Woman checking to make sure she has 9 essential pantry items on hand

Make Sure You Have These 9 Essential Pantry Items

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with the cost of food? I just read that the average cost of ground beef in the U.S. has once again hit an all-time high. I believe it, and not only beef. It is shocking how grocery prices are going up, which underscores the need for a well-stocked pantry.

 

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The way to fight back is two-fold:

  1. Buy groceries when they’re on sale
  2. Eat at home

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it can be if you make sure your kitchen pantry is well-stocked. It’s annoying and expensive to not have basic items on hand. You don’t have what you need and don’t have time to go get it, which means, of course, you’ll just have to go out for dinner. Again. 

Taking the time and effort to make sure you always have the following 9 essential pantry items will save a lot of money, provided you pick these items up as they go on sale. Think of this as a project. 


MORE: 5 Fabulous Ways to Hack a Boxed Cake Mix 


Evaporated milk

I basically detest the stuff because I had to drink it as a kid. But used in cooking and baking, evaporated milk is fabulous! Keeping a few cans in your pantry ensures you’ll always have milk on hand when the recipe calls for it.

Dry buttermilk

This is amazing. You can find it in the baking aisle as “Cultured Buttermilk Blend.” I can’t tell you how many times buttermilk as an ingredient in something has thrown me to the wolves. Who keeps buttermilk on hand?

And when you need only a small amount, then what to do with the rest of it? This dry option is the answer. I keep it in the freezer and it lasts indefinitely. And I find myself reaching for it quite often.

Canned tuna

Always have a few cans of white albacore on hand. A good tuna sandwich is hard to beat, which makes it a great fallback. Mix with onions, pasta, canned tomato, and some sort of dried herbs to make a tuna casserole. Everybody should have one wickedly delicious Tuna Pasta Bake recipe up their sleeve.

Tomato sauce

Turn it into pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce. Add it to soup. Many quick and easy casseroles call for tomato sauce. If you have a few small cans as well as regular size, you won’t waste a bunch when a recipe calls for just a small amount of tomato sauce.

Frozen peas

Possibly my favorite thing to keep on hand, frozen peas kinda’ fix anything. Add peas to any pasta dish, stew or salad and you’re adding nutrition as well as visual appeal.


RELATED: 9 Cooking Mistakes We All Make and How to Fix Them


Shredded cheese

You’ll save money if you buy bulk cheese and shred it yourself. But if you are not prone to do that ahead, buy it shredded. You’ll recoup the cost the first time you opt to fix a quick meal of quesadillas. And you’ll be good to go for a quick macaroni and cheese, too. And for pizza topping or to garnish chili.

Frozen chopped onions

Yes, you can chop it yourself if you happen to have an onion on hand. And you don’t have to buy them chopped. You can do this ahead and just keep a bag in the freezer. However, you do it, having this on hand is such a great idea. You’ll see.

Bouillon

I think you need chicken, vegetable, and beef. It comes granulated, cubed or as a very thick, concentrated base labeled “Better Than Bouillon,” which you keep refrigerated. I prefer the latter, but any bouillon will get you out of a jam when you don’t have chicken stock or beef broth on hand. Or a recipe calls for bouillon. Or you just want a nice hot cup of chicken broth. It’s easy to use, simple to store.

Chicken broth

Keeping a few cans on hand is a smart idea. Again, you can make it yourself but will you? Canned broth or stock it an ingredient you will appreciate having on hand for bases, sauces, gravies, and soups.

Question: Okay, those are my must-haves. What items would you put on the list? 

PREVIOUSLY: How to Store Important Documents and How Long To Keep Them


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25 replies
  1. Linda
    Linda says:

    Dollar Tree has quarts of shelf stable milk, with no hormones, that comes in handy in a pinch. The taste is much better than evaporated milk.

    Reply
  2. peatwee
    peatwee says:

    We’ve been thinking about getting a deep freezer to put in our basement. Does anyone have recommendations on what to get?

    Reply
    • holly
      holly says:

      I love an upright. I hate the newer ones. My last one had nice shelves and lots of them, it went out. My new one has plastic drawers etc which I hate. But I needed a big freezer to get my food into quick, didn’t have time to do much shopping around. Got it at Sears though.

      Reply
    • pawandclawdesigns
      pawandclawdesigns says:

      We were lucky to get 2 large chest freezers with our home from the old owner. While they are WONDERFUL for keeping food on hand (with the aid of a foodsaver type sealer) it’s a pain in the butt to know what’s in there since everything is piled up on other things.. So, if you have the option for an upright, I’d do that.

      Our solution for our chest freezer organization issue is cheap mesh laundry baskets from the dollar store. We put all the cheese in one basket, all the beef in another, the veggies in another, and stack them in the freezer. You could also just use plastic bags from the store.

      A list is also so important to us. Why buy ANOTHER 10lbs of chicken breasts on sale when you ALREADY have 8 left from the last time? I keep mine on a cloud document app so I can see at the store what we already have. It’s not a good deal if it’s just going to waste.

      Finally, (not related to the freezer question, but helpful) I have a assistant app on my phone, and I set it to remind me of fridge items that need to be used up. When I get home from my day ‘Hey Google, what are the reminders on my fridge list for today?’ ‘ You have three reminders. Cooked chicken, heavy cream, Parmesan cheese’ I know they will expire soon, and I also know I’m making Chicken Alfredo for dinner, LOL.

