When I got my first apartment in college, I said goodbye to the school cafeteria and eagerly stocked up on my own pantry and fridge staples. I tried to “eat healthy,” but my grocery trips also included items like hot pockets, pre-made breakfast sandwiches, and frozen pizzas. When I got married to Eric, I started learning all about “real food” (by reading blogs and Nourishing Traditions!), and there were a lot of items I quit buying (here’s a list).
Three years later, this is what our typical pantry, fridge, and freezer staples look like.
You’ll see many of these items in anyone’s pantry, whether they eat a strict real food diet or not. The main thing that sets a real food pantry apart from any other pantry isn’t what’s IN the pantry, it’s what’s NOT in the pantry! We simply don’t stock items that we’ve decided are bad choices for us, or foods that don’t contribute to our bodies’ nourishment and optimal functioning. Not buying processed, ready-made foods means we eat a lot less of them! And it also saves us money.
How “Hardcore” is Our Real Food Pantry?
Well…not super hardcore. We’re more middle-of-the-road folks. While we don’t eat a lot of processed foods, we could stand to include a greater variety of nutrient-dense foods in our diets, and more often. We don’t eat organ meats, for instance, which is one of the main proponents of the Weston A. Price Foundation. We also don’t consume bone broth as often as we should.
It’s not that we disagree with eating organ meats (or fish roe, or lamb, or unpasteurized cheese). But we make changes and improvements to our diet gradually, as we have the resources and budget. In the first six months of our marriage, we accomplished many of these 20 first steps to a real food diet, but it wasn’t until a year or so later that we switched to pasture-raised meat. Someday we’d love to eat grass-fed butter and cheese, but we’re not there, yet!
If you’re stocking your real food pantry for the first time, or if you’re just curious what another real foodie eats, I hope you’ll enjoy this list! With these basics and essentials in your larder, you’ll have almost everything you need to create delicious, wholesome meals for your family.
We source most of these items from Aldi, Meijer, online, our local dairy farmer, or we make them ourselves.
You can scroll down to the end for a free printable of everything listed (plus spaces to add your own pantry, fridge, and freezer items!)
- Aluminum-Free baking powder
- Baking soda
- Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- Coconut sugar
- Raw honey (read more about it HERE)
- Real Salt (this has a rainbow of trace minerals not found in table salt, and doesn’t contain any additives or anti-caking agents)
- Sucanat (read more about it HERE)
- Unbleached white flour
- White whole wheat flour (white whole wheat flour–made from white wheat berries–has a milder, lighter taste than whole wheat flour made from red wheat berries)
We purposefully buy very few canned goods (here’s why), but there are a few items we keep in stock:
- Canned wild salmon (more cost-effective than buying fresh or frozen, and the kind we get from Aldi contains all the bones!)
- Coconut milk
- Sardines (we eat these cheap, nutrient-dense fish for breakfast about once a week)
- Tomatoes (great for adding to chili, soup, pasta, a skillet meal, etc. when you need to throw something together quickly!)
Other Dry Goods
- Apple cider vinegar (read more about it HERE)
- Balsamic vinegar
- Coconut oil
- Dried beans (buying dried beans instead of canned is an easy way to save a little money!)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grits (we eat these for breakfast, or make Garlic Cheese Grits for supper)
- Panko bread crumbs (this won’t be on everyone’s list, but we use Panko to bread and fry shrimp, fish, or chicken to make our own “fast food.”)
- Pasta (A few different varieties. Usually noodles, plus a short pasta, and some Asian noodles for Eric)
- Rice (we love aromatic Basmati)
- Rice vinegar
- Unflavored gelatin
- White vinegar
- Natural peanut butter
- Popcorn kernels (for stove-top)
Spices and Herbs
Although we have more than what’s listed here, these are the “must-have” basics that we use most often:
- Almond extract
- Black peppercorns
- Chipotle chili powder
- Dried mustard
- Garlic powder
- Sesame seeds
- Smoked paprika
- Sunny Paris (This is my favourite item from Penzey’s. I use it to make homemade ranch dressing or to sprinkle on fish, eggs, or sandwiches)
- Vanilla extract (you can make your own)
Unusual Pantry Items
These might not make it on everyone’s list, but they’re excellent supplements that we use occasionally:
- Wakame seaweed (add to soups)
- Kelp powder (we add to smoothies for a mineral boost–especially iodine, since we don’t eat iodized table salt)
- Dried anchovies (To make some fish stock using the recipe in my favourite soup cookbook, Ladled. You can find anchovies in your local Asian food store.)
