A well-stocked pantry can be the difference between mealtime crisis and a stress-free family dinner. No one cook's pantry will look the same as another's, but you can determine what should be in your pantry by what you use often.
I break down my list into Non-Perishable, Refrigerated, and Freezer Items because keeping the freezer and refrigerator well-stocked is just as important as keeping a stocked pantry.
I do not suggest that you go out out and purchase everything you see on these lists. Purchase only what you use and stock up over time as you begin using the menus.
🧀 The quandary of perishables
Many perishable items that you might think would spoil if stocked can actually be frozen until you need them. Keeping a stocked freezer is a great way to keep perishables stocked as well.
Lunch meat, cheese, pepperoni slices, and even milk and butter can be frozen until needed. Many of us are used to thinking this way when we buy fresh meat, but we don't apply the same reasoning to other perishable items that can be frozen. Even fresh produce that will be used in cooked dishes can be cooked and frozen, whether it is blanching vegetables or sautéing onions and peppers to freeze for casseroles, soups, and stovetop meals.
I have a big plastic basket in my freezer that is filled with various varieties of shredded and sliced cheese that I replenish at the best price. I have another basket filled with sautéed onions and sometimes sautéed green bell peppers.
🛒 Grocery shopping tips
Once you get in the habit of keeping a stocked pantry, you will find that your grocery bill decreases. It is not because you are buying less, but because you are paying less. If your pantry isn't stocked, you have to pay whatever the current price is for basic items, but with a stocked pantry you simply refresh your supply when you find the items on sale.
- Keep a stocked pantry/freezer and shop your pantry/freezer first, replenishing items from the grocery store when the items are on sale at the lowest price per unit.
- Know your prices so that you buy at the best price rather than what looks like the deepest discount (I commonly see price inflation when discounts are applied to certain items that I buy on sale). A good way to do this is to keep a price tracker in the cloud (Google Sheets is easy for this) that you can update at home and access from your phone while shopping.
- Don’t buy what you don’t eat, whether that means not buying more of a sale item than you will use before it expires or not buying with wishful thinking (IE buying items your family won’t eat). Eliminating waste is the best way to save on groceries.
- Use a meal plan so that you will buy what you use and use what you buy.
- Plan leftovers into your meal plans to avoid waste.
- When trying to save money, weigh the energy spent vs. the benefit received. Shopping at 5 stores with 100 coupons may save the most money, but the cost in time and energy probably isn’t worth the return. I find that comparing prices at 2-3 stores and shopping with a plan to get the best price on the most expensive items gives the most return with a reasonable amount of effort.
Discount grocers, outlet type stores that sell overstocked items, dented cans, or items past their "best by" date for a discount, are a wonderful place to stock your pantry. They often sell directly from the case rather than stocking shelves with individual items. Many discount grocers can accept EBT cards, but most will not accept coupons. Check with each store for their policy.
Small chain stores like Lidl, Aldi and Sharp Shopper offer good deals on select items, and there are many similar stores with a handful of locations across the country. Save-A-Lot is a chain that has over a thousand locations, although it does not offer discounts quite as deep as Aldi and Sharp Shopper. Dollar stores often carry groceries as well, but you have to price check carefully. Some items are a good deal and others may actually be cheaper elsewhere.
📋 The lists
The following posts will give you an idea of what a well-stocked pantry looks like in my house; yours will vary. Stock what you use and shop your stock first, replenishing when you find items on sale.
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