20 Ingredients for a Frugal Pantry

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Nothing exotic here, but it's all practical, versatile, and nutritious.

If you want to save money on food, there are a few things you need to know. First, you have to start making everything from scratch. No more eating out, because that's where costs can really spiral out of control. To ensure this, it's best to have a meal plan and a well-stocked pantry, so you're not tempted to succumb to takeout as soon as things get hard.

This leads to my second point, which is to stock your pantry in a particular way. Just having loads of food in it doesn't guarantee cost savings or even delicious meals. You need to have the right ingredients, and if your primary goal is to save money, these have to be frugal ingredients.

Not all ingredients are created equal! I have gone into the same grocery store and spent $300 on a week's worth of food for five people, while other weeks I've kept it under $150. It depends entirely on what you choose, and some ingredients give you a lot more bang for your buck than others. Now, based on my personal experience, here's what I think you should keep in your pantry if your goal is to save money.

1. Basmati rice: A cheap, filling side dish or main that cooks quickly and keeps for a few days. It's great fried with veggies after being chilled.

2. Sweet potatoes: Hearty carbs that are delicious roasted and eaten as leftovers for lunch.

3. Lentils and/or chickpeas: Soup, stew, chili, or salad, a good filler in ground meat dishes, can handle a range of spices.

4. Black beans: Great protein source, good in Mexican food, chili, soup, or as a base for eggs.

5. Frozen fruit: Use in smoothies, desserts, stir into oatmeal or baked goods.

6. Fresh spinach: A sturdy green that keeps for a long time in the fridge, it's great in salads, stirred into soups or curries, blended into smoothies.

7. Cheese: Expensive at regular prices, but cheaper than meat, and you can often find it on sale and freeze. Buy 1-lb blocks of Cheddar and mozzarella, and use it to top burritos, pizzas, eggs, and more. Avoid the expensive, 'fancy' cheeses.

8. Canned tomatoes: One of the most flexible pantry items. Use to make chili, soup, pizza and pasta sauce, and more. 

9. Dried pasta: Need I explain?

10. Vegetable broth: Cheapest to make your own and store in the freezer. Make soups, stews, pilafs, risotto, etc.

11. Basic spices: Chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, curry paste, pepper and kosher salt are must-have.

12. Oats: The cheapest, heartiest breakfast in the world, also great in baked goods and granola.

13. Flour: Use it to bake your own muffins, cookies, biscuits, bread, and to thicken sauces.

14. Onions: The base of most dishes

15. Olive oil: Expensive, but it can be found on sale and is quite necessary for good cooking. Buy in large quantities for best price. You'll save money by using it to make your own mayonnaise and salad dressings.

16. Peanut butter: A filling protein-rich snack

17. Tortillas: Cheap, easy to freeze, keep a long time, great for burritos and breakfast wraps and kids' lunches

18. Eggs: Great protein source, fast-cooking, can be eaten in many forms, keeps a long time

19. Plain yogurt: Can be sweetened with jam for a snack, mixed into baking, used to top lentil stews and curries, blended into smoothies

20. Frozen vegetables: Frozen veggies deserve more love than they get. They're just as nutritious as fresh, cost a fraction of the price, and keep for a long time. Buy extra-large bags when they go on sale.