Frugal Pantry: Favorite Pantry Staples

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Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.

Cooking healthy, delicious meals and staying under budget starts with how you stock your pantry. If you aren’t buying the right things at the right price, you will find yourself making extra trips to the store and spending or buying more than you need to.

Years ago when I first started doing my seasonal pantry challenge, I realized that a successful pantry challenge — when you eat mostly balanced meals that taste good and no one in your family starts a riot — begins with a great pantry. If you’re putting problematic ingredients in your pantry, you’re going to have meals that are problematic.

What goes in your pantry determines what comes out on your dinner table.

At the time of that revelation, I put together a Build a Frugal Pantry series. Much of it is still good and useful. Now’s time for an update. Over the next month or two, I’ll be giving you a tour of all my food storage in the next month.

Here are my favorite pantry staples that go in our walk-in pantry:

(My apologies for the flash photography. My pantry is a black hole.)

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.

Pastas and grains

Pasta: I typically have several bags of pasta in various shapes and styles in the pantry, including traditional egg noodles, spaghetti, linguine, penne, rigatoni, elbows, orzo, couscous, and rice noodles.

My target price for pasta is $1/pound. I can get it organic for this price at Costco. I can get fun shapes at this price at Trader Joe’s. Since finding bugs in a brand new cardboard box of pasta, I only buy it in plastic bags. This rules out much of the free-or-cheap-with-coupon brands of pasta, but I’m okay with that.

Grains: We eat a lot of rice, polenta/corn meal, popcorn, and hot cereals, as well as some quinoa and barley. I’d like to start experimenting with other grains, but I just haven’t summoned up the guts to deal with picky kids on that front.

My target price for many of these items is $0.69/pound. I stock up when Sprouts has a sale. I’ve got big food storage containers for a stash. But, whole grains go in the freezer for longer storage.

I also keep a stock of Trader Joe’s Shredded Wheat on hand. The kids would prefer Joe’s O’s, but those have a ton of sugar in them. Darn it. The shredded wheat is just wheat and about $2 a box.

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.

Canned vegetables and fruits

Since we get a lot of fresh organic produce, I don’t buy as much canned as I used to. The canned items that I normally buy are olives, tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, sauerkraut, hominy, and some canned chiles. Sometimes I get marinated artichokes and roasted peppers.

I typically buy a lot of these items in bulk at Costco or by the piece at Walmart which seems to have the lowest nonsale price. I don’t serve hominy or sauerkraut so often that searching for a sale really would make a big diff. We’re running low on all these things, so there isn’t much to picture.

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.


We got through a lot of beans, both canned and dried: garbanzo, pinto, black, and cannellini. I love the convenience of canned, but the price of dried is compelling.

When I crunched the numbers, dried beans cost about $0.33/2-cup portion. So, that’s the best deal. However, if I find beans for 50 cents, I will buy all I can store. That makes it worth it. When I really need canned, I try not to spend more than $1/can.

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.


I call “condiments” those things that you could probably live without, but that add color, texture, and flavor to foods: the obvious ketchup and mustard (yellow, Dijon, and spicy brown), but also soy sauce, fish sauce, wasabi, cooking sherry and marsala, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, and hot sauce. I also stock up on Trader Joe’s light canned coconut milk. Love it for baking and in my coffee.

These prices can be all over the map. Usually I buy it when I need it, but if there’s a great sale, I buy enough to have a few extras in the pantry. I also tend to buy these items at Trader Joe’s or Walmart where they have great off-sale prices anyway.

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.

Boxed stocks and broths

I am a big fan of making your own chicken stock as a good cheap eat, but for the last few months, I haven’t been buying whole chickens or even bone-in chicken. There haven’t been that many great sales on either. And honestly? I’ve been miffed by the whole Foster Farm ickiness, and that’s the kind of chicken I was buying super cheap. Now we know why it was so cheap. Blerg.

Instead, I’ve been buying quart boxes of stocks and broth from Costco or Trader Joe’s. Organic varieties are not that much more than conventional, so I’m getting better quality for my investment.

