Pantry Staple Ingredients is a term that I use A LOT on here, and that's because they are the most basic, multipurpose ingredients you can possibly keep stocked on your shelves.
Whether they can be stored long term, are found in a can or in a box, or are kept in the fridge/freezer, these ingredients can help you make just about anything.
Being able to make "just about anything" means that you can stretch your grocery budget. It's one of the best tips for Meal Planning on a Tight Budget and Reverse Meal Planning.
When you know How to Stockpile Food On a Budget, you can make Cheap Pantry Meals, and successfully complete a No Spend Challenge or a Clean Out the Pantry Challenge.
What Are Pantry Staples?
Pantry staples are common ingredients found in many homes. These ingredients can range from canned vegetables to eggs and milk. Think of what you use most often in your home when making meals, and you'll probably name a few pantry staples along the way.
These are things to always have in your pantry so that you can make lemons out of lemonade no matter what life throws at you.
A job loss or loss of income, a government strike resulting in the delay of paychecks or food vouchers, an injury, or a vehicle breaking down can all cause sudden and unexpected events that will affect how you shop and plan for food.
Having some frugal pantry staples on hand can ensure that you're still able to feed the family, no matter how tight the budget gets.
Cheap Pantry Staples
Here I will break down the ingredients and the "why" you should have them on hand. Down below, I'll include a link to the printable.
To buy pantry staples on a budget, simply buy a little of this or that as the finances allow and aim for things that have the longest shelf life or most versatility first before moving on to the others.
Even just $5-$10 a week can be a great way to bulk up your pantry and create a tiny stockpile of necessities.
Canned veggies often receive a lot of negative talks because, well, they're in a can. Therefore they can't be as good for you as fresh, right? Wrong. Canned vegetables retain a great deal of nutrients, and if you shop properly, you can avoid canned veggies that have high levels of sodium as well.
Just check the back of the can and select the ones that only mention water and vegetable as the ingredients.
I like to keep 4 cans of green beans and 4 cans of whole kernel corn on hand at all times. I'll keep 2 cans of canned peas too, but these only get used when I make my Mac and Cheese Tuna Casserole.
When I need a fast veggie for dinner, I'll grab a can of green beans or corn and have them ready in minutes. Check out my Air Fryer Canned Green Beans, The Best Canned Green Bean Recipe, Air Fryer Canned Corn, and Easy Canned Corn Recipe for some delicious usage ideas.
Spaghetti Sauce/Alfredo Sauce
I buy canned spaghetti sauce (Hunt's brand from Walmart). They're cheap, have lower calories and sugar per serving than many other brands, which is great for when I'm watching what I eat, and the flavors aren't too bad.
I stick with Walmarts's brand (found in a glass jar) for Alfredo sauce. The sauce isn't the best tasting out there, and it definitely doesn't compare to homemade sauces like my Cream Cheese Alfredo Sauce, but it's cheap and easy to customize.
When making chicken alfredo, I like to pour out the thick sauce into a pot with garlic and cooked chicken pieces. Then I'll add milk or cream (depending on what I have on hand) into the jar (about ¼-1/2 cup) and close the jar and shake it around. Then pour the thin liquid into the pot with the thicker sauce and meat. Adding seasonings also helps to make it taste better.
For a cheap meal, I'll dice a chicken breast, use a box worth of cooked pasta, a jar of Alfredo sauce, and a bag of frozen veggies, and mix everything together. Sometimes I'll add garlic bread or a salad if it's in the budget.
Dry Pasta Noodles
A bag of egg noodles or a box of lasagna noodles will cost you more than a box of "regular" noodles like spaghetti, linguine, elbow, or penne. That said, keeping a good variety in your home means you can have an abundance of meal options.
I like to keep 2 of each type of pasta in our home, well, 2 of each type that we regularly use. This means 2 boxes of elbow noodles, 2 boxes of spaghetti, 2 boxes of rotini, penne, etc.
If you're going for cheap, stick with store brands or good sales on name brands. If you're looking for healthy, aim for the hidden veggies, protein pasta, or similar.
Dry pasta can last for a very long time (months if not years) if stored properly. Depending on where you live, you may find it best to keep the pasta stored in a deep freezer to avoid bugs, but if you live in the north, you may not have that issue and can be fine keeping boxed pasta on a shelf for 6+ months.
I'll be honest; I actually don't keep canned beans on the shelf as much as I'd like to, but I do often tell myself life would be easier if I did.
Adding black beans to your cooked rice, adding navy beans to a soup, chickpeas to a salad, etc. These can all be great ways to add protein to your diet without needing meat.
