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Pantry Essentials: Canned Goods

June 11, 2024

What canned goods should be in a well-stocked pantry? Which ones can you actually build a healthy, quick meal out of? Asked and answered, friends! Here’s the TMP list of canned food must-haves.


Pantry Essentials Canned Goods canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned chilies, enchilada sauce, chicken stock

Pantry Essentials: Canned Goods

Canned goods—these are maybe the most classically “pantry” food there is. Canned food keeps forever (well, not quite forever, but we’ll get to that later), it’s cheap, and it’s the ultimate shortcut. In other words, canned food is absolutely the key to ultra-quick, weeknight meals. But we’re telling you stuff you already know, right? Canned food is super convenient. But, which cans should you stock in your pantry—which ones can you actually build a healthy, quick, satisfying, meal out of?

Asked and answered, fellow home cooks! Here is the official TMP list of canned goods you need in your pantry:

canned tomatoes crushed, canned tomato sauce, can of fire roasted and a can of tomato paste

Canned Tomatoes

Almost every meal we make seems to start with a can of tomatoes. Well, maybe it starts with an onion frying in oil first, but the tomatoes are a close second. We use them in everything, from our Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup, to Crock-Pot Paleo Chili to Tikka Masala Soup—they add an irreplaceable sweet, pungent flavor to a huge array of dishes. And, since tomato season is really short, canned tomatoes are what we lean on from October til June. If you’re worried about the safety of canned foods because of concerns about BPA—although the FDA does say that BPA is safe—you can just look for cans BPA-free liner or for tomatoes canned in jars.

  • Tomato sauce.
  • Tomato paste.
  • Diced tomatoes.
  • Whole tomatoes.
  • fire-roasted tomatoes.
a can of kidney beans, a can of chickpeas, a can of black beans and a can of navy beans

Canned Beans

Canned beans are such a kitchen workhorse. They bulk up soups and stews, they add tons of fiber and protein to everything from salads, like this hearty Southwest Cobb Salad to dips like our Sweet and Smokey Bean and Corn Dip. And if you’ve got canned garbanzo beans in your pantry, you’ve almost got creamy, healthy Homemade Hummus. And, again, if BPA is a concern, look for brands that say “BPA-free” on the label, or for beans that are preserved in Tetra Paks instead of typical metal cans. Here are the four types of canned beans that we try to never run out of:

  • Kidney beans
  • Black beans
  • White beans (such as navy beans or cannellini beans).
  • Garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas).
a can of coconut milk next to a can of coconut cream

Coconut Milk & Coconut Cream

You guys know how much we love coconut milk—do you love it, too? A plant-based milk that turns everything it touches into silky, creamy, buttery, rich goodness—what’s not to love? We always have both full-fat coconut milk and coconut cream in the pantry.

  • Coconut milk: full-fat coconut milk is an absolute must—we use it in our warm and healthy Breakfast Quinoa and it makes our Easy Cauliflower Curry so luxuriously creamy.
  • Coconut cream: coconut cream is handy to have on hand—especially if you’ve got someone dairy-free in your household—because you can use it to make all manner of dairy-free goodies, like our Vegan Mint-Chip Ice Cream.
a jar of marinara sauce

Jarred Pasta Sauce

All you have to do in the eight minutes it takes to boil spaghetti is open a jar. That leaves seven and a half minutes to like, talk to your spouse or ask your kids how their day went, or open a bottle of wine and then just sit down for a second. Whatever you do with all that time, we salute you! Jarred pasta sauce is on dinner duty tonight—you just take it easy. Use it in recipes such as:

Chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock in jars


We like to be well-stocked in all of the stocks at all times—vegetable stock, chicken stock, and beef stock all have a place in our hearts, on our grocery list and in our pantry. Stock forms the base of so many Soups, and using it as a liquid in place of water adds flavor to the simplest of things like Boiled Rice, or Poached Chicken. Always always always look for low-sodium versions—you can always add more salt to taste if you’d like to, but why not start out with the best of low-sodium intentions?

So, the stocks we always stock (haha) in our pantry are:

  • Vegetable stock.
  • Chicken stock.
  • Beef stock.
canned chipotle pepper on a spoon

Chilis in Adobo Sauce

OK, hear us out. Canned chilies in adobo may not be something that your mom or grandma considered to be a pantry staple—or, then again, maybe she did!—but we reach for this smokey, preserved chili over and over again to add spicy and bright richness to meals of all kinds. Chilies in adobo sauce are smoked, dried jalapeños that have been canned in an ultra-flavorful purée of tomato, vinegar, garlic, and some other spices. They have some heat for sure, but they’re also a little sweet, a lot smokey, and super savory. Big, big flavor in a teeny, tiny can. The adobo sauce makes our Turkey Pumpkin Chili rich and delicious, and they are the secret ingredient in our Easy Baked Chicken Quesadillas.

So, What’d We Miss?

What canned goods do you consider to be must-haves? What do you buy over and over again, week in week out? We want to know! Snap a photo and join our conversation on instagram @themodernproper and #themodernproper.

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Pantry Essentials: Canned Goods

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

  • karen

    What about soups, cream soups, mushrooms, etc? Do you ever use bullion instead of stock? What's the difference between stock & broth? This is my first visit to your website, and I do find it interesting.

    Stock is usually made with bones and broth is typically made with flesh. Using the bones gives stock a richer flavor. You definitely can use bouillon if you don't have broth/stock on hand. This list is a good starting point and of course if you want soups etc... those are great to have on hand as well. Hope this helps Karen.

  • jenn

    This is so helpful! Thank you!

    You're welcome!