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.


We don’t do a ton of processed snack foods on a regular basis. I’ve tried to steer the kids away from

My staples are Lundberg Farms rice cakes and Akmak crackers, both bought at Trader Joe’s. TJ’s is the cheapest for those items but you can buy both the rice cakes and the crackers on Amazon as well. Amazon’s Prime Pantry price on the crackers matches Trader Joe’s. The Subscribe & Save price on the rice cakes beats TJ’s. Gonna buy me some, right now.

We also keep a steady supply on hand of  Bob’s Red Mill popcorn that I buy via Amazon Subscribe and Save. Those are items we keep on hand pretty much all the time. They are whole grain and have few other ingredients.

In addition to the rice cakes, crackers, and popcorn, we regularly go through a lot of jam and sunflower butter. My youngest daughter has a peanut and walnut allergy. We could do almond butter, but it’s more expensive than sunflower butter and the boys don’t like it as well.

They may change their tune now that I started buying the unsweetened Sunbutter. The Trader Joe’s sunflower butter has sugar, so I ordered a big case of Sunbutter off Amazon awhile ago. It’s currently pretty pricey, so we may give almond butter a go. The only trouble is finding a brand that is guaranteed peanut- and walnut-free. Let me know if you know a brand.

Build a Frugal Pantry

Favorite Frugal Pantry Staples - Building a great tasting pantry on a budget can take a little time and research. Here are my favorite frugal pantry staples.

Over the next couple months I’ll be sharing tips for buying the foods that pack the biggest punch nutritionally as well as dollar for dollar. Upcoming posts in the Frugal Pantry series include:

What are YOUR favorite pantry staples?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Jessica B says

    Uhh, what does one do with Cactus?

    • Monica rose says

      We’ve always put cactus in with our scrambled eggs or in an omelette. It. Serve with regular salsa if you like. Yum!

    • Nf says

      Pickled cactus is wonderful if u can get past the slimy brine(sorry, gross, but it is). As everyone said above, adding it to recipes is awesome, but it is also good by itself just like pickles might be. No, they don’t taste like pickles, but are a nice garnish. I always or nopalitos/nopales when I go to a Latino restaurant. I can’t eat the pickled jalapeños, but give me the cactus anytime. They are also very good for u according to my cactus eating friends. Kidney function. Try’em!

    • Kristie Lee says

      Cactus Chili

      • 2 – 5 lbs of pork butt or shoulder roast (this can vary – depending on how ‘meaty’ you want it. We used about 3 lbs.)

      • 1 large can of green enchilada sauce

      • 1 can of refried beans – (for thicker chili – you can use a larger can.)

      • 1 jar of Nopales – Drained. (in Mexican food section of grocery store)

      • 1 large sliced onion

      • Salt & Pepper & Garlic to taste.

      • Cumin – about 2 tsp.

      Cut pork into bite size pieces & brown with salt & pepper. (Do not cook through… just brown lightly). Add pork, drippings, & all ingredients together in crockpot. Cook on low for several hours (we threw it together first thing in the morning & let it cook on low all day while we were at work.)

      Serve over rice & with tortillas. Top with sour cream & chopped green onions… (If you like heat – you can also top with diced jalapenos.)

  2. Stephanie M. says

    My pantry is filled with the usual staples; pasta, beans, rice, cereal, breakfast bars, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, etc. I try to keep it under control since the last pantry challenge and so far, so good. The one thing I NEVER, EVER run out of is pasta, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. We eat a lot of pasta, not always with tomato sauce but often enough. I make some kind of tomato sauce every week; whether it’s with sausage, home made meatballs or brajole or meat sauce, or chicken parmesan, or baked ziti or anything else like that so running out of tomato sauce is not an option! 🙂 That would be my biggest staple.

  3. Melissa says

    My cant go without pantry items are peanut butter, canned tomatoes and cereal. Id live to get my husband off of honey nut cheerios but its better than his past breakfast pick of Reese Puffs. It has taken me years to break him of that sugar habit so I guess HNC and granola isn’t too bad…..Popcorn into kettle corn also comesnin handy when we need munchy snacks but have run out of pretzels.

