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pantry essentials

10 Pantry Essentials Every Cook Should Have

You may have taken the first key step towards a month of great eating and ordered a ButcherBox, complete with high-quality grass-fed beef, heritage pork, and free-range, organic chicken.

But do you know what else completes a kitchen? Pantry staples, like high-quality oils, a few kinds of vinegar, dried herbs, and more.

This guide details the pantry essentials that make all the difference when preparing the delicious meals at home. The essentials that all cooks have a hands-length from their stoves include condiments like assorted vinegars, Dijon mustard, and soy sauce or their gluten-free variants. With a few of these, you can make everything from vinaigrettes and dressings to sauces, rubs, and much more.

Other necessary kitchen staples include canned tomatoes, which add richness to stews and soups, and dried herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

The best part? None of these staples are prohibitively expensive, and your individual purchase will probably last you quite a while.

1. High-Quality Oils

You can’t cook many meals without a cooking fat, and while grass-fed butter, ghee, or tallow might be an option, you should always keep a solid selection of healthy, high-quality cooking oils at hand.

These oils might include high heat friendly options filled with healthy fats, like avocado oil or coconut oil. For lower heat preparations, a solid bottle of olive oil should always be handy. You can even use good olive oil as a finishing touch, like a drizzle over salad or hummus.

Neutral oils like avocado oil or olive oil are also excellent bases for homemade salad dressings, and, if you’re really looking to up your pantry game, keep finishing oils like sesame oil or walnut oil on hand.

2. An Assortment of Vinegar

A good vinegar will take a good dish to great, and thankfully there are many options to choose from.

If you need to add acidic sweetness, reach for balsamic vinegar. In fact, dousing some caramelized red onions with balsamic vinegar and sugar is a sure-fire way to make a quick and delicious topping for burgers and steaks, while aged balsamic vinegar makes the perfect coating for grilled veggies.

Don’t stop at balsamic vinegar. Champagne vinegar adds a sweet note to homemade vinaigrettes, while apple cider vinegar boasts so many purported health benefits it’s hard to keep count. You can even throw it into homemade barbeque sauce for a unique bite.

Even plain old white vinegar has its place in a pantry. It’s as useful for making crispy pickles as making homemade kitchen cleanser.

3. Dijon Mustard

Yellow mustard has its place, but nothing heightens a dish more than a dollop of Dijon mustard. The traditional French mustard is made with brown mustard seeds, white wine, and a verjus made from unripe grapes. This verjus is what gives Dijon mustard its distinct, tart flavor.

Use Dijon mustard in a homemade vinaigrette for a crisp salad, or as part of a rub for various cuts of meat. These rosemary brined pork chops are a perfect example.

The best part about Dijon mustard? While it sounds fancy, it’s a pretty affordable condiment, with the store brand bottles rarely costing more than $3 and the fancy stuff only clocking in at $5 or less.

4. Soy Sauce/Tamari/Coconut Aminos

What’s the best way to build umami into your dishes? Soy sauce, a sauce made from fermented soybeans, roasted wheat, and cultures, is the ultimate, inexpensive umami condiment.

Of course, many people question the nutritional impact of soy sauce. If you’re gluten-free, a specific type of soy sauce, tamari, can be made without gluten.

If you avoid soy and grains entirely, coconut aminos, a sauce made from coconut tree sap and salt, is a great alternative. While a bit less pungent and a tad sweeter than traditional soy sauce, it still packs umami flavor into dishes.

Use soy sauce or any of its alternatives in Asian-inspired fare, like this ginger pork noodle soup.

5. A Solid Hot Sauce

While the hot sauce category is vast, your favorite hot sauce is a kitchen essential. Why? Because it can be doused on most anything and elevates the flavor of whatever you’re noshing on.

Do you prefer Asian flavor profiles? Reach for the less hot, slightly sweet Sriracha, or pack in the chili garlic flavor with sambal.

