One of the best ways to save money in the kitchen is to keep a well-stocked pantry. Learn which pantry essentials you should have on hand if you’re looking to stay in more and eat out less.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no cost to you.
FEEDING DREAMS WITH THE FRUGAL KITCHEN PANTRY
Most of us have savings goals. Some of us want to buy a house, a car, or a family vacation; others want to be able to afford karate classes for their children. Whatever those goals may be, one way to get closer to them is to eat out less. The temptation to dial for delivery or to make a quick stop at the fast food joint on the way home from work is weakened if you know you have something you can whip up with minimal effort. Accepting the challenge of using what’s on hand is not only gentler on your pocketbook, but it’s usually better for your waistline, too! And guess what? It all starts with what you have in the kitchen pantry. The frugal kitchen pantry.
WHAT THE FRUGAL KITCHEN PANTRY ISN’T
The frugal kitchen pantry isn’t about having cheap ingredients. While I believe in buying ingredients more intelligently, whether that’s in bulk or on sale, when I’m stocking my pantry I want to be able to understand the ingredient labels. Ergo, even if a regular can of diced tomatoes is cheaper, I’ll opt for the low-sodium can with fewer ingredients. I won’t be telling you how to shop in this post though, only what to shop for. Also, if you’re looking to organize your pantry, this isn’t the post for you.
WHAT TO STORE IN THE FRUGAL KITCHEN PANTRY
There are several areas that we will be focusing on: dry goods, canned goods, freezer goods, produce staples, and oils & seasonings.
The majority of the dry goods in the frugal kitchen pantry are purchased in bulk. Legumes are either bought in large size formats or from the bulk bins. The same holds true for grains.
If there’s one thing I’m seldom without in the frugal kitchen pantry, it’s pasta. I don’t eat pasta every week or anything, but it’s one of the easiest meals to put together in a pinch. All you need is a tomato sauce, or even a white sauce, like béchamel, for the most basic dish. I don’t usually stop there, mind you. I’ll chop up onions and garlic, maybe some celery, peppers, and tomatoes; whatever I have on hand.
LENTILS: Of all the legumes that are out there, lentils are my favourite. Unlike most other legumes, lentils don’t need any planning as they can be tender in 20 minutes or less. I incorporate them into buddha bowls; use them for burger patties; toss them in salads; power up rice; and plan soups around them. I keep green, red, and brown lentils in my pantry at all times.
KIDNEY BEANS AND NAVY BEANS: Whenever I plan a menu that includes chili, I need to soak the beans two nights before. I cook them the next day, and then set the chili to do its thing in a slow cooker the following day. If you have an Instant-pot, however, your beans will be ready to use in less than 45 minutes.
BLACK BEANS: When you have these cooked and ready to go, they’re great for salads, burger patties, salsas and Mexican-inspired cuisine.
CHICKPEAS: While I prefer canned chickpeas for making hummus, the frugal kitchen pantry is never without chickpeas. They’re wonderful for adding a quick protein to a meal (like a curry in a hurry, tee hee!) and are terrific in salads. Tossed in olive oil and spices, and then roasted, they make a healthy, wholesome snack.
COUSCOUS: I had a roommate in university who basically lived off of couscous for a year. It’s the fastest cooking grain I know. Even the whole wheat option is ready after five minutes of soaking in boiling water! I love it for buddha bowls and savoury breakfast bowls.
RICE: What would I do without rice? If I make a big batch one day for a side of fish, I can fry up the leftovers the following day. It’s there for me when I make vegetable stir fry or curries. Since I’m all about clean, whole ingredients, brown basmati rice is my mainstay. I love wild rice, too, but it takes awhile to cook and it’s not the cheapest option either.
QUINOA: When I don’t want rice or couscous, I make quinoa. Really, I should probably make it more often because it’s a complete protein. It’s one of my favourite buddha bowl bases and is awesome in salads, soups and chili.
HULLED BARLEY AND PEARLED BARLEY: What’s the difference between hulled barley and pearled barley? Processing! Hulled barley is less refined and has a nuttier flavour than pearled barley. It’s almost chewy in texture, kind of like steel cut oats, and makes a great side if mixed together with sautéd mushrooms. Pearled barley cooks faster and is the favourite option in most beef barley soup recipes.
OATS: I use these for breakfast, of course! I’m not against eating oatmeal for dinner, too. Have you ever tried steel cut oats? Did you know you can ferment them to cut down on cooking time?
I almost feel silly including this as a pantry item because I’ve never been without flour. If you have flour, yeast, salt and sugar you can make a pizza crust. With butter, flour and milk, you can make a basic white sauce for pastas, pizza, and pot pies. Speaking of pot pies, you can make a crust if you have flour! And cookies. Let’s never forget about cookies.
TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN
For the vegetarians out there, this is one thing you should have in your pantry! I’m not kidding. It upsets me when I see my vegetarian friends throwing money away on pre-made veggie ground round when it costs less than a dollar to make it from scratch. When you have veggie ground round, you can use it to make shepherd’s pie, tacos, chili, and almost any dish that cals for ground meat.
