14 Pantry Staples for Families on a Tight Budget

If you are trying to keep food costs down, creating a fully stocked pantry of budget food items is essential.

In this article, we outline the best way to stock up on low-cost pantry staples to keep your food budget in check. Plus, we’ll do a more detailed analysis of the 14 budget pantry items on our list, including storage length and price per unit.

Woman picking up jar of rice from the pantry - Pantry Staples on a budget

How often do you make a trip to the grocery? According to Statista, US households in 2019 made an average of 1.6 trips to the supermarket per week. Many households make even more trips.

Despite the increasing popularity of online shopping, Americans continue to shop at local grocery stores to restock their shelves, refrigerators, and pantries. 

How would you like to make fewer grocery trips a month and spend less by stretching your pantry staples for more than a week? 

Use this guide to create a basic pantry for the frugal family.

How to Choose the Best Budget Pantry Staples

woman reading the label on a bag of rice

Before you head out to the grocery store, it’s good to do a bit of planning.

  1. To start, create a list of your family’s favorite pantry items.
  2. Then, review the shelf-life, nutrition, number of servings, and flexibility of each item.
  3. Compare each item in the list and categorize each item as a must-have or optional purchase.
  4. Search for substitutes or sales to further refine and improve your list.
  5. As you review each item on your list, also think about how you can use it in meals. Any item you use every week can be considered a staple.

Knowing these numbers first helps to ensure you only stock up on the foods with the most bang for your buck.

Buy Pantry Staples with a Longer Shelf Life

Stock on items that keep a long time at room temperature. Be sure to take advantage when you find them on sale or in bulk.

14 Long Lasting Staples for the Frugal Pantry

Here is a list of low-cost staples that have a long shelf life.

#Pantry ItemShelf LifeCategory/Note
1Fresh whole garlicThree to six monthsSpices
2Whole unpeeled onionsTwo months Vegetable
3Raw unpeeled potatoesTwo to three monthsVegetable
Store in a cool (50° F) dry place 
4Pasta sauceOne yearVegetable
5Whole peeled tomatoes in a canOne yearVegetable
6Dried beansOne yearProtein
7Cooking oilOne yearCooking Staple
8Unbleached All-purpose FlourOne yearCooking Staple
9Cream soupsTwo YearsVegetable, Protein
10Dry pastaTwo YearsFiber
11RiceTwo YearsFiber
12SugarTwo YearsCondiment
13VinegarTwo YearsCondiment
14Soy sauceTwo YearsCondiment

Our Favorite Budget Staples Buy

Beans –As a high-protein food source, beans complement meat, poultry, and fish, and they go well with beans. Even on their own beans have a great flavor and have a high yield. A cup of dried beans will make three cups of cooked beans. 

Yellow eyed white beans in a glass storage jar

Know the Cost Per Serving

When setting up your frugal pantry, calculate not only the item cost but also the cost per serving.

For example, a 6-ounce box of Near East rice pilaf costs 99 cents at Aldi. It makes 3 servings. So this works out to 33 cents per serving (99/3).

However, a 5-pound bag of long grain rice costs $5.48. Each bag with make 37.5 cups of cooked rice. So, 5.48/37.5 = 15 cents per serving.

The bag of rice costs 5 times as much but is less than 1/2 the price per serving.

Make a list of your favorites with the lower per serving cost.

List Of Basic And Inexpensive Pantry Staples

Here is the cost per unit and serving for the pantry items on the list above.

# Pantry ItemCostYieldCost Per Unit
1Whole bulb garlic, fresh, 2 lbs.$9.50 per 2 lbs5 cloves per bulb,
8 bulbs per lb.
$.12 per clove
2Yellow Onion$1 per lb2 medium onions weigh one pound$ .50 per onion
3Russet potatoes, 10-lb. bag$4 per 10-lb bag12 to 15 potatoes per 10-lb. bag$ .26 per potato
4Prego Pasta sauce, Italian Tomato sauce with meat, 45 oz$3.30 per 45 oz2 to 4 oz sauce/ 1 cup cooked pasta$ .29 sauce per serving of 1 cup cooked pasta
5Whole peeled tomatoes, 28 oz, Great Value$0.94$ .04 per ounce
6Dried Pinto beans, Great Value, 8 lbs.$5.98$ .75 per lb.;
1 lb. dried beans = 2 cups dried beans
$ .125 per cup cooked
7Cooking Oil, 1-gallon, Great Value$4.441 gallon = 256 T;
average of 2 T is used in cooking
$ .02 per tablespoon
8Unbleached all-purpose flour 5 lbs., Gold Medal$2.48 per 5 lbs17.5 cups;
1 lb. = 3.5 cups
$ 0.14 per cup
9Cream of Mushroom condensed soup, 10.5 oz, Great Value0.5$ .05 per oz soup
10Pasta Spaghetti, 4 packs, 16 oz$5.12


2 oz dry pasta = 1 cup cooked pasta
US$ 1.28 per pack or US$ .08 per oz
$ .16 per cup cooked pasta
11Rice5.48 per 5 lbs.12.5 cups
1lb = 2.5cups
1 cup raw = 3 cups cooked rice
$ 0.15 per cup cooked rice
12Cane sugar, 4 lbs.$14.831 lb. granulated sugar = 2 cups$ 1.85 per cup
13Heinz Distilled Vinegar, 32 oz$1.90$ .06 per oz
14Soy sauce, Silver swan, 34 oz$4.98$ .15 per oz

Finding Healthy Pantry Staples – Evaluating the Nutritional Value

One thing that a homemaker needs to do and learn is to read food labels. This will give you an idea of how much nutritional value a food item contains per serving.

