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Thrifty Thursday: Save Time + Money Using the Pantry Principle

You had every intention of gracefully whipping up a healthy, beautiful, French-inspired dinner for the family last evening, but between picking up the kids from school, basketball practice, violin lessons, responding to some unexpected work e-mails, and chasing the muddy dog around the living room, you didn't have time to swing by the grocery for ingredients, let alone the patience to spend an hour in the kitchen. So, you called in a $35 order for pizza (and breadsticks, and soda, because, why not at this point?)

Sound familiar?

Pantry Principle | Image source: / Photographer: Fotografiche

While this is definitely the best solution once in a blue moon, doing it on a weekly basis can really add up. Our advice to help you avoid this situation? Follow the Pantry Principle: Ensure your pantry is stocked with the most very basic ingredients at all times so you can cook with what you have!

Here are a few steps to get started:

1. Jot Down Patterns

Before you go hit the grocery store to stock up on staples, find out what your family's staples are. Take a week or two and make note of what you go through the most of, and what seems to disappear from your cupboards the quickest. What ingredients do some of your favorite meals have in common? Bow-tie pasta? Beans? Tomato soup?

2. Take Inventory + Make a List

Next, it's time to take inventory. It's easy to stroll the aisles and grab basics - flour, sugar, pasta - "just in case" you're running low at home. Instead, determine what it is you really need to purchase. You'll want to make sure you've got enough of your most commonly used herbs, spices, and condiments to last several months - these are some of the most important elements in making the Pantry Principle work! (Scroll down for a list of items you'll always want to have on hand to whip up a fast, flavorful meal!)

3. Look for Deals

Plan out where you'll be doing your shopping. If you've got a membership at an establishment like Sam's Club or Costco, you'll likely want to make use of it for this trip. Look through weekly fliers, digital ads and coupons, and download retailers' mobile apps for extra savings.

4. Create a Budget

Knowing that you're shopping to stock up makes it easy to overspend. But that's not what we want to do here - the point is to save! So, set a reasonable budget for this first Pantry Principle-inspired trip before you go to the grocery and break out the calculator to add up as you go.

5. Buy in Bulk

Most of what you'll be stocking your pantry with should have a pretty lengthy shelf life, so if it's cheaper to buy in bulk or buy jumbo-sized cans, jars, and bags, then go for it! Buying items like herbs and spices, beans, rice, pasta, and oats in bulk can save you money and will last a long time in the pantry. You'll want to store these items in air-tight containers as soon as you get home to preserve their freshness.

Then, Get Cookin'!

If you haven't given it a try yet, meal planning really can help you save time and money in the long run, as long as you have the patience and drive to see it through. Plus, it'll make your grocery shopping trips a breeze! But, the point of the Pantry Principle is this: If you're down to just the very basics, you can still create a meal and avoid a last-minute trip to the grocery or the cost of take-out. Sites and apps like MyFridgeFood, SuperCook, and Recipe Matcher allow you to enter the ingredients you do have on hand and they'll generate a list of recipes you can make based on those ingredients.

The Pantry Principle | Image source: / Photographer: Fotografiche

Pantry Essentials: Items You Should Always Have on Hand

Sauces + Oils

  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Olive Oil
  • Broth (Chicken or Vegetable)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Diced Tomatoes

Herbs + Spices

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Red Pepper Flake
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Minced Garlic

Baking Goods

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Honey
  • Vanilla Extract


  • Lemons
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Onions


  • Beans (lima, kidney, black, white, red, soy, pinto)
  • Pasta (multiple varieties)
  • Canned Soups (multiple varieties)
  • Oats
  • Frozen Vegetables (multiple varieties)

What food items do you make sure are always in your pantry in case you have to quickly get creative in the kitchen? What are your favorite cheap, quick, and basic go-to meals? Let us know in the comments section below!

You might also like: The Pantry Principle: Serve Up Easy Dinners by Cooking What You HavePantry Principle: How to Save Gobs of Time Cooking for Your Family | 20 Foods You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen | Pantry Essentials: Food Items You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen

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