These ingredients kept our carts, our kitchens, and our tummies full.

By Kimberly Holland
December 28, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement

The last 12 months, or perhaps more specifically the last nine, have taught us a lot about resilience and creativity, especially when it comes to cooking. We watched all year as the recipes the Allrecipes audience needed and wanted shifted from weeknight dinners and brunches to from-scratch basics, creations crafted out of shelf-stable pantry ingredients, and ideas for using up the myriad leftovers of this sauce or pasta and that.

What we also learned is that sometimes, the right ingredient can play a pivotal role in crafting meals for days and weeks on end. And then sometimes, you just connect with an ingredient and quickly can't imagine life without it.

In this list of the groceries that got us through 2020, you'll find a few of both things — staples that helped us make countless meals and foods that made our lives easier precisely because they didn't require the creativity we sometimes didn't have.

Despite months of interrupted shopping and deliveries, food shortages, stockpiling, and supply chain uncertainties, this year has created a crop of cooks that are smarter on their feet and better prepared for whatever is coming down the road. If you're looking for inspiration or just fun new things to pick up at the store, take a look at these 20 groceries that we couldn't do without this year.

1. Canned Tomatoes

Credit: Amazon

"I've come to rely on canned tomatoes for a plethora of dishes, from puttanesca sauce to tomato curries to Spanish rice. Between infrequent trips to the grocery store and tomatoes being out of season, the canned variety are a safer bet for full and consistent flavor." — Hayley Sugg, Associate Editor

Buy it: Muir Glen Organic Diced Tomatoes, $2.29; amazon.com

2. Samyang Stir-fried Noodles with Hot & Spicy Chicken Ramen

Credit: Amazon

"Lunches while working from home have always been a struggle for me and my husband. I'll either eat last night's leftovers and need a nap, or spend too much time cooking something new. We've come to rely on Samyang Hot Chicken Ramen a few times a week for a quick and satisfying meal. It's surprisingly vegan-friendly, and I often dress it up with some steamed veggies, while he adds an over-easy egg." — Hayley

Buy it: Samyang Hot Chicken Ramen, $12/5 pack; amazon.com

3. A Dozen Cousins Ready-to-Eat Beans

Credit: Amazon

"The packets, which hold a couple of servings of delicious, well-seasoned beans, go from packet to table with just one minute in the microwave. They're the answer to my inability and disinterest in continuing to cook three meals a day: very delicious, high in protein, low-maintenance, and able to become a HOT meal, because a cold meal will never satisfy me, I'm sorry to say." Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé, Contributing Writer

Buy it: A Dozen Cousins Refried Black & Pinto Beans, $30/8 pack; amazon.com

4. Good & Gather Signature Marinara Pasta Sauce

Credit: Target

"I've been a fan of Rao's Marinara Sauce for years — and my passion for it is going nowhere — but I picked up a jar of the Good & Gather variety earlier this year, and I was seriously blown away at how fresh it tasted. It rivals Rao's for the savory, umami-rich flavor and at a lower price. I pick up a jar every time I get Target Drive Up so I can make pasta, soup, pizza, skillet dinners, or anything else where a little marinara goes a long way." — Kimberly Holland, Senior Editor

Buy it: Good & Gather Signature Marinara Pasta Sauce, $5; target.com

5. Good & Gather Signature Tomato, Garlic and Calabrian Chile Spread

Credit: Target

"Target sent me a sample of this Good & Gather spread a few weeks ago for their holiday collection, and as a spread or dip for a cheese board, it's absolutely a must-have. But since I haven't been throwing any parties, I've found other uses for this warm and spicy spread — and I'm on my fourth jar in as many weeks. A replacement for mayo or mustard on sandwiches, a quick rub on chicken breasts, a drizzle on roasted carrots. If you can dream it, you can use it." — Kimberly

Buy it: Good & Gather Signature Tomato, Garlic and Calabrian Chile Spread, $4; target.com

6. David Seeds Green Chili With Lime Pumpkin Seeds

Credit: Amazon

"Love these. They fulfill my mindless snacking needs and also work as a topping for salads or a fried egg-avocado bowl in the morning." — Rai Mincey, Assistant Editor

Buy it: $29.46/pack of 8; amazon.com

7. Tazo Skinny Chai Latte Concentrate

Credit: Amazon

"I was getting a skinny chai tea latte at the café at work pretty much every day before we started working from home, so this stuff has been a godsend! I had seen the original at the grocery store before, but I didn't realize they sold the concentrate in the low-calorie version." — Corey Williams, SEO Writer

Buy it: Tazo Skinny Chai Latte Concentrate, $16/32 ounces; amazon.com

8. Eggs

Credit: HUIZENG HU

"I'm not always an eggs-for-breakfast person, but I do always keep eggs in the fridge because they’re so versatile and easy to cook. When I don’t know what else to eat, I open a pack of frozen cauliflower rice, frozen gnocchi, or a jar of shakshuka sauce, and I cook a few eggs for protein. And eggs in the fridge means pancakes whenever I want them!" — Mary Claire Lagroue, Assistant Editor

9. Welch's Fruit Snacks

Credit: Amazon

"Early in the stay-at-home period in spring, I had several packs of Welch's Fruit Snacks on hand, and they became my little moment of comfort. The individual packs are a quick treat, low-calorie, and not overly sweet." — Kimberly

Buy it: Welch's Fruit Snacks, $15/pack of 60; amazon.com

10. Prima Taste Singapore Curry Lamian Noodles

Credit: Amazon

"These are way cheaper to purchase in person at H-mart, but I fell in love with these noods this year. They're like upgraded top ramen with a really rich and delicious curry broth. The noodles have more body and satisfying chew, too. You can dress them up with protein and veg or leave them be and enjoy a quick, effortless but comforting lunch or lazy supper." — Darcy Lenz, Senior Editor

