Every January, I like to do a cleanse of sorts. It takes place after the holidays and offers me some time to decompress from the craziness. I like to call it The Great Pantry Challenge.
Essentially, I give myself $100 for the month to spend on groceries, but the majority of food comes from the refrigerator and the freezer. But before that can happen, you need to live with some essential frugal pantry staples. And you need to know how to build a frugal pantry.
And if you want more great ways to save including recipes, meal plans, prices, and printables, check out my eBook on how to feed a family for under $200 in The Great Grocery Haul
Why Do You Need A Stocked Pantry?
So you can save time, money, and your hair (because you aren’t pulling it out ant dinner time anymore). Having a stocked pantry of the items that you can throw together a quick dinner will save you.
When you open up the cupboard, and you can easily pull out a box of pasta, a jar of sauce, and grab a pound of frozen ground beef or meatballs, it will save you time.
Instead of standing at the refrigerator with the door open in front of the flattering glow of the LED light bulb, wondering what you are going to feed these people AGAIN, you can confidently say (out loud) I got you, boo!!!
Also, my 18-year old hates when I use somewhat modern slang.
It will allow you to pull out a few ingredients to make dinner instead of packing everyone into the car to go out to eat or ordering take out.
Staying home and cooking will save money, and if you know that something can be thrown together in 20 minutes, save your sanity. Let’s face it; we have all been there.
Cooking at home is also healthier. You know what you are cooking, so those preservatives can be lessened or even cut out completely.
Stocking your pantry will save you time after time.
It helps when you may have forgotten about that whole meal planning thing. Life happens.
But, it is OK to have Stauffers Lasagna in the freezer. Sometimes, ya just gotta.
How To Build A Frugal Pantry
Keep the basics on hand.
Keeping the basics on hand will give you what you need to whip up those family favorites in a quick minute if you need to. This will save you from ordering take out.
The majority of us will have the same basics on hand for a magic meal, but some differences will be relevant to each home. Having these things on hand will guarantee that you will avoid the expensive alternatives to cooking at home.
Think back to when our grandmothers were doing the cooking. What would they have in their cupboards?
If you are a total nerd, to can keep a copy of your inventory in one great list!
Buy in bulk.
Buying in bulk will allow you to have a large number of your favorites ready when needed. It is one of my favorite ways to get back into stocking my pantry after it magically empties.
Use caution as sometimes buying from a big warehouse store will end up costing more than just getting those things on sale.
Check out this post about big warehouse stores. However, we buy Annie’s Mac and Cheese from BJ’s and its cheaper than sales. Keep in mind, if you won’t use it before it goes bad and you end up having to toss it, it’s not a deal.
Warehouse stores are excellent choices for bulk purchases. Check out this write up all about warehouse stores.
Consider the cost of buying meat in bulk and separating it into family-sized portions. It might be worth supporting a local farmer and purchasing a portion of a cow or pig if you have freezer space.
This is a perfect answer to saving money in any area of your life. But especially when it comes to food. Each and every week, there is a brand new sale published for every single store.
When you are trying to build up your pantry staples, shop the flyers and travel to all the grocery stores. It is a temporary stock up and not something you need to do every week. But when you are running low, keep an eye out for the next sale.
Consider using coupons at your regular grocery stores. Many times around the holidays, you will find baking products like flour and sugar on sale, and name brands will offer coupons. Here’s a good post about couponing for beginners.
Use discount stores.
Some stores exist just to sell items that are close to expiration or are a buy out from another store. They then sell them pretty inexpensively. We don’t have any near us, but I have traveled to Vermont to check out a few in the past.
Here is a list of some of these discount grocery stores. Just be sure to give them a call to see if they are still open.
I remember seeing (and buying) a LOT of organic snacks and nonperishables when I was there. It might be worth checking out if you have one close by.
Cook from scratch.
If you are worried that money is too tight right now to spend the added money to build up a decent frugal food pantry, one of the first things I recommend is to stop purchasing pre-made stuff.
Skip the individual packages of chips, cookies, and goldfish. Make a batch of muffins or cookies from scratch to eat as snacks. Make your own seasoned pasta instead of those envelopes or box mixes.
Cut back on instant oatmeal and make it from scratch. You will be surprised at how much you can save and maybe even how much better you feel without added preservatives and sugar, too. You will be able to stock up on the basics AND cook your own healthy foods.
Also, meal planning. This goes right along with cooking from scratch. Meal planning is super important.
Grow your own.
Do you know how easy it is to grow spinach on your window sill? If you have a big sunny room, you could grow all sorts of veggies all year long. And if you are fortunate to have a decent back yard, you can raise a garden in the better weather, too.
Growing your herbs, drying them, and then grinding them up is a way to save some money. Adding fresh parsley to a dish completely changes the flavors.
