As I mentioned a few posts ago, I just purchased my first home. In the 1.5 months before my move, I decided to eat down my pantry – although I was moving about 10 minutes away, I really, really, REALLY hate moving and didn’t want to have to pack/move a lot of food. I was able to go almost the whole time without buying “real” groceries – just a few fill-in items here and there in the fresh foods categories. This saved me a good deal of money that I needed to save for the moving process (more on why that was a good idea in a future post!), but it has also saved me a few times in the past when I have been very short on cash.
I am a firm believer that everyone should have some pantry staples around for the lean times or in case of emergency. When the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011 came around, I was one of hundreds of thousands who were suddenly caught with their pants down – we weren’t prepared for an emergency, and our pantries were DEFINITELY not ready. After that happened, I made sure to keep foods around that I could prepare easily without electricity for if that happened again (I live in a tornado-prone area). I have also had times where I am living paycheck-to-paycheck and had to rely on the foods I had stocked up on when I had a little cash – maybe that paycheck the grocery budget had to go to an unexpected car repair. This is also a great time to learn to cook, if you don’t already know how. Being able to take the contents of your pantry and create a meal out of it can be a financial lifesaver.
Here is my list of pantry staples. The asterisk (*) denotes a must –have item in my opinion. The others are items that I like to keep around, because they typically don’t perish quickly or can be frozen for a later time. Those “extra” items also make it easier to incorporate more variety into your diet – after all, you can eat canned beans everyday and be fed, but you will be tired of them quickly!
– All-purpose flour*
– Brown sugar
– Cocoa powder
– Baking powder*
– Baking soda* (also helpful for cleaning!!)
– Vegetable oil*
Pantry/Shelf –Stable Items:
– Tomato paste
– Crushed canned tomatoes*
– Rice (I like to keep white, brown and jasmine rice around, but white rice is the most cost-effective in my area)*
– Black beans (either canned or dry, dry being cheaper but requiring more time/effort)*
– Lentils (dry)
– Canned soup (not too many, but when you come home from working 14 hours and are just hungry and broke and want something that requires no effort – total lifesaver).
– Canned tuna*
– Hot Sauce (everything is better with hot sauce, in my opinion)*
– Mayo (not a huge fan, but it is good for tuna salad or some recipes)
– Soy sauce
– Olive oil*
– Peanut butter*
– Canned veggies (I usually keep green beans, corn and peas around)*
– Bouillon cubes (for stock –I usually keep chicken around, because that’s what I use the most, but you can get veggie, beef, or fish stock. You can also make your own, of course, but I typically don’t have enough scraps to make my own!)*
– Canned green chilies (I like to add it to Mexican dishes)
– Flavored Vinegar (I prefer balsamic or red wine)
– Tortillas (I do a lot of Mexican!)
– Bread of some sort – loaf, English muffin, bagel, etc. Something carb packed so you can make a sandwich type of meal.
– Seasoning herbs & spices (I love variety when it comes to this, so I have a lot. I would recommend to start with, though: salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, basil, thyme, rosemary, paprika, chili powder, cayenne powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove. If you have this many spices, you should be well on your way to flavoring anything your heart desires. Of course, you will want to omit anything that you just absolutely hate.)
– Garlic (I say this is refrigerated because I like to buy the minced garlic jars in olive oil for frugality’s sake. I do love fresh garlic, though!)*
– Milk (I prefer soy milk because I like the taste better and it lasts longer, but it’s up to you)
– Cream cheese
– Sour cream
– CHEESE! (Usually, shredded sharp cheddar makes everything better)*
– Frozen shrimp
– Frozen veggies/fruits (I prefer broccoli, green beans, and asparagus)*
– Ground beef
– Chicken breasts
– Pork loin or something I can use to make BBQ
– Polska Kielbasa (great to stretch with peppers or with rice or in a gumbo/stew!)
*Note that none of these are essential. If you are really living lean, meat will be a luxury, not a necessity. Vegetarian meals can be a frugal pantry lifesaver!
– Oranges (citrus fruits keep for a long time, which is why I like to have them around – plus, at some times during the year, you can get it in bulk cheaply and it won’t go bad before you can eat it)
– Bell pepper
– Potatoes (you can get a good deal on russets, and use these to stretch out meals)
– Lemon/lime (great for seasoning meats and some starches/soups/salad dressings)
I know that this list reflects my personal eating habits, and it may not be the healthiest choices, but when times are really lean, these staples have gotten me by. I typically like to use fresh fruits and vegetables when I can, not canned or frozen. I also like to buy meat on sale and then freeze it to use later. I typically have very little refrigerated meat, it’s usually frozen. I also try to keep junk food to a minimum, because I am the worst about ‘grazing’! What type of items do you like to keep on hand in the pantry?
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