You can even Save Money by Stretching Meat with canned beans in recipes like tacos or enchiladas.
Not just canned beans, but canned baked beans are great to have on hand for a fast side dish too. My kids love baked beans, so I try to keep a can or two on hand for easy dinners.
Dry beans are cheaper than canned beans and require additional effort, like soaking and cooking the beans before use. Not only that but the longer the dry beans sit on the shelf, the longer they'll need to be cooked.
I find dry beans intimidating, so I try not to touch them if at all possible. I'm more comfortable with canned convenience.
Want chili? Need to stretch a taco filling? Want to thicken a sauce? Or simply looking for more colors and flavor? Keep a can or two of tomato paste on hand, along with some cans of Rotel, tomato sauce, or diced tomatoes.
If you buy the plain versions, you can adapt them however you want when they're needed.
Oils and Vinegars
Something you'll use a lot when cooking is oil. Anything from canola oil to vegetable oil, olive oil, or even sesame oil can be great in helping your recipes along.
Oil not only helps to prevent food from sticking to pans, but it also helps to promote even browning, even cooking, and seasoning adhering too. In baked goods, oils can help to make foods taste moist, thanks to the added fats.
Vinegar is great in a lot of recipes too. White vinegar is good for everything from recipes to cleaning because it's great at descaling a coffee pot or shower head. It can also help with the laundry or kill mold.
Apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and red wine vinegar are all great too. Baking Tip- Apple cider vinegar can make chocolate cakes taste richer.
Keeping sauces like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce on hand can be great too! They can add a lot of depth of flavor to everything from soups to meatloaf to sauces too.
In some countries, soy sauce is the preferred seasoning of choice and is more widely used than salt.
White and brown rice are basic and cheap, often found in large 2-5 pound bags at the grocery store for under $5. They're perfect for bulking up meals or creating side dishes. Leftover cooked white rice can even be repurposed into Hot Dog Fried Rice or Quick Horchata (With Leftover Rice).
Dry rice can last a very long time as long as it stays properly sealed, but again, like the dry pasta, if bugs are an issue, you may wish to consider freezing the rice for long term storage.
My kids and husband aren't fans of brown rice, so I make sure to keep plenty of white rice, yellow rice, and even quick cooking white rice on hand.
Quick cooking rice is my favorite for recipes like Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole and Easy Salsa Rice.
I also try to keep boxed rice side dishes on hand too. Wild rice is great for One Pot Wild Rice Pilaf, but Rice a Roni or Knorrs Cheddar Broccoli Rice is a cheap side dish we all love to eat.
Keeping cans of tuna or chicken on hand is a great idea for many reasons. For one, the meat is already cooked so in the event of a blackout or power outage, you can still enjoy some protein in the form of sandwich filling, cracker dip, or snack.
I like to keep canned tuna in water on hand for recipes like my Air Fryer Tuna Melt, but it can just as easily be turned into a Cheesy Tuna Noodle Casserole. Canned chicken is also pretty versatile and easy to add to recipes or menu plans.
I try to make sure that I always have at least one jar of salsa on hand at any point in time. Salsa can add flavor and moisture to a dry batch of scrambled eggs or overcooked hashbrowns. They can flavor up a rice dish, add moisture to taco filling, and more.
I even like to add salsa to my Dorito Taco Salad!
Maple syrup can always be found in my home, but I tend to use cheaper versions of maple syrup. I use maple syrup to make my Maple Iced Coffee now and then, but it's mostly my kids that use it, so 90% of what gets poured ends up in a puddle on their plates. If I had bought the more expensive maple syrup, I have no doubt most of it would have been wasted in the same manner.
You can keep your favorite maple syrup on hand, or you can DIY your syrup with corn syrup and flavoring as needed.
While I go cheap on maple syrup, I pay more for fresh local honey. I find that my money is best served this way. Not only that, but I use honey very often and with everything from my Jiffy Cornbread With Cake Mix to my Honey Chocolate Chip Cookies and then some.
Fresh local honey supports the local beekeepers, and it tastes better too. That said, there's nothing wrong with buying it from a store, either. I grew up with the storebought stuff because there was no risk of bee stingers in the honey (my mother is allergic to bees), but now that I'm grown, I buy what I like.
Honey is fantastic for keeping on hand because it NEVER expires. Honey from thousands of years ago is still edible. Note that it will crystalize after some time, but you can warm it up to make it smooth again.