    • Every little step toward better habits is a good one. Baby steps! (Don’t let your husband think I was calling him a baby, though.)

  4. Janet says

    My pantry staples include many of the items you listed — pasta, canned fruits & veggies, rice and condiments. I also keep a variety of dried fruits in the pantry including raisins, cranberries, and apricots. My pantry staples also include my baking supplies — sugar, flour, powdered milk, salt, maple syrup, honey, nuts, etc… When money is tight if I can come up with a $1.25 for a dozen eggs I can make all kinds of family favorites such as pancakes, biscuits, cookies, waffles, bread, muffins, and pizza dough.

  5. kjane says

    I have to have balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garbanzo and black beans, chipotle tabasco, old fashioned oats, almonds, Ritz crackers (the only kind my husband eats and he eats them every day), tomatoes, quinoa, polenta, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, chocolate chips, and a little box of that shelf stable whipping cream from TJ. An eclectic list, but stuff we eat all the time. Okay, the last two are special treats, but I like to have them around.

  6. Laurie says

    Jessica, make your own almond butter! It is super simple. Throw 2 cups of raw almonds in a heavy duty food processor for 10 minutes scraping down the sides every couple of minutes. When you get it to the consistency you like (about 10-12 minutes for me) add in 1/4 – 1/2 tsp sea salt and process until blended in. Store in the fridge. I make my own all of the time and love it and it’s so easy!

  7. Lizzy says

    My pantry included all of the above more or less plus two things: canned anchovies and smoked herring from trader joe’s. I know many people don’t like anchovies but they give a great taste to salad, pizzas or even on top of egg salad. I look to herring when I need a quick lunch from myself.

    • I used to have anchovy paste all the time. Last time I bought it, it had weird ingredients in it. I’ve been using fish sauce now.

  8. June Combs says

    Hi Jessica ~ I love this weeks post about frugal pantry, with 3 teen boys and multiple friends every month i exceed my budget plus food prices have risen I read fruit has increased 21% that’s huge!

    Protein is critical for us! if I have frozen sausage, hamburger, chicken breast as well as some new cuts I’m trying like tritip beef and wild caught cod oven baked. All of which I buy with no hormone antibiotic and often grass fed and organic. Pork roast is not bad for the boys as it is for me and if I buy no hormone or antibiotics but not certified organic it is affordable and a simple entre for them during the busy months like May and Dec. I freeze all of this! I trade protein for things like bread which we rarely have and fruit based desserts. I minimize bread crumbs and pasta and increase veggies. Sometimes we have a protein, veggie and fruit for dinner (no starch). I have boys that don’t like their food touching each other ? I love casseroles these boys cannot be related to me? Thank you Jessica for all you do! Happy Memorial Day weekend ~

  9. Vanessa B says

    Great list! My pantry also includes oats, canned tuna and salmon, and pickled EVERYTHING! We are a pickle family, dill pickles in every size and shape, pepperocinis, giardineri, pickled beets, and jalapeno peppers ( I’m anxious to home can some this year).

    • My 10yo has been begging me to plant pepperoncinis so we could pickle our own. Need to get on that.

  10. Lee says

    Have you looked at Barney Butter? It’s almond butter, but it can be super expensive…we have a friend who is allergic to peanuts, dairy, and eggs, and she can eat it….not sure about the walnuts though…you’d have to look it up.

    • I’ll check. I looked at a lot of brands the other day and none of them were guaranteed for the other nuts. That makes no sense to me.

      • I was also going to suggest Barney Butter. I don’t know for certain that they’re walnut free, but they don’t make any other products with other nuts, so I would guess it is. Barney Butter was what finally got me to try almond butter after 30+ years of a severe peanut allergy. It’s pricey, but a very good product. Also, Blue Diamond almonds are peanut-free (again, I don’t know about walnuts), and sometimes you can do good deals on them with coupons and/or buy-one-get-one offers, to get them at a reasonable price to make your own.