      Reply
      • pawandclawdesigns
        pawandclawdesigns says:

        No, I did not. I meant I have a reminder for items when they’re going to expire in my fridge. I set it up as a ‘user’ on our Google account, and when we’re putting groceries away we just shout out ‘Hey Google, remind me the heavy cream expires on May 31st’

        Fast forward to May 31st and Goggle ‘reminds fridge’ that you told it that. you can set up reminders days, weeks, heck MONTHS in advance. Example, every day when I get up and ‘greet’ Google it reminds me to take my meds and (now) water the seeds I recently planted. Apple and Amazon have similar options with Siri and Alexa, too. (My bosses have both)

        All that said, i HAVE frozen dairy in the past. It effects the texture, but if you’re using it in a recipe (say muffins or cake) it’s not that noticeable.

      • pawandclawdesigns
        pawandclawdesigns says:

        Years and years in food service, LOL. In a restaurant environment, you don’t want waste, because it costs money. You also don’t want to endanger the customer in your quest to not lose money. There’s a reason staff is briefed at the start of a shift to ‘push the chicken’ or something similar. It’s going to turn and turned food = lost money.

    • sadnana
      sadnana says:

      My advice is to shop carefully and read reviews to get a good buy. If you have the room and money get an upright freezer. It holds more food and is easier to use than a chest freezer. We bought a Frigidaire upright and have been very happy with it. Our freezer makes it possible for us to take advantage of many money-saving opportunities. We buy all of our meat and fish from a subscription service that delivers monthly. The prices are better than we find in our local stores, the quality is great, and we don’t pay shipping. And they offer even better prices on monthly specials. This month we added 6 pounds of wild-caught salmon at half of the pound price we see locally. That takes up a lot of room and we couldn’t have taken advantage of this offer if we didn’t have a freezer.

      Reply
  3. Jan New
    Jan New says:

    Flooding g in the midwest also killed a million calves. The cost of dairy and beef will reflect this loss. Plus, the current heat wave is ruining the corn, soybean and cotton crops because the ground temperature is too high.

    Reply
  4. Gina Stevens
    Gina Stevens says:

    Thanks, for this list. I recently moved cross-country and need to stock my new pantry.
    Meanwhile, let’s keep our devastated farmers, along with all who suffered from the floods, on our prayer lists.

    Reply
  5. Shay Staves
    Shay Staves says:

    You can make a buttermilk substitute in a pinch by adding a little lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk. In baking recipes, you can’t tell the difference in flavor.

    Reply
  6. pawandclawdesigns
    pawandclawdesigns says:

    My go to pantry items are always rice, beans and spices. In our house it’s always salt, pepper, paprika and cumin. During a very tight period in our finances, The Mister and I literally survived on seasoned red beans and rice. It’s quick, affordable, yummy, provides most of what the body needs to remain healthy, and reheats well.

    You can make it in a crock pot if you’re not super picky about rice texture.
    Twenty something me can attest it’s also good cold out of the fridge after a long shift.

    Reply
  7. Bonnie Alcorn
    Bonnie Alcorn says:

    I usually have most of what’s on your list. In addition to evaporated milk for cooking, I often make my own coffee creamer so I keep sweetened condensed milk on hand. I also surprise myself with all the ways I can think of to use country gravy mix, so I try to keep a packet or two on hand, as well.

    Reply
  8. ThistleCoveFarm
    ThistleCoveFarm says:

    Food cost will soar in the next year due to flooding in the mid west; all those farms and crops under water or otherwise destroyed by weather. POTUS has given billions to farmers hurt by China trade tariffs and weather. That helps farmers but does nothing to directly help food supply. Now is the time to pantry prep, put up food, fill the freezers.

    Reply
    • Honeywest
      Honeywest says:

      Not sure why you think bulk cheese “goes bad” so much quicker. Perhaps it is because when you touch it with your fingers the bacteria from your hands begins a process of growth on the cheese. Use a food safe glove or a paper towel to hold onto it when slicing. You can also just cut off the “moldy” growth.

      Reply
      • holly
        holly says:

        I have read to handle it with foil and to wrap in foil, it does tend to last longer, if you don’t forget what is in the foil.

      • pawandclawdesigns
        pawandclawdesigns says:

        Labeling is so critical. You can write on foil with a sharpie style marker before freezing. We do this at work a lot with the expiration/use by date and contents.

      • Bonnie Colcher
        Bonnie Colcher says:

        Yes, labeling is very important, and it’s especially important to label correctly. I recently defrosted a container of squash . I thought it was yellow squash and planned on using it as a vegetable side dish. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be cooked butternut squash! Still good, but I used it in an entirely different way.

    • sadnana
      sadnana says:

      We freeze all of the shredded cheese we buy. As long as you’re careful to squeeze out all of the air in the bag before you put it back in the freezer it loses no flavor and retains its texture.

      Reply
  9. Birgit Nicolaisen
    Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    I always have brownie mix, cake mix and icing on hand. You never know when that next bake sale is going to come up. I know those can be made from scratch, but not always possible.

    I always try to have ground beef in the freezer. I buy it in bulk and then separate into 1 and 2 lb portions. So versatile for with pasta, tacos, shepherd’s pie and sloppy joes. Defrosts quickly when bag is put into hot water. This for when you forget to take it out of the freezer in time to defrost slowly. LOL

    Reply

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