How to Make Budget-Friendly Pantry Meals

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Need to cook from your pantry stash? Here is how to create simple, nourishing, budget-friendly meals based on what you have in your kitchen.

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Cooking from your pantry can be both fun and frustrating. On the one hand, it’s extremely satisfying to save money and clean out those corners of your pantry and freezer. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel limited and restrained and frustrated with the lack of variety.

When you’re trying to eat healthy at the same time, it’s extra challenging. We know how important it is to eat vegetables, whole grains, and clean protein. How do we make healthy meals while shopping just from our pantry and freezer stash?

Obviously, part of the battle is to make sure you build a smart food stash. I made a printable list to help you with that. When we were really broke, I figured out that we could make a HUGE variety of real food, budget-friendly meals with just 35 ingredients. Get the list!

You Only Need 35 Ingredients to Make Healthy, Budget-Friendly Meals.

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    Regardless of how well your pantry is stocked, what you really need is recipes that will help you use what you have and avoid food waste. We have a few recipes that have served us well over the years, and I want to share them with you below.

    What Makes A Good, Healthy Pantry Meal?

    In order to make a reliable clean eating pantry recipe, pantry meals need 3 things:

    1. Clean Ingredients

    Of course, we can eat pasta and ramen noodles and save a lot of money, but they don’t really fall under nourishing meals.

    Clean eating doesn’t have extremely hard and fast rules. Generally speaking, you want ingredients that are as close to nature as you can swing it. The food pyramid can help. But in the end, everyone has to decide their definition of healthy eating. You also need to just use what you have, so don’t worry too much about eating perfectly clean!

    Clean eating pantry meals include ingredients like:

    • frozen veggies (or fresh ones if you have any!)
    • beans (canned or dry)
    • clean meats
    • rice
    • simple canned ingredients (like canned tomatoes, etc.)
    • simple, clean-ish condiments (soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, etc.)
    • herbs and spices
    • simple dairy products (milk, yogurt, block cheese, etc.)

    You decide what fits in your budget and priorities right now, then give yourself grace for the rest.

    A good pantry meal uses (mostly) clean ingredients that you can pronounce!

    pasta

    2. Budget-Friendly Ingredients

    The goal with pantry meals is to use what you have, regardless of how much it cost originally. It’s food, and we need to use it. We need to avoid food waste. However, building a stash of ingredients that are budget-friendly goes a long way to saving money and eating healthy.

    Every area of the world is different, but where I live, these are some of the budget-friendly pantry ingredients we use:

    • ground meat
    • whole chickens
    • bulk frozen vegetables
    • dry beans
    • rice
    • simple canned ingredients (like canned tomatoes, etc.)
    • simple condiments (soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, etc.)
    • herbs and spices
    • simple dairy products (milk, yogurt, block cheese, etc.)

    If you want the full list, get our 35-Ingredient Budget-Friendly Clean Eating Grocery List!

    A good pantry meal uses budget-friendly ingredients!

    cooking pot and potatoes

    3. Flexibility

    Following a recipe is great, but when we are trying to save money, eat healthy, and cook from our pantry, sometimes we need to color outside the lines. I prefer recipes that leave room for substitutions. This is why nearly every recipe on my site shares alternative ingredients options and variations. Budget-friendly cooking means you avoid food waste and use what you have.

    Some common substitutions (that will also work for the following recipes) look like this:

    • Canned diced tomatoes OR crushed tomatoes OR tomato sauce OR tomato paste thinned with water (bonus points is you can use the last of that jar of spaghetti sauce or salsa)
    • Chicken broth OR vegetable broth OR Beef broth OR just some water and extra salt and garlic powder
    • Pinto beans OR black beans OR great northern beans oR black-eyed peas (this doesn’t work for every recipe, but it’s nice when it does!)
    • Ground beef OR ground turkey OR half ground meat and half-cooked lentils
    • Chopped spinach OR broccoli OR chopped kale/collards/whatever OR shredded cabbage

    A good pantry meal is flexible when it comes to exact ingredients. It helps you use what you have and avoid food waste!

    Pantry Meal & Freezer Meal Ideas

    Need some pantry meal ideas?

    Many of our recipes (especially the soups and breakfasts) follow the rules above for making good pantry meals.

    Here are a few pantry meals you can try:

    dinner for a dollar eBook - for making pantry meals

    Avoid the Grocery Store with Pantry Meals

    Whether you’re trying to clean out your kitchen, save money on a really tight budget, do a spending freeze, or you’re avoiding the grocery store for quarantine and coronavirus issues, I hope these pantry meal ideas help you!

    If you need more budget-friendly, clean eating dinner ideas, plus ways to stretch meat further and make every cent count, Check out Dinner for a Dollar: Real Food Recipes for Under $1 a Serving.

    Bonus: if you have everything on the 35 Ingredients List, you can make nearly every meal in Dinner For a Dollar!

    Cooking from your pantry will help you save money and eat healthy. You will avoid food waste, learn to use what you have, and learn to do it well!

    What About You?

    What are your favorite pantry meals?

    If you found this post helpful, let us know! Leave a comment, share it on Facebook or Pinterest, and follow us on Instagram or YouTube for more!

    Slash your grocery budget and feed your family real food! Get simple, frugal, real food menu plans every month for FREE in the Cheapskate Cooks’ 1-Min Email. Get your first one here.

    You Only Need 35 Ingredients to Make Healthy, Budget-Friendly Meals.

    Sign up below and get the list!

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