8 Healthy Pantry Staples That Will Help You Save Money
Going to the grocery store is equal parts stocking up on food for the week and a test of willpower. Those packages of cakes and cookies definitely look appealing, but they rarely fit into our budgets or healthy diets. Leanne Brown, author of Good and Cheap is all too familiar with the struggle. “In a perfect world, healthy and delicious food would be all around us,” Brown said. “But of course, it’s not a perfect world. There are thousands of barriers that can keep us from eating in a way that nourishes our bodies and satisfies our tastes.”
Still, Brown firmly believes money shouldn’t be one of those barriers, and that’s the very basis of her book in which she explains basic kitchen know-how, not budget, is the key to great food. She singles out commonly available pantry items as being essential to having a wide variety of meals on the table within minutes. “Keeping a well-stocked pantry is the key to easy, fast cooking at home. When you’re living on a budget, building up supplies does take time, but just keep adding each week and you’ll get there.”
With that in mind, we asked Brown to single out some of her top pantry staples.
“Meat isn’t the only protein! Items like dried beans, nuts, and eggs are cheap, store easily, and have multiple uses,” Brown said. “Be aware that most fish at the grocery store has previously been frozen and was merely thawed for display.” If the store can thaw it, so can you. The best way to do this is by transferring your protein of choice to the refrigerator the day before you plan to cook it.
“Butter is just as good to cook with as it is on toast,” Brown said. When it comes to cheese, she says to “buy what your taste, budget, and local availability allow.” And don’t forget about milk and yogurt.
Centering your meals around produce is one of the best tips. “Vegetables can (and should!) be the base of most meals. Other than greens, which should be used quickly, they can be stored for a few days to a few weeks. Try to snag each vegetable as it hits peak season,” Brown offered.
“Citrus fruits are cooking essentials and they keep well. The zest and juice can liven up just about any dish, and they always make a great dressing,” Brown said. “Bananas, apples, and melons are great quick snacks, but try every fruit you can afford!” Keep in mind, affordability often has a lot to do with seasonality. That means skip berries during fall, and go for pears and apples instead.
“Flour is so inexpensive, and once you have a few basics at hand, most baked goods are a cinch to make,” Brown explained. And don’t limit yourself to wheat, either. “There’s great variety in whole grains. Substitute them for rice, toss them in a salad, or add them to soup,” Brown recommended.
6. Frozen fruits and vegetables
“Fresh berries can be expensive, but the frozen ones often go on sale and are great for smoothies,” Brown said. “Frozen veggies are quick to add to soups and rice dishes. Compare prices to see whether frozen is the best value.”
7. Canned vegetables
Always compare prices between fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables. In some cases, going with canned products is going to be a better option. “The canned versions are fantastic in sauces,” Brown said. “Just be aware that canned foods are often very salty, so you might want to rinse them, except for canned tomatoes.”
“Spices are expensive to buy and can often be a sticking point: no caloric value and they often have a high price tag. But because you use such small amounts, they end up costing pennies per recipe. If you’re able to shop around, look for inexpensive spices in bulk at ethnic markets,” Brown suggested. Some specialty stores will also let you portion out the amount you want to buy. This is particularly useful for spices you use sparingly. You’ll save money and you also avoid running the risk of the spice losing potency before you use it all.