Mexican and Latin America hot sauces are another great category: The options are many, but most sauces feature some kind of vinegary heat and potentially a kick of citrus like lime.

Channel pure Americana with Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce. There are, literally, thousands of hot sauces to choose from.

Use your favorite hot sauce to jazz up a simple breakfast of eggs and bacon, or incorporate it into vinaigrettes and sauces for a little kick.

6. Dried Herbs

Like hot sauce, the selection for dried herbs is vast. And while it’s great to build out your spice cabinet and experiment with various herbs, there are a few essentials we’d recommend always having on hand.

Dried oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme — commonly sold together as an Italian seasoning blend — lend bright flavors to any dish you whip up and are much more convenient in a pinch than fresh herbs.

Other dried herbs we’d consider staples include dill, which is perfect in anything from pickles to salads, and dried bay leaves, which lend depth to soups and stews.

If you’d really like to pad out your spice cabinet, add dried marjoram, ground coriander, dried mint, dried sage, and dried tarragon.

7. Coconut Milk

Canned coconut milk is a treasure, and not just because it’s suitable for most diets. The silky, fatty substance lends richness to any dish it touches, and won’t spoil as quickly as refrigerated alternatives like heavy cream or milk.

Despite it including coconut meat, coconut milk is a fairly neutral, non-dairy way to add creaminess and heft. Use coconut milk to add creaminess to soup, braise meats, or add silky texture and flavor to rice.

Pro tip: Stock up on cans of coconut milk. Whichever ones you don’t use for savory dishes, use them to make dairy-free sweets like no-churn ice cream.

8. Nut and Seed Butters

What’s your favorite? Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, tahini? Whichever nut or seed butter you prefer, it’s bound to serve many uses in your kitchen.

You can, of course, use nut butters to spread on toast, add protein to smoothies, and bake up some delicious cookies. But nut butters have serious culinary uses, too.

Peanut butter or almond butter both make excellent Asian-inspired sauces, like in this Thai almond soba noodle salad. Tahini tastes delicious in Mediterranean fare. Try it drizzled over these Mediterranean meatballs.

9. Canned Tomatoes

Whether you’re whipping up a sauce for pasta, throwing some chili in the crockpot, or cooking up beef stew or pot roast low and slow, canned tomatoes are so useful.

You can find canned tomatoes in many forms, from canned tomato paste to whole, peeled tomatoes in a can. It’s good to have a variety of these options on hand for whatever you may need. They’re inexpensive and can add flavor to nearly any dish, like this fennel and tomato Italian pork shoulder.

10. Good Salt and Black Pepper

It’s a bit of a given that you should have salt and pepper on hand. It’s rare to not add it to a dish in the kitchen. But not just any salt or pepper will do.

Iodized table salt is the most common option, but it’s not exactly the healthiest one. It’s bleached, devoid of trace elements, and often contains additives. Also, it just doesn’t taste as good as sea salt crystals.

Sea salt comes from the ocean, and is evaporated to separate the salt crystals from the water.

(Another option: ButcherBox Chef Yankel always recommends having Kosher salt on hand for seasoning steaks.)

For pepper, whole peppercorns that can be cracked in a pepper mill lend the best flavor.

Chalene Johnson’s Healthy Eating Tenents

Getting healthy doesn’t happen by accident, and isn’t achieved through dieting.

In my 20 years in the fitness industry, I’ve seen every fad come and go. Sadly, I’ve participated in some, and even stood in some pretty high heels preaching those philosophies to others. (Cute high heels are my version of a soapbox!)

All that diet dogma stopped when I experienced my own health scare that seemed to stem from my, “super clean, low-fat, low-calorie, sleep when I’m dead, workout three-hours a day” lifestyle.


A brain scan revealed that I was headed for early-onset Alzheimer’s due to — among other things — years of too little sleep and a diet chock full of calorie-free foods and beverages. My blood work showed I wasn’t absorbing any of the vitamins and minerals from my food — despite the veggies I was eating — due to leaky gut. My family, my diagnosis, and my resolve to never again lead people astray began my quest for truth. This several-year journey involved interviewing the finest names in science and medicine, pouring over medical data, trial and error, a team of registered dietitians, and my new “why“… ME!

