Cheap Food: Pantry & Freezer Staples to Buy When You’re On A Budget

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For most people, the grocery bill ends up being one of the highest bills of the month. When it comes to budgeting, food is one of the easiest ways to cut back on spending (without having to sacrifice too much on taste!). By carefully grocery shopping and looking for cheap food, you can save tons of money.

I love having specific pantry, fridge, and freezer staples in my home at all times. This means I have to buy very few ingredients as I already have most at home. Putting together meals takes less time, and I’m spending a lot less money on eating out. Plus, it allows me to feed my family healthy meals, even on a whim!

To help you tighten your grocery list and pantry items, I’ve compiled 47 of the best cheap food options I like to include in my kitchen. Use it as inspiration to budget for your groceries!

Cheap Food For Baking

Here are the basic items you should keep in your kitchen for baking – they are all very inexpensive and definite must-haves.

Flour

If you plan on doing any kind of baking, you’re going to need flour. From a batch of cookies to dinner rolls, flour will be your friend. It works to bind ingredients together in sauces and gravies, making it ideal to have on hand even if you don’t find yourself baking.

Sugar

Yes, we’ll need to sweeten things up! Depending on your baking needs, you’ll need white sugar, brown sugar, and confectioners’ sugar. If you just need it for your coffee, tea, and cooking, white sugar works fine.

Cocoa Powder

All chocolate lovers will need cocoa powder. This makes brownies, chocolate cakes, and all things sweet and chocolaty in baking.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Anyone who forgets these in their baking will soon know why they’re important – they help things rise. As a bonus, baking soda works as a main cleaning staple.

Yeast

Were you one of the people who tried to make their own bread in the past couple of years? You may be surprised to learn how easy it is to make your own. Have fresh loaves, buns, and even pizza dough at the ready by including yeast in your baking supplies.

Cooking Essentials

These pantry staples are a base for many meals, so stock up on these ingredients for your kitchen.

Oil

Keep your food from sticking to the pan with a dash of oil. Also handy for baking and sauces, try to have a couple of vegetable oils ready for recipes.

Vinegar

Vinegar works as a meat tenderizer, to make salad dressings, and to use in marinades. It also plays double duty as a cleaning agent. White vinegar is the most basic and versatile option.

Chicken Stock

Many recipes call for chicken or vegetable stock. To avoid waste, freeze any opened and remaining stock for the next recipe. You can also easily make your own using leftover chicken and vegetables.

Salt And Pepper

If you want your food to have flavor, you will need salt and pepper. Every single time you cook or bake, you’ll reach for at least one of these two staples.

Seasoning Spices

If you frequently follow recipes, you know how out of hand the spice cabinet can get. Instead, choose to focus on all-purpose seasoning mixes and a few of your favorites.

Cheap Food For The Pantry

Try keeping these items on hand – they are common ingredients used in a lot of recipes.

Oatmeal

Not only can you use oatmeal as a nutritional breakfast, but you can use it in plenty of desserts and cookie recipes. It works well as a crumble for desserts and a binder for cooking.

Canned Meat

Having canned tuna, salmon, or other meat in the pantry allows you to make protein-enriched sandwiches or casseroles with what’s already in your kitchen. Who doesn’t love a tuna melt or chicken salad sandwich?

Beans

Whether canned or dried, I always put beans in my pantry. A source of protein, you can use them to replace meat in a recipe or add to it. They’re one of the most filling and inexpensive pantry options out there.

Canned Vegetables And Fruits

On that note, stock up on more canned vegetables. Often, they’re cheaper than fresh produce and will last you much longer. Canned corn, diced tomatoes, green chilies, pumpkin, mandarins, and peaches are a few popular ones to include.

Rice

I probably make up a batch of rice every week. You can make some to go alongside vegetables and meat for a more filling meal. It also beefs up casserole dishes.

Pasta

Who doesn’t love pasta night? Pasta is a family and college student favorite for a really good reason. It’s very, very cheap food, making a large, filling meal. Picky eaters never seem to mind a bowl of it, either!

Try to limit yourself to two types of pasta in the pantry at a time. Otherwise, boxes get left half-finished, and you don’t want them to go to waste.

Pasta Sauce

To go with your easy pasta meal, you’ll also need sauce. I like to use marinara as it doubles as a pizza sauce, chili ingredients, and a topper for chicken.

Peanut Butter

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich will always be a hit in my books. Not only does peanut butter work well on sandwiches, but you can add it alongside soy sauce to make a savory sauce. If peanut butter isn’t your thing, substitute it for a different nut butter.

Coffee And Tea

Whether you’re a coffee or a tea person, I know you need to get your cup in every morning. So, this is one thing I made sure to include on the essential list.

Canned Soup

Perfect for a cold and dreary day, canned soup works as a meal on its own or as a side. You can also use thicker soups as a sauce for meat. For instance, cream of mushroom tastes wonderful with pork chops!

Always look for the low sodium version, as canned soup always comes packed full of salt.

Honey

Honey is a wonderful natural sweetener. You can add it to your morning tea or coffee, in your baking, or as a dash of sweetness to a homemade sauce for cooking.

Granola Bars

One thing I don’t want to miss on this list is easy snacks. In addition to fruits, granola bars are great to have on the go. You can easily buy a large pack in bulk that will last you for a few months.

Cheap Food For The Fridge

Be sure you have your favorite condiments on hand. Plus, here are some other ideas for inexpensive items to keep in your refrigerator.

