Frugal Pantry: Favorite Refrigerator Items

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

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

I’ve realized that one of my missions in life is to make the most of what I have. Whether that’s a talent God has given me, time with my husband and children, or money in the bank, being a good steward of those things is something I feel called to very passionately. I don’t want to live a life of waste, not matter what arena that may be.

Hey! It only took me 42 years to figure that out. Not bad!

Next month we’ll be diving into a Pantry Challenge. It’s that twice-a-year time when I goad and cajole you — and me — to use up what we have instead of running out to buy more. We learn more about our shopping habits, we rotate our stock, and we mend our ways to be more budget-friendly in the future. Plus we save grocery money!

(I’ll be sharing more details on the challenge in the next couple weeks, so stay tuned. If you’re not already following me on twitter, facebook, or instagram, now would be a good time to do that. You don’t want to miss it. Over and again, readers write to tell me how it transforms the way they shop, meal plan, and cook. If you think you could do better with what you have at your disposal, join us. It’s kind of like that Food Network show, Chopped. Only you’re the one responsible for the lame things in your basket.)

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

How you stock your kitchen makes great meals. Or not.

One thing I learned through the pantry challenges of yore, was that how I stock my kitchen makes a huge difference in the meals we have and the money we save. I’ve found it to be so instrumental in making the most of our grocery money: to narrow down the things that I know are “staples” at our house, things I know we like and will eat. Those are the things to stock up on.

While I understand that for some folks the term pantry denotes what’s in the cupboards, in this Build a Frugal Pantry series I’m broadening my definition to include your cold food storage, ie that which is in your fridge and freezer.

Dairy products

Typical dairy products that we keep on hand include: milk, whipping cream, half and half, Greek yogurt, butter, sour cream, and cheese. We are big dairy fans and I’m okay with that. Currently, I strive for rbst-free dairy products or organic if the price is right. The best prices I’ve found for most things are at Costco where I can get Horizon Organic cream and half and half, Fage yogurt, Kirkland butter and milk, and Tillamook cheeses for super cheap. Seriously, the prices are incredible. I typically find sour cream, like Daisy or Knudsen, cheap at Ralphs, so I stock up on several containers, depending on their sell-by dates.

I know eggs aren’t technically dairy, but they definitely consort together. We go through at least three dozen eggs a week. So, when I find them on clearance I stock up, buying up to 6 or 8 dozen, depending on the date. You know you can put an egg in water to see if it’s still good, right? If it floats, chuck it. Otherwise, you’re good to go.

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


We enjoy a fair amount of baked goods as well as hot cereals all year long. (It doesn’t get that hot in San Diego — unless I’m on book deadline and have to bake. Then we have a heat wave or a wildfire or both.) I buy a lot of Bob’s Red Mill via Amazon Subscribe & Save. Bob has his own shelf, well, two shelves. Since they are whole grains, they are better stored refrigerated or frozen in order to extend their shelf life. Items that I regularly stock include wheat germ, wheat bran, a variety of oats, popcorn, polenta, corn meal, corn flour, hot cereal, whey protein, and cornstarch.

(I write for Bob’s Red Mill sometimes, but I was using their products long before that, just so you don’t think this is a sponsored post.)

I also keep a big jar of SAF yeast in the fridge for baking. It’s so much cheaper than buying the little packets or even the small jars. I buy a huge bag of it at Costco and store some in a jar in the fridge and some in the freezer.

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

Fresh herbs

I love having fresh herbs on hand! I regularly buy bundles of parsley and cilantro at the grocery store and keep those in water in the fridge. This prevents it from becoming a slimy brown mess in the crisper.

Vegetables and fruits

I’ve been putting the produce box on vacation a little more frequently due to this latest cookbook project since I can’t count on it to provide what I need each week. I don’t want to go buy more on top of what we have. We keep the two drawers full of fruits and veg almost constantly.

Things we regularly buy are mushrooms, bell peppers, jalapenos, salad greens, cucumbers, carrots, and scallions. Good fruit prices have been hard to come by, so we’ve had mostly bananas — which I store on the counter.

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


We have way too many condiments right now! Three door compartments are full. I’m not sure how that happened. Anyway, regular condiments include: ketchup, yellow mustard, Dijon mustard, brown mustard, lots of olives, pickled jalapenos, pickles, pepperoncinis, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sriracha, fish sauce, minced ginger, minced garlic, sweet chili sauce, hot sauce, sun butter, jam, and Maple syrup. I buy these mostly from Trader Joe’s but usually wherever we are when I remember to buy it. My people don’t always tell me when we run out.


And yes, our fridge regularly has a few containers of leftovers. Sometimes I’ll have them for breakfast, serve them for lunch, or turn them into something new like a soup or fried rice. Since FishPapa has been packing cereal and yogurt for his breaks and lunches, he sometimes eats them when he gets home.

Other times, I just say this is what’s on the menu and I don’t cook anything else. Those days are the hard ones. The favorite leftovers get gobbled up pretty quickly.

Build a Frugal Pantry

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

This is part of a larger series where I share tips for buying the foods that pack the biggest punch nutritionally as well as dollar for dollar. Posts in the Frugal Pantry series include:

  • Favorite Pantry Staples
  • Favorite Fridge Items
  • Favorite Freezer Ingredients (coming soon)
  • Favorite Baked Items and Baking Ingredients (coming soon)

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. kjane says

    Okay, I’ll start. Always in our refrigerator are cheeses, many cheeses. Right now we have cheddar, blue, feta, parm, italian shredded, edam, cream, and laughing cow. We are out of goat and mozzerella currently. Cheese is definitely a staple for us. Also always in our refrigerator are olives, mostly kalamata and green, butter, sour cream, carrots, red peppers, limes, jarred pesto,eggs and hummus. Regular condiments are salsa, bbq, ranch dressing, several mustards, sriracha, capers, and Hershey’s syrup. Can’t run out of Hershey’s syrup. I don’t keep grains in the fridge, although I’ve heard flaxseed should go there. Yeast and vital gluten are in the freezer.

