What should you buy?
What makes a well stocked pantry? It’s simple, the most nutrient dense foods possible. Fat, protein and carbohydrates in that order. Most people who “food prep” plan in the opposite order with carbohydrates as the bulk of the meals and food storage. However, fat is more nutrient dense calorie for calorie than carbohydrates and the basis of ketogenic therapies so it makes sense to have a large quantity on hand. A well stocked keto pantry helps you save money, plan meals efficiently, and provide peace of mind in uncertain times.
On my most recent trip to the grocery store, I expected to find empty shelves having heard through our community that “all the food was gone”! I found all the snacks and toilet paper were gone but most of the nutrient dense food was in good supply. This blog is a compilation of tips for building a keto friendly pantry. How large of a pantry you choose to build is determined by the size of your family, the amount of food consumed, budget, and storage capabilities. My personal preference is to have somewhere in the 3-4 month range of basic necessities in stock at all times. Some items I have more of, some less. Decide what works best for your family and situation! Keep an indelible black marker handy to circle the expiration dates on products to help remind everyone of these important limits.
You may be wondering what the the difference is between a well stocked pantry and hoarding. A well stocked pantry is built a little at a time, during stable economic conditions, within your personal budget and storage capabilities, and it’s contents are regularly used or rotated to prevent spoilage. Hoarding, or panic buying, happens during economic stressful events when demand for food and other necessities is high and supply is low leaving vulnerable populations with little to no inventory. Maintaining a well stocked pantry eases the economic burden during stressful times since you will be able to go longer without shopping.
You should have a wide variety of fats in your pantry at all times. It is more economical to purchase fats in bulk, so you will ultimately save money as well. We have a 5 gallon supply of high quality coconut oil from Healthy Traditions. This will last for several years and we saved hundreds of dollars buying in bulk. I also keep in stock a 5 pound tub of beef tallow, at least 6 liters each of olive oil, avocado oil, and MCT oil. Coconut butter, butter, hemp seed oil, and ghee are also well stocked. Buy the fats that you normally use, and assess how much you should keep on hand for your family’s size/needs. It’s important to rotate through your supplies if you are keeping larger quantities on hand. For example; I have six 1 litre olive oil bottles. When I use one completely, I buy another to replace it. I do not wait to use all the olive oil I have in my supply. When the new bottle is purchased, it goes to the back of the row in my pantry. The oldest bottle gets used next. This is how you keep a supply that will not expire all at the same time and without ever running low.
My local grocery store sells a 29 ounce jar (just shy of a quart) priced at $15.29. The price per quart is $16.87. There are four quarts to a gallon so…16.87 x 20 (this is a 5 gallon bucket)= $337.40! I paid $199.99 during a sale with free shipping from Healthy Traditions and saved $137.41
Nuts and Seeds
All varieties of nuts and seeds are a great idea to have in your pantry. These can be raw and whole or in the form of nut butters and flours. All will keep for a long time in a dark cool pantry. If nuts are sold in bags, it is best to move them to glass jars for storage to prevent moisture and insects from contaminating the bags. Half gallon mason jars are inexpensive and work well. Consider using a FoodSaver jar attachment to remove the oxygen from the jars, this will help the contents stay fresh longer. Raw nuts and seeds can be ground into flours and used for baking, seasoned and roasted for snacks, or added to a variety of other recipes as you normally would. Hemp Seeds, coconut flour, shredded unsweetened coconut, flax meal/seeds, and psyllium are included in this category.
Cheese and Yogurt
Cheese and yogurt (including kefir) are cultured dairy products that naturally have an expiration of about one month. Consider buying large containers of plain, whole milk yogurt and hard cheeses if you use them regularly. Hard cheese such as cheddar, manchego, and swiss will keep longer in the refrigerator than soft cheeses like chevre, brie, and cream cheese since the former contain less moisture. However, all cheese can be frozen and thawed without affecting the texture or taste. Plain, whole milk yogurt is a very versatile ingredient to have on hand! It can be eaten plain or used in place of milk or other dairy products in recipes. Yogurt and kefir have the added benefit of containing probiotics which aid in digestive health.
Many shelf stable nut milks are now available! Unsweetened versions of almond, coconut, hemp, and flax are keto friendly and sold in shelf stable tetra packs. Canned coconut milk and coconut cream are also a great choice. Always make sure to buy the unsweetened varieties.