My mom still has a fantastic garden. She will be 72 this year, and she cans her veggies, her tomato sauce, and makes the best pickles and relishes — also, some excellent grape jelly.
I did not inherit that green thumb. I am not very outdoors-ey.
Instead, I freeze things. I do have blueberry bushes, so I do freeze those. And I will bake more than one of something and freeze the rest.
Freezing is my preservation of choice. We have a nice size freezer in the basement that I get so much use out of. And it saves me money.
Basic Pantry Staples
Here is a list of frugal pantry staples that one should keep on hand. Now, the critical thing to remember here is that if you and your family do not like Quinoa, please do not buy it.
If you are vegetarian, then beef meatballs won’t work for you. So make it your own. Make sure you are stocking the pantry items that your family will eat. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money.
Here is a great list to get you started!
Baking Supplies And Basic Ingredients
Flour. A perfect supply to have in the pantry to use or everything from dessert to bread, to a thickening agent for gravy. Add an assortment if you use them. Otherwise, a basic flour will work just fine for most applications.
Out of cereal for breakfast on Saturday morning? Whip up a batch of quick cinnamon rolls!
How about a 5-minute pizza crust? Or biscuits to go with that tomato soup! The internet is full of great recipes.
Sugar. This would include regular sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar as well as any sugar substitutes you might use. We have both stevia and monk fruit. All good for baking and whipping up some snacks. Especially when kids need something for their lunches or a tasty muffin for breakfast.
Yeast. I do not use this enough to buy a big canister of it, so I will pick up a couple of those three packets. They are super cheap and can come in handy for said cinnamon rolls or pizza crust.
Cocoa Powder. Cocoa powder is a necessity in our house. From chocolate peanut butter treats to chocolate cake to hot cocoa. We like chocolate, and this is a must.
Mixes. I am not a fan of muffin mixes or cake mixes, but if you are, add these to the pantry staples list. Always good if your sweet, beautiful baby comes to you after dinner and says they need 24 cupcakes for a school party the next day.
Dried Milk. Sometimes you are out of milk and need some. Powdered milk works great for baking and also makes a lovely creamer for coffee in a pinch. I would not suggest drinking it straight, although my oldest doesn’t mind. Adding chocolate syrup helps.
Powdered Eggs. These are fantastic for baking. Remember that scenario from above about the child needing cupcakes for school? Powdered eggs when you have no real eggs. Nobody will know any different. That is all.
Baking Powder & Baking Soda. These are a must-have as far as frugal pantry staples. They are both instrumental in cooking. Baking soda is also perfect for cleaning. Double win!
Oils. Our favorite oils are olive, avocado, and coconut. The olive oil isn’t the best for baking, but the others work well. I also use butter for baking often. Also, oils are suitable for cooking and making a quick salad dressing.
Pasta. I only have two different kinds of pasta, generally in my cupboard. Elbow and spaghetti. They seem to be a universal stock up pasta for us. I only buy something else if it’s needed for a particular recipe – like lasagna. Or spirals for a pasta salad.
Macaroni and Cheese. I buy Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese in bulk from BJ’s. It is our favorite, and sometimes, you need a box of mac and cheese on hand.
Rice. A great side dish or a way to stretch some meat and vegetables out. Also, the perfect addition to a casserole. I used to love to warm up leftover rice, add some brown sugar and milk to eat for breakfast.
Stock. Boxed chicken stock or Better Thank Broth is a needed pantry staple. It’s not only good for soup or gravy but also works to flavor rice or pasta.
Oatmeal. Old fashioned rolled oats can be used in baking, for breakfast, to add to ground beef as a binder for meatloaf or meatballs. Oatmeal is also great for a quick fruit crisp using some of the frozen fruit mentioned below. And it is pretty versatile, and its an inexpensive addition to any and every food pantry.
Spices. Spices offer a frugal way to completely change the flavor of those chicken thighs ou got a deal on and stocked the freezer with. Add curry or a rotisserie chicken rub. Sprinkle with a little lemon pepper mix to make a delicious lemon butter chicken. Try a little poultry seasoning to jazz up that poultry!!
Coffee And Tea. Honestly. I always have more than enough of these two beverages. Many times when you think you are hungry, you are just thirsty. And nothing helps me more or quite frankly makes me happier than a sweet, warm beverage. Regardless of the season. And really, this should have been number one.
Canned Food Staples
Soup. In a pinch and a hurry? Canned tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to the rescue! Now, my husband is not fond of just plain tomato soup but put some leftover elbow pasta in it and sprinkle some fresh grated parmesan or cheddar on top, and he is happy. Sometimes a can of soup is the answer.
Many people also stock some condensed cream soups for crockpot meals or casseroles. I’m not a fan, so I skip these.
Canned Meat. Tuna melts, chicken salad, or casseroles come together with a can of chicken or tuna. They both work for lunches and dinners. You could also add canned salmon or potted meat to the frugal pantry stockpile.
