22 March 2011

Things I Always Keep On Hand

For those of you wondering how I generally manage to get by on around $300 per month for food, I decided to put together a list of what I always have in my house (food related) to better illustrate how I am able to accomplish this feat. Feel free to tell me what I'm missing!


  • Beans: I generally keep cans of black, kidney, and cannolini beans at all times, but I also use pinto beans on occasion. Lately I've been buying beans at Whole Foods because they are fairly cheap and contain the fewest ingredients of all brands of canned beans. If I'm running low, I allot myself $5 to stock up, but on most shopping trips, I will buy one or two cans anyway.
  • Lentils: Currently I have some red lentils, regular brown ones (or whatever they are) and some French ones that I mixed in with the 'regular' ones at Whole Foods. Since I found out that lentils really make Piper's bowels move (and I know you wanted to know that), I've always kept them in the cupboard. 
  • Rice: Right now, I have white, brown, arborio and two wild rice mixes in my cupboard. I'm trying to use less white rice and more brown so I've been buying it from the bulk bins at Whole Foods every time I go to fill up my rice container. If you read my previous post about Near East's Original Rice Pilaf, you have probably also gathered that I keep this in my house too. This is true, however, I will only buy it if it is around $2 or less. Thus, I do not always have it. But I find that keeping both the original and the Spanish rice varieties on hand can really help me in a pinch.
  • Pasta: I love starch. I try to keep just about every type/shape of pasta in the house because I'm a fan of variety. My favorites are angel hair and orzo and I love ditalini for making pasta fagioli. I also try not to spend more than $1 on pasta, which presents a problem when looking for healthier varieties. Unfortunately, Steve generally refuses to eat any pasta that even resembles whole wheat or similar, so I am left with looking for those with the fewest ingredients. There is a store near me that carries Polish products and their imported pastas have 3 ingredients and cost only $.99. 
  • Tomato Sauce: And by that I mean the 8 oz cans. The versatility of these wonderful cans of tomato goodness literally boggle my mind. I use them all the time and as an added bonus, they're cheap! I usually buy at least four when I go to the store, more if I'm running low. They're a great addition to soups, beans and can help turn plain ground beef into sloppy joes. 
  • Diced Tomatoes (canned): For the same reason as the tomato sauce, I like to keep at least a few of these around because I never know when I might need them. Add a can to soups, sautes or whatever you fancy.
  • Tomato Paste: It comes in handy more often than you'd think!
  • Pasta Sauce: I have not perfected the act of making my own sauce and even if I had, I wouldn't have anywhere to store it. Thus, I always pick up two or three jars of various types of Classico sauce because they are one of the most inexpensive brands that does not include a lot of crap in their sauce. Also to note here is that I will not buy any product (specifically of the canned tomato variety) that adds sugar where it is not needed. Some of Classico's sauces do not have sugar, but some do so I only buy those that don't.   
  • Broths: While I do like to make my own vegetable stock, I do not have the space to keep infinite amounts of it in my freezer (nor do I always have it on hand). Plus, sometimes you do need a chicken broth/stock or a beef one and I do not often have the chance to make those. Instead, when they're on sale, I buy the best broths/stocks I can so that I always have them in a pinch for whatever I might need. Granted, I do also use water to help my stock go a little further, but I think stock/broth generally gives a better flavor. 
  • Baking Supplies: Since there are so many and they vary by household, I decided to lump them together rather than make this post twenty pages long. I usually try to keep two kinds of flour (regular and whole wheat), many different spices, extracts, sugars and baking powder, soda and shortening. 
  • Quinoa: Recently I made some chocolate cupcakes with this fabulous grain and I think they were fantastic! I like to have this to put into soups, mostly, but I also mix it with lentils to make a protein powerhouse. I don't really use it that much in other respects, but I hope to start. 
  • Bulgar Wheat: This is another ingredient I like to put into soups to thicken it up a bit and add some extra nutrients. Also something I don't do much with, but I like having it because I never know when I'll find a great new recipe to try.
  • Barley: I still have more barley than I'll ever know what to do with, but that means I'm always prepared. One recipe in particular that I enjoy barley in is this one I posted not long ago for Chicken Pot Pie.
  • Pancake Mix: Call me lazy, but I don't always get the chance to make pancakes from scratch. I actually did it once, but I find this mix to be infinitely easier and quicker, especially when I have two hungry children crying for pancakes. I've tried a couple different ones, but I think the one we liked the best was Arrowhead Mills' pancake mix (the site won't work right now, but I'm pretty sure it was the buckwheat one). Right now we're using Bob's Red Mill Pancake Mix (I think it's this one) and I just don't find it to be as good.
  • Salsa: I never thought this would be a staple in my life, but it has become very important to me (sounds like I'm talking about my children!) I LOVE salsa on baked potatoes (sometimes with butter, sometimes without) and having it around means I can always whip up a nice black bean dish and some homemade tortillas and have a nice Mexican dinner. Mmm...is it dinner time yet?


