If you’re trying to save money on groceries, keeping your kitchen stocked with traditional staples is a smart way to do it.
With cupboards full of the ‘essentials’ you’re less likely to spend unnecessary on things you think you need for dinner.
So just what kind of ingredients should you keep on hand as a base? Well we have a few ideas! Plus we examine the different varities of each staple, how to store it and recipes you can try with it.
We’d love to hear your ideas as well!
When you buy it in bulk, an option readily available in most major supermarkets in Australia, rice is super cheap. It’s also a great side for just about any dish and offers slightly different flavours with brown and white variants. Rice is the most-consumed food in the entire world.
We recommend you buy small amounts of rice in a few varieties and replace the rice as needed. Personally, I always have on hand Jasmine Rice, Arborio Rice and Long Grain Rice as this seems to cover most dishes I make in the kitchen.
Varieties of rice include:
- Jasmine Rice – slightly nutty and slightly sweet, it is great in fried rice or dessert dishes.
- Arborio Rice – perfect for risottos or creamed dessert rice dishes.
- Basmati Rice – the perfect all-rounder rice. Best in curries or pilafs.
- Long Grain White Rice – because of the long grain this rice is less likely to be ‘gluggy’. Great in pilafs.
- Black Rice – fairly new on the open market – Black Rice is nutty in flavour and contains loads of antioxidants. Great all round rice to use.
- Brown Rice – with a nutty flavour and loads of fibre – Brown Rice is great as a white rice substitute in savoury dishes. It is more nutritious than white rice.
- Wild Rice – it may look like rice but Wild Rice is actually a selection of seeds. Good as a rice substitute. Very rusty and earthy tasting.
- Valencia Rice or Bomba Rice – this is a very ‘short or small’ rice so gets gluggy easily. Perfect for desserts.
How to Store Rice:
Rice is best kept in a sealed, air-tight container in a cool and dry area. For cooked rice – ensure you use it up as quickly as you can. By day two after cooking – ditch it. Cooked rice spoils very easily and is the way many people get food poisoning. So when in doubt – ditch cooked rice.
If you live in a very hot or humid area, you may want to keep uncooked rice in the freezer where pests can’t get into your rice store. Uncooked rice will not ‘freeze’ as such because it has no water content – but the freezing conditions will keep it pest-free.
Rice can be stored uncooked in the pantry for up to two years. Brown rice spoils after only six months as it has a higher oil content.
Freezing Cooked Rice:
Cooked rice can be frozen. Allow the rice to cool to room temperature (but strictly no longer than two hours), then place on a lightly oiled baking tray. Freeze, then pour the contents of the baking tray into a sealed container. Freeze for up to six months.
Frugal Rice Recipes to Try:
Chicken Rice Casserole – Grab the recipe here >
2. Rolled Oats
Old fashioned oats aren’t just cheap, they’re incredibly versatile. Use them to make wholesome and hearty breakfasts, to stretch your mince and meatloaf, to make frugal baked goodies or even to add to smoothies.
When it comes to Oats – there are now a few varieties on hand.
Old Fashioned Oats – or known as ‘Traditional Oats’ – these are perfect for porridge or to use in smoothies.
Quick Oats – A ‘thinner’ version of Old Fashioned Oats. Because they are rolled thinner, they cook faster.
Steel Cut Oats – Only recently on the market here in Australia, Steel Cut Oats are more ‘rustic’. They are oats that have been cut into two or three pieces by a metal blade (hence steel cut). They take longer to cook than rolled oats.
How to Store Rolled Oats:
Oats should be removed from their box and placed in a sealed, air-tight container as they are prone to pests. They can be stored in a pantry for up to three months. Alternatively you can keep them sealed in a fridge for up to six months.
If you live in a humid and hot climate – keep them in the fridge!
Recipes Using Rolled Oats:
- Banana Oat Bites
- Rad Raspberry Overnight Oats
- Apricot and Oat Breakfast Balls
- Sweet Potato and Lentil Sausage Rolls
Having flour in your pantry means you won’t be spending big on pre-prepared baked snacks, you can make them all yourself. Keep at least plain flour and cornflour, which can be used to thicken sauces, on hand.
There is a huge variety of flours available now. Here are a few and their uses:
- Plain Flour or All-Purpose Flour – the most widely used type of flour that is perfect for most day to day cooking that doesn’t require rising.
- Self Raising Flour – Self Raising Flour is Plain Flour with added raising agents making it good for baking.
