Not every meal is a fresh new recipe or an exciting twist on an old classic. Many, many meals are grab-what-you-can endeavors or thrown together affairs using up leftovers from the refrigerator. In these instances, it's nice to have a well-rounded pantry to supplement and build a meal from not a whole lot. Here are 10 of our own low-budget pantry staples.
A friend of mine was participating in the Live Below the Line challenge last week. She and others from her workplace vowed to eat on just $1.50 a day (the current equivalent of the accepted global figure used to define extreme poverty) to raise awareness about worldwide poverty. With the money they save on food that week, they donate it to a partner charity. While this is obviously more of an extreme exercise than stocking an economic pantry, talking with my friend and learning about how she approached her meals got me thinking about many of the low-cost, high-quality bulk items that are worthwhile to have around the house.
For this post, I'm using the term "pantry" loosely -- not just referring to dried goods, but also to some basic staples like eggs. I tried to compile items that could span the course of a day with oats, bananas and eggs for breakfast items and legumes, beans and rice for more substantial meals in the evening hours. And obviously this list is geared towards omnivores; tuna and eggs won't be in a vegan pantry.
Ten Low-Budget Pantry Items Everyone Should Have:
• Lentils: I have lentils on hand at all times for a quick soup or stew or to supplement leftover roasted veggies or grains.
• Black Beans: Quick burritos or open-faced toastadas; chilli; stews; bean, rice & veggie bowls. The list goes on and on.
• Oats: My friend found oats for $.91/pound and has been eating different kinds of oatmeal each morning and loving it. Also use oats to make homemade muesli and granola to avoid breakfast boredom.
• Brown Rice: I eat brown rice in the morning with a little almond milk and golden raisins. It's also wonderful for lunch with leftover vegetables and makes a great base for evening stir-fries.
• Fresh Eggs: Eggs are a relatively low-cost, vegetarian source of protein. You can make everything from Cobb Salads to Hearty Scrambles with eggs around.
• Bananas: Breakfast, quick snacks, oatmeal mix-ins, smoothies. Good to have on the counter for any and all of these situations.
• Spices: I always keep chilli powder, garlic powder, curry powder, and onion powder on hand in addition to a good salt and pepper. Each of these is economical and adds layers of flavor to otherwise potentially simple fare.
• Onions: Onions add flavor to everything, and make the most ho-hum stir-fry seem a little more special. Use them to flavor stocks for soup, add them to eggs or frittatas, or mix them into a big pan of roasted vegetables.
• Cans of Tomatoes: Diced tomatoes make a quick and easy sauce for pasta or to ladle over leftover sausage or meats.
• Cans of Tuna: Sandwiches? Check. But even better are evening open-face tuna melts or creamy spring vegetable pastas with chunky tuna.
Related: 5 Staples When Cooking for Two
(Images: Emma Christensen)