Apart from canned soup which I like to have in hand just in case the power goes out and I’m desperate, I keep a few of these ingredients handy…
CRUSHED & DICED TOMATOES
These items are constantly being restocked in the frugal kitchen pantry because they’re so darn useful. If you’re lucky enough have tomatoes you canned yourself, that’s even better. I regularly use crushed and diced tomatoes for soups, sauces, and chili. Here are a couple of formulas:
Beans + crushed tomatoes + diced tomatoes = chili
Crushed tomatoes + spices = pizza sauce
CHICKPEAS & BLACK BEANS
I mentioned earlier that I prefer canned chickpeas for hummus. I also prefer canned black beans for the purpose of making refried beans. For the most part, I try to use dried beans as much as possible in my recipes (it’s more cost effective), but sometimes it just doesn’t work out, in which case I’m grateful for a supply of canned beans.
I adore the flavour of coconut milk. It’s a delight in soups and curries, so I always make sure to have at least one can available.
I spent close to a decade living in rental apartment units. I then spent the last five years toying with the idea of investing in a small chest freezer, but never made the leap. Big mistake. Having a small chest freezer lets you make savvy purchases and prep meals in advance that you can stash away for a lazy day.
Ah, shrimp. Whether it’s to toss in a pasta, stuff in tacos, or add to a stir fry, I’m always grateful when there’s a bag of shrimp in the freezer. Once, when I was at a complete loss for what to make for dinner, I made a shrimp pot pie.
Fish is one of my favourite proteins. Whenever we’re at Costco, my husband, Big Papa, and I buy fish. It’s easy enough to grill up trout fillets and serve them with rice and vegetables. Alternatively, wrapping fillets in parchment paper dressed with lemon and spices makes for a simple, yet delicious meal, too. When you spot your favourite fish on sale, snap it up!
I don’t usually buy the frozen blends of vegetables, but I do keep corn, peas, and edamame ready and waiting in the freezer. It’s nice to be able to add in something extra to curries, stir fry and shepherd’s pie.
The frugal kitchen pantry keeps frozen fruit handy for smoothies, hot cereal toppings, and impromptu baking projects. In the winter months when berries are expensive and have as much flavour as water, frozen berries are a good frugal alternative.
Broth? Yes, that’s what I said! I save a good chunk of money making my own broth from scratch using scraps. I freeze the broth in manageable amounts so when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of broth, I can easily pull the quantity I need.
I go through a lot of butter. It’s one of my favourite ingredients and I don’t believe in margarine, which was originally created because butter was being rationed in wartime. Kitchen ingenuity during wartime takes my breath away, but the butter alternatives do not. Looking at the prices of butter, I understand why a lot of people reach for the tub of oleo, but that’s why I never buy butter at full price: I’d go broke! Whenever I see a butter sale in the flyer, I buy three or four bricks at a time and into the freezer they go!
These are the ingredients that I hate to be without and that need the most replenishing. Is there anything you would add to this list?
North American society, I find, is fairly carb conscious. Fifteen years ago the Atkins diet was all the craze and now it’s keto this and keto that. Keto everything! Why can’t we just eat healthy and eat things in moderation? I digress. Today the potato gets a bad rep, but in wartime, it’s a hero. Did you know potatoes have more potassium than a banana? That they’re full of vitamins, like C and B6? They also keep you full and they’re super affordable. I picked up a ten pound bag the other day for two dollars. Two dollars! Of course I was going to pop it in the cart! They’re great for sides, soups, stews, potato pancakes, and shepherd’s pie. I could keep going, but I’ll save my raving for a future post: an Ode to Potatoes.
I love carrots for the fresh pop of colour they offer to the table. I often grate carrots to include them in salads, burger meat, and fritters. Carrot coins go into soups and stir fry. If I’m making a roast, boom. Carrots join the party in the roasting pan. And need I remind you that they make excellent snacks to crunch into? If you don’t need the reminder, that’s okay, because I do!
Be it onions, garlic, or shallots, I like having at least two of these options on hand. Shallots are beautiful additions to vinaigrettes, salads, omelettes, and anything that wants a mild onion flavour. Garlic goes into almost everything I make, and onions are full of flavour and do so much for a dish. In addition to being flavourful, the allium family also boasts a slew of health benefits, so unless you’re allergic, the frugal kitchen pantry cannot be without them.
Of everything that I make a point of keeping on hand, eggs are the one ingredient I run out of the most. I feel like Big Papa and I are constantly going out on egg runs. We need chickens. One day… One day… While we use eggs mostly for breakfast purposes, I’m always turning to them for help. Don’t know what to make for lunch? Breakfast sandwich. Stumped on dinner? Breakfast sandwich. Breakfast is always appropriate; that’s why some diners offer breakfast all day! Breakfast aside, eggs are useful and are often called upon in recipes.
This is less produce and more dairy, but I’m lumping it in here. If I don’t have milk, I don’t have kefir, and if you know me, I go through a lot of kefir. In my post on Frugal Kitchen Rules, I point out the virtues of making a white sauce, in which milk plays a vital role. If you know how to make a white sauce, a new world of dinner options is opened up to you.
I had every intention of talking about condiments, oils and spices, but I’ve already been enough of a chatterbox for today as it is. Did you find this post useful? Are there any must-haves in your pantry that I didn’t include here? This was by no means an exhaustive list, but if you’re looking to have a healthier and more budget-friendly kitchen, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought!
THE FRUGAL KITCHEN PANTRY VIDEO: PART ONE
SHOP THIS POST:
Börner Julienne Slicer (what I grate carrots with)
Chalk markers (I use these to label my glass jars)