Michael is a frugal homesteader who enjoys sharing money-saving tips and DIY advice with others.
Learning Pantry Basics
Keeping and knowing how to utilize a well-stocked pantry is one of the best money-saving strategies that you can use. This goes double for larger families. With these basic ingredients, you will have a base for literally thousands of meal combinations.
There are many uses for some of these items that will save you money in places other than on your food bills.
I am pricing store brand items from Walmart for this, but you could scale it down to your kitchen or budget easily by shopping at the Dollar Tree. They won't have a few of these items but do carry most of them.
I'm going to add an estimated cost for each item, and I will add it up at the end for you. You can decide for yourself from there whether or not you agree with me.
20 Essential Items to Keep in Your Pantry
- Baking soda
- Canned meats
- Dried beans, peas, and lentils
- Powdered milk
- Dried herbs and spices
- Powdered or granulated bouillon
- Canned cream soups
- Rolled oats
- Peanut butter
- Cocoa powder
I keep at least two gallons of vinegar in my kitchen at all times. One gallon of white vinegar that I use strictly for cleaning, and one gallon of apple cider vinegar that I use for consumption.
A gallon of either one will cost you around $2. We will add $4 to our running total for one gallon of each.
- 12 oz water
- 4 oz vinegar
This is an awesome window cleaner. Just pour the ingredients in a spray bottle, and give them a good shake.
2. Baking Soda
Aside from making cakes, breads, and cookies, baking soda is also a very good cleaning product to keep around. It neutralizes odors so it's good for cleaning smelly things like trash cans and bathrooms. It's also mildly abrasive, so it makes a good polish for metal or glass.
I'm probably greatly overestimating here, but we will say that a box of baking soda will cost about $1.50.
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup baking soda
This makes an awesome polish for metal or glass at the cost of about 20¢ per recipe.
3. Canned Meats
Canned meats like tuna, chicken, and salmon are good for throwing together protein salads, adding to regular salad greens, or forming into patties as a beef alternative.
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All three of these are sold at the Dollar Tree for $1 a can. For our running total, I will add $3 for one can of each meat.
4. Dried Beans, Peas, and Lentils
Dried beans and peas are a great source of fiber. After a quick sorting for debris, rinse, and soak, these alone are a good base for hundreds of recipes. And also, if you make a three-inch by three-inch pocket and fill it with smaller beans or peas, and then sew it shut, it makes a pretty good stress ball.
Prices vary on these products, but I think that $2 a pound is fair. We will add $4 to our running total for a pound of each.
Flour is an essential ingredient in cakes, cookies, and bread. It can also be used to thicken sauces, stews, or gravies.
Different kinds of flours are made for special diets, but we will just stick with plain wheat flour here. It comes in four types that are most common: Bread flour, cake flour, all-purpose flour, and whole wheat flour.
We will focus on all-purpose flour here, which is the most useful and costs between 30¢ and 50¢ a pound. For the sake of our running total, we will go for 10 pounds and call it $4.50.
6. Powdered Milk
Though powdered milk isn't all that palatable to drink in place of milk from a jug, it is a very good replacement for milk in recipes when it's mixed with water.
Powdered milk is one of the more expensive items on the list at around $5 a pound. We will stick with one pound for our running total.
7. Dried Herbs and Spices
Most of the items on this list are quite bland on their own. Keeping a variety of herbs and spices on hand to flavor them with will make a huge difference when it comes time to prepare and eat them.
Small shakers of herbs and spices can be bought for around $1 each. We will add $10 to the total, and go home with a good variety.
Rice is one of the more versatile ingredients on this list. It can be flavored easily with sweet or savory ingredients and used as the main focus of the dish, or as a means of bedding more expensive ingredients to stretch them a little further.
Rice is around $1 a pound, but it's a really useful pantry item. We will add 10 pounds of rice to our total for $10.
Salt is good for boosting the flavors of both sweet and savory foods. It also makes a great preservative for dehydrating fresh food items for longer-term storage.
Salt is very abrasive and can be bought in coarse and fine ground forms. This makes it another good addition to your cleaning supplies to help scour and polish metals.
I'm overestimating here again, but let's price salt at 50¢ per pound. We'll spend $1 to buy one for the pantry, and one to go in with the cleaning supplies.
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1 1/2 heaping tablespoons of salt
Mix the water and salt into a gritty paste and spread it out on a piece of cardboard. Strop the edge of your knife in the paste about 25 to 30 times per side. Don't forget to wash your knife when you are done stropping.
