Friday, February 25, 2011

Food Budgeting: Building Your Supply

A while back I wrote about menu planning and how it helps us eat healthier, stay on budget, and not waste food.  I got away from the Food Budgeting series for about a month, but I love writing about food and money since we all have to eat and most people are trying to save money. 

My first tip in the menu planning post was:

Have a well-stocked pantry and plan your grocery shopping so you're not running out at the last minute for ingredients. Running out of food is an easy excuse to just call for take out. Also, incorporate what you have on hand into menu planning, if possible. Using your own supply of food always saves money.

(Click "Read more" below.)

I think the idea of a "well-stocked pantry" deserves a dedicated blog post, so here's what I know, what I buy, and how I evolved from a 22 year old with no pantry items besides salt and pepper to a 30 year old with enough kitchen creativity to make a meal out of almost anything.
When I lived alone in my first apartment I remember learning to cook.  I always knew how to bake, but I hadn't been responsible for cooking my own real meals and I initally struggled.  I made rookie mistakes like placing potatoes in boiling water to cook them (you should start potatoes in cold water), burning pancakes, and relying too much on processed foods.  When I was 22 my only goal was to fill my stomach. 
My first solo trip to the grocery store was a nightmare.  In college, I only shopped for convenince items like cereal, Lean Cusine entrees, yogurt, and Jello cups.  I relied on the dining hall for everything else.  Now I had to stock my apartment with actual food, including the very intimidating spices and raw meat.  Meat and spices were expensive and I had no idea what to do with them. 
Everything I've learned about cooking has come from three sources:  my family, food television, and cookbooks (and magazines).  I learned the basics from my mom, grandmom, grandfather, dad and other family members who made foods I loved, but I branched out and created my own tastes by watching people on television experiment with foods I'd never tried.  Believe it or not, I was an extremely picky eater until I was about 20.  I never tried sushi, salmon, salad (!), fresh ginger, Thai food, risotto and a bunch of other yummy items until I branched out of my comfort zone. 
Whatever your current comfort zone, make sure you have the food stock to support it.  I know I like to cook Asian meals, so I always have soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriacha, hoisin, and sesame oil.  If you're a baker, you need to have buttermilk, flour, sugar, brown sugar, pure vanilla extract, baking soda, and baking powder. 
These are items I keep on hand.  No, you don't need to buy them all in your next shopping trip.  Actually, before you start building your pantry, you need to consider where you buy your food.  That's the next topic in the food budgeting series.
Here's my list...
Meat, Poultry, and Seafood
I don't eat much beef, so I only buy it as necessary.  I do, however, keep the following items in my freezer:
Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless and bone-in, skin-on if I can find them)
Ground Turkey
Shrimp (uncooked, peeled and deveined)
Pork loin and/or tenderloin
Baking Essentials
Even if you're not a baker,  you'll need some of these items to make gravy, sauce, pizza crust or other items.
All-Purpose unbleached white flour
Brown sugar
Baking soda
Baking powder
Frozen Vegetables
Corn (particularly in the winter)
Steam-in bag unseasoned, unsauced vegetables (very easy side dish)
Dry Pantry Items
Oatmeal (steel-cut or old fashioned)
Coffee beans
White rice (I like basmati)
Brown rice
Pasta (medium shells, spaghetti, penne, etc.)
Sauces, Condiments, Oils, Etc.
Ketchup (I keep mine in the refrigerator)
Soy sauce
Worschishire sauce
Extra virgin olive oil
Vegetable oil
Balsamic vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
Red wine vinegar
Canned and Bottled Goods
Crushed tomatoes
Diced tomatoes
Whole tomatoes
Small white (cannelini) beans
Small red beans
Black beans
Roasted red peppers
Tomato paste (I actually perfer it in a tube that you store in your refrigerator)
These items have a relatively long shelf life.  I buy all others fresh as I need them.
Garlic (I buy mine peeled and store the whole cloves in the fridge)
This is what I use for cooking or eating 99% of the time.  You'll never catch me with some margarine.
1% milk
half and half (for coffee, mostly)
Sliced American cheese (from the deli section, not off the shelf)
Sharp cheddar cheese
Parmesan cheese
Herbs and Spices
Kosher salt (not as salty as iodized salt, nice thick crystals)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Garlic powder
A while ago a did a few listings of essential herbs and spices:
Gardening and Essential Fresh Herbs
Essential Herbs and Spices
I'm linking back to those old posts because I remember my frustration of buying a random spice for one recipe and not knowing when or if I'd ever use it again (hello $5 bottle of tarragon). 
Okay, that was quite a list.  You may not like, want, or need all of these items.  I do promise you, however, if you find out what your basics are and they find their way into your pantry, you'll be more likely to eat meals you enjoy without running to the grocery store.  I absolutely love food shopping, but I'm pressed for time (and money), so I have to be careful and where and when I shop.  I've heard some bloggers say that they only grocery shop once a month.  I can't live like that.  I shop once a week and I enjoy every minute of my well-organized shopping trip.  My next Food Budgeting post will be about choosing where to buy your food. 
In the meantime... What are your staples and where do you buy your food?


  1. I need to get a vegetable spinner thingy (or whatever it is called) to get the water out of my vegetables. I am soo tired of finding spoiled veggies in my fridge....ugggh

  2. My staples are pretty similar to yours. I like to keep canned or jarred artichokes and frozen spinach around. Great mixed together with cheese for a chicken breast stuffing, or with sour cream for a quicky dip.

    Right now, my food comes from a couple of local stores and the one that is 1/2 mile away is wayyyyyy too pricey, so I'd like to get away from them and plan my visits to ShopRite (20 minutes away) better so I can go less often. Target had excellent prices on snack foods and things for my kids lunches. In the summer, a lot of the produce comes from my deck container garden, and various other places--farmer's market, my mom's garden, etc.

  3. One thing to add to your pantry list...Dijon mustard. It can be used to make a salad dressing, marinade, or pan sauce.

  4. Wow! What a great and extensive list! I can't wait to have a bit more space to buy more staples to keep stored in a pantry closer or freezer. Living it a small space makes it harder to buy in bulk. We too go to the supermarket on a weekly basis and stock up on the essentials for the week.

    Staples for me are: rice, beans, pasta, chicken, fresh fruits and veggies and dairy products (milk and cheese).

  5. Our pantry lists are very similary.

  6. Keeley, you and I are sooo on the same wave length. I've been increasingly purchasing items as a way to stock up, it's so much more economical, and considering my parking situtation, or lack thereof, running to the store for an item is almost generally out of the question, and having everything you need makes cooking infinitely easier. love it!


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