You may need peanut alternative peanut butter, depending on your preferences, but keeping either on hand is great for many reasons. Fast lunches (sandwiches), cookies and baked goods, a spoonful of peanut butter for a quick snack, adding a dollop to smoothies or oatmeal, etc.
An unopened jar of peanut butter can last up to 2 years, so if you find yourself with a lot of WIC Benefits, you have time to use up the peanut butter you stockpile along the way.
I keep chicken stock on hand. I find a 32 ounce carton of chicken stock can be used for practically anything and I especially love it when I make Roasted Frozen Cauliflower.
That said, if space is an issue, keeping bullion cubes or "better than bullion" jars in the pantry/fridge are great options as well because then all you need to do is just add water.
In my pantry, I keep quick cooking oats, instant oatmeal, and old fashioned oats on hand at all times. Do we eat a lot of oatmeal? Nope. Do I wish I did? Yes.
Instant oatmeal packets are great for a fast warm breakfast, and they come preflavored. Quick cooking oats work great to stretch ground beef and do well in a Simple Meatloaf Recipe with Oatmeal. Old fashioned oats are fantastic in Overnight Oats too.
There's a lot of versatility with oats from cookies to coffee cakes, breakfast, and dinner. Oats are cheap, fibrous, and filling too.
When I talk about pantry staple spices, I specifically mean the most basic of basic seasonings. Things like salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, cinnamon, garlic powder, paprika, and onion powder. Spices that can be added to just about anything.
You should keep a nice stock of seasonings on hand, seasonings that you already know, love, and use often. This will ensure that you can always adjust a recipe "to taste."
While seasoning can last almost indefinitely, I recommend buying fresh yearly if at all possible. And by that, I mean, if you didn't use an entire jar of garlic powder in the year 2023, buy a fresh one in 2024. This is because seasonings lose strength over time, especially when opened.
When I buy my seasonings, I start with the cheapest ones I can get (usually from Dollar Tree) and then work my way up from there.
Also, keep in mind that there are many seasoning blends you can make for yourself, like DIY Taco Seasoning or homemade pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, etc.
"Cream of" Soups
Whether you like to make your own Cream of Soup recipes or not, having a few cans of them on hand is always great for when you're in a rush or not feeling up to the task of making your own condensed soup substitute.
I like to keep 4 cans of cream of mushroom and 4 cans of cream of chicken on hand at all times because they're great for everything from casseroles to soups and they're so cheap and versatile.
Boxed Cake Mixes
This is where I may differ in opinion with some others, but I love boxed cake mixes and always have several on hand. Need a fast cake? There it is. Need an affordable birthday cake like a Pastel Rainbow Unicorn Cake or a holiday cake like this Easter Confetti Cake? Boxed cake mixes can speed it along.
Not only that, but boxed cake mixes can create things other than cake. From Cherry Chip Cake Mix Cookies to Cake Mix Mug Cakes, Birthday Cake Crepes, or Devil's Food Cake Mix Brownies, you can always have a sweet treat that's not too far out of reach!
With the right baking essentials on hand, you may find that you don't need prepared pancake mix on hand. That said, pancake mix is really cheap, so it doesn't hurt to keep some on hand.
You can use pancake mix to make Simple Crepes (with Pancake Mix), Pancake Mix Banana Bread, or any number of other things too. You can even make large batches of pancakes and freeze them for later. Frozen pancakes are great for meal prepping!
Baking Pantry Essentials
A large container of table salt costs pennies, and most salts are fairly cheap as well. I like to keep a box of Kosher salt on hand for when I feel like brining chicken or salting steaks, but I use table salt in my recipes, and one container often lasts me a very long time.
Some examples of brined meat include my Beer Brine Chicken Wings and Dry Brined Turkey.
This is one of the cheapest ingredients you can find in the baking aisle, and a little cornstarch goes a long way. Helping to thicken soups and sauces, lighten the texture in your cookies, or even help with your newborn's diaper rash, cornstarch has so many great reasons to be in your home.
I like to keep all purpose flour on hand at all times, but if I know that I'll be baking a lot I'll make sure to grab some bread flour too.
There are a lot of different types of flour including whole wheat, self rising, bread flour, and all purpose. Even gluten free flours like Arrowroot. Each flour has its own characteristics and purposes or uses.
That said, you can DIY Bread Flour or DIY Self Rising Flour by using all purpose flour as the base and adding a few extra baking essentials.
Some people swear by name brand high quality vanilla extract, but I'm cheap. I don't think I've ever paid more than $2-$3 for a bottle of vanilla, because I buy imitation vanilla. However, I have purchased clear vanilla for my cakes/frostings.
