One thing I have gotten really good at through the years is finding ways to make meals when we are at the end of our budget. A lot of people in the debt-free community choose to focus on the “beans and rice” meals but the truth is, while beans and rice may be affordable, it’s nutrient lacking and a highly carb loaded meal. No, I’m not going to go into the giant carb debate but for myself personally, I have found that I function a lot better with a mixture of carbs, greens, proteins, and fats. However, there are 5 pantry must-haves to make healthy, frugal meals for your family. Let’s dive into what those 5 affordable pantry must-haves are and I’ll give you some ideas on how they can help you stretch your budget.
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Sticking to a budget
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Healthy Pantry Must-Haves
Oats are one of my favorite ways to bulk up meals for cheap! If you are not gluten-free, you can buy 2 40oz bags of Quaker Oats from Walmart for around $7! If you are gluten-free, (like many members of our family) you can buy a 52oz bag of gluten-free oats for right around $7 as well!
I am a big fan of using oats to meal-prep breakfasts for the entire month in one sitting! My personal favorite recipe to use is gluten-free oat waffles from COOKIE + Kate.
Extra tips for oats:
Try to come up with toppings or additions to your breakfast oat creations. Things like a few heated up frozen berries, some peanut butter, or both!
Rice goes an extremely long way when it comes to planning out frugal meals that last. Not only is it a staple food of some of the healthiest nations, like Japan. Rice is also great for digestion, keeps you full, and has a kind of superpower when it comes to making meals last way longer.
The best part about rice is you don’t need much of it to help bulk-up a meal which means it will last in your pantry a lot longer!
To save yourself even more time, you can buy a 20oz bag of Minute rice from Walmart for $4! Honestly, I used to be one of those moms who made everything from scratch and spent hours in the kitchen. Now that life has gotten busier, I have learned to be okay with faster cooking foods like Minute rice. It takes less time to cook and let’s face it, it’s a better option than Mac n Cheese.
Easy make rice meals:
- Taco night: Create all your favorite taco fixings, but skip the shells and create taco bowls instead!
- Teriyaki chicken: Chop up a few chicken breasts, toss in some frozen broccoli and add a little teriyaki sauce.
- Soup Filler: If you’re making soup from leftover chicken or vegetable scraps, cook some rice and toss it in at the end to make your soup be more filling and last longer!
- Leftover patties: These are absolute genius, and I have to give my best friend full credit. When you have chicken scraps, a few carrots and an egg in your fridge, blend these all together with your favorite seasonings and some Panko and rice. Pat the mixture into patties and fry them on both sides to make “leftover patties!”
Canned beans and lentils
Fiber is one of the best healthy pantry must-haves because it’s good for your digestion and helps fill you up in the process. Plus, at $5 for 8 cans, you can’t beat the price either!
You can definitely save money by buying beans or lentils dried, but the cooking process is much longer and honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve ever “nailed it.” Although I will admit, lentils are much easier than beans.
Ways to use beans:
- In place of meat
- Added to soups, stews and chilis
- Combined with taco meat (fills ’em faster and makes more food!)
When you are working to create a healthy pantry, it is crucial that you stock up on quality seasonings and get the hang of using them. The more you can avoid pre-packaged seasonings with preservatives, the better.
Start with basic seasonings like lemon pepper or chicken rub and eventually work your way to understand how to create your own combinations.
Some great seasoning combos:
- Taco: Cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, salt, oregano
- Chicken tacos: Lemon zest, salt, pepper
- Roasted veggies: Salt, pepper, and oregano
- Spicy chicken and shrimp: Cumin, garlic, salt, ginger
Canned pasta sauces
Nothing helps in a pinch like all the work rolled into one jar. It’s always a good idea to stock up on pasta sauces that you see whenever they are on sale. The best part is (that most people don’t think about) is that you can really use pasta sauce on more than just…well…pasta.
Bonus Tips to stretch your budget
When it comes to making your food last throughout the month, I have a few bonus tips besides these 5 pantry must-haves.
- Get discounts on what you already planned to buy! Discounts and coupons can actually be a major money suck (20 Sneaky Ways Stores Trick You Into Spending More) But if you already know what you’re getting, take a few seconds to browse your Ibotta app to see where you might be able to get some money back!
- Shop bulk with a big family. A lot of people shy away from shopping in bulk at places like Costco. But the truth is, when you compare prices, chances are you are getting more for your money. Get my $100 Costco Shopping List
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables. They last longer and are often more affordable than fresh.
- Make the most of your meats. Instead of serving up one whole chicken breast per family member find meals (like a stir fry) where you can chop up a lesser amount of meat while still creating a healthy, hearty meal
- Don’t shy away from healthy fats. The more fat you can put into your food the more likely you are to fill up! Avocado, coconut cream, and healthy oils are the best ways to do this.
Get a customized meal plan
If you are not great with creating healthy meal ideas on your own, try out the $5 Meal Plan. They offer customized healthy meals for your whole family on a budget!
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Avoid the store
When you struggle to walk up and down the isles without over-doing it on your budget, then maybe it would be a more budget-friendly idea to avoid the store altogether.
- Instacart – Get groceries delivered right to your door from places like Walmart and Aldi.
- Shipt – Have all of your favorite Target foods packaged up so they are ready to go when you are!
- Gobble – Gobble will send you healthy meals already prepped and ready right to your door. All you have to do is cook!