Diced Tomatoes. Diced tomatoes work well as an addition to pasta, soups, and a quick chili. They are always good to have on hand for a crockpot meal, too.
Pasta Sauce. For me, this is probably in my top 5 frugal pantry staples. Using pasta sauce for so many things – and not only for pasta. We pour it over meats like chicken and meatloaf. We make soup and chili with it, too. I always have quite a few jars in my pantry stockpile.
Nut Butters. Peanut, almond, or cashew. Whatever your preference is, have some in the cupboard. You can turn any dinner into Thai food with a little peanut butter. Make muffins, toast, cookies with any of these. Or, grab a spoonful for a quick dose of protein in the afternoon!
Hot Sauce. This is my favorite condiment. I love hot sauce on so many things. On eggs with feta cheese or macaroni and cheese. I like it on steak and chicken. I also like to throw a dash into my soups, stews, and chilis. Like spices, it adds a little something extra.
Vinegar. Chose your flavor or pick a bunch. White vinegar is excellent for cleaning, and apple cider vinegar has so many health benefits. You can use it for salad dressings, marinades, and many other recipes. It is also a great meat tenderizer.
Mustard. Not only the perfect pairing to your hot dog, but mustard is also used in so many other recipes. I like it in potato salad and macaroni and cheese. Of course, also to make honey mustard salad dressing and an excellent topping for pork roast.
Honey. Honey is also used in many recipes, dressings, and marinades. It can make a boring piece of meat into something tasty and exciting. Also, local honey has some excellent health benefits and is delicious in a cup of tea.
Lemon Juice. Did you know that you can whiten your teeth with lemon juice and baking soda? You can also lighten your hair. But, adding lemon juice to foods like fish, rice, chicken, and pasta also gives your taste buds a little zing, too!
BBQ Sauce. Great to hide the dried out pork chops or make the overcooked chicken into something editable (not that I have ever done that before). An excellent marinade and dipping sauce. Kids seem to like BBQ sauce for dipping.
Now, I know that these are not actual pantry staples. I understand these are freezer and refrigerator items, but I think they are an excellent addition to this list of things to keep on hand to save money in the kitchen. So forgive me for throwing a surprise in here. Consider this a BONUS SECTION!
Frozen Meatballs. Whether these are your own that you made a double batch and froze or a bag of frozen ones from Aldi, they are a great staple to have on hand. A jar of sauce and a box of pasta, and in 15 minutes, you have a meal. Or toast some rolls, add cheese and enjoy some sliders.
Cream Cheese. A delight to pair with bagels for breakfast but also an excellent ingredient in alfredo sauce or cheesecake bites. Cream cheese works for soups and sauces and especially buffalo chicken dip. It’s my favorite.
Onions. I need to be honest with this staple. We don’t like onions and rarely do we use them in our cooking. When we do, the essence has been cooked well out of them. But many people enjoy them in soups, stews, and many other dishes. So, add them to your pantry if you like them. But if you are like us, it might not be worth the money.
Garlic. Fresh garlic is nice. But you know what I like better — a jar of minced garlic or a tube of garlic paste. Much more convenient and easier to use. It suits the same purpose without the sticky paper-like peel.
Carrots. These are the best filler in so many dishes. And versatile. Raw, cooked, mashed, shredded, in meatloaf, soups, on the side with a honey glaze. And they will last so very long in your refrigerator.
Celery. This is another vegetable that will last a very long time. It ads a special flavoring to many dishes, and it a great pairing with the above-mentioned cream cheese (or even better – buffalo chicken dip)!
Potatoes. We can make an entire meal out of potatoes. Add some sour cream, cheese, leftover chicken, and broccoli, put it all in a nine by thirteen pan, and you have a casserole. I have a link to a flexible casserole (that I love) from this blog post.
Eggs. Great for every meal and every recipe. Baking, hard boiling for deviled eggs, french toast, and scrambled. Super cheap and super versatile. We eat a lot of eggs and always seem to have them handy.
Butter. Much healthier than margarine yet not as cheap. My husband says he only eats bread as a way to get the butter into his mouth. Always good to have it on hand when you need cookies or a butter chicken recipe in the Instant Pot.
Sour Cream. Perfect for making a quick cream soup or, of course, to top that baked potato. Its a must for my Flexible Casserole or a veggie dip.
Cheese. Cheese is life. It makes everything better. That is all.
Final Thoughts On Frugal Pantry Staples On A Small Budget
Having a pantry stockpile will give you options when you are on the cusp of ordering take out. Knowing that there is plenty of food to make your family a quick dinner at any time will save you money and rid your brain of anxiety.
I dream of having a walk-in pantry, but for now, I have shelves in my basement. I stockpile where I can.
Do you eat from a stocked pantry or buy as you need? Leave a comment below!