Using These 9 Pantry Essentials, You Can Make Almost Anything

Woman cooking food on her stove
Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

You finished another long day at work, and you’re ready to kick back.

But you’re “hangry,” and the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stove and make dinner.

We’ve all been there. Saving money doesn’t mean becoming a superhuman who can ignore the stress of the day to create a three-course, budget-friendly meal.

Saving money on food comes down to working smarter, not harder. And that starts with keeping some basic pantry essentials on hand at all times, so you can whip up tasty meals with minimal effort (and thinking).

If you’re trying to cut down on eating out and looking to stock your cabinets on the cheap, grab these pantry essentials to build quick and easy low-cost meals.

1. Whole Grains and Breads

Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Bread
  • Tortillas

Quinoa and rice are standard bases for taco bowls, curries and fried rice. What you may not realize is that oatmeal is just as versatile. In addition to overnight oats and oatmeal cookies, you can create a savory breakfast bowl by adding some cheese and an egg.

Throw anything between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich, or add some cheese in a tortilla and call it a quesadilla. These vessels are a tasty way to mix up the delivery of leftovers to your mouth.

Reducing food waste for the win!

2. Pasta

MarvenBrant / Shutterstock.com
  • Spaghetti
  • Penne

You don’t necessarily need these specific noodles, but a long noodle and a short noodle will do all the things you need noodles to do.

Say that 10 times fast.

Your short noodle can make mac and cheese or a great pasta primavera with leftover veggies. Long noodles are made for a good sauce like Alfredo, pesto or marinara.

3. Beans and Legumes

Kerdkanno / Shutterstock.com
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans

Beans and legumes cost a fraction of the price of meat, making them an affordable way to add protein to soups, chilis and tacos. Roasted chickpeas make a healthy salad topper, while lentils are great for a fantastic curry.

You can buy these canned, but buying them dry is even cheaper. Bonus: You can store them in decorative jars, and friends will think you know what you’re doing in the kitchen.

4. Baking

Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com
  • All-purpose flour
  • White sugar

All-purpose or whole-wheat flour is essential for more than just cakes and breads. You can use it to make your own pancake mix, biscuits or even fresh egg pasta. Flour is also used as a thickener in homemade sauces.

A little sugar can make a yummy sweet-and-savory sauce or quick fruit crisp in the microwave.

Sugar shouldn’t be a staple in your diet, but it’s necessary in your kitchen. You’re likely to consume less sugar when you make your sweets at home instead of buying them at the store.

5. Nuts and Seeds

evrymmnt / Shutterstock.com
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Basic nuts and seeds have a dual purpose: They’re a great snack on their own, and they give a nice crunchy texture to salads, oatmeal and baked goods.

They’re also ultra-healthy. Pumpkin seeds are chock-full of nutrients — just 1 ounce has 7 grams of protein. Nuts also contain a hefty dose of healthy fats and nutrients, so skip the chips and keep these tiny gems on hand.

6. Oil and Vinegar

Chef adding oil to food
wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com
  • Olive oil
  • Sesame oil
  • White vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar

You can make some awesome marinades and salad dressings with this classic combo. Apple cider vinegar makes a tasty vinaigrette; add sesame oil to peanut butter and soy sauce to create your own peanut sauce.

If you want to expand your oil and vinegar inventory, balsamic and rice vinegars add a lot of options to your pantry arsenal.

7. Condiments and Sauces

mayo
Keith Homan / Shutterstock.com
  • Mayonnaise
  • Dijon mustard
  • Soy sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter

Much like oil and vinegar, condiments and sauces give new life to bland meats and veggies. Mix Dijon with a little oil and vinegar for a salad dressing. I’ve found that a little hot sauce corrects all recipe mistakes. And peanut butter toast makes a great snack.

If you’ve already got a lot of condiments to work with, don’t let them die in your fridge. There are several ways to put them to good use.

8. Herbs and Aromatics

Charlotte Lake / Shutterstock.com
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Cumin
  • Italian seasoning
  • Crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper are a given. But buying pre-minced garlic saves time — and allows you to add fresh garlic to anything. Cumin is a staple in Mexican dishes.

Italian seasoning is a frugal life hack. It includes all the seasonings you want in the ratio you want them, without having to buy seven different bottles.

And crushed red pepper is an easy one to have on hand because you can always refill your container with the packets that come with your pizza.

9. Canned Goods

MilanMarkovic78 / Shutterstock.com
  • Tomatoes
  • Pasta sauce
  • Coconut milk
  • Stock or bouillon

Coconut milk, stock and tomatoes are necessary bases for many soups, chilis and curries. You can also cook rice and quinoa in stock or coconut milk to add some flavor.

It’s always nice to have a fancy pasta sauce on hand if you don’t have time to make your own — even though it’s really easy.

And if you’re embarking on a pantry challenge by eating what’s on hand before buying additional groceries, having ample canned goods will help you tie together some delicious meals.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
15 of the Most Outrageously Overpriced Products
15 of the Most Outrageously Overpriced Products

Retailers mark up products by hundreds of times their cost — but you don’t have to pay the premium.

6 Groups Who Cannot Rely on Social Security Benefits
6 Groups Who Cannot Rely on Social Security Benefits

If you fall into one of these groups, don’t assume that you will receive benefits.

8 Things You Can Buy for $1 or Less on Amazon
8 Things You Can Buy for $1 or Less on Amazon

They say you get what you pay for — but not always. Sometimes, you can uncover a good deal at a great price.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

12 Easy Ways To Make Make Money Online Without Leaving Home
12 Easy Ways To Make Make Money Online Without Leaving Home

If you’re hanging around the house a lot these days — and who isn’t? — use your time to make some extra cash.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

This iconic dinnerware is prized for everyday use as well as reselling for profit.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

9 of the Best Things to Do When You Retire
9 of the Best Things to Do When You Retire

You’ve waited all your life for this moment. Make the most of your retirement.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken
Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken

Something foul may lurk in those delicious, ready-to-eat birds.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon
Never Buy These 10 Things on Amazon

Just because you can purchase something on Amazon doesn’t mean that you should.

7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make
7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make

Sometimes a big-ticket purchase is nothing more than a big waste of money.

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at Target
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at Target

No store can specialize in everything. For some purchases, it’s smart to shop elsewhere.

8 Things You Should Be Buying at Thrift Stores
8 Things You Should Be Buying at Thrift Stores

For one expert, these secondhand bargains stand out from the rest.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees
20 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees

Retirees can dial back the intensity of work while continuing to bring in a paycheck.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

11 Foods That Can Keep for Years
11 Foods That Can Keep for Years

These are some of the longest-lasting groceries you can buy.

8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report
8 Types of Companies That Check Your Credit Report

Federal law lets these entities peek at your credit — regardless of whether you’re borrowing money.

17 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
17 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.