The Prudent Pantry: Stocking the Basics

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Let’s talk about kitchen staples. These are the essentials that you should always have on hand, such as cereal, pasta and olive oil. They’re different for everyone, of course, but with them, in whatever form they take for you, you’re never without the ingredients for a meal–give or take some produce. My staples include:

  • Flour and cornmeal. I bake my own bread, so these are absolutely essential.
  • Rice. I keep several varieties, including sushi and brown.
  • Popcorn. Not only is this a great snack for the whole family, but it’s also a last-minute meal solution for my three-year-old. (Okay, let’s be honest: for me, too.)
  • Canned tomatoes. I use these for everything from pasta sauce and pizza sauce to recipes calling for fresh tomatoes to chili.
  • Onions and garlic. These are technically produce, so need to be purchased more frequently than dry goods, but they are cooking staples for me!
  • Peanut butter. Sometimes I buy other nut butters as well.
  • Canned goods, including beans (for when I don’t have time to cook dried beans), tuna and sometimes soups.
  • Frozen food. I keep chicken breasts and some vegetable or another, as well as a supply of stock.

And depending on the time of year, various other items as well.

As long as I have these items and some sort of vegetable, I can make a meal. Even without fresh items, I can scrounge something together–peanut butter sandwiches are always an option, and I don’t find myself needing to resort to them often; in fact, I only eat peanut butter sandwiches when I want to.

Keeping staples on hand cuts down on impulse buys, which is the number one way I know of to save money while grocery shopping. My advice is to buy dry goods in the absolute largest quantities you a) can afford, b) have room to store, and c) reasonably expect to use. Buy the five-pound bag of sugar so that you don’t run out and have to buy the half-pound box at the corner store, where the price per pound is double the bulk price. Ditto the 20-pound bag of flour, the ten-pound bag of rice, and so forth.

There are many options for buying in bulk. Discount stores like Costco are one option, and even if you don’t have a membership (which can be costly), chances are you know someone who does and will bring you as their guest. There are also non-membership discount stores in some areas, such as Smart ‘n Final. And don’t forget that nearly all health food stores have bulk bins, which can save you money on healthier options.

What are your pantry essentials? Any tips on buying?

Annika Barranti is a writer living in Los Angeles and blogging at Through the Looking Glass. She and her husband are raising two children and trying to eat well on a tiny budget.

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  1. Crystal.Ritchie

    5 years ago

    We keep coconut milk on hand and use it instead of cream for sauces – it’s a bit healthier than cream and lasts a lot longer. Butter is a big one as well and it can go in the freezer until it’s needed. Corn flakes are great for breading (and fairly cheap). We always have a ton of pasta and tomato sauce in the cupboard. Oh, and oats which are versatile (cookies, granola, breakfast, dessert topping).

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  2. sreeve

    5 years ago

    Many of your staples are essential to my pantry, too. I’ll add tortillas, eggs and bacon/sausage (can be frozen until needed, and a little bit can add a lot of flavor). Now, these don’t necessarily belong in the pantry, but I always have them on hand. I’ve noticed that most of the chain grocery stores have been discounting the basics drastically, and even offering coupons for free staple items, like milk and eggs, in order to get us in the door and hopefully buy the pricier fun stuff. But I scan the sale fliers that typically come on Tuesdays, and then make my shopping list.

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  3. ShoppinHolly

    5 years ago

    I store a LOT of food–both to save money and be ready for anything (well, lots of things, anyway). In addition to everything you listed above, we also keep a TON of pasta and canned spaghetti sauce, salsa, mayo, guacamole, and the dried soup bullion cubes. Also oatmeal, cereal, and Cup o Noodle soup, and water.

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  4. BeckyKirsch

    5 years ago

    I always like to have a reserve jar of Sun Dried Tomatoes in Oil in the back of the pantry – always good to add to a boring looking salad for some color and intense flavor, and can be versatile in pastas as well.

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