Flavoring extracts help to enhance the flavors in the recipes they are used in. Imagine it as a base on which other flavors can build. Vanilla in a cookie helps to make the chocolate chips and brown sugar flavors shine more brightly.
Other extracts like almond extract, mint extract, peppermint extract, or orange extract can be used in a similar way, but their flavors are far more pronounced, making them shine more brightly in a dish.
I keep a bottle of vanilla on hand at all times and only buy the others "as needed." But if you use extracts often, you'll want to make sure you have them on hand and ready to go.
You'll want to make sure that you have baking soda and baking powder on hand at all times, especially if you enjoy baking. Baking powder and baking soda are often used together, but sometimes you'll find recipes where they're apart.
The two are very different, but similar. Baking powder is baking soda but with added cornstarch and cream of tartar. Both baking powder and baking soda work similarly in that they help things to rise or spread as they bake.
They each create their own chemical reactions in recipes and have their own list of requirements in order to work (one needs a little more moisture than the other, etc.)
Other leavening agents include cream of tartar, but if you aren't making Snickerdoodle cookies or Snickerdoodle Zucchini Bread any time soon, you may not need to keep it stocked in the pantry.
You should always keep a few packets of yeast on hand "in case of emergencies." Making your own Pizza Dough or White Bread can be a great way to save money if you can't afford a trip to the store. Not only that, but homemade bread always makes the house smell incredible.
There are a lot of different sugars out there, but the most common ones for baking and recipes include granulated sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar.
Of all the sugars, granulated sugar should be the one you try to keep well stocked because it's the one that's the most versatile. You can even make the other sugars from this one.
- Powdered sugar (confectioners sugar) can be made, in a pinch, by blending granulated sugar in a blender or food processor until powdery.
- You can DIY Brown Sugar by mixing granulated sugar with molasses (honey or maple syrup work in a pinch).
Dairy milk or non dairy milk, is pretty essential to keep on hand for everything from Homemade Mac and Cheese to a bowl of cereal in the morning.
If you drink dairy milk, it CAN be frozen. Some gallons have indents in the sides to allow for space expansion, but if your plastic gallon does not, simply release about an inch of milk from the gallon before freezing, so there's room for the liquid to expand.
Butter is a great ingredient to have on hand because it can be used in place of oil when cooking in a pan. It can be used in baked goods in place of oil, in cookies to make them richer in taste, in sauces, etc. The list goes on!
I prefer to keep salted butter on hand and only buy unsalted when needed for frostings, but buy whichever you like. They're great in the freezer for months too, so if it's time for the Fall baking season sales, grab some extra butter and stash it in the freezer for later.
Eggs are great in all sorts of recipes because they bind things together, add richer flavor, or make sauces creamy like in my Ramen with Egg and Cheese. Keeping some grade A large eggs on hand is ideal as most egg-containing recipes tend to use those as their preferred egg sizes.
Cheese is another ingredient that can be frozen, but in an unopened package, cheese can last a good while.
I like to buy a 2 8-ounce blocks of cheddar cheese, 1 block of Colby and 1 block of Mozzarella cheese every month. Sometimes I go most of the month without needing any of them, but they're always great to keep on hand for a fast sauce or topping.
Keeping a can of grated parmesan cheese in the fridge can also be great for flavoring up a dish! Plus, it lasts a very long time.
I love to keep a small container of sour cream on hand because I never know when it's going to come in handy. From Banana Bread with Sour Cream to a topping on my 20 Minute Lazy Enchiladas, there's always a little room for sour cream.
Cream cheese can be a quick and easy toasted bagel topping, a thick and creamy sauce, a rich frosting base, a cheesecake filling, and so much more. It's rich, creamy, tangy, and perfect for sweet and savory dishes.
The most basic condiments are usually the best. From ketchup to mustard and mayonnaise, there's nothing these three cant do. Mayo can be used in cake recipes, Dill Pickle Potato Salad, or a Spicy Tuna Sandwich. Mustard can make sauces for Honey Gold Chicken Wings and Honey Mustard Pork Shoulder Roast.
Ketchup makes a great topping for meatloaf, like in my Meatloaf Without Eggs.
You can even combine them to make other dishes as well. For example, mustard and ketchup can make Easy Homemade Barbecue Sauce or sloppy joe sauce.
Keeping condiments on hand means that you can use them as-is or have the opportunity to make additional foods too.
Printable Staples List
When you keep basic cooking staples on hand, there's no end to the number of recipes you can make. Stretch meals, create new ones, and enjoy.
What pantry staples do you keep in your home?
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