This won't bring a knife to a razor-sharp edge, but it will make it sharper in a pinch.
Noodles are an excellent way to add bulk to your pantry fast. They are available in many shapes and sizes and can be flavored with both sweet and savory ingredients.
The price of a box or bag of noodles will vary. It's going to depend on what type of noodles you wish to purchase and what grain they are made from. We'll use regular macaroni as our standard here at $1 for a one-pound box. Five boxes added to our pantry adds $5 to our total.
Our Total so Far
We're halfway through our list and so far we have spent $48. This might seem like a lot, but we've added 25 pounds of flour, rice, and noodles. That is a lot of food, and lesser amounts can be purchased at a time to fit any specific budget.
Raisins are a great addition to chicken, pork, or lamb dishes, and can also be used in a variety of desserts, salads, dressings, or breads for a touch of sweetness. They are also a great snack to pass off to the kids.
Raisins average about $4 per pound, so $4 goes into our total.
Note: Don't just stop at raisins. There are a variety of dried fruits that would make great additions to your pantry. If it's on sale and you like it better than raisins, then buy it by all means.
12. Powdered or Granulated Boullion
Much like the herbs and spices, boullion comes in a variety of flavors. It also isn't necessary. By adding boullion to your pantry, though, you will give yourself the ability to add a lot of flavor to your meals fast.
Boullion cubes are about $1.50 for a package of six. We'll buy three different flavors at a cost of $4.50.
Sugar is an important staple in the pantry. It can be used sparingly in savory dishes as well as a sweetener for drinks, cakes, cookies, and pies.
We'll count a 10-pound bag of sugar for around $10, or 50¢ per pound.
Onions store very well even though they are a fresh food item. They are a great addition to egg and meat dishes, soups, chowders, stews, and salads.
We'll add 10 pounds of Spanish yellow onions to our pantry at 50¢ per pound.
There is a vast assortment of potatoes at the grocery store. Potatoes that have a waxy look to them are better for recipes that call for the application of wet heat. Examples of this would be boiling, steaming, or braising. The dryer, more mealy kinds are better for baking.
Russet potatoes are the most popular and will cost around $3 for a five-pound bag. We'll take two for $6.
16. Canned Cream Soups
Cream soups like cream of mushroom, chicken, celery, and even creamed corn make very good bases for soups, stews, chowders, and sauces.
The selections of cream soups aren't limited to what I named off, but we will add one of each of these to our total at around $1 a can. $4 goes in.
Apples are a great snack as they are but can also be made into pies, cakes, tarts, or cookies. They also go exceptionally well with pork or chicken.
As with most other produce, apples range in price according to the variety you choose. I've figured out the prices per pound of Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, and Jazz apples, and all together they average out to a little over $2 per pound. We will get a three-pound bag for $6.
18. Rolled Oats
Rolled oats are very good for you. They're are also very good for your pantry. Aside from the classic oatmeal, rolled oats are a great filler for meatloaf in place of bread. They can also be added to cakes, pies, cookies, and added as toppings for fruit crumbles and crisps.
Rolled oats cost around $1.50 per pound. We will buy four pounds for $6.
19. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a great source of protein that can be added to soups, sauces, cookies, cakes, pies, and breads.
A four-pound jar costs around $6.50. We'll take one of those.
20. Cocoa Powder
Though cocoa powder is usually seen as an ingredient for sweet recipes, such as in cakes, cookies, tarts, and pies, it can also make an interesting savory ingredient. Cocoa powder is a very bitter ingredient that lends itself well to sauces and soups.
Cocoa powder is around $4 per pound and we will be taking two pounds home for $8.
Our Grand Total
The total weight of our food items came to 73 pounds. I did not include the canned soups, or meats. I also did not include the vinegar, spices, or bullion cubes.
Our total cost for the items on this list came to $102. I don't think that's all that bad of a price for literally thousands of possible meal combinations. Do you?
Michael (author) from Indiana, PA on March 21, 2019:
That’s great! For most of the items on this list, the addition of some fresh protein, fruits, or vegetables and a little bit of planning can provide different meals using the same items over and over and over.
Most of the items on this list also can last a very very long time in case of an emergency.
Joanie Ruppel on March 20, 2019:
Great hub for checking your pantry - I passed with flying colors! Only thing I did not have was powdered milk and I will add it to my list. I can see how it could come in handy.