simple natural living on a budget
simple natural living on a budget

31 Frugal Pantry Essentials: How to Stock a Frugal Pantry

Keep these frugal pantry essentials on hand so you can always throw together a quick meal. From breakfast to a healthy dinner, even desserts and snacks, you can make just about anything with these frugal pantry essentials!

31 Frugal Pantry Essentials: How to Stock a Frugal Pantry

Some times there’s more month than money and you just can’t afford to go to the grocery store right now. Keep your kitchen stocked with frugal pantry essentials so you won’t go hungry. Whip up a simple pantry meal the whole family will love.

Keeping your pantry stocked also helps keep your grocery budget in check. Constant trips to the store for forgotten ingredients or because you don’t know what to make adds up. Stock up on frugal pantry essentials when you find a great price.

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Many of these ingredients can be found in bulk bins to save even more money and have less waste. Some can even be made from scratch for an even bigger savings. There are so many store bought things you can make yourself if you have some basic pantry ingredients.

If you want more ideas & tips for how to keep your grocery budget down, check out:

Stocking Frugal Pantry Essentials on a Budget

Dry goods and canned foods are the best place to start stocking your pantry since they’re generally pretty cheap and last a long time. If you have the space, watch for these frugal pantry essentials to go on sale and stock up with enough for a few months or even a year. Keep a grocery price book to help you spot the really good sales!

Bulk bins are a great way to save money on frugal pantry essentials like rice and grains, oats, dried beans, and even spices. Shopping the bulk bins is also better for the environment creating less waste. Bonus if you bring your own reusable bags or containers!

Another good place to go for frugal pantry essentials is Aldi. They have prices on tons of essentials – regular, not sale prices – that are consistently lower than even the sale prices of most other stores.

If you don’t have an Aldi near you I’m so sorry! It’s the best! But look for other similar discount grocery stores. We have Save-a-Lot in my area too. Not quite as good as Aldi, but still a great place to find cheap canned goods.

Frugal Pantry Essentials

Plus some tips and inspiration for what to make with them!

1. Rice

Rice makes an inexpensive, filling side dish all by itself. But you can also use it in soups or casseroles. Pair it with a stir-fry or make fried rice. You can even go dessert with some rice pudding.

My favorite is jasmine rice. It makes the best fried rice! Fried rice is perfect for using up any little bits of left over meat or vegetables from last nights dinner. Add a few other pantry essentials and you’ve got a delicious new meal made from left-overs.

2. Pasta

Pasta can be a filling side dish or a meal all on it’s own. And you can always find boxes of a pasta for about a dollar or two. Sometimes even less than $1 when it’s on sale. That’s when I stock up.

I keep a few varieties on hand like angel hair or spaghetti, egg noodles, and another like penne, bow ties, spirals, or elbow macaroni. Add a few pantry basics and you can have homemade mac & cheese, a hearty soup, a delicious casserole, an Italian pasta dish, Chinese lo mein, or a simple family favorite – buttered noodles.

3. Dried or Canned Beans

Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, plus they’re super cheap. A can of beans only costs about $0.55. And dried beans are even cheaper.

Some of my favorites to keep in the pantry:

  • black beans
  • white beans like cannellini or great northern
  • kidney beans
  • pinto beans
  • chickpeas
  • lentils

You can make a classic beans and rice for a filling, super frugal meal. Make chili or add them to soups. Puree for a bean dip like hummus. Or make some refried beans.

Use beans or lentils to stretch your meat. Lentils are great to mash up and add to ground beef for things like tacos, meatloaf, or meatballs. Plus they’re an excellent source of protein for frugal meatless meals like a homemade veggie burger or black bean quesadillas.

4. Canned Tomatoes

Make your own (or dress up some store bought) pasta or pizza sauce, add them to soups or casseroles, or even make your own ketchup! An absolute necessity in any frugal pantry, check out some more ways to use canned tomatoes.