It is best to make your own broth from leftover kitchen trimmings, however, boxed and canned broth is a pantry staple that should not be overlooked. Not only does broth provide hydration, it is the basis for every soup and stew which helps stretch ingredients and utilize fresh produce before it goes bad. Consider keeping a variety of broth in your pantry. Chicken, beef, and vegetable are the standards. Most broth concentrates or “base” contain MSG and dextrose and should be avoided.
Protein powders offer a quick and easy no cooking solution for meals. I prefer to use collagen peptides that are unflavored and unsweetened. This type is nearly flavorless and mixes into any liquid without changing the consistency. Other types that are appropriate for ketogenic therapies are raw meal and unsweetened whey. Protein powders are a great item to buy in bulk since the price per ounce decreases considerably and they have a long shelf life. Always look for brands that are unsweetened.
Shelf Stable Proteins
Some of the very best canned or jarred proteins are seafood! Everyone has a few cans of tuna, but there is a wide variety of other options to consider. Salmon, shrimp, sardines, oysters, clams, mussels, octopus, anchovies, even cod livers are available. Having these options in your pantry provides many possibilities for meal variety and nutrition. Many types of these seafood items are smoked which mellows the seafood flavor for those who may not like seafood as much.
Canned chicken is also useful to have on hand. The texture is quite different from fresh chicken, but it can be used in chicken salad or recipes where it can easily be incorporated such as soups, chicken patties/nuggets, and salads. Look for shelf stable proteins in PBA free cans, glass jars, and pouches.
Cured meats also fall into the category of shelf stable protein, but should not be the foundation of a meal. They can be used to add flavor and enhancement to recipes. All cured meats such as pepperoni, prosciutto, speck, and other varieties contain natural nitrates, even if they are labeled nitrate free.
Shelf Stable Vegetables
While many of us have visions of soggy, grey green beans or peas, there are quite a few options that are actually better canned than fresh. Some of my favorites to have on hand are tomatoes (whole, paste, salsa), artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, beets (unsweetened), baby corn, marinated mushrooms, cornichons, roasted red peppers, butternut squash, and water chestnuts. There is also a classic italian pickled salad called Giardiniera which often contains cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, onion, and carrots. Look for unsweetened varieties.
Did you know you can grow tiny vegetables on your window sill? You can! There are a variety of nuts, seeds, and beans you can sprout, effectively turning them into baby vegetables. You can find full instructions online, but all you need is a jar. Broccoli seeds, mung beans, and lentils are most often sprouted at home. Since these seeds will last indefinitely in a dark pantry, this method is ideal for adding fresh vegetable matter to your diet.
There is also a wide variety of freeze dried vegetables available at online retailers. These can be very helpful to have on hand since they are freeze dried at peak nutrition and freshness. Cooking with dried vegetables is different than using canned or fresh, but the added benefit of not requiring refrigeration or freezer space may appeal to some. The time to buy these types of products is NOT during an emergency situation! Prices will be higher and supplies lower. Consider this option only if you are able to use this type of product during routine cooking and during a low demand time.
Shelf Stable Fruit
Many of the most helpful fruit items to have on hand are dried. You can buy nearly all fruit either freeze dried or air dried and both have very long shelf lives. While you may not be able to eat dried fruit on a ketogenic therapy, they can be rehydrated and used sparingly in baked items and salads to provide natural sweetness. Dried apples, figs, dates, raisins, blueberries, and goji berries are easy to find. Always make sure they have no added sweeteners! Freeze dried fruit is recently more common. Blueberries, raspberries, apples, and other varieties are commonly marketed as “crunchy” snack packs. You will pay a premium for these in individual snack packs, but they are worth having on hand. Trader Joes often carries some of these items at a fair price but the same advice regarding freeze dried vegetables also applies.