      • Ebony says

        It is really easy to make your own almond butter if you have a Vitamix.

  11. Leah says

    Great list, Jessica. My pantry looks very similar with the addition of oats. We make a lot of baked oatmeal for breakfast and your fabulous granola bars for school snacks.

  12. Helen says

    We have some sumnbutter brand on hand right now and am excited they now make unsweetened and will try it next. I am very hesitant to buy almond butters and other nut butters because I have yet to find any that meet allergy standards the way I want! I tried making almond butter once but even with my Blendtec I didn’t have much luck. My son eats the almonds from Sam’s without issue, and he has a peanut allergy.

    • I think they are coming out with a second unsweetened product. Not sure what it is, though.

  13. Stephanie says

    I found a product by The Sneaky Chef called No Nut Butter made from yellow peas that is a remarkable substitute for peanut butter.

  14. Stephanie says

    Yes, it is the best of the substitutes I’ve tried. Close kt the taste of a processes peanut butter. It comes in jars and also in little single serve tubs which are great for school lunches for two reasons: they have the label on them so nut-conscious teachers don’t confiscate them, and also great for dipping apple slices, celery or pretzels.

    I’m guessing there is added sugar. And of course it is more processed than straight nut butters. And not the cheapest option. But if you simply want a good tasting alternative to peanut butter, this is it.

  15. Sarah says

    Love your list! Thank you! I always try to have pasta, canned tomatoes, rice, oats and chicken or veggie broth.

    My youngest has a peanut/tree nut allergy, so not even almond butter! 🙁 I recently bought Wow Butter from Walmart that is safe for her. She doesn’t love it in a sandwich, but I think part of that is because she’s totally unaccustomed to peanut butter-tasting things! :). It’s great in homemade granola bars and other baked goods, though.

  16. Mindy Bird says

    Have you ever tried making almond butter? Unconventional Kitchen just posted a recipe for cinnamon-maple almond butter which looks really easy (and not a lot of hands-on time!). I guess price probably depends on where you get your almonds.

    • I have done it during a pantry challenge, but hadn’t thought about since another commenter mentioned it. I think it’s a great suggestion if I can find peanut-free, walnut-free almonds. That’s always a little tricky.

  17. Harriet says

    Loved this post. I know it took a lot of time and thought, so thank you!
    Do you ever run out of something and put it on your list and buy it, only to NOT remember that you bought it last time so you buy some more? Please tell me I am not the only one that does this. During the last pantry challenge, we counted 8 jars of pickles. Seems I kept thinking we were out and buying more. We do eat a lot of pickles, but not enough to keep 8 jars on hand!

  18. Rose says

    Jessica, Have you tried homemade sun butter? You can control the amount of sugar and the taste is much better than commercial sunbutter in my opinion. It takes less than a half hour of your time and it’s pretty easy to make. I bought the organic raw sunflower seeds out of the bulk bins at whole foods. I know they say they can not guarantee that cross contamination with nuts has occurred but my son has a peanut allergy and suspected tree nut allergy and he tolerates it. He only eats a small amount as years of warning of the danger of nuts makes him Leary of anything that even looks like peanuts. We have eaten other items(not nut related) from the bulk bin without incident. I am sure you can find raw sunflower seeds online that are designated nut free. This is the link to the sunbutter recipe if you are interested.

  19. Holly says

    I keep a can of powdered eggs in the pantry, so if I run out of fresh eggs, I can still make pancakes and baked goods. They have a shelf life of 5 years and work really well in baking. Also, I always have cocoa. I buy it on sale in bulk. That way a chocolate fix is only a pan of brownies away!

  20. Julie says

    Are all these pantry staples also ok for your peanut allergy daughter?

    • I rarely let anything in the house that she can’t have. However, our allergist is okay with items that are “made in a facility that also….” and certain “may contain” items. Different doctors and different families have other guidelines. I recommend that folks do what they and their doctor feel most comfortable with.

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