So, join me on a little checklist of suggestions and remedies I used to completely 180 my health (and my brain, thank you very much!). My thoughts might challenge the norm and cause you to second guess some of my ideas. But that’s okay. I’m secure enough with myself and the research I’ve done to know that the solutions by which I live are well-conceived and, most importantly, not quick fixes.

1. Take Back the Word Diet

Unfortunately, the fitness industry I inhabit — and take some responsibility for — has perpetuated a myth that a diet is a strict, regulated, black and white approach to food. There’s a “right and a wrong” way to do something. Or, the latest and greatest diet will, “fix all your weight loss problems.” Or, “you’ve failed at your diet because you haven’t had the same results as others.”

I’m here to say with 100% certainty: No one diet works for everyone.

It’d be easier for me to tell you: “eat X, Y, and Z and you’ll lose weight.” Unfortunately, our bodies don’t work like that. Research shows that each individual person has a unique gut microbiome. Your gut biome plays a HUGE role in your body’s ability to lose weight.  If your gut biome is off, your entire body is off.

This leads to weight loss resistance, imbalanced hormones, fatigue, brain fog, decreased sex drive, lack of concentration, insomnia, and more…. and it all stems from your gut.

Guess where the problem starts? You guessed it, the quality of your food.

Instead of following a diet, take back the word DIET, and create your own; one that works best for you! Try a diet — or better, “a way of eating” — that promotes gut health. If you do this, your overall health will change for the better.

2. Quality Meat

I cannot tell you how important food quality is to your health. It’s literally everything!

It’s the reason my family only eats meats from ButcherBox. I’d rather eat no meat at all than meat that comes from conventional farms. Aside from superior taste, I know that the sustainable farming practices ButcherBox champions are ones I can feel good about. Nutritionally speaking — and this relates back to gut-health — grass-fed, grass-finished meat provides more vitamins and minerals (and fewer inflammatory side-effects) than conventional meat. Listen to this podcast for mind-blowing stats on meat quality. I hope you become as appalled as I was before I knew the truth and that it influences change for you and your family.

Be sure to read to the end, because I’m giving you TWO recipes I love using ButcherBox meat.

3. Drink TONS of water

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. There is no alternative for pure, fresh clean water. Drinking water keeps your body functioning, your engine running, and your skin glowing.  Drink at least half your body weight in ounces.

4. Eat Whole Organic Foods

Aim for 80% of your calories to come from whole foods that are as close to nature as possible with minimal processing. I’d say 100 percent, but I don’t think that’s realistic. Eat organic as much as possible. If you can’t, don’t stress! Just do your best.

Take the time to know where your food comes from. There is a direct correlation between the quality of food you put in your body and how you feel (see #2 above).

5. Cycle Your Diet

Cycle your diet just like you cycle your workouts. Your body likes homeostasis, so if you eat the same thing every day for weeks, and months, and years, your body stops adapting, and therefore, stops losing weight. So cycle your diet with an emphasis on carbs some days, high fats other days, and higher protein with limited carbs and fat on other days. Diet phasing is the hallmark of the 131 Method. What I want you to take away is the fact that you should approach your diet just like your workouts! Change leads to change.

6. Keep it Out

If it’s not in your house, you won’t eat it. Remember this when you shop! Your habits can change by simply creating the environment you desire. Keep healthy foods at eye level so they’re the first things you see and grab.

7. Closing Time

Set a time in the evening to end eating. Give your body the night to recharge and rest instead of digesting food.  Close the kitchen and stop eating a few hours before bedtime. Tinker with intermittent fasting for even greater benefits. Need more proof? Check these out…

Are 6 Small Meals Making us Fat – LISTEN NOW!