Always in my pantry:

  • diced tomatoes
  • crushed tomatoes
  • tomatoes with diced green chilies (like Rotel)
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste
  • marinara/spaghetti sauce (homemade or store bought)

Canning your own tomatoes (diced, sauce, paste, etc.) or spaghetti sauce is a fun & frugal way to stock the pantry. Especially if you grow your own tomatoes! Just make sure you follow a reliable recipe. Common canning mistakes like that can make your preserved food unsafe to eat.

5. Cream Soup

Keep some cream of chicken or mushroom in the pantry to throw together quick and easy pantry meals the whole family will love. They’re great for casseroles and slow cooker meals. You can make tons of other creative, easy meals with other condensed soups like tomato, cheddar cheese, and cream of celery too.

6. Canned Fruits & Vegetables

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of canned fruits & vegetables. Fresh or frozen is always tastier and more nutritious. But canned have their place in a well stocked pantry too.

If you only have one small freezer, you only have so much room to stock up. Or what if the power goes out? All of your frozen produce goes bad.

  • corn
  • creamed corn
  • peas
  • pineapple
  • peaches
  • pears
  • mandarin oranges

Home canning is a great alternative to freezing for long term storage. Peaches, pears, and mandarin oranges are all easy to can yourself in a waterbath canner. Vegetables aren’t quite as simple. They need pressure canned.

If you’re new to home canning, check out these Caning Basics for some Canning 101, supplies list, and step-by-step directions.

7. Canned Tuna or Chicken

Canned meats like chicken, tuna, or salmon are a great inexpensive source of protein. They last for years in your pantry and don’t need cooked. Use canned chicken in any recipe that calls for cooked or shredded chicken. It’s a huge time saver!

Canned fish can become salmon patties or tuna cakes. Stir a can into homemade or boxed mac and cheese. And of course you can always make the classics: tuna salad and tuna casserole.

8. Broth or Stock

Chicken, beef, or vegetable, broth or stock. Even bouillon cubes or powder. Any of them will do. Broth adds so much more flavor to your cooking than plain water. Perfect for soups, cooking grains like rice, and making sauces or gravies.

Canned or boxed are pretty inexpensive, but making your own is basically free. Boil leftover chicken bones with some vegetable scraps you would otherwise toss, and a few hours later, you have homemade chicken stock!

9. Spices

Spices are an absolute necessity in any pantry. You can’t make a flavorful, delicious meal without some seasoning! There are so many more spices you could add to your pantry, but these are the ones I use most commonly:

  • salt
  • black pepper
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • cinnamon
  • paprika
  • cumin
  • parsley
  • basil
  • oregano
  • chili powder

At the bare minimum, start with the first 5 spices on the list. While some can be quite expensive, the spices on this list are all fairly cheap. Spices can be found in bulk as well for an even bigger savings or when you only need a small amount.

10. Bread Crumbs

Bread crumbs are great for breading chicken, fish, and veggies. They also work as a binder in things like meatloaf, meatballs, or tuna cakes. Make them yourself and they’re practically free.

Bread crumbs are super easy to make yourself with a few leftover, stale pieces of bread, buns, or rolls. And basically free since you were just going to toss those stale buns/bread.

11. Bread

From sandwiches to toast, bread is another frugal pantry essential for every kitchen. Baking your own bread is a great way to be even more frugal. It only costs a few cents to bake a loaf of bread plus it’s delicious. It takes time and a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, nothing beats fresh bread.

12. Tortillas

Tortillas last a long time in the pantry, much longer than a loaf of bread. And they’re for so much more than just tacos! You can make wraps of all kinds, casseroles, or another favorite at my house – quesadillas. They’re a great way to use up left over bits of meat, beans, or veggies in a whole new way.

13. Breakfast Cereal

Cereal is a pantry essential, especially if you have kids! Full price, brand-name cereal can be kind of expensive. Buy generic (Aldi is my #1 spot for cereal!) or look for big sales and/or coupons on your favorites to save 50% or more. Stock up with a few months worth when it’s super cheap.

