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20 Staple Pantry Items for Making Cheap Meals


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Feb 16, 2024
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Glass Jars For The Pantry

It’s all about staple pantry items we must stock up on today. We live in challenging times, where many families struggle to stay ahead. Eating out at restaurants or fast food joints may be convenient for families who are always on the go, but they’ve gotten costly over the past few years.

Afterward, you may feel that you paid too much money, but to make matters worse, you may have that one child complaining that they’re “still hungry.” Grrrrr! Check out these staple pantry items for making cheap meals.

I’m here to encourage you if you’re on a tight budget and looking for cheaper meal solutions. Everyone should have 20 staple pantry items to make cheaper meals. In case you missed this post, Canned Foods I Highly Recommend You Store

20 Staple Pantry Items for Making Cheap Meals

20 Staple Pantry Items​

1. Dry or Canned Beans​

Dried or canned beans are first on my list of staple pantry items that you need. Whichever way you prefer them, they’re super cheap and have plenty of protein. Beans are the magical fruit that you’ll need in your pot of chili, burritos, or refried beans.

I noticed our local Kroger/Smith’s grocery store had a case lot sale that started this past weekend. They had black beans and green beans by the case, along with other quality canned foods like soups. Finding a case lot sale is a good way to keep a well-stocked pantry full of items for inexpensive meals.

2. Pasta​

Pasta is another filling pantry item that will cost you around $1 or less for that meal. You can enjoy it in all different shapes and sizes. It can be stored in your pantry for a long period, and you can also pour different types of sauces over it to mix up your dishes a bit.

It’s amazing how filling pasta meals can be, and a handful of pasta goes a long way when it’s cooked. We have spaghetti all the time and our family enjoys the variations of meats and cheese we use.

3. Rice​

Buying rice in bulk is a great way to turn any meal into something more filling while costing you very little. Rice goes great in soup, skillets, or added as a side dish. Rice is one of the common pantry staples to use for Mexican, Italian, and Asian meals. Like pasta, it goes a long way once cooked. I like the fact that it’s also shelf stable so you know it’s going to last you a long time as a pantry stock item.

4. Chicken​

Chicken is cheap in terms of meat, but even more so if you’re patient and wait until the family packs or cases go on sale. It goes great with almost any meal, and whatever leftovers you don’t use can be placed in the freezer for later use.

I like to buy the canned chicken breast at Costco. We use it to make chicken salad sandwiches, chicken divine with broccoli, and chicken tacos and burritos. We also purchase the Costco rotisserie chicken in the bags. It saves having to de-bone the chicken, and it goes a long way. It does need to be refrigerated.

5. Canned Tuna​

A can of tuna can be enjoyed straight out of the container or added to other ingredients to make tuna salad. It, too, comes with an abundance of protein and other vital nutrients. I buy canned tuna as part of my weekly groceries if I haven’t found them as part of a case lot sale.

6. Ground Beef​

Ground beef is another staple pantry item that can be used to make several cheap meals. Although not as cheap as chicken, it’s still cost-effective compared to most other meats, and it, too, can be purchased in bulk at a great sale price and then stored in your freezer. You’ll need it to make sloppy joes, tacos, chili, soups, stir fry, and hearty casseroles.

7. Pasta Sauce​

A jar of pasta sauce that can be poured over your spaghetti noodles can create an entire meal for your family for under $3. It doesn’t get any cheaper than that.

8. Eggs​

Oh, how I love eggs! They’re full of protein while costing you very little. They are one of the cheapest staple foods on this list. Whether you prefer scrambled or sunny side up, or maybe you’re in the mood for some French toast for breakfast, eggs will do your body good. You’ll also need eggs to make homemade baked goods.

Last year eggs were fairly expensive due to the loss of egg-producing chickens from the Avian Flu. Eggs are much more plentiful now and at pre-flu prices. Check out the pricing on the five-dozen packages of eggs at Costco, I think you’ll be surprised at the low cost.

9. Cheese​

Cheese can be expensive, so you may want to wait until it goes on sale. If you enjoy cooking from scratch, it will be hard to survive without it. (At least, I think so.) You’ll need it for salads, sandwiches, homemade pizza, and yummy cheesy quesadillas. Believe it or not, it, too, can be frozen if desired.

We like to buy the Tillamook cheese in the large brick. We slice off what we need each time we make cheese sandwiches, add it to spaghetti or other pasta meals, or add it to tacos and other Mexican meals.

