In this post, I talked about how to Create a Grocery and Eating Out Budget. That is step one to be able to save some major money $$ when shopping for food.
The second step to saving money on groceries is to stock you pantry. Stocking your pantry with the right food will not only help you reduce food waste, but it will also help you save time an money every month when making meals.
I want to start with saying that what I stock in my pantry may not be ideal for you or your family. The main point that I want to get across is that you need a well-stocked pantry in order to stick to your grocery budget.
Like your grocery budget, your core pantry staples might need to change over time based on what you are cooking. Don’t enjoy cooking Thai food as much anymore? Then you probably won’t need to keep rice noodles or limes around very often. Did you recently find out about a medically caused dietary restriction? Those items have got to go!
What are pantry staple items?
First off, let’s start with what are pantry staple items? These are ingredients that pop up frequently, possibly in all of your recipes that you regularly cook. Think salt & pepper, flour, chicken stock, spices, certain veggies, chicken/beef/fish, non-stick spray, etc. You want to have these items in your kitchen or pantry AT ALL TIMES.
Having these items in your pantry means that you will always have all of the ingredients on hand, at all times, for at least 2-3 go to meals. This means less unplanned trips for fast food because you got home from work and realized that you have no ingredients that could be combined in any fashion to make a meal.
Are those go to meals going to be fancy and elaborate or be the best darn dish that you have ever ate? Chances are probably not. You want them to be quick and easy but that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on taste.
How to Stock Your Pantry
So now that you know what core pantry staples are, let’s talk about how to stock your pantry.
The first step is to pick out 4-5 recipes that you frequently cook. I would recommend that these be fairly simple recipes that don’t require more than 10 ingredients. I also wouldn’t recommend to do more than 5 recipes to start as it can get overwhelming very quickly.
The next step is to write down all of the required ingredients to the recipes in one long list. Cross off any duplicate items. This list of ingredients is going to be the start of your pantry list.
You can keep this list in an excel spreadsheet, on a sheet on your fridge, in your favorite planner or wherever else you would like that you will be able to find it.
The next step is to go shopping for your pantry items. This is where things get a little tricky but it will all make sense I promise!
You do NOT want to buy all of these items at once. Chances are you will blow your budget and then not even end up with enough food to last you through the week.
Here is how to avoid that problem.
For starters, go ahead and cross off any items on your shopping list that you already have in your pantry. I ALWAYS shop my pantry first to make sure that I am not wasting money by buying duplicates of food that I don’t need.
The next step is to add 3-4 items to your grocery list each week (or more depending on how much room you have in your budget). The idea is that you will slowly, and within your budget, build up your pantry items.
Once you have you pantry fully stocked with your list of ingredients, it is much easier to maintain the pantry. Going forward you shouldn’t need to buy more than 2-3 things per shopping trip to restock your pantry. Occasionally there will be more but that is a rarity.
Once you have successfully built and kept your pantry stocked for 2-3 months, then you can start adding more items to that list. You can do this by adding 1-2 more recipes to your list of go-to recipes. Or maybe you want to designate Tuesday nights as taco night. This means that you would add taco ingredients to your pantry staples list.
You can continue to add/remove/modify items from this core list to your liking.
When you think of pantry items, most people think of dry goods. While a good chunk of my pantry items are dry goods, I do have some that are produce, dairy, meat or other items that require refrigeration.
How do I make sure that I have these perishable items in my kitchen all of the time without them going bad? You need to take time at least once a week to check what you have in your fridge or for produce that needs to be eaten in the next few days.
Checking your fridge is an excellent step to do BEFORE you do any meal planning for the week. This allows you to plan your meals based around those items that need to be used up.
I will be the first to admit that sometimes this step can get away from me and I have to throw some vegetables in the compost bin. Ideally though, I try and move anything to the freezer to be used at a later date. I do this primarily with meat, bread and veggies.
