I’ve lived in the country for more than a decade. The closest town is 14 miles away. The closest small city is 27 miles.
A quick run to the store is anything but quick. Even our closest convenience store is 8 miles round-trip.
When you live that far away from everything, you start to see the value in being prepared. You learn pretty quickly what you don’t want to run out of when you’re snowed in at home. You learn what you don’t want to be missing when you’ve got a sick kid at midnight.
You learn that having a stash of must-have pantry staples on hand saves you money. The fewer trips you make to the store, the fewer chances you’ll have to make an impulse buy. The fewer trips to the store means you save on gas and avoid eating out.
Shop smart for those pantry staples, and you’ll save even more. You can shop for store brands, use coupons, and buy in bulk to make sure those things are always tucked away in your pantry when you need them.
The exact brands and quantities of items may very based on what’s on sale and what my stockpile looks like, but these are the must-have pantry staples we always have in our fridge, freezer or pantry:
15 Must-Have Pantry Staples
While they’re not as cheap as they used to be, eggs are still a great value. They pack a protein punch that will help you feel full and they can be incorporated into all kinds of recipes from casseroles to cakes.
You can easily whip up a stir fry or concoct a tasty side dish when you have long grain rice on hand. Rice is cheap and keeps a long time in an air-tight container.
Just like rice, pasta’s cheap price and shelf stability make this a pantry must-have. It’s an inexpensive food that can feed a lot of people and it doesn’t take much time to make.
Beans are a great source of protein and if you buy them dried, they’re quite cheap. There are so many varieties of beans and they are incredibly versitile. You can make them the main course or you can serve them as a side. You can even use them to make a snack!
Canned tomatoes – whether they are whole, diced, stewed or in sauce form – can be made into all kinds of delicious meals from spaghetti sauces to soups to pizza and chili. You can stock up when you find a good sale or preserve your own garden harvest for delicious summer taste all year round.
Potatoes are cheap (and if they’re not deep fried, they can be healthy). You can make mashed potoatoes, hashbrowns, baked french fries, roasted potatoes, stews, soups…. lots of possibilities that will fill you up on a budget.
I try to stock up on all kinds of meat whenever I find it on sale. Cheap cuts of meat are especially tasty when cooked in a Crock-Pot. I also try to make sure I have canned tuna and chicken on hand in case of a power outage.
Frozen vegetables retain more of their nutrients than canned do, and you can usually find a great sale and stock up. Use them as side dishes or in homemade casseroles and soups.
Oils and Vinegars
We try to keep several different kinds of cooking oils on hand such as extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil. They’re great for cooking and you can also use them to make salad dressings and marinades. Vinegar can be used in a variety of marinades and dressings, as well as in many homemade cleaners.
We usually have a few varieties (all purpose and whole wheat) of flour on hand for baking. It can also be used to thicken sauces and make gravy and for homemade pizza dough. (Since there’s no delivery out here!)
I like to have sugar, brown sugar and other sweeteners (like honey) on hand for making sweet treats and to sweeten beverages.
Spices and Herbs
Variety is the spice of life, and having spices and herbs on hand makes it so much easier to make a variety of dishes! We preserve herbs we’ve grown in our garden or we stock up when we see a good sale. (We’ve even found deals at dollar stores on spices!) Our favorites to keep on hand – garlic and basil!
Quick Convenience Foods
There are going to be days when you cannot find the time or energy to whip up a home-cooked meal. Rather than hitting the drive-thru or ordering out, keep some cheap convenience foods on hand for those situations. Convenience items you can usually find on sale include mac and cheese, canned soups, frozen pizza, frozen meatballs or chicken strips.
You could also make your own convenience foods in advance. I often brown a big batch of ground beef and then freeze it in meal-size portions. A jar of spaghetti sauce and some frozen meatballs just might become a quick meal of meatball subs. A few meals tucked in your pantry or freezer now could be a lifesaver on a busy evening.
Thinking outside the kitchen
When you live in a remote area there are a few other things on the list of must-have staples.
You do not want to run out of toilet paper. Ever. Toilet paper goes on sale regularly, so when you find a good deal, stock up. The same goes for feminine products! If you’re stuck at home due to weather or illness, you won’t have to worry about running out.
When your child spikes a fever at 2 a.m. or you’ve got a smashing headache in the middle of a snowstorm, the last thing you want to do is make a trip to the store. Keep pain relievers, cough medicines or remedies, and fever reducers on hand for those situations.
What are your must-have pantry staples?
My list is what works for me, and even with this list, there are other items that are nice to always have on hand (like chocolate, for example). Your list may be completely different. What are your must-have-on-hand items? I’d love to hear what they are!
Thanks for the list. I’m working on re-stocking my pantry as we plan for a decrease in income. I’d add: oatmeal or grits, broth/boullion, canned fruit and peanut butter. Maybe some of our most used spices.
Christina Brown says
I think of broth as one of those convenience foods….. Oatmeal, canned fruit and nut butters are great adds!
Patricia D says
I always cook double cassarole recipes. We put some of it in the freezer in those plastic “sandwich” containers-3/$1.00 at the dollar store to use as “tv dinners”. They hold just enough for a meal without wasting space in the freezer & stack well. Just rinse w/ hot water a few seconds & food pops right out onto a plate (learned they warp in microwave).
Christina Brown says
Excellent idea! I love have home-cooked meals I can just throw in the microwave when life is busy!
Money Beagle says
I’m thinking that we’re good to go on all 15 items. Great list!
Great list.I always have boxes or a can of crackers.Also cans of evaporated milk.
Christina Brown says
Good ideas, Roberto!
Coffee, tea, and peanut butter!
Christina Brown says
My husband would totally agree with you on the coffee and tea, Lucy! And having some kind of nut butter (we have a peanut butter allergy in our house, so we use SunButter) is a great idea!
I like to have an extra pound of butter in the freezer. One of those things that really annoys me to have to go to the grocery store for! Also, popcorn kernels and brown paper bags to make my own microwave popcorn. :)