Eating Trends and Common Myths – LISTEN NOW!

8. Become a Politely Picky Patron

You can absolutely adapt restaurant options to support your nutritional needs. Be extra polite, and ask for a few tweaks that make your meal work for you. Or, just eat at home more often so YOU choose the quality and ingredients you take in.

9. Learn the Difference Between Hunger and Appetite

Much of our eating is not hunger-based. Learn the triggers that send you snacking. By identifying the moments when you like to nibble, you can find alternative and more productive solutions. I like using a journal for this, but you can leave yourself a voice memo, write some sticky notes, meditate, or simply become present in those moments. I go into this at great length in the 131 Method.

10. Marry a Super Hot Guy who Likes to Cook

I’m half-joking, but kinda not. One of my best secrets is living in a house where one, or both, people love to cook.

I’m pretty good at a few things — I’ll chop veggies like nobody’s business. But, it’s my husband, Bret, who cooks up a storm. He values health and food quality as much as I do, which is a blessing. I know a lot of women who must toe the line for the whole family and constantly deal with their husband’s pizza-eating, chip-crunching ways. #sabotage

Try leading by example, however, by casually making your own changes. Chances are, one or two will catch on!

In the spirit of influencing the ones you love, I’m going to give you TWO of my favorite 131 recipes. “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” and, most men like meat, so here ya go (just choose quality, ok?!). The family will never know these recipes are 131 approved (meaning healthy, gluten-free, anti-inflammatory and delicious)

Bret brings his “Bowl Skilz” to our family several nights per week. It’s another reason we love our ButcherBox…our freezer is stocked with options and he just picks what we want: Grass-finished ground beef, organic chicken breast, wild salmon, humanely-raised bacon..and off he goes until there’s a beautiful bowl set on the table.


Indian Spiced Beef & Zoodles

chalene johnson

Yield: 4 servings

Serving Size: 1/4th recipe

Prep Time: 10 min

Cook Time: 12 min


  • 16oz grass-fed, grass-finished 80% lean ground beef or bison
  • 1 cup diced canned tomatoes (use fire roasted if you like a little spice)
  • ¾ cup canned coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or soy sauce alternative)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 medium zucchinis, spiraled


  1. Coat a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray over medium. Add beef and brown on all sides for 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes, coconut milk, coconut aminos, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic powder, and salt and pepper and sauté until beef is cooked through (about 5 minutes), then turn to low and simmer for 3 minutes.
  2. Toss zucchini noodles in a pan and quickly toss to coat, then remove and plate among four plates. (If you leave the noodles in the hot pan too long, they’ll release water. You only want to warm them quickly, then plate).

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 453| Protein: 33g | Fat: 30g | Carbs: 14g | Fiber: 2.5g | Net Carbs: 11g

Vegetable Beef Tahini Bowl


Yield: 4 servings

Serving Size: 1/4th recipe

Prep Time: 10 min

Cook Time: 10 min


  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound 85/15% grass-fed, grass-finished beef
  • 200g bok choy, chopped
  • 2 cups (200g) broccoli rabe, stems removed, chopped
  • 16 asparagus spears (200g), chopped
  • 8oz mushrooms (227g) sliced
  • 1 small zucchini (200g), peeled into ribbons
  • ¼ cup coconut aminos (or soy sauce alternative)
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder (such as Flavor God)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)


  1. In an extra-large skillet, heat avocado oil over medium. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
  2. Add beef and brown on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the whites of the bok choy and stir for 1 minute, then add the broccoli rabe and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the asparagus, mushrooms, and zucchini.
  3. Whisk together the coconut aminos, tahini, garlic powder, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add to skillet and coat everything well. Sauté for another 3-4 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and beef is cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 425| Protein: 29g | Fat: 29.5g | Carbs: 14g | Fiber: 4g | Net Carbs: 10g

One other subtle way you can get the family interested in repairing their health: The 131 Method book! Pre-order your copy here.