Do you want to fill up your pantry with cheap staples in order to stretch your grocery budget and ensure you always have something in the house to avoid those dreaded late dinner munchies?
I must admit, take-out is so atrociously expensive where we live, that it isn’t even an option. However, going to the shop more than once a week is, and that is often the one thing that can cause a significant spike in our grocery budget.
Although we don’t always manage to shop only once a week, there are several strategies that help us. Accountability and awareness of our ultimate goals are some, but a well-stocked pantry and freezer are equally important.
Thanks to both of us being quite vehement pantry stockers, we always have something to eat.
If your palate is accustomed to steak, burgers and pizza, it might take some time to get used to simpler, frugal alternatives. Cooking from scratch is, without a doubt, one of the things that really save us a boatload of money. Plus, it is better for you and creates less food waste if you’re mindful about it. What’s not to love?
Keeping a frugal pantry is not just about hoarding up on cheap staples for leaner times. It is also about mindful curation of those staples. Dried goods loose nutritional value over time, so you don’t want a bag of beans to sit on a shelf for years before it sees a cookpot.
With that in mind, we aim to simplify and minimise which staples get to live in our house. Food items that makes more than one dish are preferred. As are items made up of less than a handful of ingredients. Often just one.
While this works well for us, you might want to tweak certain components to suit your preferences.
Onions used to be a staple as well, but Mr. E. recently learned that he reacts to them, so we’ve omitted them from our diet.
Of course, we have more than that in our pantry, but these are the items we make an effort to always have extras of. Let me show you some of the ways these items can be combined to ensure you a frugal meal:
My go-to recipe if we are running a pantry challenge or don’t know what to eat, is lentil soup. Simple, warming and hearty.
Simply add a can of tomatoes and a can of coconut milk (or just one of them, if you’re being extra frugal) to a pot. Add water to the can to rinse out the remaining bits and pour back to the pot. Add a handful of red lentils and chop up a couple of carrots, plus leftover veg if you have. Add salt and spices to taste. My fave for this is classic garlic, ginger and a little bit of chilli, but a curry mix or curry paste would work equally well.
When the carrots and lentils are cooked, mush up with a stick blender and enjoy. Or just chop however fine you want the carrots and cook until the lentils fall apart.
Best served with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and snuggled up in a blanket.
Other soups that come to mind with the ingredients at hand are tomato soup and carrot soup. Omnomnomnom.
Another hearty dish.
Take a can of tomatoes and add to a pot or saucepan. Add lentils, any leftover veg finely chopped, salt and spices (bay leaf, rosemary, sage, thyme, pepper) and cook until lentils are tender and the mixture is pretty dry. Take off the heat and add a few tablespoons of flour and rolled oats until a pretty firm dough.
Scoop dough into a bread pan or similar dish and bake in a preheated oven at 180-200C (350-400F) until cooked and crusty on top.
Serve with what you have. We usually make rice, some sort of sauce and vegetables on the side. Plus homemade lingonberry jam, which is similar, but more tart than cranberry sauce. Would also work well with potatoes in one form or another.
Super easy, especially if you have leftover rice from a previous meal. Works equally well as lunch or dinner. But maybe that’s because we’re lazy and not very picky!
Add some oil to a pan and add cooked rice and frozen vegetables (our go-to mix is called “American mix” and is a mixture of peas, corn and carrot cubes). Fry until warm and tasty. Add soy sauce to taste. Some people like to add eggs, but we think it’s fine as is.
Probably our laziest, quickest dinner when we’ve cooked a large batch of rice. I also like to bring it to work for lunch.
Another take on the concept “rice and vegetables”. We’ll eat this any meal of the day.
Again, you take your cooked rice (warm and fresh, if you’re feeling extravagant), and add what you find in the fridge. Grated carrots, fermented cabbage, leftover salad veg like tomatoes, cucumber or iceberg salad, if you have it.
We usually keep a frozen mix of “oven baked vegetables”, which is a combo of sweet pepper, aubergine and zucchini, which we heat up and add to this, especially if we don’t have fresh veg.
Add that customary splash of soy sauce, maybe tahini sauce if you’ve made a batch and gobble up!
I learned to like porridge when I worked as a landscape gardener. The manual labour quickly made me realise that two slices of bread was not going to cut it until lunch, so I needed something more energy dense!
Add rolled oats, salt, cinnamon and water (about 3 times the volume of your oats) to a pot and heat to a boil. Stir constantly until it reaches your preferred thickness. Scoop into a bowl and add toppings of your desire. I like raisins, bananas, apples, or homemade preserves if we have nothing fresh.
All out of bread or other breakfast foods? Fear not! Pantry to the rescue!
Our savoury scones are a slapdash mixture of fine and dark flours, rolled oats, salt, baking powder, seeds, oil and water, mixed up and cooked at 200C (400F) until golden underneath. Best served still warm from the oven.
Our savoury waffles are more or less the same, just with more water added, and ensuring linseed/flax seeds are in the batter. Grated carrots are good as well. Fry in a waffle iron and enjoy warm.
The best lazy dinner! Some Sundays, we’ll whip out the kitchen machine and make a large batch of pizza dough. We roll them out into single person sizes and pre-bake them for five minutes on 200-220C (400-430F), let them cool down, and then pop them in the freezer.
Pizza sauce is a cooked down can of tomatoes with spices and a grated carrot for sweetness.
Enough with the savoury dishes, you say?
Mr. E. and I try to employ the habit that if you’re really craving something sweet during the week, you have to put in the effort and make something. If you’re not willing to do the time, you can’t have the cake. We don’t buy pre-made cakes and cookies as a rule, so this makes it more of an effort to go on a snack-craze.
I don’t really have a firm recipe for choc. chip cookies. In my usual way, I’ll mix sugar, flour, rolled oats, baking powder, pinch of salt, oil or margarine and water into a dough and then fold in the quarter or so of a chopped up 100g plate of dark chocolate. Scoop out on a baking tray and shape into cookies. Bake on 180C (350F) until golden. Enjoy the divine smell wafting through your house.
Mr. E. also likes to make carrot cake with lots of spices. Sooo good!
Those were some of our staple dishes that keep cropping up, one way or another. Since they are fairly often in our dinner rotation, it makes sense that they are optimised for our palate and preferences. Yours might be quite different.
Just a fair caveat: All these suggestions are high in starches and carbs. I would not recommend eating only this. Usually, we will buy plenty of fresh green veg during our weekly haul, but by the end of the week, this is either gone or wilting. That’s when we turn to these pantry staples to keep us ticking over until next week, and a new batch of lovely greens.