There are a few dry goods I always have on hand in my pantry. These ingredients are items that I can use to put together (along with fridge/freezer staples) most of my go-to favorite no-recipe meals. They help prevent me from spending money I don't have on eating out! This list won't be exhaustive, but it's a start of what I consider essential. I do NOT run out of this stuff! Most of these items are fairly inexpensive, last for a long time, and can be used for many recipes.
1. Dried Pasta -- My family prefers angel hair or vermicelli in spaghetti, so that's what we have. I also keep a box of shaped pasta like rotini or ziti.
2. Olive Oil -- I use it all the time!
3. Flour -- I keep all-purpose, bread, self-rising and whole wheat at all times. (Whole wheat is stored in the fridge.)
4. Broth -- Reduced-sodium chicken and beef broths make recipes so much better!
5. Potatoes -- The earth's most perfect food. Unless you're my oldest girl. She won't touch 'em.
6. Whole Bean Coffee -- Is it really worth getting up in the morning without fresh-ground coffee?
7. Peanut Butter -- I love crunchy, the kids love it smooth.I usually have both on-hand.
8. Wheat Bread
9. Rice -- side dish, casseroles, soups ... it's very versatile!
10. Oatmeal -- I mostly use old-fashioned, but I have quick-cooking, too. I use them for hot cereal, baked goods, pancakes, oat flour, etc.
11. Baking Staples -- baking soda, salt, baking powder, cocoa powder, yeast ... If I have these, I can whip up a last minute dessert or rolls or bread.
12. Soup -- Healthy or not, I usually keep some kind of just-add-water canned or boxed soup in the pantry. My guilty pleasure is Campbell's Chicken Noodle.
You'll probably notice the absence of a lot of packaged things, like rice/pasta mixes, sauces and seasoning mixes. That's because I don't generally use them. I make my own based on my family's tastes and what I think will be good in a particular recipe. The salt content alone is enough to deter me from using them, added to the fact that I like mine better anyway.