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We all have it: that one item that’s always stocked in the pantry. It’s where we turn when schedules go awry, fresh groceries are in short supply, or dinner Plan A falls apart.

We asked thirty women what they always keep stocked. Some answers we anticipated: coffee, peanut butter, baking supplies, mac and cheese. Some surprised us: one woman mentioned that she always keeps fresh lemons to add brightness to a meal, water, or tea.

But in gathering all their responses, we were delighted by the intimate view of how food, home, and hospitality remain important elements of twenty-first-century living. Here’s what you’ll find behind these women’s closed (pantry) doors—plus a few “already stocked” recipes to make the most of these shelf-stable ingredients.

Canned chicken

For too long, I thought canned chicken was kind of weird. Then I realized if I ate tuna out of a can, why couldn’t I eat chicken? I use this product for my family’s number one favorite dish, chicken pot pie (which I can get on the table in about thirty minutes, thanks to this hack), as well as chicken salad, tacos, and the occasional pasta dish.

Try: Curry Chicken Salad


Many grains can sit on your shelf for months, and they can easily add bulk to a meal to produce a bigger yield. One woman responded that she always keeps rice, because it’s “versatile, can stretch any meal, and [is] easy to cook in the Instapot.” Another chose brown rice to serve as an “easy, healthy side.” In a grain-free home, a woman told us she keeps millet on hand, because “it’s the one ‘grain’ on the eating plan my husband and I follow.” Another woman chose oatmeal: “Everyone likes it, and it doesn’t go bad.”

Try: Salsa’d Quinoa

Canned beans

Another great mealtime hack comes from having canned beans stocked. One woman always keeps black beans on hand, saying, “I can add them as a source of protein to so many things and turn ‘random veggies in the fridge’ into a full meal in under five minutes.” Another favorite? Garbanzo beans (AKA chickpeas). “I like to throw them in a stir fry with frozen veggies and soy sauce,” says another woman.

Try: Curried Chickpeas with Spinach

Canned tomatoes

The second most popular answer was tomatoes, either crushed—“because I am of Italian descent and might need some on any given night!” says one woman—or diced. Canned diced tomatoes are often called for in soup and Crock-Pot recipes, noted one woman who always keeps them on hand, and “they can double as pasta sauce in a pinch.”

Try: Slow Cooker Lentil Chili


A full third of the women we polled said they always have pasta in their pantries. They valued its being quick, convenient, and able to feed a crowd. Women also liked pasta because their kids ate it readily. Pasta, said one woman, “still allows us to sit down as a family to eat dinner between life’s crazy schedule with active kids. It is also easy to add veggies and a protein to it!”

Try: Pantry Pasta

Cookies and caffeine, flavor and convenience—our food tells the stories of our lives. It sustains us, brings us together, and helps us celebrate the simple joys of everyday life. I’d say celebrated food writer M.F.K. Fisher put it best: “First we eat, then we do everything else.”

Every week, subscribers of Verily Table receive five of our favorite recipes from around the web. Each recipe is sorted into a helpful category—like “Already Stocked,” for example, which features recipes that rely on pantry staples for those days when you haven’t made it to the grocery store yet. To learn more about Verily Table, or to start your free trial, click here