There are times when your food storage might dwindle, especially after a weather emergency, household move, or Pantry Challenge. The bare shelves can be a great time for a fresh start, a chance to stock the pantry in ways better suited to how you live. Here’s how to do that without breaking the budget.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
There are going to be times when you need to stock your pantry. Not stock up in the sense of getting ready for a storm or pandemic lockdown, but a start from scratch kind of thing.
Perhaps you moved house and didn’t bring much if any food from the old house.
Perhaps you’ve eaten down the pantry to save money.
Perhaps things are bare after a vacation, a fumigation, or weather emergency that had you purposely letting things get bare.
As the cupboard starts to go bare, you might feel a little like Mother Hubbard. More importantly, you might wonder, how will I restock the pantry without going broke?
Sure, there are stock-the-pantry checklists out there on the internet, but they aren’t going to be much help if you don’t eat the way Martha or Goop or the next big lifestyle guru eats.
You need to know yourself. At this point, it’s important to ask yourself a few key questions so that you can rebuild in a way that makes sense for you and the rest of the household.
Do you know your household’s favorite, go-to meals? If not, start a list. As you build this list, also start a checklist of the ingredients needed for those meals. This will be the base of Your Own Grocery Staples Checklist.
What ingredients from your previous stock were difficult for you to use? This may be hard to answer unless you’ve recently done a Pantry Challenge, but take notice going forward. What are things that you end up throwing out because they’ve gone bad before you could use them?
Knowing what ingredients don’t get used up quickly at your house can inform your shopping and help you avoid food and money waste.
Are there ingredients that you want to avoid or limit their consumption? These don’t have to be “taboo” foods, just things that perhaps you want to limit for a variety of reasons, ranging from nutritional density (or lack thereof) to cost.
With this information in mind, you can set forth on a plan to restock your kitchen on a budget.
Use the System.
As you know by now, I’m a big proponent of the Good Cheap Eats System, which has 7 basic steps:
- Shop the kitchen.
- Plan your meals.
- Use up leftovers.
- Visit the store with the best prices.
- Check the sales and clearance.
- Cook from scratch.
- Freeze extra for later.
The seven steps of the System build on one another. While only two are specifically about grocery shopping and restocking the pantry, looking at the System as a whole can be a helpful approach to restocking the pantry on a budget.
Shop the kitchen.
Clearly, if things have dwindled there may not be much food on hand to work from, but take stock of whatever is there so you can build from that.
A good grocery store practices stock rotation all the time. When they restock the shelves, they move the current stock to the front and place new items in the back.
You should be doing this in your own kitchen. Use up things that have been there awhile. A good deal is no good deal if it rots before you can use it.
While canned goods don’t necessarily “rot,” they do lose taste and texture over time. So make sure you’re using up what you have before the expiration dates. You don’t want to refill the pantry in a big way until you’ve moved out the old stock.
Plan your meals.
If you’ve talked with the household, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal plan, but have some idea of the meals you want to make over the next 3 to 7 days so that you can shop appropriately.
Your budget will do better if you grocery shop with a plan as to how to use the ingredients you buy.
Read –> Meal Planning Tips to Save You Money
Use up leftovers.
Since you may have limited food stuffs on hand before you restock the pantry, you may not have much leftover prepped food. Think about leftover ingredients or leftovers you might anticipate having once you plan your meals.
Will you have a partial carton of sour cream that needs using? Some salsa or pasta sauce?
Plan meals that share some common ingredients so that your shopping is efficient and leftovers (and food waste!) will be limited.
Visit the store with the best prices.
When you restock the pantry, it’s super tempting to just head to the nearest grocery store and buy all the things. You may have a full kitchen, but you’ll have an empty wallet!
Choose the store with the best prices and buy what you’ve planned for upcoming meals.
Check the sales and clearance.
This is where your efforts to restock the pantry will really come into play. So far, you’ve taken stock of what’s on hand, planned some meals, made a plan for leftovers, and chosen the optimal store for the things you buy. Next, let’s look at the sales and clearance.
If you’ve done your homework and already assessed your grocery staples and go-to meals, you’ll have a good idea of what ingredients normally get used at your home. These are the things to look for in the sales and clearance.