- Dried elderberries (we use to make elderberry syrup to ward off colds and the flu)
- Molasses (read more about it HERE)
- Sorghum (Lighter-tasting than molasses. Use in smoothies, on pancakes, in baked beans, etc.)
What about junk food?
Do we “eat healthy” all of the time? Nope. Although there are some ingredients we try to always avoid (like MSG, hydrogenated oil, and artificial food colors), we do buy some less-than healthy items. The “junk food” currently in our pantry includes:
- A bottle of juice (I’ve been meaning to make gelatin with it for ages!)
- Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies crackers
- Peanut oil (for quick frying, or any time we need to save money on coconut oil)
- Salt and vinegar chips
- White sugar (here’s why)
- Cheese (we buy it in blocks and then grate or slice as needed)
- Milk (raw, if you can get it)
- Nitrate-free bacon or sausage (we alternate, to keep costs down a little)
- Nitrate-free lunch meat
- Yogurt (we make our own)
One easy way to free up food budget dollars is to buy less condiments. You can make your own as needed, and only keep a few other favourites in stock. easy. homemade. is a great eCookbook resource for making your own condiments.
- Homemade jam
- Dijon mustard
- Ketchup (it’s pretty easy to find a High Fructose Corn Syrup-free version in the grocery store)
- Maple syrup
- Mayo (we make our own)
- Sesame oil
- Soy sauce
- White wine (More versatile than red, usually. You can add to white sauces, poached fruit, sauteed vegetables, or pan-cooked chicken)
What, no salad dressing?! It’s really, really hard (or expensive!) to find a dressing without soybean oil, sugar, or even MSG. We usually just dress our salads with olive oil and vinegar, or occasionally make a homemade dressing like this red raspberry dressing or the DIY ranch recipe from my cookbook.
- Applesauce (we make it in the crock pot, then freeze in bags)
- Berries (whatever seasonal items we’ve gotten from the U-Pick farms or by foraging)
- Chicken stock (we make this with leftover chicken bones)
- Homemade dough (for pizza or pastries)
- Grass-fed beef
- Pumpkin puree (I buy a few pumpkins each fall to make puree for the rest of the year)
- Scrap bag (vegetable peelings and bones for making more stock)
- Whole chicken (sometimes I cut into pieces before freezing)
- Wild salmon
We stick to the cheaper produce for our normal fare, and try to buy in season. Since we rarely buy organic produce, we get a lot of thicker-skinned fruits, and buy apples less frequently (they have the highest pesticide load). For a pesticides and produce guide, click HERE.
- Avocados (More expensive than the other produce we buy, but we do love them!)
- Garlic (read about the health benefits HERE)
- Green onions
- Potatoes (regular and sweet)
- Red onions
- Salad greens (we do usually buy these organic)
- Squash (seasonal)
After you stock these staples, the next thing is to learn to cook good food from scratch! My cookbook, Real Food for the Real Homemaker, includes 75+ recipes that are simple to make and use wholesome, familiar ingredients, and has 8 chapters on topics like food substitutions, kitchen tools, and freezer cooking. Pick up a copy HERE.
Want to print out this whole list on one handy sheet? Click here to pull up your FREE printable!
A note on the affiliate links in this post: I’ve linked to a number of Amazon products in this post to give you an idea of what items to look for. However, you may find the best prices in your local grocery store! I do buy dry goods on Amazon occasionally, but the prices may change–so do your research! As always, if you buy anything on Amazon after clicking my affiliate links (even items I haven’t linked to), I make a small commission at no extra cost to you! So, thank you!