Buy it: Prima Taste Singapore Curry Lamian Noodles, $14.20/4 pack; amazon.com

11. Good & Gather Four Cheese Ravioli

Credit: Target

"Ravioli were a must-have even before the pandemic started, but now my fridge is never without a package or two. Good & Gather, Rana, Trader Joe's, Buitoni — one package plus one sauce plus one protein or vegetable equals an unending combination of meals." — Kimberly

Buy it: Good & Gather Four Cheese Ravioli, $6.29; target.com

12. Kellogg's Corn Flakes

Credit: Target

"I've probably consumed more cereal in 2020 than any other year since leaving elementary school. At first, it was because we panic-stocked up on shelf-stable pantry goods in March... and I'm not about to waste. But later in the year, when I found myself experiencing kitchen 'burn-out' (i.e. I was just plain tired of coming up with three meals a day, seven days a week), I started reaching for really easy comfort food more often. That's where the Corn Flakes come in: A bowl of Corn Flakes in cold milk, lightly sprinkled with sugar (yes, I'm aware Frosted Flakes exist... and no, it's not the same), takes me right back to Saturday mornings as a kid. And this year, I really enjoyed that taste of nostalgia. Plus, Corn Flakes are so versatile, I felt completely justified in tossing another box in my grocery cart because I knew I'd use them for everything from coating oven-fried chicken to mixing those perfectly crisp flakes into baked goods." — Darcy

Buy it: Kellogg's Corn Flakes, $3.29; target.com

13. DiGiorno Pepperoni Frozen Pizza with Croissant Crust

Credit: Target

Our editors have eaten a lot of frozen pizza since the start of the pandemic, and this DiGiorno Pizza With Croissant Crust was one of the consensus choices as the best frozen pizza — and it's one that just hit the freezer section shortly after the pandemic started, so you may not have seen it yet. But it's worth seeking out.

Buy it: DiGiorno Pepperoni Frozen Pizza with Croissant Crust, $6; target.com

14. Simply Organic Umami Blends

Credit: Amazon

"If I said I didn't hit a cooking wall in later summer or early fall, I'd be lying. I think we all did, and one of the things I turned to to help me cook quick meals without a lot of work was seasoning mixes and spices. They'd elevate chicken or pork chops just enough for me to not be bored with my choices. This Umami Blend from Simply Organic just came on my radar a few weeks ago, and it's already become my go-to pick. Trader Joe's has had their version of this for a while, but this one feels more mature with earthy notes of mushroom, tangy mustard, sharp onion, and a hint of heat. If you're a seasoned salt sort of cook, grab a bottle of this for an upgrade." — Kimberly

Buy it: Simply Organic Umami Blends, $6.49; amazon.com

15. Frozen Shrimp

Credit: Blaine Moats/Meredith

"I’ve never eaten as much frozen seafood as I have during this pandemic, and that includes lots of shrimp. I used to cook shrimp with pad Thai and pasta, but this year, I just boiled them and ate them with butter and salt every single time. Simple but exactly what I wanted." — Mary

16. Good & Gather Pad Thai Sauce

Credit: Target

"Jarred sauces like curry and teriyaki can be hit or miss in terms of consistent flavor, or even good flavor for that matter, but I've been quite thrilled with this Pad Thai Sauce from Good & Gather. I first tried it because it had good reviews on Target.com while I was placing a pickup order. It's just $3, so I figured there wouldn't be much lost if it wasn't great, but those 5-star reviewers were right. It's fantastic and makes curing my cravings for takeout easy. Liven it up with some chili crisp."

Buy it: Good & Gather Pad Thai Sauce, $3; target.com

17. Simple Mills Almond Flour Pancake Mix

Credit: Amazon

"Simple Mills' pancake and waffle mix amazes me. You may not expect much from its list of nutritious ingredients, but it yields fluffy pancakes with a deliciously nutty flavor, courtesy of almond flour. Even though I've used this mix for a few years now, pancakes became the highlight of many weekends spent at home in 2020." — Mary

Buy it: Simple Mills Almond Flour Pancake Mix, $23/3 count; amazon.com

18. Amy's Bean and Cheese Frozen Burritos

Credit: Target

"If I had a food spirit animal of the pandemic, I'm afraid to say that it was not sourdough bread, or whipped coffee, but the humble frozen burrito. This simple Amy's Bean and Cheese burrito became breakfast, lunch, or dinner — as necessary. Unlike a boyfriend or late-stage capitalism, this freezer staple never lets me down." — Kaylee Hammonds, Senior Social Media Editor

Buy it: Amy's Bean and Cheese Frozen Burritos, $3; target.com

19. Banza Chickpea Pasta

Credit: Target

"I became obsessed with Banza chickpea pasta earlier this year when I only wanted comfort food. I eat it with marinara or pesto, and I forget it’s not actually pasta. I always add frozen spinach to it, plus something like roasted chickpeas, eggplant, or sausage to stretch it out." — Mary

Buy it: Banza Chickpea Pasta, $3; target.com

20. Tillamook Sharp Strawberry Heat Cheeseboard

Credit: Tillamook

"Tillamook is an Oregon-based cheesemaker, so we're just beginning to get their products over here on the East Coast. When these cheeseboards popped up in Publix, I bought every single one — again and again. I can't have happy hour with my friends right now, but this and a glass of wine at the end of the day is happy enough." — Kimberly