Ketchup, Mustard, and Mayo

You’ll find you will reach for these three condiments more than any others. Mustard especially is used in other recipes such as salad dressings and even dishes like macaroni and cheese.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a key component of making your own sauces. Use it for stir-fries and other Asian-inspired dishes, dips, and salad dressings. If you are gluten free or prefer to avoid soy, try coconut aminos instead. 

Eggs

Always have eggs in your fridge. They make for one of the quickest and most nutritional breakfasts. However, you can certainly eat eggs for dinner or any time of the day! Of course, they are also an essential ingredient for many baking recipes.

Milk

You can choose whichever milk you like best. This can be regular cow’s milk or one of the popular soy or nut alternatives. Milk not only provides a nutritious drink but can be used in baking and making white sauces.

Cheese

Do I have to explain why cheese is on this list? It just makes everything taste better! Always avoid packages of shredded cheese – you’ll get much more bang for your buck by buying a block and shredding it as needed.

Butter

One ingredient that never goes bad, butter, helps to add more flavor while cooking than oil. It’s also required in plenty of baking recipes and tastes pretty darn good slathered over a piece of bread.

Jam

Always have some jam in your fridge to make a quick breakfast and snacks. You can even make your own by purchasing seasonal fruits in bulk!

Sour Cream

Sour cream works well as toppings for soups, potatoes, and other hearty meals. You can also use it as an ingredient to make dips, white sauces, and cream soups.

BBQ Sauce

Marinating meat in some barbeque sauce makes for a tasty and simple meal. It also works for dipping.

Hot Sauce

Are you a hot sauce family? Some people are, and some people aren’t. Hot sauce works well on many dishes, from eggs and pasta to chicken and stews. It’s a quick way to add flavor and heat to a dish.

Produce Essentials

Although fresh produce is harder to keep than other food items, here are some fruits and veggies you should try and have readily available.

Bananas

Bananas are a great fruit to have in the morning or on the go since they don’t need to be washed. When the odd banana inevitably gets too brown to be eaten, either throw it in a smoothie or store it in the freezer to make banana bread later on.

Apples And Oranges

I had to include these two staples. They last a long time in the fridge, so you can keep them on hand for quick snacks or sides for lunches.

Onion And Garlic

I often group these two vegetables since they get used the same way in cooking. These two truly bring flavor to dishes. The second you cook onions and garlic in oil or butter on the stove, everyone knows a good dinner is on the way.

Broccoli

Broccoli is one of those vegetables that most picky eaters will still eat. You can enjoy it raw, dipped in ranch, or cook it up. Broccoli works well covered in a cheese sauce for kids, hidden amongst pasta, or baked drizzled with oil and spices.

Potatoes

Is there a time of day not perfect for potatoes? This wonderful root vegetable lasts so long in the pantry and can be used for many dishes. Cook breakfast potatoes, bake homemade French fries, or serve them mashed with butter and garlic for dinner.

Tomato

Tomatoes come up in quite a few recipes, from soups and pasta to salad toppings and sandwich ingredients. If you purchase grape tomatoes, they can also be eaten raw and cooked.

Carrots

When it comes to vegetables, carrots are a kid’s favorite. Any vegetables that kids will eat raw as a snack, cooked in a meal, or served on the side will be cheap food worth stocking.

Celery

Celery also works well raw or cooked. What I like about celery is how long it lasts. When you notice the celery getting a little limp, simply leave it in a glass of water for a couple of hours. The celery absorbs the water and comes back nice and crisp again.

Frozen Cheap Food

Having some of these necessities in the freezer will make mealtime so much easier.

Frozen Fruit Medley

Having a stock of frozen fruits can help you make quick meals in a pinch. They work great for smoothies in the morning, as toppings on dessert and ice cream, and even as filling for pies.

Frozen Vegetables

You can use all kinds of frozen vegetable mixes for meals. Add them with sauce, protein, and some rice, and you quickly have a stir fry. They work well in pasta, soup, casseroles, and even on their own. If you have a fan-favorite vegetable like frozen peas, you can keep those stocked too.

Frozen Pizza

While it may not be the healthiest option, frozen pizzas are a relatively quick instant meal that can feed the whole family. Keep one on hand for when you’re really in a pinch. If you wait, you can often find them on sale and grab a few to stock your freezer.

Bread

I like to store any extra bread in the freezer. This works for things like hamburger buns, bagels, and even baked goods like muffins. When you buy a pack, this ensures the extras don’t go to waste and that you can enjoy them the next time you’re craving a hamburger.

Spinach Or Kale

We all know how fast spinach, kale, and other greens go to waste in the fridge. Instead, I prefer to either freeze my fresh greens when they start to show signs of withering or buy them already frozen. This way, they don’t go to waste, and I can quickly add some greens to any hot meal or toss a handful into my smoothies.

Ground Beef

This one could go with the perishables, but I find it more helpful to buy ground beef in bulk, split up the portions, cook with one, and freeze the rest separately. Ground beef is one of the most versatile protein options and can be used for tons of recipes like chili, tacos, shepherd’s pie, and meatballs.

Chicken Breasts

Just like ground beef, chicken breasts become very affordable when bought in bulk. Split up different portion sizes and store them away in the freezer until they’re ready for use.

Final Thoughts on Cheap Food

As you can see, you can definitely find affordable food if you are patient and shop wisely. By having these staples on hand, you can feed your family nutritious meals on the cheap!

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Meet Allison

Allison Baggerly is a blogger, author, influencer, speaker, podcaster, and founder of Inspired Budget, which is proudly a Latinx and women-owned business. A former teacher, Allison blends her talents for teaching with her passion for personal finances to help others learn how to start budgeting and build a life they love.

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