Wednesday 24th April 2024

Essentials for the frugal pantry

Shoestring Jane outlines budget-friendly pantry essentials, advising on useful and long-lasting items essential for cost-effective meal preparation and convenience.

When you want to save money on groceries, focusing on recipes that make the most of cheap, nutritious, and filling ingredients makes a lot of sense.

It is also a good idea to keep a decent stock of basics for times when you cannot get out to the shops, such as when you are ill, during bad weather or when you are super busy.

Certainly, my own well-stocked cupboards were a boon during lockdown. What you choose will depend on your family’s tastes, but these are my essentials for the frugal pantry to get you started.

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These are all relatively inexpensive staples, which allow you to stock a frugal pantry without breaking the bank. It’s a good idea to pick up a couple each time you do a grocery shop.

Look out for recipe ideas that use these frugal pantry items so you can rustle up something quick and tasty when required. I have focussed on non-perishables, but it makes sense to keep a store of things like cheese, vegetables, bread, fish and meat in your freezer, too.

Non-perishable essentials for the frugal pantry


Rice can form the basis of a cheap meal, from a simple pilaff to a risotto or even a rice pudding. I like to keep different varieties, such as brown rice, arborio and risotto, as well as basic white rice.

Pasta and noodles

Pasta is one of the most versatile essentials for the frugal pantry. We love macaroni cheese or penne with tuna and black olives.

Ramen noodle soup is always a hit, too, and easy to make. 

Tinned tomatoes

These are super cheap and nutritious, adding colour, nutrients and flavour to many meals.

Vegetable oil

Keep an eye on the use-by date of any oils you keep and rotate to ensure they don’t go rancid before you use them.


Porridge is a favourite for breakfast, of course, but oats can also be used for baking cakes and cookies or to thicken savoury dishes.

Canned vegetables

My most regularly used canned vegetable after tomatoes is sweetcorn, but other veg, such as peas, mushrooms and carrots, are also worth having. Although I am not a fan of canned vegetables in their own right, they add nutrition and colour to soups and stews when you can’t get hold of fresh.

Beans and pulses

Full of fibre, nutrients and protein, beans and pulses are essential for the frugal pantry. At their most simple, you have baked beans, but you can also make curries and casseroles with pulses and add them to soups and salads.

Tinned fish

Canned fish such as tuna, sardines, salmon and mackerel can form the base of many healthy dishes, such as tuna, tomato and caper one-pot pasta dish or salmon fishcakes.

Tinned meat

Tinned meat isn’t as popular as it once was. However, we still enjoy a delicious corned beef hash, or you can use a can of stewing steak as the basis of a warming casserole.  And how about a classic Spam fritter? They must be due a comeback.

Ready-made sauces

Ready-prepared pasta sauces in a jar are handy for a quick family dinner, as are sachets of casserole mixes. Look out for them when they are on offer as they are useful essentials for the frugal pantry.

Stock cubes and seasonings

You can make the most unpromising ingredients more palatable if you keep a range of stock cubes and seasonings in the pantry.  As well as stock, I like to have onion salt, dried garlic, dried herbs, soy sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, curry powder and gravy mix as a minimum.

Tinned fruit

Tinned fruit can be eaten as it is to help you get your five a day or made into something delicious for dessert, like pineapple upside-down cake

Evaporated milk

Evaporated milk is good poured over desserts, in coffee, and whisked into jelly to make a fluffy mousse. However, if you run out of milk, you can dilute it with water at a ratio of 50:50. It is perfectly good used in cooking. However, it does have a slightly caramelised flavour so you may not enjoy it in tea.

Powdered milk can also be a useful standby.

Flour and baking products

Baking products such as flour, baking powder, sugar and yeast are essentials for the frugal pantry. You can keep things interesting by making a range of cakes and cookies, savoury baked goods and bread.

However, it is really important to rotate these ingredients regularly and to store them correctly so that they don’t spoil.

Dried fruit

Dried fruits are another way to increase your vitamin and fibre intake and to add sweetness to food. Raisins, sultanas, prunes, mixed dried fruit and apricots are worth considering and can be used in various ways to make your dishes flavoursome and interesting.

Tea and coffee

They may not be essential to some people, but I live in fear of running out of tea or coffee. Tea and coffee are relatively cheap, easy to make and get many of us through our working days!

Supermarkets own brands tend to be the best value.

Breakfast cereals

Plain breakfast cereals such as cornflakes, wheat biscuits and bran flakes are cheap to buy and useful store cupboard staples. You can make them into a more interesting breakfast by adding dried fruit, or you can use them in baking.

Like flour, these have a shorter life than canned goods, so be sure to use and rotate them regularly.

Preserves and pickles

Pickled onions, jars of red cabbage or sauerkraut, olives and cornichons are great to add to salads and savoury dishes or even as a side to your main course when you can’t get hold of fresh produce.

Sweet preserves such as jams and marmalades are also a cheap addition to your store cupboard.

Peanut butter

Peanut butter is incredibly versatile. It is delicious on toast, certainly, but you can add it to your baking too. Peanut butter sauce is fabulous with noodles and stir-fried dishes.

What are your essentials for the frugal pantry?

Photo credits: Pexels

Shoestring Jane

Mouthy Blogger

Shoestring Jane is a full-time self-employed mum of three daughters. Her frugal partner in crime is handyman extraordinaire, Mr Shoestring. They are constantly on the look out for ways to save and make extra money. Read more on her blog, Shoestring Cottage.

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