A general rule of thumb for stocking up is this: Buy as much as you can store, that fits the budget, that will be used in a reasonable amount of time, before its “best by” date.
Not everything will be on sale this week, but many things will roll around on a sale sooner or later and you’ll have a chance to add them to your pantry restock.
Manufacturers and grocery stores offer items on sale every 6 weeks or so. Chances are good that if chicken breast is on sale this week, it will be on sale again sometime in the next 6 weeks. It’s not a once-a-year opportunity.
Good deals can be had almost all the time. Sure, some deals are better than others. But, usually, if you shop the sales, you can refill the pantry on a budget in no time.
Just this week, I’ve seen stock-up prices on the following items that we regularly use in our home:
- cheese $3/pound
- ground turkey $2.97/pound
- sour cream $1.79/carton
Cook from scratch.
Cooking at home is a great way to save money, especially as you restock the pantry. Perhaps you don’t have the budget to buy all the things in one go. Instead, you can focus on some standard baking ingredients and build from there.
With essential baking ingredients on hand, there’s no limit to the things you can make yourself.
Freeze extra for later.
By that same token, as you’re rebuilding your kitchen food storage, cook extra to freeze. This will help you feel like you’ve gotten a little ahead, even if you haven’t purchased all the ingredients you would have in a fully stocked kitchen.
Circling back to the sales and clearance, use your freezer to build your storage and stretch your grocery dollar.
No matter the reason for an empty cupboard, it’s sure that you can restock your pantry on a budget without spending a small fortune.
Keep working the Good Cheap Eats System and you’ll have a healthy little mini-mart at your disposal in no time!
What do you think? What helps you restock your pantry once it’s dwindled?
This post was originally published on December 31, 2009. It has been updated for content and clarity.
For me in my freezer, I use bins. I have fruits, veggies and meat separated out. When I freeze something I label it with what it is and a date ( month and year). Much of my frozen items are in vacuum seal bags so things keep longer. In my chest freezer I have 2 wire baskets they hang on the lip. One basket is leftovers or when I make a meal I do 2 and freeze one. So quick meals are here! The second basket is an assortment of things but it is things I want to use. I check this area every week when I meal plan.
In my pantry I try and rotate items and again I have a basket where I put things that I want to use up. I live in a split entry home and I don’t have a pantry. But there is a hall closet (quite large for a closet)just off the kitchen. I repurposed this for my pantry. We added shelves on three sides and bins on the floor under the shelves. It works well for us.
I am a new reader who first came across your freezer cooking book, and I just want to say THANK YOU!! I have been devouring (even literally 😉 your posts and recipes these past few weeks. I also loved following your pantry challenge. As a fellow grocery bargain hunter, I love that you balance finding good deals, food that is healthy (and delicious!), and recipes that are easy-to-make that all fit within your family’s priorities. Thank you for being such a helpful resource for a young mom who is trying to fill up her new chest freezer and find cheaper ways to make decently healthy food.
Welcome, Erika! It’s so nice to meet you. I’m so glad it’s been helpful. Thank you for taking the time to say so. I’m looking forward to working with you more!
We are were getting ready to start our first pantry challenge, and then our refrigerator went on the fritz starting with the freezer. For now, as long as we don’t put anything in the freezer it’s running but nobody knows how long so now we really are eating what we have and not buying. The thing is I live on a very limited income to feed 3 adults, so restocking and stocking up, in general, are a nightmare I can’t ever quite accomplish I want.
Perhaps take this time to reassess what your household’s preferences are and how you can shop the sales on non-perishables.
Christy, Thank you so much for saying “not so carried away with the deal”. I fell like that is what I have done. I have enjoyed eating from the pantry this month. I have bought a few good meat deals this week and Quacker deals but have really tried to only get milk and eggs. Thank you to all for your comments and encouragement. I know I am not the only one ya’ll help. May God bless.
You guys have really made me look at my pantry and my buying. I am being creative and using it up, but if it’s still here come February 1st it’s going to the Mission (our local homeless ministry). I’m going to try to watch my purchases better too in the future and not get so carried away by “the deal”.