  2. Janet says

    We also have way too many condiments. They now fill the door and have started to spill out onto the bottom shelf. My husband likes fancy mustard and friends and family are always sending him some new, obscure variety to try.

    Dairy: our staples include butter, yogurt, cheese, eggs and milk.
    Veggies: our staples include carrots, green peppers, onions, and tomatoes
    Fruit: our staples include strawberries, bananas, oranges, apples, and grapefruit
    Beverages: we almost always have a pitcher of ice tea and a pitcher of lemonade in the fridge and diet Coke (mom’s indulgence).

    • How long is mustard good for?

      • Janet says

        Well the good news is that mustard will last in the fridge 12 to 18 months after opening so very little goes to waste. The bad news is that it will last 12 to 18 months. If it spoiled faster I would not have the wide assortment of open mustard jars in my fridge. Oh well, in the grand scheme of things it is not a big deal.

  3. This is such a great list! I am in the middle of a pantry challenge myself so the timing is perfect. Thanks. I love that Bob has his own shelf. He has one in my fridge, but I never thought to label it. I have a bunch of cilantro trapped in a bag in a drawer right now. Thanks for the reminder to rescue him by placing him in a jar instead. Sometimes I just get busy and forget. I’m looking forward to reading about your next Pantry Challenge! Thanks, again.

    • I did it as a joke, but it’s helpful. I might start labeling the entire fridge so that ppl start putting things back where I can find them. I used to thin kit was taboo. But the fridge is already 12 years old. It’s not like it’s going to keep on that much longer.

  4. Stephanie M. says

    The staples that I always have in my fridge are pickles, pepperoncini, yogurt, eggs, milk, OJ, cold cuts, variety of breads, mayo, (lite and regular), mustard, (spicy brown, yellow, and Dijon), ketchup, Frank’s Red Hot, variety of jams, butter, sweet and salted, veggies such as salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kolrabi, green beans, zucchini, and brussel spouts, and fruit, lite cream for coffee, salad dressings, and leftovers. Many times when I go shopping and bring home veggies, I cut some of them up and store them in individual containers so anytime someone want to grab a few carrots or cuccumbers, or sliced red peppers, all they have to do is take some from the containers; they are already washed and cut. I do the same thing with fruit. Lastly, the best way I know how to make sure things don’t go to waste is by keeping my fridge very organized with the use of containers and bins. Everyone knows what’s in each and I can always keep track very easily of what we have and what we’re running out of.

    • I love to do that veggie prep. Makes things so much easier. My 17yo now does it for himself for the egg dishes he makes. He keeps a container of chopped onion and peppers in the fridge.

  5. CeCee says

    My icebox staples are as follows:
    Dairy: “Whole” Milk, Almond Milk, At least one type of cheese,
    Fresh fruits/ veg- pineapple already cleaned, berries, etc. celery carrots, and bell peppers
    Condiments: Organic sugar free salad dressings, mustard (yellow, creole, and brown), grape jelly,
    Others: coffee (if you keep the ground cold the freshness lasts longer), pickles, pepperoncini’s, and pickles
    Bob’s red mill almond flour and brown rice flour.
    Drinks: Orange Juice (if the price is right) and iced tea

    • CeCee says

      Oh and WATER of course!!

  6. TSandy says

    My refrigerator is not frugal but that’s what I’m doing on your website. I do shop at Costco. Costco’s expansion into organic items has been instrumental in stretching my budget but after joining a local organic buying group and a food co-op I find I spend way less money at Costco. I have too many condiments-multiple mustards (honey, dijon, regular, etc), multiple pickles plus additional relishes. Vegan mayo (Just Mayo) plus regular olive oil mayo. Multiple hot sauces (Huy Fong Siracha, Louisana Hot Sauce plus Mexican hot sauce. I really need to eliminate these duplications of the same thing. My most coveted prime real estate is the refrigerator and I have two. (Two freezers too begging for a third one.)

    We are extremely heavy consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables. I buy almost no canned items and cook primarily from fresh with frozen vegies as backups. (I belong to a food co-op which has boosted our variety without increasing the cost.) Fresh vegs currently-corn, broccoli, broccoli slaw, shredded cabbage, English cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, onions, eggplant, limes, apple pears, Bartlett pears, plums, raspberries, watermelon, Fuji apples, Utah peaches (three cases arrived Friday night I’m working on currently to put in the freezer), spinach and organic lettuce mix from Costco.

    Raw milk from local farmer. My butter, whipping cream, sour cream, cheddar and Pepper Jack blocks plus Tilimook cheddar cheese slices are from Costco. Bacon from Zaycon. I buy individual Fage greek yogurt at grocery store for starters and make homemade yogurt weekly in a crockpot. I buy five dozen eggs monthly from local chicken farmer who belongs to my organic buyer’s club group. (As does my raw milk source.)

    Odds and ends- from Amazon (Kevala Organic Toasted Sesame Seeds 2Lbs) used in baking and sprinkled on salads. Vital wheat gluten and yeast. I buy all my SAF yeast on Amazon. No one can touch Amazon Prime’s price for SAF yeast. Ketchup, barbecue sauce and Hershey’s syrup for ice cream topping. Homemade almond and peanut butters plus three varieties of homemade jams/preserves (cherry, peach, and white nectarine preserves plus spiced apple butter). Homemade chai tea I brew.

  7. Sophie says

    I am a new mom and I am loving your posts on kitchen staples! Will there an list of all of the staples? I would love to make it into a checklist!

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