  • Peas: I don't like peas, but both Heidi and Piper love them and eat them plain, even straight out of the fridge. I usually have two bags at any given time because in a pinch, I can boil them quickly and give them as a snack or a veggie addition to any meal.
  • Green Beans: Green beans are one of my favorite vegetables and I like to throw them in wherever I can. Both girls also enjoy eating them plain so I will often combine them with the peas. At Wegmans, I can get large bags of both 'cut' and 'french style' for $.99 so I stock up on them whenever I have room in my freezer.
  • Waffles: I know they're not the best food to eat, but I don't think they're the worst either. At Sam's Club, I can get a box of 60 Eggo waffles that lasts me a few weeks considering I eat a peanut butter and jelly waffle sandwich every day for breakfast. On occasion, I also give Heidi and now Piper a waffle for breakfast on days I don't feel like doing much.
  • Tilapia: Another Sam's Club staple, I enjoy having their industrial size bag in my freezer for those days when I want a really easy, totally oven based meal. Tilapia is an extremely versatile fish because of its light flavor, so it can really go with just about any seasoning and side dishes.


  • Eggs: Now that Piper is over age 1, we go through four eggs every other day. Heidi has been eating two eggs (scrambled) for a long time and now Piper has joined her so in order to keep my shopping trips to a minimal, I often buy two dozen eggs at a time. Of course, I also use them for baking and other things, so it's probably time for us to consider owning some chickens.
  • Butter (Salted and Unsalted): Eh, you know what this is for...artichoke sauce!
  • Bragg's Liquid Aminos: Obviously I always have this. To read why, click here.
  • Lemons: I tend to put lemon on almost every vegetable, along with Bragg's and onion powder. Besides that, it has a lot of other uses, even for cleaning. Plus it smells nice. 
  • Yogurt: Heidi eats yogurt about every other day, but I stopped buying flavored yogurt several months ago. Instead, I buy plain organic yogurt and put honey and vanilla into it and she gobbles it down.
  • Salad: Sometimes, there's nothing better than a nice fresh salad with some tasty dressing to please the palate. Lately I've taken to buying romaine hearts at Whole Foods because they are organic and only cost $2.49, which is really good compared to organic romaine at other stores. I also hit the organic field mix bin at Wegmans whenever it's around because I can usually get enough for two salads (for all four of us) for under $2, but it doesn't keep as well as the romaine. Of course in the summer time I grow my own so this is not necessary.


Since I do not have infinite pantry space, my counter picks up the slack. These are the items I just don't have room for anywhere else.

  • Onions: I could not live without onions. I use them in practically every dish I make so not having them literally causes me to scratch my head wondering what I could possibly make. I usually buy another bag when I have one or two onions left because I am that anal. 
  • Garlic: Much like onions, I try to use garlic all the time. It has many health benefits, plus everything tastes better with it anyway :)
  • Potatoes: The potato is such a versatile vegetable, healthy and tasty it is another one of my absolute staples. When I'm all out of ideas, I make roasted potatoes as an easy side dish for dinner using olive oil and rosemary garlic seasoning. Mmmmm.
  • Apples: I try to give Heidi and Piper fruit at every meal, or at least two out of three (and sometimes in between), and apples are a great option because they keep for a reasonably long time and can be used for so many things. I usually shred one apple into my muffin mixes, regardless of type, I bake them with cinnamon or I make 'apple snow' (plain shredded apple, sometimes topped with cinnamon, specifically for those who do not chew as well).
  • Bananas: I keep meaning to keep track of how many pounds of bananas we go through in a month or in a week, but I always forget. Let's just say, it's a lot. There was a time when Heidi would eat two bananas a day, every day for a solid two or three months (she must have needed potassium!). Bananas are a great snack and an all around great fruit to have on hand because they help regulate blood sugar levels and also help you sleep. Plus they're cheap and it is not necessary to buy them organic, so I can get them just about anywhere. (Just a side note, Sam's Club specifically advertises their bananas as 'Free Trade,' but I have not seen many other places besides Whole Foods do the same.)
  • Olive Oil: I use olive oil almost as much as I use onions and garlic, especially since I make my own salad dressing, which I will post about sooner or later. We buy two different types: the light olive oil for sauteing and salad dressings and the regular for just about anything else. 
I'm 99% sure that this includes everything, short of every random condiment I have in my fridge that you don't need to know about. As I said above, if there's something that you have that I don't, or you think would make my life easier, please share! I'm always looking for new, nutritious foods to feed my children. :)


