We’re making these roasted mixed nuts ASAP.
7. Dried Pasta
There’s nothing more comforting than a heaping bowl of carbs, so it’s great news that dried pasta is a non-perishable must-have. It might get a bad rap for being carb-laden, but you need carbs for energy, and pasta is a filling, tasty source (not to mention versatile to boot). Stock up on a variety of your favorite shapes and they’ll keep for up to two years on the shelf. If you or someone you’re cooking for has a gluten allergy, look for gluten-free options like Banza (a chickpea-based pasta). While all noodles are good noodles, we’re partial to this one-pot, 15-minute pasta limone.
8. Rice and Grains
Similar to dried pasta and dried beans, dried rice and grains will bulk up your meals (like this firecracker chicken with rice) and hold up in your pantry for long periods of time (two years, to be specific). To make it last even longer, you can store these items in your freezer. Just like pasta, grains are versatile and filling, whether you add them to soups, salads and casseroles or eat them plain. Choose brown rice and whole-grain options whenever possible (you know, for your health).
9. Dried fruit
While dried fruits (like raisins and apricots) are high in sugar, they also have a lot of fiber and can be a good alternative to fresh fruit in a pinch. Make your own trail mix by adding those nuts and seeds you already have stocked in the pantry, or eat them plain for a sweet treat. (You could also whip them into something special, like this super easy raw apricot candy.)
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10. Granola Bars
Portable snacks like granola bars and protein bars are great to keep on hand for breakfasts and snacks, and they’ll last unopened for up to a year (although it’s a good idea to check the package dates). We like bars like Clif and KIND because they’re filling and come in many flavors, but you can also make your own, like these homemade cherry-almond granola bars.
Hikers and backpackers were onto something: Dried meat products like jerky are ideal for long-term storage and snacking. According to the USDA, commercial jerky will last for a year at room temperature, but homemade jerky will only last for about two months (unless you store it in the fridge or freezer). And FYI, there’s a whole world of jerky products besides beef, like turkey, salmon and buffalo jerkies.
12. Pasta Sauces
Whether you’re a Plain Marinara Person or prefer tomato cream, jarred pasta sauces are convenient to have on hand when whipping up your own isn’t in the cards. For the most nutritional value, look for pasta sauce with as few ingredients as possible (or at least none that you can’t pronounce). It will last up to 18 months, or until you make one-pan spaghetti and meatballs.
13. Canned Soups
The ultimate easy, nostalgic lunch, canned soups are a no-brainer in your pantry. However, some brands are more processed than others, so choose soups that are low in sodium and light on preservatives whenever possible. Tomato-based products will last up to 18 months, while lower acid options will last up to five years (seriously). If you want to dress it up, might we suggest these grilled cheese bites?
Flour can be useful for homemade bread and baking projects (go on, live a little!), and it will keep for up six months to one year if you transfer it from its original bag to an airtight container. Even better, stash it in the freezer and it will last up to two years. Whole grain flours will only last a few months, because they have more oil content and a higher tendency to go rancid. If you’re new to the bread-baking world, ease in with this scallion-chive flatbread
15. Shelf-Stable Milk
Shelf-stable milks are processed at higher temperatures and packaged and sterilized differently than fresh dairy, so they’ll last up to 9 months at room temperature. Plant-based and powdered milks can last up to five years. All are good options for baking and cooking, but refer to the packages for the most specific ways to use them. First up, we’re using canned coconut milk to make this chickpea and vegetable coconut curry.
16. Salt, Sugar, Dried Herbs and Spices
While not necessarily essential or life-sustaining, these items will certainly make your pantry meals more pleasurable (although we’d argue that salt is pretty necessary). Salt and sugar will last indefinitely, but we recommend storing them in airtight containers to reduce clumping. If you plan on honing your baking skills, stock up on both granulated sugar and brown sugar. (Otherwise, just granulated will suffice.) Dried herbs and spices will eventually lose some of their flavor after opening, but they won’t spoil or go bad. You’ve got a fully stocked pantry, so you might as well make it taste delicious.
17. Cooking Oil
You’ve stocked your pantry and you’re ready to cook, but that can’t happen without a little oil in the pan, right? While cooking oils will eventually go past their prime, they can last up to two years if unopened and stored in a cool, dark place. Once opened, it’s best to use them up within three to six months. For this reason, we stock our emergency pantry with a more neutral vegetable oil (like sunflower oil) over fancy extra-virgin olive oil, which has a tendency to go rancid faster.