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In a time when a simple trip to the supermarket necessitates the question: “is it really essential?“, many households are understandably turning to their long-life store cupboard items and making do with the pantry items usually taken for granted.
Ask anyone what their main expense is, their food budget is always going to be in the top 3 answers. People love food, it’s as simple as that. However, there’s a common misconception that it’s impossible to find healthy food for a budget – you either spend a lot on eating well, or spend little and eat microwave meals. This is a total myth! Budget-friendly, nutritious food goes hand-in-hand.
At the moment, having certain pantry staples that last a long time and don’t cost much is essential. These long-life staples help you stay healthy, provide the foundation for countless nutritious recipes, and will last longer so you can stay home and away from the shops for as long as possible.
Using pantry staples in meal prep
Meal prep and meal planning are two skills that are instrumental for saving money on your food bills.
The pantry items listed below can be particularly helpful in your meal planning. Pick one to use in bulk for 3 – 4 meals, and then plan additional ingredients around that long-life staple. For example, if you’re cooking a bulk batch of dried chickpeas, you can incorporate them into hummus or falafels for lunch, but then also turn them into a curry or tagine dish for dinners.
Make sure you’ve checked out our guides for more information on meal planning on a budget.
Pantry Essentials Everyone Should Keep In Stock
Protein-BASED PANTRY ESSENTIALS
With roughly 9g of protein per 100g, lentils are an excellent cheap protein source and are extremely versatile no matter what type of cuisine you’re cooking.
The beauty of lentils is that they make a great meat alternative for many vegan versions of recipes, but are also staples in their own right in Asian cooking, such as dahls.
Beans are a fantastic source of protein, fibre, and carbohydrate, and are fantastic pantry essentials because you can buy them both dried and tinned (which means they’ve already been cooked so are much faster to prepare).
Since eating a plant-based diet, beans have become an absolute staple of my diet. I use dried chickpeas to bulk cook – soaking them overnight to save time, but really rely on tinned beans a lot because of how convenient they are for cooking.
Chickpeas are fantastic for so many different cuisines, from curries to Lebanese dishes to burgers. Check out this ultimate list of chickpea recipes.
Black beans and pinto beans are fantastic for Mexican-themed recipes, such as burritos, enchiladas, and making refried beans.
White beans such as haricot beans and butter beans are amazing in spicy, tomato-based stews and soups.
You can save a lot of money and make the best nut butter of your life by stocking up on nuts in bulk.
Nuts are a fantastic long-life staple for getting more protein and healthy fats into your diet, and are an extremely versatile ingredient that can be used for breakfasts, snacks, main meals, and desserts – you’re not going to get that many options with many other ingredients!
My favourite ways to use nuts (other than making nut butter) include using chopped peanuts to really finish off a classic pad thai, and using cashews to make creamy pasta sauces – although making a raw vegan cheesecake from blended cashews is something everyone should try at least once!
Carbohydrate pANTRY eSSENTIALS
Oats are rich in complex carbs and fibre, keeping you fuller for longer while also keeping the calories down. These are a must for stocking up on long-life pantry essentials to make healthy oatmeal for breakfast.
The most obvious recipe to make with oats is oatmeal, but oats can also be blended to make flour to coat vegetables or tofu for main meals, and are also a healthy addition to baking recipes.
What doesn’t go with rice? It’s a delicious, complex carbohydrate that can be paired with almost any type of cuisine for a filling, nutritious meal. For added flavour, try adding a stock cube to the water you cook your rice in – the additional flavour you get is insane!
Leftover rice can be turned into fried rice too, so no need to worry about wasting it!
Having a bag or two of pasta in the cupboard always comes in handy, especially if you want a quick and relatively healthy dinner that doesn’t take long to cook up.
Well, flour might as well be gold dust now we’re in #lockdownmode – but that just shows what a great pantry essential it is to stock up on when you can. From bread to baking to thickening up sauces, flour is a staple that everyone should have a bag of in the cupboard.
8. Tinned Tomatoes
Tinned tomatoes form the foundation of hundreds of different sauce combinations for stews, pasta, soups, casseroles, and so much more. They are a must have – there’s a reason supermarkets often sell them in 4 packs!
9. Stock Cubes
Likewise, stock cubes are used in a lot of recipes for adding depth of flavour. A good quality pack of vegetable stock cubes is a staple that lasts ages and everyone should have a stash of in the kitchen cupboard.
Finally, what’s any pantry without a bottle of oil for cooking, dressings, and more. A great tip that I’ve learned is to buy the right oil for your needs – some oils are way more suitable for frying, sauteing (canola, grapeseed) etc whereas others are best for salad dressings (extra virgin olive oil, for example), so use wisely.
What are your go-to cheap pantry essentials for a cheap and healthy diet? Have I missed any of your staples? Let me know in the comments below.