  1. THANK YOU!!! do you mind if I re-post this on my page??

  2. You're welcome! You can surely repost anything you want, but if you could provide a link to the 'original' post, that would be awesome :)

  3. Good list! Is Steve weird about eating healthy stuff? Jim is so picky sometimes I'm afraid to try new, "healthy" things. Like I've made quinoa a few times and he won't eat it.

  4. I made tofu stir fry the other night and Steve flat out refused to eat it. Wouldn't even try it. The quinoa cupcakes I made for Piper's birthday he at least took a bite of, but wouldn't go any further than that. I definitely peeves me off big time because I actually care about his health.

  5. My favorite is when I make something and he's all freaked out but then he tries it and says "this is actually good!" or something along those lines :-) Crazy men.

  6. I, too, keep almost everything on this list on hand! Your mention of stocks and broths makes me wonder - have you ever tried Better than Bouillon? It's free of wacky ingredients and keeps in the fridge for long periods of time. I always keep their vegetable base and not chicken base (they have a real chicken one, too ;) on hand. I love the stuff!

  7. I've never tried that, thanks for the recommendation! All the bouillons we had/have are crappy and I refuse to use them. I often think to myself "gee, I wonder if there is a good bouillon I could acquire in case of emergencies or when I don't know what I'll do with a full 32 oz of stock?" I will definitely look for it next time I'm out!

  8. Great post!!! I totally agree and try to keep everything on your list except the Braggs, the barley (at the moment anyway), bulgar wheat (gotta try it) pancake mix and waffles (I usually make big batches of both from scratch and freeze them). Pretty good match up, however! My grocery bills are still sky high -- I need to figure out where I am going wrong! Totally impressed by your 300 a month!

  9. My ultimate goal is to make waffles and stuff and freeze them..I just need a freezer! I want another one so bad, which is quite hilarious when other people want so many other normal things :). Don't be too impressed by my budget cause I'm out of money right now and skating on 'no clue' until fri. :)

  10. what a great list!! Pancakes can be frozen too! My kids love frozen pancakes that are then baked. No they're not quite like fresh off the griddle, but they are so good. I make little circle pancakes and then bake them and turn them into sandwiches! They love it! If you have a Trader Joe's anywhere nearby they are a good resource too for organic, healthy foods for prices so low you do a double take!

  11. Awesome! I really should freeze pancakes, but I honestly never thought about it. Thanks for mentioning that :)

    I do have a Trader Joes, which is on my way to Whole Foods, but I don't go there too often because I don't find everything on my list there, where I do find it at other places. I do really enjoy it though when I go there :)

  12. I just got started on barley and I've been having it for breakfast! I have one of those mini-crockpots, designed to keep sauces warm. I do 1/3 c barley, 2/3 c milk, 2/3 c water and put it on overnight. In the morning I throw in some brown sugar, dried fruit, and cool it down with more milk. It's delicious - like eating oatmeal but less gluey and more chewy. Mmmmm.

  13. Hi, Amanda. I finally found my way here via Hybrid Rasta Mama. Glad I did! Looking at this list, you'd think we share a kitchen! I'm also tight on storage space, so I can totally relate. Great list!

  14. Thank you Sylvia! I'm always excited to meet someone who shares the same food preferences as I do :)

  15. Great post!
    I've replaced rice with quinoa for pretty much every use. And it's mostly because I can't cook rice to save my life! Weird, I know :)
    I've got pretty much the same list as you, but no lentils or bulgar. I always seem to have carrots and beets on hand too. They keep forever, and are a staple here.
    I too buy the waffles - and thought I was the only one who likes them as a PB&J sammich - yum!

  16. My mouth is watering for one now, Meggin! :)