- Wholemeal Flour
- Pastry Flour
- Bread or Baker’s Flour
- OO Flour
- Gluten-free Flour
- Coconut Flour
- Rice Flour
- Spelt Flour
- Durum Wheat Semolina Pasta Flour
- Chickpea Flour
- Buckwheat Flour
- Green Banana Flour
- Arrowroot Tapioca Flour
- Oat Flour
- Quinoa Flour
Flour is very susceptible to pests so here in Australia it really should be stored in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer. In addition to pests, flour can go rancid in the heat.
There are so many grains out there that make great additions to the frugal pantry. Oft forgotten ones include barley, couscous, semolina, polenta and more, all of which are flexible and delicious.
For making your own breads and other doughs, yeast is smart to keep on hand. Don’t waste money on expensive pizza bases and seedy loafs, just do it yourself.
6. Baking Powder & Soda
They’re often confused, but baking powder is essentially baking soda along with cream of tartar and, occasionally, cornstarch. Having this in your pantry makes baked goods a breeze, overtime.
Vinegar is the powerhouse of the average kitchen in all its forms, with many uses from tenderising meats, to making at-home dressings and delicious sauces, you should definitely keep some.
8. Popcorn Kernels
If your kids love to snack, popcorn kernels make for an incredibly cheap and satisfying snack. When not drenched in butter, the kernels are also healthy, and will save you a fortune on microwave popcorn.
9. Tomato Paste
When you’ve got tomato paste in your pantry there’s no need to spend big on pasta sauce, passatta and pizza sauce. You can make it all with just a few spoons of tomato paste!
Frugal cooks know that pasta is the lifesaver of any kitchen with a budget. Use it as a regular meal side, or to beef up just about any dish for a hearty and long-lasting sense of fullness.
11. Dry Beans
Canned beans are certainly more convenient, but dry beans are so much cheaper, particularly when you have many mouths to feed. Plus buying and preparing dry beans can help you reduce their… audio nature.
A very cheap way to get a chocolate fix, cocoa can be added into everything from baked goods to home made hot chocolate, and it’s made to last.
With the cost of meat rising every time we shop, eggs have become the saving grace of many families. They’re a great source of protein, and can be added to many meals or simply eaten on the side.
14. Canned Tuna
We aren’t talking about flavoured tuna here, but instead the large cans of tuna in brine. This kind of tuna can be purchased very cheaply, stores well, and is a great way to add omega 3 into your family’s diet.
15. Olive Oil
Olive oil doesn’t seem like the cheapest option, but when you buy in bulk you’ll find it makes much more sense. Keep an eye out for the multi-litre tins available in many supermarkets.
16. Canned Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be expensive, but with canned tomatoes often available for under $1/each these are a simple and cost-effective way to bring more nutritious produce into your lives.
Potatoes, and other root vegetables, are such an inexpensive ingredient to add to casseroles, breakfast foods and side dishes. When stored correctly, and monitored, they last well.
Onion does a great job of enhancing the flavour in a variety of dishes, and is absolutely worth keeping on hand in the pantry. Not only are onions cheap, they’re versatile to boot.
Now widely and cheaply available in its minced form, you’d have to be crazy not to keep garlic in your pantry all the time. It’s a flavour booster, and called for in many recipes.
20. Spring Onion
What we love about spring onion is that they go on forever. One onion can be grown over and over again by just submerging the white part (with roots) in water for a few days.
Spices can be expensive, but without them food wouldn’t be half as interesting. Have a careful think about the spice you use regularly, and make sure to always have those on hand, storing them in the freezer to extend shelf life.
22. Chicken Stock
There are so many recipes that call for chicken stock that it’s just smart cooking to keep it on hand. You can choose to stock up on the carton stock, which can be expensive, or make your own from scratch and freeze it in batches. Alternatively, use powdered or cubed stock.
23. Frozen Veggies
There’s nothing wrong with using frozen vegetables, and we love that these veggies provide a cheap and easy way to put veggie-filled dinners on the table. Stock up, and don’t be afraid to chuck in a handful or two.
24. Cheap Sausages
Thanks to Australia’s passion for barbecuing, you can now buy large packs of cheap sausages at most major supermarkets. They might not be the best quality, but they are affordable and can be easily frozen in family sized portions for later eating.
Mince isn’t always cheap, but when it is it pays to stock up and freeze as much as you can fit. Mince is a staple in many family homes, and it can be added to a wide variety of meals for a protein kick.
If you make your own bread, then definitely keep some rolls on hand, but if you’re buying stock up when they’re cheap and freeze. Bread rolls are great for lunches, snacks and a number of dinners from soups to burgers.