Look for staples that add a variety of nutrients to your menu. For example:

  • Beans are a great low-cost source of protein.
  • Oats and other grains can add fiber to your diet
  • Canned vegetables are a good way to add specific vitamins to meals.

How to Calculate Nutrition Per Serving

The first thing to check is the serving size of the package or can. Each product packaging or can indicates on its label the nutritional value per serving. But the servings on the label don’t always match what we eat.

For example, a soup can label may read 2 servings. If you serve a cup of soup as an appetizer, that works. But as the main course, you might use a full can for a meal. In this case, you’ll need to multiply the nutrient content on the label by 2.

If the calorie content of the pack of nuts says 100 calories per serving, and that it contains seven servings, and you consumed the whole package, you have easily consumed 700 calories. 

Make a Meal Plan Around Your Pantry Items

Before heading out to the grocery store, it is always best to have a meal plan. Check the pantry and create a tentative list of the meals you can create using what you already have on hand. Be sure to incorporate those lower ticket items on many if not all of your meals.

If you have a special event or dinner planned for one day during the week, you can offset the cost by planning less expensive meals before and after the event.

Planning ahead can keep you from wasting ingredients but also, save you time you get to the store. You can also ensure you give your family a variety of meals.

Cooking from the Pantry

Plan your weekly meals using ingredients from your budget pantry staple items.

one pot meal rice vegetables and meat

One-dish meals are inexpensive to make, and you can prepare multiple meals from the same ingredients with a bit of creativity. Here are 3 one-dish meals using some of our pantry items above.

Chicken and Rice Bake

Pantry Items Used: Cream of mushroom soup & Long-grain rice.

The estimated cost of the dish: $ 6.88 or $ 1.72 per serving (serves 4).

Ingredients

  • 1 can (10.5 oz) Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1 cup water or 1 1/3 cups for a creamier dish (or you may substitute with chicken broth for a tastier dish)
  • ¾ cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 1 ¼ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast (or if you have leftover grilled chicken)
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika or you may substitute with lemon pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 375oF.
  2. Place rice, water, and soup in an 11 x 8 x 2-inch baking dish. Stir.
  3. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. Place chicken pieces over the rice mixture.
  5. Cover the baking dish and bake for 45 minutes or until chicken is tender and rice is done.
  6. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  7. Stir rice and taste before serving.

Chicken Adobo

Pantry Items Used: Garlic, Soy Sauce, Rice or Potatoes

Budget Recipe Item: Buy a whole chicken & cut it up yourself to save over the cost of prepared boneless skinless chicken breast.

The estimated cost of the dish: $ 6.70 or $ 1.70 per serving (serves 4).

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed (or more if you want a garlicky profile)
  • 8 peppercorns, crushed
  • Water, about ½ cup

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients with the chicken and marinate for at least an hour. If you have time, let it marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. When ready to cook, simmer the mix until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. If you prefer a more tender, you can increase.the time.
  3. Stir the mixture every now and then to avoid scorching the garlic and chicken meat.
  4. Reduce the sauce to desired consistency.
  5. Adjust taste by adding one to two teaspoons if sour and salt level is too strong for your taste.
  6. Best eaten with hot rice or mashed potato.

The vinegar/soy sauce blend in this recipe makes it better as it ages. The longer you keep it, the better it tastes. Therefore, it is convenient for preparing ahead of time and/or bulk cooking.

Slow Cooker Breakfast Beans

Pantry Items Used: Pinto beans, Tomato Puree, Garlic, Cooking Oil, Sugar

The estimated cost of the dish: $ 2.00 (serves 4).

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon white or red wine vinegar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
  • 400 grams pinto beans, rinsed
  • 200 ml tomato puree 
  • Small bunch coriander, chopped

Instructions

  1. Heat slow cooker.
  2. In a large frying pan, brown onions in oil and then add garlic. Cook for one minute.
  3. Add vinegar and sugar. Cook for one minute.
  4. Stir in the beans, tomato puree, and season with black pepper.
  5. Pour into slow cooker.
  6. Cook on low for 5 hours. If sauce seems thin, turn heat to high and cook for few more minutes.
  7. Stir in the coriander. 

Take Away

A 2020 statistics says that an average American household spends $120 per week on groceries. Furthermore, it says families with children under 18 spend $160 and those without children spend $106. 

What is your weekly household spend on groceries? Make an inventory of your pantry staples and try a pantry challenge for a week. See how you can stretch your food to last longer than a week using the food cost guide above. Try the recipes and see how your family will love them.  

Enjoy the challenge of collecting budget-friendly recipes!

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