Being frugal with your grocery budget and meal plan requires a lot of organization. Who has time to constantly shop for the foods your family most often eats? Building a frugal pantry with the staples your family loves is a must for the budget savvy.
Several years ago, I was all about those convenience foods: boxed pasta salad, taco kits, individually wrapped brownies – you name it and it was probably in my cupboard somewhere. When I couponed heavily it was very easy to get these convenience foods for cheap. And if it was free, it was for me! But now we live on one income, I stay at home with our Little Guy (very little time to clip coupons let alone shop), and those over processed boxed meals just aren’t for us any more.
Yes, the appeal is REAL y’all. I would love to pour a box of mac ‘n cheese into a pot and call it good. But $1.50 for a small box of pasta with some fake cheese sauce makes my frugal heart hurt.
In comes how to build a frugal pantry. Here are steps you can take this week to start building a pantry full of frugal staples your family will love.
This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. That’s how we keep Hello Brownlow running!
Start with what you know.
If you have 14 recipes that you rotate through every two weeks, start there. What ingredients do those recipes use? Write them out! I bet you can start to see a theme between the ingredients. If not, you may want to reevaluate what your recipe schedule to optimize what you’ll keep in your pantry. See my meal planning post HERE for more on how to do this.
Once you list out your ingredients that you regularly use, highlight the shelf stable items the recipes use. Add them onto a list.
Lowest cost per pound foods.
Every frugal pantry most likely includes a variation of beans and rice. In our pantry we have 6 different kinds of rice and 4 different kinds of beans. We make our ultra frugal lunch every week so we go through a lot of rice. It is nice to mix things up. Since rice and beans are some of the cheapest foods around, we constantly stock our pantry with them.
Knowing what the least expensive pantry staples are is absolutely key. If you think organic red lentils are going to be your most frugal option to keep stocked in your pantry, you might want to take a second look at the numbers.
I am providing you with a list of the basic “rice and bean” staples we keep in our pantry with real time (October 2018) prices per DRY pound. We shop mainly at Sprouts’ bulk section and at Aldi (Aldi will be notated as everything is prepackaged there). We will cover canned goods next.
- black beans – $1.49/lb
- red beans (kidney beans) – $1.99/lb
- garbanzo beans (chick peas) – $1.99/lb
- red lentils – $1.79/lb
- brown/green lentils – $1.79/lb
- oats – $0.99/lb
- white rice – $0.99/lb at Sprouts, $0.66/lb at Aldi
- brown rice – $0.99/lb
- basmati rice – $3.99/lb (Aldi)
- quinoa – $1.99/lb (We only purchase quinoa if it is on sale at this price)
- farro – $3.86/lb
- flax seeds – $1.79/lb (replaces eggs – vegan)
There are so many things that these “rice and beans” can make! Tacos, chili, hummus, falafel, refried beans, black bean burgers, caramelized lentils and farro… the list could go on and on. A good place to start is my list of 10 meals to make when you’re broke.
Boxed and canned goods.
I struggle with boxed and canned goods. Canned specifically. Maybe I think I have a problem with Aldi… Aldi is my go-to when it comes to purchasing anything canned or boxed. They consistently have the lowest price on canned tomatoes, beans, pasta, pasta sauce, and condiments. Here is what we purchase from Aldi on a regular basis and the current prices (October 2018).
- canned tomatoes – $0.69
- canned beans – $0.65
- pasta – $0.79-$1.29
- pasta sauce (jar) – $1.49
- tomato sauce (can) – $0.33
- tomato paste – $0.25
- flour – $1.99/ 5lb
- sugar – $1.99/5lb
- vegetable oil – $1.89
Again, so much can be made from scratch when you put a little effort into it. Take my 5 minute enchilada sauce for instance. Easy peasy! We are big on fresh bread in our house. Having a bread maker is the way to go – you just dump in all the ingredients with nothing fancy!
Scouring Aldi isn’t your thing? Try Amazon Pantry for 30 days! Get your family’s faves with a click of a button.
Fresh and Frozen Produce.
Fresh and frozen produce are the keys to making your meals shine and allow you to eat more nutrient rich foods. Not all produce can sit in your fridge for forever. Here are some of the produce items that we purchase in bulk and eat all month.
- Russet potatoes
- sweet potatoes
Whenever onions are on a super sale ($0.33/lb or less) I stock up. I will normally dice and freeze several onions so that we have them to use for the coming months. If you find a great sale on your favorite fruit, like pineapple, you can buy several of them: one to eat now and two to dice up and freeze.
Not everything freezes well, but with a little research on your veggies you’ll be all set. Green beans, squash, and tomatoes are just three of the veggies that should be blanched before freezing. Earlier this year we had 4 gallons of green beans that we picked clean, blanched and froze. We just used the last of them for Thanksgiving!
Try your best to meal plan a least a week out as to not waste any produce.
How much food to keep in your pantry.
If you’re a family of two or three, you should only keep around a pound of each pantry staple in your cupboards. If you are a larger family of four or more, you’ll want to keep up to three pounds of each pantry staple! This is because you’ll be cooking more of everything to feed your family.
How to keep everything organized.
How to keep everything organized is definitely a personal preference. I prefer all glass jars while some prefer plastic containers with the airtight lids. If you are frugal like me, you might even reuse pasta sauce or salsa jars! They too make great storage containers as they hold roughly 1lb of beans.
I also love my label makers. Anything I can label I do. You can find the one that I use on Amazon. It makes finding things a breeze plus if there is someone helping out in the kitchen they’ll know exactly what’s in each jar.