Cooking at home? Starting out on a tight budget? I recommend the following basic pantry staples to keep in stock for a pinch!
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- 51 Healthy Frugal Dinner Recipes You Can Make for Under $2
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Cheap Pantry Staples
Cost effective at less than $1 per pack. All kinds of pasta (regular, whole grain, egg, spinach flavored?!) should be in everyone’s pantry.
I learned in a history lecture that there are 3 billion Chinese people because we discovered this crop called “rice” that was easy to grow and economical to pull through famines better than anything else in the world. So that answers that! ?
3. Potato / Sweet Potato
The natural shelf life of potato makes them one of the best pantry staples ever. They can be boiled, baked, fried, mashed or microwaved.
4. (Canned) Beans
We keep a lot of canned goods in our cabinets. They last practically forever and go for less than $1 per can on sale. Canned beans are great in a pinch for time with cowboy chili or Tex-Mex nights. Although dry beans are frugal grocery staples as well, I admit it, I can’t be bothered to soak dry beans for 24 hours and then cook them! Canned it is!
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5. Olive Oil
Although the priciest item on the list, a good quality olive oil makes a difference to both taste and health. Buy olive oil stored in thick, dark-colored glass bottles. A manufacturer knows the quality of their oils, a true quality olive oil should be stored in dark glass. Look at the country of origins at the back of the olive oil bottle, try to steer away from “blends” or olives from areas out of Italy or Spain.
6. Kosher Salt
Bigger flavor molecules! Kosher salt is a healthier alternative to table salt without the additives that regular salt have.
7. Peppercorns + Grinder
Pre-ground pepper starts losing it’s flavor and aroma immediately after being exposed to air. Freshly ground pepper is better in flavor and aroma which is important for a staple ingredient in so many recipes.
8. Soy Sauce
The most magical salty elixir in all of the world.
9. Canned Tomato Paste
Tomato paste is super concentrated and inexpensive. During my SNAP challenge week, the first thing on my list was a small can of tomato paste. It can be made into pasta sauce or substitute anything that calls for tomatoes.
10. Ground Cumin / Tex-Mex Seasoning Mix
Popular in Mexican dishes, cumin pairs with well with chicken and ground meat for a quick and easy meal.
11. Chicken Bouillon Cubes
Any soup, stew, casserole recipes that call for a splash of stock can be easily substituted using bouillon cubes which are small and do not need to be refrigerated.
12. Curry Powder
Curry powder is a popular, all-purpose Indian staple. It can be used to make soups, stews or to enhance meat, and vegetables.
13. Cheese Powder
I love Kraft. But Kraft mac n’ cheese is essentially elbow macaroni and cheese powder in a blue box. Our household buys a tub of cheese powder and elbow macaroni separately which shaves a few dollars off to make mac n’ cheese.
14. BBQ Sauce
Although high fructose corn syrup is often the #2 ingredient, I put BBQ on anything and in everything, it’s almost embarrassing. A delicious BBQ sauce can rescue many protein-laden dishes that call for tang and flavor.
⭐ Cheap Eats Reads:
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15. Canned Tuna
It’s the poor man’s protein! Canned tuna is versatile and can be eaten straight from the can or made into tuna salad instantly.
16. Peanut Butter
Another poor man’s protein. Peanut butter is filling and quick. It is also economical.
Best bang for your buck is a carton of jumbo eggs. Eggs may expire but it will take up to 30 days in the fridge which makes them great protein staples.
18. Ground Meat
Ground meat of any animal tends to be the cheapest “cut” for that animal. Freshly ground meat is also the easiest to cook and can be frozen for later. Make chili, tacos, rice bowls, hamburger patties, meatballs etc.
19. Frozen Vegetables (spinach, broccoli florets, corn, medley)
I love the thought of fresh but not everyone can make consistent grocery runs. Frozen corn and broccoli make quick and healthy sides.
20. Whole Garlic
The shelf life of whole garlic bulbs lasts up to 6 months! Unpeeled cloves will last up to 10 days. Garlic is expensive and adds a lot of flavors, a lot of recipes calls for garlic. Garlic powder can be purchased as a lazy substitute.
Onion has a 1-2 month shelf life if left in a cool, dark and dry place. They also pack a lot of flavor to each dish. It is the queen bee in our kitchen, along with garlic cloves.
Mayonnaise, mustard, milk powder, brown sugar, oats, cereal, applesauce, ginger powder, butter, and jelly/jam.
For small time cooks and beginners, Amazon and Costco sell sets of pre-filled spices for around $30 to get you started. We have 2 spice carousels, one was a gift and the other one we bought second hand from a garage sale.
The best place to buy spices is Dollar Tree. It’s 80% cheaper than grocery stores.
And seriously, buy a Rosler cart (don’t waste your money on any other second rate cart) if you are living car-free like us. Rosler makes hauling back groceries less back-breaking.
