The 10 Budget-Friendly Pantry Staples You Should Always Have on Hand

Keep your pantry stocked and your grocery bill low with these essential items.

Grocery shopping can be expensive. Who among us doesn't know the feeling of coming home, looking at your bill, emptying the bags, and immediately thinking, "Did I even buy something to make for dinner?"

If you're looking to cut down your grocery bill, you can buy fewer things. Or you can be smarter about the things you buy. The simplest way to accomplish this? Keep your pantry stocked with inexpensive, essential items that can mix and match with any number of foods for endless meals.

Cheap doesn't mean flavorless or flavor-free. No, this list of budget-friendly pantry essentials is designed to pack plenty of flavor and nutrition into everything it helps make. Cutting your grocery budget doesn't mean cutting the quality of food you buy, and it certainly doesn't mean making your food less enjoyable in the name of a few pennies.

Stocking these wallet-friendly essentials will save you money, and it will also help you be a more agile cook, one that's ready to adapt at a moment's notice instead of going out for expensive takeout. Check out our list of must-have, budget-friendly pantry items and how you can use them in everyday meals.

10 Budget-Friendly Pantry Staples

1. Brown Rice

Brown rice is a whole grain and has more nutritional value than white rice. Stock up on brown rice, or other grains such as quinoa, and add it to your meals for a fiber boost.

Use the brown rice in grain bowls with black beans or other proteins, side salads, and puddings. Of course, you can also use brown rice to make fried rice or stir fry. For quicker meal prep, cook up a big batch of rice and freeze it for later, or look for pre-cooked rice that only needs a few seconds in the microwave to be plate-ready.

Buy It: Great Value Kosher Long Grain Brown Rice, $3.32/5-pound bag;

2. Canned Beans

Beans are a great way to add protein to any meal — and they're cheap. While dried beans are a few cents cheaper, canned beans are more convenient because they're ready to use in an instant. (Either is worth stocking, depending on the time you have.)

Any beans — like black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, or white beans — can be used to replace meat in your meals, like in a black bean burger. Beans are also a great addition to soups, stews, and chilis. They can be cooked with ground beef or other meats to stretch a pound to feed five or six instead of three or four.

Buy It: Good & Gather Black Beans, $0.69/15.5-ounce can;

3. Pasta Sauce

Traditional pasta sauce isn't only for spaghetti — although that's a quick and easy weeknight meal. You can use leftover marinara sauce to make stuffed peppers, chicken Parmesan, meatloaf, pizza, and so much more. Next time you're at the store grab the multipack of sauce; it will save you extra money and provide you with multiple meals for the month.

Buy It: Great Value Traditional Pasta Sauce, $2.94/3-pack of 24-ounce jars;

4. Canned Meat

Canned meat, like chicken, salmon, and tuna, is a great alternative for fresh meats. And it's a non-perishable item that will last significantly longer than fresh meat would, even in your freezer.

Canned tuna can be used to make sandwiches, salads, and casseroles. While canned chicken can be used for soups, salads, and, of course, dips. Combine with a bit of breading, spices, and egg for fast and flavorful cakes or patties.

Buy It: StarKist Chunk Light Tuna in Water, $6.84/8-pack;

5. Stock

Stock is a common ingredient in soups, sauces, and casseroles. You can also use chicken stock to flavor your rice (or other grains) and sautéed vegetables. And a bit of stock can help you stretch soups and sauces if you need a bit more for a full meal.

Buy It: Good & Gather Chicken Stock, $1.89/32-ounce carton;

6. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is an inexpensive and versatile ingredient because it can be used in every meal of the day. From smoothies to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to peanut butter noodles, and tons of peanut butter desserts, the jar in your pantry will certainly not go to waste.

And if you have a peanut allergy, you can substitute other nut butters, like almond butter, in many recipes.

Buy It: Jif Creamy Peanut Butter Twin-Pack, $10.17/40-ounce jars;

7. Oil

So many recipes start with oil, and for typical cooking applications, a standard olive oil is all you'll need. But buying a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil is important if you plan to make no-cook dishes, salad dressings, and sauces. Why's that? Cheap olive oils taste like bad olives. Good oils have a bright, floral flavor that shines through what you're eating.

While a higher quality oil may be a bit pricey, remember you're using teaspoons or tablespoons at a time, which stretches the cost out over dozens and dozens of meals.

Buy It: Bertolli Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $6.39/16.9-ounce bottle;

8. Garlic

Have you ever wondered why so many recipes call for garlic? It's because garlic is an aromatic ingredient (it has a distinctive smell, and smell is an important factor for taste), and it's an easy way to add a ton of flavor to your meal.

There are so many ways you can add garlic to your dish based on preference (and even budget) — you can use fresh garlic cloves, store-bought minced garlic, or garlic powder. Fresh garlic is usually preferred, but any garlic will work to pack in the flavor.

Buy It: Great Value Minced Garlic in Water Family Size, $3.98/32-ounce jar;

9. Ground Meat

Ground meat, like beef, turkey, and chicken, is great for making a quick and easy meal. You can make soups, casseroles, hamburger patties, and tacos with ground meat. Ground meat isn't the most inexpensive meat, especially depending on how lean you want it, but it's a good thing to buy in a bulk package and freeze for later. And because it's so versatile, you can almost always replace one ground meat with what's on sale — like ground beef for ground turkey.

Buy It: Jennie-O All-Natural 93/7 Ground Turkey, $3.79/16 ounces;

10. Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables are often cheaper than fresh veggies, and they last much longer. And because you can buy a bag of mixed vegetables, there are so many ways to add veggies to your meal. You can add frozen spinach to quiche, mixed vegetables to fried rice, and corn to tortilla soup. Or you can heat up your favorite veggies and eat them as a side dish.

Buy It: Good & Gather Frozen Mixed Vegetables, $0.89/12-ounce bag;


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