For busy parents, keeping a pantry stocked with useful and handy ingredients is essential keeping your family well-fed without making lots of last-minute trips to the grocery store or giving in to the fast food drive-thru. Unsure where to start? Check out the list of items.

1. Flour. Whole wheat, white, or whatever kind you use the most

2. Sugar. The staple sweetener.

3. Canned or dried beans. Beans can be used for dips, tacos, or as a main dish. They can also be easily added to stews, chili, and rice dishes. With lots of fiber and a variety of nutrients, they are a filling and healthy ingredient, and good for little ones to eat with their fingers.

4. Mixes: polenta, rice, muffins, and breads. Even for the most accomplished cook, having a few mixes handy means being able to contribute to the last-minute potluck or whip up something when your "planned" dish burns in the oven. Leftovers can be added to casseroles and soups.

5. Pasta. With a long shelf life and short preparation time, this is one of the most delicious pantry items. Choose small-piece pasta (penne, macaroni, and rotini) for young children.

6. Taco shells. Fill 'em with meat, potatoes, beans, or veggies. There are few things you can't put in a taco.

7. Protein/good fat snacks. Dried fruit, granola, trail mix โ€” keep a gallon-size bag on hand, perhaps two in the winter. The combination in these foods provides a satisfying snack with no preparation, and is perfect to have on hand in case of an emergency.

8. Nut butter. Peanut, almond, hazelnut: take your pick. Spread it on crackers, bread, or just eat it with a spoon.

9. Rice. In some cultures, rice is the foundation of the entire diet. Eat it by itself, mix it with vegetables for stir-fry, or use it in soups and casseroles.

10. Cooking oil: vegetable, canola, or olive. Used for all kinds of recipes, and cooking food in a skillet.

11. Baking soda. An essential ingredient in baking recipes.

12. Canned vegetables. If you don't have space for a lot, choose several cans of tomatoes for their versatility.

13. Oatmeal. Healthy, filling, and delicious when mixed with a little sugar or dried fruit (also items on the list). It can be used for breakfast, other meals, fed to very young children, and used to make cookies!

14. Milk for drinking. Look for cartons of rice milk or almond milk that don't require refrigeration. This can also help out in case of an emergency. For families with bottle-fed babies, don't forget to have plenty of formula "milk."

15. Milk for baking. Evaporated milk and condensed milk.

Once you've stocked your pantry, make sure you can easily find everything you need. Check out these tips for efficient pantry organization, and 13 pantry items for bakers.

All of these things โ€” and more โ€” are in my pantry. What do you keep in yours?

More Help Feeding the Family:

This post was included in The Homesteading Carnival #162.