10. Flour​

Flour will be essential for those who whip up everything from scratch. It also thickens sauces and soups, but most importantly, when making mouth-watering baked goods like my favorite homemade bread.

I use bread flour rather than all-purpose flour. I’ve found it not only works great with my no-fail bread recipe but also with other flour-based recipes.

11. Oil​

You may be scratching your head on this one because oil certainly isn’t cheap, but it will provide you with more cooking options besides simply baking or frying, and you’ll notice the taste difference, too. Olive oil is the healthiest way to go while providing several health benefits for you and your family.

12. Oatmeal​

Oatmeal brings you both a filling and frugal breakfast option. You can also use it to make oatmeal cookies or homemade granola. If stored properly, oats in various forms will last a long time in your pantry and can be added to many of your favorite recipes as a filling ingredient.

13. Peanut Butter​

Peanut butter is undoubtedly one of those food items that most families can’t live without, especially if you have children who love eating peanut butter and jelly just about every day of the week. Or maybe you’re the guilty culprit who eats it by the spoonful for a snack in the middle of the night? Whatever the case, peanut butter is a great source of protein at a relatively low price.

I don’t buy the really large containers, but have found that the smaller containers tend to cost more. Buy the size that will satisfy your family for a few weeks since it does last a reasonable time on your pantry shelf.

14. Bread​

Bread is another must-have item to make cheap meals, such as sandwiches, toast, or broken up into a casserole. I like my homemade bread made with bread flour. I keep mine in the freezer until it’s time to put the loaf to use. I’ve found that bread does well in the freezer and I don’t have to worry about preservatives and mold.

15. Frozen Vegetables​

Sometimes, you’ll find that frozen vegetables come cheaper than fresh ones and last much longer, too! Frozen vegetables like corn, green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower work great as a side dish but can also be used to make vegetable beef soup or a delicious pot pie. Don’t forget you can dehydrate frozen vegetables, no washing, peeling, or chopping. How to Dehydrate Frozen Vegetables

16. Onions​

Onions are not only inexpensive but they can also be used to add plenty of flavor to all sorts of different dishes. They taste great in soups, salads, skillets, or on top of burgers and sandwiches. I typically pick up ten bags of frozen chopped onions if they are on sale. I can use part or all of each bag I open. Onions: Everything You Need To Know

17. Potatoes​

A small bag of potatoes will cost you well under $5.00, but you can get several meals out of it. Potatoes are another versatile item that can be enjoyed as a side dish, in a soup or casserole, and also as well-seasoned breakfast potatoes.

We’ve also been buying a product called Idahoan Mashed Potatoes. They’re made from real potatoes and taste great. They come in a small pouch and can be made as quickly as you can boil 2 cups of water. They also come in a variety of flavors to keep all your family members smiling at dinner time.

18. Spices and Herbs​

You’ll need these to add flavor to all your favorite meals and recipes. They’ll run you a bit more in cost, but if you shop for the right spices and herbs, you can get them for a low price. Ones that you’ll find yourself using most often include chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, paprika, basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, red pepper, cumin, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

19. Kosher or Sea Salt​

Much healthier than table salt, kosher or sea salt will add powerful flavor, while you won’t have to worry about those undesired additives. My favorite salt is Redmond Salt

You’ll also want some condiments that include ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayo, and sauces like sweet and sour, taco sauce, etc.

20. Peppercorn​

Lastly, don’t forget to get yourself a grinder of peppercorn. Pepper that’s already been ground up for you tends to not hold on to its flavor or aroma as well as a peppercorn. Plus, pepper goes on just about everything.

Is there a cheap fruit I should consider?​

Of all the fruits available, we’ve found bananas to be our best buy. We’ve been buying them from $.49 – $.79 per pound at most stores locally. Mark has bananas with his cereal each morning and loves it. If you buy them green at the store they should last you four or five days or longer, depending on how ripe you like them.

Final Word​

There’s no reason to feel guilty about finding ways of saving your family money while feeding them healthy meals. Making meals that cost very little is one great way of doing just that. These 20 staple pantry items are just a few among many others that you’ll want to consider to make cheaper meals. What are other staple foods that your family could not live without that didn’t make my list? Let me know so I can share your ideas with my readers. May God Bless this world, Linda.

Copyright Images: Glass Jars With Food Storage AdobeStock_304691216 by New Africa

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