14. Oats

A big bowl of oatmeal makes the perfect cheap and filling breakfast. Add some nuts, dried or frozen fruit if you have it, maple syrup, or even a little brown sugar and cinnamon.

But oats are for more than just oatmeal! Use them to stretch your meat in things like meatloaf or meatballs. Make muffins, cookies, granola, or my favorite Oatmeal Energy Bites. They’re so quick and easy AND good for you too!

15. Baking Ingredients

You can bake just about anything at home with a few frugal pantry essentials. Bake your own breads, pizza crust and rolls. Make tortillas, pitas or biscuits. Avoid the store bought junk with homemade cookies and cakes.

Even if you don’t plan on baking much, many of these are so cheap and useful, you’ll want to keep them on hand:

  • Flour: The main ingredient in just about any kind of baked good. Keep a bag in your pantry to make your own cookies, cakes, and crackers. Even if you don’t bake, use it to make a roux for gravies and sauces, dredge meat before pan-frying, and you need flour to bread things like chicken strips or fish.
  • Sugar: White sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar all belong in any well stocked pantry. They’re all super cheap and not just for baking either.
  • Baking Soda & Baking Powder: Frugal pantry essentials in so many baked goods, baking soda and baking powder are always in my pantry. Baking soda especially as I use it for cleaning as well.
  • Corn Starch: Used in baking and to thicken sauces by making a slurry, similar to how a roux works. It’s also great as a crispy coating on meat or veggies. Check out all these ways to use corn starch for more ideas.
  • Cocoa Powder: There’s brownies, cookies, cakes, and hot chocolate to be made. But you can also use cocoa powder in some savory recipes too. It’s a common ingredient in Mexican recipes.
  • Yeast: If you plan on baking from scratch you need yeast. Yeast helps dough rise, creating a nice fluffy loaf of bread, pizza crust, or homemade cinnamon rolls.

16. Nuts & Dried Fruit

Walnuts, almonds, or peanuts are some of the most budget-friendly nuts. Cashews, pecans, and pistachios are great too if you can find them at a decent price. Bulk bins are a great place to look for affordable nuts.

Full of healthy fats, fiber, and protein, add some nuts to baked goods or granola. Mix up some trail mix or just eat them plain for a healthy snack. Even grind them up for a crispy coating on meat or fish.

Dried fruit like raisins, coconut flakes, or dried cranberries are all inexpensive and last a long time. They’re great for baked goods, trail mix, or mixing into oatmeal or yogurt.

17. Olive Oil & Vegetable Oil

Every kitchen needs some oil. Olive oil for sauteing or making salad dressings and vegetable oil (like canola oil) for baking and high heat cooking. Coconut oil is another good one to add to your pantry.

18. Vinegar

There are many different kinds of vinegar, but these are the ones I keep on hand:

  • white vinegar
  • apple cider vinegar
  • red wine vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • rice vinegar.

You can use vinegar for cooking, marinades, salad dressings, even cleaning or hair care!

19. Salsa

Salsa is great for making quick meals tossed together with a few other pantry essentials. Make all kinds of Mexican inspired dishes, from soups to casseroles or simple salsa chicken. It’s also a low calorie topper for anything from Mexican food to baked potatoes. Or you could just eat it with some chips of course!

20. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a super cheap source of protein. It’s great for cooking and making sauces, baking, and of course the classic peanut butter sandwich.

21. Condiments

All cheap and flavorful ingredients for topping or seasoning foods and making sauces or marinades. Keep some of these condiments on hand to whip up a tasty meal.

  • Soy Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Mayo
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Hot Sauce
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup

22. Fresh Produce Frugal Pantry Essentials

There are a few inexpensive fresh produce items every frugal pantry needs:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots

Use onions and garlic to flavor just about any savory dish. Snack on carrots raw or cooked. And we all know how delicious and versatile potatoes are: baked, mashed, or fried. All inexpensive and long lasting if stored in a cool place.

