13 People on the Affordable Cooking Staples They Always Keep on Hand

13 People on the Affordable Cooking Staples They Always Keep on Hand

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Welcome to a column from The Financial Diet, one of our very favorite sites, dedicated to money and everything it touches. One of the best ways to take charge of your financial life is through food and cooking. This column from TFD founders Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage will help you be better with money, thanks to the kitchen. A version of this post originally appeared on The Financial Diet.

I'm coming in hot with some more grocery content this week, as a part of my ongoing journey to get better with food. The people I nanny for constantly joke that I never eat, and it was rightfully pointed out in the comments section of a recent post that my boy and I don't seem to eat very much — we get lazy and cheap sometimes, and just shrug and skip dinner. Not good!

As much as I love cooking, it can be hard. Sometimes, even if I've written out a great grocery list and gotten everything I think I could need for the week, I still find myself opening (and closing, and opening again) my kitchen cabinets and wondering what actual meals I can make out of the food I own.

A little while back, it became obvious to me that even though I'm buying things like meat and fresh produce, I'm lacking the cooking staples needed to create good meals out of the weekly things I purchase.

I decided to ask around and see if anyone could inspire me by telling me what their tried-and-true pantry (and fridge, and freezer) staples are. They actually all gave me totally different answers, which was somewhat surprising, and really telling about how different people are when it comes to how they cook. (Just another observation in my quest to be the nosiest person ever about how people buy and eat food.)

13 People on the Affordable Cooking Staples They Always Keep on Hand

I asked 13 people to tell me about the affordable pantry staples they always keep on hand in their kitchen to make cooking quick, easy, and delicious. Here is what they had to say.

1. "I know it is basic money-saving food, but always rice and beans. Just because both are so inexpensive to buy in huge quantities, they last forever without going bad, and they create a really substantial meal without having to really add much else except spices." — Rachel

2. "I am the queen of keeping pasta and good jarred sauce on hand just for like, 'emergencies' (read: me not wanting to cook). Also it is the easiest thing to cook up quickly and serve in large quantities for unexpected dinner guests. Boxes of a pound of pasta are usually under a dollar, too, which is insane for the amount of food it gives you." — Jamie

3. "This isn't always necessarily affordable, depending on what that means to you, but I'm not a fan of cooking (although I do it obviously sometimes to get by in life) and prefer to keep my freezer stocked with good frozen meals, or at least frozen foods that I can quickly and easily make into meals. Usually I'll keep things like frozen steam-in-the-bag rice and vegetables, and sometimes even fully cooked frozen chicken or chicken sausages that can just be heated in the pan or baked in the oven for 20 minutes. It is not gourmet or anything, but I always have these things in the house just to prevent me from running to takeaway when I don't feel like cooking or don't have time to cook." — Elizabeth

4. "Boxed soups or even just boxes of broths and stocks. I always have a ton in my pantry. I eat the boxed soup plain, or I use it for cooking other meals to just make them more flavorful." — Lillian

5. "Trader Joe's sells these prepackaged cold chicken pieces, like a lemon-flavored one and a balsamic-glazed one, and they are so good. It is a staple for me to keep a bunch of those in the fridge with a bunch of lettuce to make quick salads or little wraps with tortillas." — Michelle

6. "I don't have a gigantic appetite but I obviously need to eat and get calories like a human, so I'm really big on keeping protein bars and meal replacement items on hand. I eat them for breakfast when I'm running late, or just for a meal during the day when I don't necessarily want to cook or eat." — Morgana

7. "Chips and salsa. It feels like a meal to me even if I can't prepare a real meal. I refuse to not have it in my house at all times." — Kat

8. "The real basics — eggs, bread, milk, butter. If all else fails on any night, scrambled eggs with a few slices of buttered toast is always a perfect meal. And obviously, those ingredients can be made into a ton of different things." — Laney

9. "I think the thing I couldn't survive without is ready-to-eat breakfast foods, like cereal, toaster waffles, instant oatmeal, bagels, etc. I only work standard 9-to-5 hours, but I'm not at all a morning person. I have never been one for breakfast because I have little desire to eat in the morning, but I started trying to choke something down in the morning when I got pregnant to help with sickness, and now I realize that I feel much better when I eat in the morning. That said, I still have no motivation to like, cook eggs at 7 a.m., so anything carb-y that I can just warm a little bit and eat quickly is important. I keep a lot of things like that in my freezer and pantry just to make sure I always have something." — Suzanne

10. "I can be a bit lazy when it comes to the vegetable-chopping portion of meal prep, so I buy pre-cut vegetables as often as I can. It isn't the cheaper option, but it greatly reduces the chances of me not eating or ordering pizza again (more expensive in the long run!)." — Ellie

11. "Bell peppers, onions, celery, sweet potatoes. I can use those few things mixed with different carbs or different proteins to make various meals, and they're eternally on my shopping list." — Claire

12. "Herbs and spices. It is absolutely essential to spice your food well no matter what you are making. In my house, everything gets a dash of this and that before getting cooked and consumed. My favorites are cayenne pepper and turmeric, but obviously it is dependent on personal taste." — Alissa

13. "I'm sure someone already said spices or condiments, but in addition to those things, I always keep a good stockpile of cooking wines, vinegars, and oils to cook with just to change things up. Like, it is easy enough for me to salt and pepper a chicken breast and fry it in some butter or olive oil, but making quick chicken marsala is just as easy and looks and tastes so much more impressive. Also, balsamic vinegar on everything, but that may be just my Italian roots showing." — Stephanie

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