Soapy will be reading this so feel free to leave comments on your own favorite pantry items for a frugal pantry stock!
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Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
We eat LOTS of pork in various forms in our family. Mr. FAF and my MIL don’t cook beef or chicken often.
When I was little, my parents used to make pork bone soup with potatoes and carrots a lot. I guess it’s because the ingredients are cheap, and the soup is tasty. Great list!
I’m bringing this list with me next grocery haul!!! I’m craving pasta after this article and have 0 of the ingredients needed on supply.
I do like the Kirkland frozen meatballs. They’re good for store bought!
That does sound tasty! We had pork bone with daikon and cabbage!
Dr. McFrugal says
Canned beans are fine, but dry is definitely better and healthier. With canned goods you run the risk of BPA exposure. You don’t have to soak them over night if you have an instant pot (great investment of cooking your own meals btw).
Dried oats, quinoa, and other whole grains should be staples too. As well as ground flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and raw unsalted nuts.
As a doctor who advocates wholefood plant based meals I wouldn’t do eggs or ground meat. 😉
I suspected fresh beans would be better. Are wholefood plant diets expensive?
Dr. McFrugal says
Whole food, plant-based diets are generally not expensive. It can be somewhat expensive if you always buy produce that are organic and out of season. But all things considered, plant based diets are significantly less expensive than meat based diets when you compare food of the same quality. You have to compare apples to apples 😉
For example… organic, pasteurized, hormone-free meat and dairy is very expensive especially compared to organic vegetable produce.
For 3 months last year, my wife and I were able to maintain a food budget of less than $300 a month eating a whole food plant based diet. We did this by….
1) Buying inexpensive staples in bulk (sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice, grains, etc)
2) Buying organic produce when necessary (the produce you should buy organic are the “dirty dozen” that have a lot of pesticide load). https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php#.WmIZhbynGHs
3) Whenever we can, we bought from local markets, and in-season fruits and vegetables (seasonal is always cheaper)
4) We cooked more than 80% of our meals at home and rarely ate out. (Cooking plant based meals is fun, creative, and A LOT cleaner)
5) We planned meals and meal-prepped really well so that no food would be wasted.
If you’re interested in trying it out, hit me up and contact me 🙂
Mrs. Kiwi says
We use dry beans (they really aren’t that hard and taste better). But I love the list! I found aldi sells canned beans for 60 cents (much cheaper than I’ve found elsewhere).
Soap nor I have Aldi near us. Someone bring Aldis up north… c’mon people! 🙂
I don’t know about Bbq sauce!:) I always have italian seasoning, you can add it to anything. We eat chicken mainly at our house.
Tofu is also great to have (fried with broccoli , soya sauce and garlic), it is good for you and not very expensive . Costco in Canada sells it cheap.
I never had used italian seasoning before…ever! Is that the powder stuff you get in packets? Is it salad dressing or a spice?
It’s a mix of dried herbs, it”s great for meats and roasted potatoes! Add a little olive oil and garlic:)
Mrs. Picky Pincher says
Load up on those veggies! I always have potatoes, onions, bananas, berries, and lettuce on hand. I hate making pantry-based meals with just shelf-stable foods; produce really elevates a dish. If you don’t eat all the produce, there are several ways to preserve it. For example, I freeze old bananas and use them in smoothies.
We also buy bulk bags of rice at the grocery store maybe twice a year.
Dr. McFrugal says
Mrs. Picky Pincher. I like the way you think. Loading up on the veggies is the way to go. I also freeze fruit and use them in smoothies!!!
Haha I’m trying to picture Soapy wrestling with a cabbage. This is great advice!
Chris @ Duke of Dollars says
I tend to bake chicken breasts, cook rice, and make veggies then switch up the sauce every week. Quick, easy, and cheap!
#FinancialConfession – I love Almond Butter and have started to use it instead of peanut butter as a healthier choice. It is expensive, but totally worth it to me 😀
I never tried almond butter (because it is expensive especially at wholefoods), good to know!
Joe @ Retire by 40 says
Powdered cheese? I was going to say no way, but maybe I’ll try it. My wife loves cheese and our fridge is stocked with cheese. I suspect she’ll turn up her nose at powdered cheese.
Also, you probably should avoid doing more research into ground meat. I did and ground my own meat now…
Good list. 😉
Cheese powder for those like me who have the taste buds of a 12 year old Joe. What’s wrong with ground meat?!
Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle says
I love reading these lists!! I feel like I always find one or two things that we don’t think about.
We are currently trying to add some healthier meats, ie fish, which isn’t cheap. But we are at the point of trying to enjoy how hard we’ve worked up to this point. And we love to eat, so that’s where we’re willing to splurge a bit.
We have tons of rice and oats in our house. My kids are obsessed with granola bars and oatmeal! So we either buy or make them constantly ?
Love your list!
Hehe thanks Ember. Fish is pricey, we should incorporate more fish but salmon is $7/lb here! Ahi tuna is $14!