There are a few fruits I keep on hand as well. These are generally pretty cheap any time of year and they’re great for snacking, baking, and cooking savory dishes too.

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Seasonal Fruit (whatever is cheap)

Stocking Your Fridge & Freezer with Frugal Pantry Essentials

There are a few more frugal pantry essentials that don’t exactly go in the pantry. You need to keep your fridge and freezer stocked as well if you want to be able to throw together a meal and save money on your grocery budget.

23. Eggs

Eggs are the perfect source of inexpensive, quality protein. They’re so versatile too! From breakfast to dinner, eat them scrambled, fried, hard boiled, in an omelette, quiche, or casserole. Eggs are used in so many baked goods and other recipes it’s an absolute frugal pantry essential.

24. Butter

Butter is in so many recipes, both savory dishes and baked goods. No kitchen is complete without it. Real butter isn’t always cheap, so watch for it to go on sale and stock up!

25. Yogurt

Plain yogurt is a great source of protein and healthy probiotics. Use it in place of sour cream in savory recipes, baked goods, or as a topping on baked potatoes or chili. Make a smoothie or simply eat yogurt plain with some toppings.

The cheapest way is to buy the bigger tub of yogurt rather than the single serving size. You can even make your own yogurt!

26. Milk

We don’t drink much milk at my house, but I keep a gallon in the fridge for cooking and baking, and of course for cereal.

If you’re dairy-intolerant like my little nugget, keep some almond or coconut milk in the fridge. I buy both at Aldi for almost half the price of the name brand ones. You can even find non-dairy milk in shelf-stable cartons so you can really stock up.

27. Cheese

Cheese makes everything taste better! Buy whole blocks of cheese rather than shredded for more savings. Watch the prices because cheese can be kind of expensive. Keep a few of your favorites on hand like cheddar, mozzarella, american, and Parmesan.

28. Frozen Vegetables

Fresh vegetables have a short shelf life and can be quite expensive, especially when they’re not in season. Keep some frozen on hand like:

  • broccoli
  • peas
  • corn
  • cauliflower
  • green beans
  • mixed veggies
  • spinach

Frozen tastes better and has more nutrition than canned for about the same price. You can find bags of frozen veggies for around $1 each or freeze your own from the garden or when you find a great deal.

29. Frozen Fruit

Same goes for fruit: frozen is much cheaper and just as nutritious as fresh. Great for baked goods, smoothies, or stirred into oatmeal or yogurt. Keep some berries or mango in your freezer.

30. Chicken or Pork

Chicken and pork are two of the cheapest meats. Look for the less expensive cuts like bone-in chicken. I’ve seen chicken leg quarters on sale for $0.50 / lb and split chicken breast for $0.69 / lb. Grocery stores regularly have sales on bone-in chicken thighs and even chicken breast. I never pay more than $2/lb for chicken.

Pork is my other favorite. I buy whole pork loin when it’s on sale. It’s generally cheap than buying pre-cut pork chops, plus you have control over how thick you like them. Slice your own pork chops or cut them into smaller roasts before freezing.

31. Ground Beef or Turkey

Ground beef or ground turkey can be cooked about a million different ways. You can find ground beef on sale for less than $2/lb sold in 5 lb “family packs”. Buy the larger quantities for the best price, and separate into smaller portions before freezing.

Stock your kitchen with frugal pantry essentials to save money and make quick and easy meals!

This is a list of the items I keep in my pantry. I use them all regularly in my cooking/baking and meal planning. If there are things you know your family won’t or can’t eat leave them out. You don’t have to go out and buy everything on the list.

Or maybe I forgot a few frugal pantry essentials you always have on hand? Let me know in the comments below!

If you need more help getting your grocery budget under control, check out these other awesome posts:

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