The Smart Girl’s Pantry Essentials

I’ve lived alone, with roommates and with a spouse, so over the years I’ve become adept at stocking my pantry for whatever my meal planning needs are at that moment.

I know too many people who think that feeding themselves at home is more expensive than grabbing a daily sandwich from a restaurant to ignore this topic. You can cut costs immensely when you stock your pantry with the essentials, no matter how many people you’re cooking for.

And this isn’t just for girls. It’s for anyone looking to cut costs and get a little bit healthier at the same time (yes! It’s true, you can do both).

What to keep in your pantry & why

  • Baking Soda. Oh, how I love this stuff. It’s perfect in almost every situation, most notably those times when you can’t spare the time to run an errand for a household item. By combining it with some of these other pantry essentials, you can use it in recipes for homemade shampoo, toothpaste, household cleaner and more. It’s the best, and it’s ridiculously cheap.
  • Bouillon cubes. These go a long way when you’re cooking without breaking the bank. I toss a couple of cubes into a pot when I’m making soups and stews for a flavor boost or when the recipe calls for any type of broth. It’s way cheaper than getting liquid broth. Bonus: if you’re hungover and can’t possibly get yourself a Gatorade, toss a bouillon cube into a large mug of water, microwave for a couple minutes and stir. I don’t do this frequently because of the absurd amount of sodium, but it’s helped nurse me back to life on my most miserable mornings.
  • Canned tomatoes. I’m cautious about these, just because of the BPA lining that many cans have—although you can check out if your favorite brand uses BPA here. But these are such a staple in our apartment on soup or chili nights, and we don’t have to worry about fresh tomatoes going bad before we can use them. The pantry essentials I’m listing work best together, so if you have beans, bouillon and canned tomatoes you can whip together a meal when you’re pressed for time (or money).
  • Coconut oil. You’ve probably heard enough about this miracle oil, so I won’t go into too much detail. Use it to replace other oils when cooking, in toothpaste recipes and to treat your skin to something nice. Just one caution: don’t get carried away with it and consume too much at once. I couldn’t stop drinking coconut oil coffee one morning and spent the afternoon on the couch with a queasy stomach.
  • Dried fruit and nuts. These can vary in cost, so stock up whenever you find a good deal in the bulk bins at your grocery store. I’ve used almonds and unsweetened coconut flakes to make my own nut milks, and they’re amazing (plus, you can use the protein-packed pulp in other recipes). I also keep these things on hand so that I can prepare big batches of muesli, my daily breakfast, in advance.  
  • Dry beans. I have at least six different types of beans on hand at any given time. Black beans for burritos, red kidney beans for chili and chickpeas for hummus and roasting are some of my favorites. Lentils and fifteen-bean mixes are awesome for soups and chilis as well. I usually end up forgetting to soak them overnight, but I’ve had success putting dry beans straight into the slow cooker on high for the afternoon or boiling them for a couple hours. The extra effort is worth it - beans cost pennies on the dollar when you buy them dry instead of canned.
  • Flour. Duh. It’s a baking essential, and is a huge relief to have on hand when you’re having a cake emergency. This is my current favorite microwave mug cake recipe, but I also adore mug brownies. Thank you, flour. 
  • Honey. Sweet, sweet honey. I’ve given up on that fake coffee creamer and even regular white sugar in favor of good ol’ nut milk and honey. I feel so much better about sweetening my favorite beverages when I opt for honey. It’s also useful for sweetening my daily muesli and for creating yummy face masks
  • Oats. Again with the muesli: this is such a cheap way to up your breakfast game. If you’d prefer an easy to-go option, Minimalist Baker’s granola bars are cheap, delicious and highly adaptable to your tastes. 
  • Vinegar. We’re a vinegar family. We use white vinegar as a rinse aid in our dishwasher, as a household cleaner and a hair conditioner, so we usually purchase it by the gallon. Apple cider vinegar is amazing to drink if you can stand the flavor! I mix a tablespoon of ACV, honey and a dash of cinnamon in warm water when I’m craving a warm and soothing beverage.
  • Yeast. This one might come as a surprise, but making your own delicious bread is not as difficult or time consuming as you might think. And if you’re a bread-lover, it can save you big in the long run. We’ve been making this french bread for a few weeks now, and can’t stop—our apartment has an almost permanent smell of freshly baked bread, and who doesn’t love that? Or try your hand at pita bread. You can also make your own tortillas if you don’t want to deal with yeast, so get in touch with your industrious side and get to work! 

There you have it!  Buying in bulk isn’t just for huge families or people who have to stock up in preparation for road-closing snowstorms. As long as you have these staples on hand, you can keep your household running smoothly at any budget.

What would you add to this list of pantry essentials?