This is my basement pantry. I also have a small pantry in my kitchen, but I use these shelves in my laundry room for storing stockpiled sale goods. I don’t plan meals far in advance, and I don’t shop to make specific meals. Instead, I shop to replenish my pantry.
I disagree with the idea of a predetermined, stick-to-your-list menu plan, for the following reasons:
1) I buy groceries according to what’s on sale that week.
2) I frequently see unadvertised or clearance sales on items that I wasn’t planning to buy. If, according to my price book, the deal is really phenomenal, I’ll stockpile that item whether it’s on my list or not.
3) I plan meals based on what I need to use up. To avoid waste, I’ve become a master at creative leftover cooking.
I’m fortunate to live in a small town which is only 20 minutes from a larger city. Aldi, Super Wal-Mart, Fareway, and HyVee are all within close proximity. Aldi and Wal-Mart (just for the record, I hate Wal-Mart) are consistently the cheapest, but occasionally the other stores will have good advertised sales. 3-4 times a year, I travel 45 minutes to an Amish community to shop at their bulk grocery and salvage stores. I buy all of my spices and many staples & baking supplies in bulk there. I always combine these trips with other errands, and I buy a lot of groceries. The back of my van is usually packed.
Here’s how I make my weekly grocery list:
1) I scan the sale flyers that come in my free weekly “Penny Pincher” type newspaper. I compare the sale prices to the lowest price recorded in my price book.
2) If the sale is really good, I inventory my supply of that item and make an educated guess as to how much to buy. After 10+ years of keeping a price book, I’ve learned when most items typically go on sale, so I buy enough to get us through until then.
3) I inventory my staples (flour, rice, pasta) to see if there’s something that I must purchase because the supply is low. These items don’t go on sale often, but I always need them. Therefore, I try to stockpile them when I do see good sales.
People sometimes ask me what they should keep in their “frugal pantry.” This is a difficult question to answer definitively, because dietary needs and preferences vary so widely. Rather than prescribing must-haves, I can offer a list of what we typically keep in our pantry, fridge, and freezer. Feel free to use it as a starting point, and alter it to fit your needs.
Note: We do occasionally buy other items – such as fruit leather and canned frosting – but only if we find really terrific sales.
You’ll notice a few things about this list:
1) We don’t buy a wide variety of meats. We try to eat “less meat” meals, using 1/2-3/4 pound of meat per meal for our family of four (now five!), and we usually have only one meal with meat per day. We eat a lot of chicken and turkey breasts, and ground beef. With the exception of occasional ham, we almost never eat pork.
2) We buy only a handful of convenience foods and no packaged dinners except macaroni and cheese.
3) In the summer and fall, we don’t buy many vegetables because we eat right from our garden. In the winter, we buy frozen vegetables when our garden surplus runs out (this year we have to buy a lot, because our garden was a bust!) We also grow and freeze sour cherries and plums.
4) We use unsalted butter, and Smart Balance spread instead of margarine. There is great debate right now about which is worse – saturated fats or trans fats, and Smart Balance has zero trans fat, and about half the saturated fat of butter. It’s also gluten and gelatin-free. I use either butter or extra-light olive oil for baking.
Beef broth powder
Chicken broth powder
Cream of Tartar
Dry ground mustard
Middle Eastern Seven Spice
Salt (sea, and kosher)
Baking powder (aluminum-free)
Condensed milk (occasionally, for certain recipes)
Cornmeal (not cornbread/muffin mix – I make cornbread from scratch)
Evaporated milk (I keep several cans of this on hand at all times. It’s a great substitute for heavy cream in recipes)
Flour-all purpose, unbleached
Maple extract (for pancake syrup)
Non-stick cooking spray (usually olive oil)
Pie filling (occasionally)
Vanilla extract (pure – not imitation)
Tea bags (for iced tea)
100% whole wheat bread
(I make other breads)
Dried Beans, Pasta and Grains
Popcorn (not microwave)
Pasta shells (small-for pasta salads)
White rice (mainly for rice pudding and other desserts)
Wild and brown rice blend
Canned or Bottled/Jarred Goods
Baked beans (mainly in summer)
Creamed corn (I keep canned corn products on hand to make cornbread pudding – a favorite of my husband)
Hormel chili with beans
Juices (100%, no sugar added – apple, cranberry, grape)
Olives (black and green)
Pineapple (chunks & crushed)
Sun-dried tomatoes in oil
Tomatoes (crushed, diced & stewed)
Tuna (water-packed, not albacore)
White beans (ex: Great Northern or Cannelini)
Apple cider vinegar
Coffee creamer (International Delight brand is trans fat-free)
Dorothy Lynch salad dressing (occasionally, for taco salads)
Jam/Jelly (grape, raspberry, & apricot)
Mustard (yellow & dijon)
Ranch dressing (for the kids to dip raw veggies)
Tahini (for hummus)
American slices (we buy only the Kirkland premium slices from Costco for $2/pound – no generics)
Shredded (sharp cheddar & mozzarella)
Dairy (With the exception of 1% milk, which we prefer, I buy all dairy products full-fat)
Crescent rolls/refrigerator biscuits (when I can buy them for $1.00 or less)
Meat (though we understand that we’re free to eat any and all foods, we choose to eat only clean meats, as per God’s Levitical food laws in the Holy Bible)
Beef – we get a variety of cuts when we purchase our quarter each fall, including ground beef, stew meat and soup bones, chuck, rump and arm roasts, round steak, and sirloin, ribeye, and New York strip steaks. We do not eat organ meats, because we find them disgusting and repulsive.
Chicken breasts, bone-in, with skin
Hot dogs (uncured beef or turkey only, and not often)
Lean turkey ham
Pepperoni (I buy turkey pepperoni, for homemade pizza)
Whole breast of turkey
Nuts and Seeds
Berries (in season)
Green bell peppers
Oranges (mandarins, or “Cuties”)
Breakfast cereal (mainly for my husband – the kids aren’t big cereal fans)
Kraft macaroni and cheese
Raisins and other dried fruit
Stir fry veggies
French toast sticks
Pancakes (my kids don’t like frozen scratch pancakes. I don’t know why).
Cool Whip (sometimes, for specific recipes)