The Perfect Pantry: Five must-haves for your fridge and cupboard

Katy Vogt, Columnist

It’s safe to say we’ve all had that “oh dear” moment when we open the cabinet and realize that the only items on hand have either expired, are something our mom told us to buy but we have no idea how to use, or simply cannot be combined with anything else in stock. And honestly, the last thing you want to worry about after running back and forth between Tech and Kresge all day is feeding yourself.

Easy fix? Plan ahead and prepare. Whether you’re a wizard or complete oaf in the kitchen, keeping these five staples in your culinary artillery will guarantee a full stomach fast — without torturing your wallet.

1. Oats: Call me old-fashioned, but I staunchly believe it’s hard to beat an oatmeal breakfast. I’m not talking those dusty, Quaker things, but rather the hearty, steel-cut stuff. Already providing a solid protein and fiber foundation, your oatmeal can be jazzed up with anything from peanut butter to dried fruit to maple syrup — satisfaction assured, especially in the cold, winter months. And if oatmeal’s not your game, throw oats in cookies or homemade granola for some added texture.

2. Pasta: This one’s a dead giveaway. When the single required skill is boiling water, it’s hard to go wrong. The carbohydrates provide that fast-acting energy, and added vegetables or meats make for a substantive, balanced meal. If you’re aiming for a healthier option, go for multigrain or whole wheat noodles.

3. Beans: When it comes to beans, the possibilities are endless. Soups, stir-frys, rice, chili — the list goes on and on. A good source of both protein and fiber, keeping a few cans of black, pinto or kidney beans around will allow you to whip up something delicious without making too much of a mess.

4. Frozen fruits/vegetables: Keeping these on hand will mean you’re always smoothie-ready and mere steps away from a delicious stir-fry or healthy omelette. Though fresh produce is undeniably the more desirable option, sometimes you just don’t have the opportunity to use up all of those beautiful bananas and broccoli florets before they go bad. Frozen berries and veggie mixes can serve the same purpose without the pressure of an expiration date.

5. Dark chocolate: No pantry is complete without a go-to treat. Whether your sweet tooth is easily placated or refuses to be denied, a few squares of dark chocolate after a meal will satisfy your craving, without the added calories or sugar coma associated with a big bowl of ice cream or a piece of cake. Rich in antioxidants but lower in sugar, dark chocolate is an indulgence you shouldn’t feel too guilty about. The higher the cacao percentage, the better!

— Katy Vogt