Other pantry fruit staples are unsweetened applesauce, pumpkin puree, and olives (yes, they are a fruit!) It is recommended that you stock all varieties of green and black olives since this fruit is also high in fat and ideal for ketogenic therapies.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Many fresh varieties will last a long time if chosen well and stored properly. If you keep in mind what is naturally available in the fall, these items will keep the longest. All varieties of winter squash such as butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and delicata will last for several months in a cool dark place. Rutabaga, turnips, celery root, celery, and carrots are also keto friendly options. Hearty greens such as kale, collard greens, cabbages of all varieties, and swiss chard will last longer than fresh baby spinach and salad greens. Garlic and onions are pantry stables and the foundation for many delicious meals. Choose avocados that are not yet ripened and store them in the refigerator to delay ripening. Once they are perfectly ripe, freeze the avocado flesh to use in smoothies. I also like to keep fresh ginger and turmeric on hand to add to curries and smoothies. Both roots will last for a long time in the refrigerator and add a lot of flavor to your meals.
The majority of pasta, rice, and beans has likely been removed from your shelves there are shelf-stable options to replace them. Kelp noodles and shirataki noodles are keto friendly. Both will last a very long time and do not need to be refrigerated (even though you may find them in a refrigerator case.) Hearts of palm noodles which are canned are another great option. In smaller quantities, quinoa and lentils may be used. There are a variety of low-carb pastas available online that have recently become more popular, but the Charlie Foundation has not yet tested these types of products, so please use discretion.
Snacks Worth Having
While you should not spend the bulk of your funds on snack foods, having some carefully chosen items on hand can help with meal boredom. Dried seaweed snacks, lupini beans, Babybel cheese, miso soup packets, pork rinds, beef jerky/sticks (unsweetened), cheese crisps, dark chocolate bars and chips, and keto friendly bars can be comforting, enjoyable and provide relief from cooking and meal prep overload.
My refrigerator and freezer are reserved for fresh meats/seafood and pre packaged frozen vegetables and fruit. I buy a lot of my meat in bulk from stores with butchers and divide large packages into smaller portions appropriate for our family. Oftentimes I cook the meat all at once and then freeze into portions. For example, I will make a large batch of taco meat or cook an entire package of pork belly in the crock pot until tender. Then I’ll portion into smaller quantities to be used later in the week. Make sure to label and date everything you freeze!
I also buy large bags of frozen green beans, cauliflower rice, broccoli, spinach, edamame, blueberries, strawberries, and mixed berries. These items round out our meals nicely, especially during the winter when produce is not as fresh as it is in the summer.
Another food category in its own right is fermented foods that offer pre- and probiotic properties. Common foods you can find in your grocery store are pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Look for the varieties that are refrigerated, not shelf stable. It’s most important to read the ingredient label, if there is vinegar in the ingredient list, the item is pickled, not fermented and will not contain a significant amount of probiotic. Some brands that are naturally fermented are Bubbies and Ba-Tampte. You can also see that the brine will have a cloudy appearance. Read labels carefully to find the sugar-free and additive-free brands. Dedicate a space in your refrigerator for naturally fermented foods to remind everyone of the importance of these foods and include a small serving in every meal!
Don’t forget to round out your pantry with a variety of beverages, especially coffee! I prefer to buy whole bean coffee since it lasts longer. This is a good item to store in a glass mason jar. Again, consider using a FoodSaver attachment to remove the air. Tea and tisanes (herbal tea) of all kinds are perfect to enjoy hot or iced. Sparkling mineral water is another favorite. My kids especially enjoy some of the flavor essence waters which we reserve for school or lunchtime only. I like to buy all of these items in bulk when they are on sale!
My family loves condiments of all kinds. One we use most frequently is mayonnaise. We have a great homemade keto mayonnaise recipe, but I also like to have a lot of high quality mayo on hand. I prefer brands that use 100% avocado oil, there are several on the market. We also like sugar free ketchup, mustard of all types, and hot sauce! We have an extensive collection of hot sauces, most of which will never go bad. Other helpful condiments are sugar and additive free curry paste, miso, capers, soy sauce, fish sauce, and pesto.
Most of us have more spices than we can use before they go stale or lose their flavor. Replace old spices and date the bottles. Test your baking soda and powder to determine if you should purchase new ones. Baking soda also doubles as one of my favorite cleaning agents, so when a box has expired or taken on odors, I put that box under my sink to use for cleaning.
Are you prepared?
The first step is to take inventory of what you already have! Carefully consider everything your family needs to stay in your home for an extended period of time. Slowly take steps to build your pantry over time utilizing sales and seasonal buying to maximize your budget potential. Knowing your family is well prepared is one of the best insurance policies you can have!