Before placing in the freezer I recommend sectioning the meat off into individual sections using freezer paper or separate containers. There is nothing worse than needing 2 chicken breasts but you have to defrost all 6 of them because they are one giant chicken chunk.
The frozen bread I will use primarily for garlic bread in the future. Sometimes the bread consistency can be different after being frozen and reheating in the oven covered in garlicy butter usually solves that issue.
The veggies can be chopped and put into plastic storage bags or containers. Depending on what the veggies are, I will sometimes make stir-fry kits and divide them into two or three baggies. This will save you from buying a bag of mixed veggies in the freezer aisle on your next shopping trip!
How Does this Save Me Money?
You may be wondering how having a fully stocked pantry will save you money. Using this method of having a fully stocked pantry is what allows me to spend $35 a week on groceries for my family of two. Having a good amount of staple items on hand means that for some recipes that week I won’t need to buy any ingredients (my core recipes). Or it means that I might only need to buy 1-2 things for a new recipe because I already have the rest of the ingredients.
I realize that $35/week for two people would seem to some people that we probably eat ramen noodles frequently. We don’t. I am able to cook 5-6 meals a week on this budget. Healthy meals. Meals that my husband and I both enjoy.
I do have a few disclaimers that I want to point out about my budget.
1) Very rarely do we have expensive cuts of meat for meals.
2) This does not include what my husband spends on his shopping trips for snacks and things to take with him to work (approximately $20/week).
3) I do 90% of my shopping at Aldi and I know that if I had to shop someone else, then that dollar amount would definitely go up.
4) $35/week does not include house-hold purchases like paper towels, Kleenex, laundry detergent, etc. I have a separate budget line for these items.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some weeks were I go over $45, but because I have a well-stocked pantry, I can then go some weeks and actually spend $30 or less on groceries.
What do I Keep in My Pantry
This is where I want you to remember that what is in my pantry might not be perfect for your family. I want my example to be a starting point for you.
In My Fridge
1) Condiments & Salad Dressings: Ketchup, BBQ Sauce, Mustard, Dijon Mustad, Mayo, Sesame Oil, Sour Cream, Soy Sauce, Sriracha & Worcestershire Sauce.
2) Cheeses: Block of Parmesan Cheese, Shredded Parmesan Cheese, Block/Shredded Cheddar Cheese
6) Fruits & Veggies: lemons, limes, lettuces or salad mix, green onions, grapes, strawberries (my fruits & veggies will vary depending on the time of year it is.)
In My Freezer
3) Chicken Breasts
4) Homemade Chicken Stock
5) Ginger Root
6) Assorted Chopped Veggies
In My Pantry
1) Yellow Cornmeal
2) Pasta (some combination of egg noodles, linguine, spaghetti, lasagna, macaroni, bow tie or penne. I usually have at least 3 kinds at any given point.
3) Flour (all-purpose, bread flour & wheat)
4) Jasmine Rice – dry
5) Pinto Beans – dry
6) Pancake Syrup
7) Panko Breadcrumbs
8) Peanuts – roasted
9) Peanut Butter
11) Pasta Sauce (red, alredo or pesto)
14) Steel Cut Oats
15) Sugar (brown, white & powdered)
16) Tomato Sauce
17) Vegetable Oil & Extra Virgin Olive Oil
18) Flax Seeds
19) Non-stick Spray
In My Spice Cupboard
1) Vinegar (white, apple cider & rice)
2) Active Dry Yeast
3) Baking Powder & Baking Soda
4) Corn Starch
5) Vanilla Extract
6) Cooking Spices (all dried): basil, beau monde, cayenne pepper, celery salt, chili powder, cumin, dill weed, garlic powder, mustard (ground), onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, crushed red pepper flakes, rosemary, sage, thyme & homemade taco seasoning
7) Baking Spices: cardamom, cinnamon, cloves (ground), ginger (ground), nutmeg (ground)
9) Kosher Salt & Pepper Grinder
What are some pantry staples that you can’t live without?