Tag Archives: food pantry

How to Build a Pantry Immediately Under $50


This is an article on how to start building a pantry immediately, with very little up-front cost. If you already have ten years’ worth of canned beans in the basement, that is awesome, but this article is not for you. I am writing this article to the people who:

  • Are tired of looking at bare cupboards.
  • Can’t sleep at night because they just used up their last box of <insert boxed food here>.
  • Just like to be prepared for stuff.
  • Would really love to have the makings for a meal readily available without having to go to the store.
  • Want to eat real food, without spending a lot.
  • Know winter is coming.
  • Like to save money!
  • Want to have some kind of food around no matter what.
  • Don’t have much money to spend building a pantry.

asian spices & sauces

Whether you are preparing for a hurricane, tough economic times, flexibility in meal planning, or just because you know you’d sleep better at night, you can start building a pantry right now, and for less than $50 per person.

A pantry by definition is a room or place in which food is stored as an ‘extra’ or backup to the kitchen. There is a wide variety of ways      people build pantries, from an extra can of soup on the top shelf to a maximum-prepper-root-cellar type pantry with hundreds of freeze dried meals, and everything in between. If you have a few boxes of ramen under the bed, that’s a pantry. If you have a stash of your      favorite cookies hidden somewhere you don’t have to share, that’s a pantry.

Home Canned Tomatoes

This article will give you an exact idea of how to build a pantry in one shopping trip, for less than $50 (per person) which could provide  enough calories to survive for 1 month. But, keep in mind this is “survive”, not eat like you’re on a cruise ship vacation. It is, however, way better than ramen noodles, and is real, healthy, good food.       (Heck you could even just use this as your personal “less than $50 monthly grocery shopping list & meal plan” any time).

Prices are based on stores in the New Haven, CT area.  Prices may vary based on where you are located, sales and/or coupons, and time of the year.  Feel free to make certain substitutions tailored to your situation.  If you have access to free or cheaper foods, stock up on those as well (for example, a garden, barter system, foraging, etc).

Always be on the lookout for opportunities for urban foraging like an overhanging apple tree, rogue tomato plant, whatever. Also, many plants we consider weeds are edible. Just be sure to read/watch enough to know what you are doing before eating      anything wild you pick.

Stocked freezer

This plan is meant to provide enough food for one person for three meals for thirty days.  Most meals will be very simple, but will be enough to survive. And this is real food, not freeze dried astronaut ice cream. You could eat any of these suggested meals at any time.  If you have more room in your budget, you can add more “comfort” foods like sauces, spices, dried fruits, desserts, snacks, or other items you desire.

I’d recommend ALDI if you have one near you. (Go here to see their locations). They have the most consistently low prices overall for packaged and even fresh foods that I’ve seen. Otherwise, find the store nearest you that has good deals. Follow general grocery rules, like shopping produce that is in season, making a list, buying in bulk when the prices are low, etc. to save even more.

Purchase per person:

  • 3 cans chicken — 2.97
  • 5 cans tuna or salmon — 5
  • 15 lbs beans (any type) — 8.50
  • 5 lbs rice — 2.99
  • 5 lbs potatoes — 1.99
  • 1 large canister oats — 2.29
  • Tortillas (12 pack) — 0.99
  • 10 bags frozen vegetables — 10
  • 2 cans any type fruit — 2
  • 1 jar pasta sauce — 1
  • 1 pound pasta — 0.88
  • Dozen bananas — 2.22
  • 1 jar peanut butter — 1.49
  • 1 jar jelly — 1
  • 5 cans diced tomatoes — 4.40
  • 2 loaves bread — 1.70

Grand Total: $49.42

These items can sit wherever you have extra room, and you know they will be there in a pinch. You can also add any items that your family specifically goes through a lot of, such as chickpeas, eggs, or a certain spice mix.

Be sure that you use these items prior to their expiration dates by incorporating them into what you already cook. There is no sense in spending even a small amount of money on food that you end up not eating. A list of many suggested meals using these items is below.

Suggested meals:

And if you happen to have a pantry already, hopefully this list can help jump-start your creativity. Just a few simple ingredients can quickly come together to create a satisfying meal for far less than you would spend outside the home. Having a well-stocked pantry means you can have a snack or meal ready to go in minutes, and without having to wait in line or drive 30 minutes.

Counter covered with groceries

To continue to build your stockpile, simply pick up one extra item each time you go to the grocery store. Add two jars of pasta sauce to your cart when you only need one, and now you have a spare. When there is a great sale on peaches and you can afford to, stock up. That way you keep your overall cost lower, by purchasing frequently      eaten items in bulk when the price is low. Just don’t get too crazy, you don’t want to buy way more than you will ever eat or buy things you end up hating and throwing away.

Also keep an eye out for mark-downs on products that are about to expire (like meats & fresh vegetables, but use or freeze ASAP), slightly dented (I’m lookin’ at you, 10 cent dented cans of soup), or out of season (sprinkles in the shape of a leaf are still sprinkles in the summertime). One extra can or bag at a time can make a big impact on your yearly grocery tally. And you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you have a buffer of food for whenever, whatever, happens.

(Title picture is of pantry items used to make Salsa Chicken Soup)

SNAP Challenge Week Lessons


So today (Tuesday) marks one week of the SNAP Challenge for me. (If you don’t know what the SNAP Challenge is or why I’m talking about it, take a peek at my earlier post).

The week went very closely according to plan. I ended up having so much leftover from the soup I made that I did not use the can of tuna. I had coffee 6 out of 7 days, but only one cup. And I only needed an extra boost from green tea on three days.


Here is a breakdown of all the food purchased and consumed throughout the week:

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 7.59.07 PM

If I calculated out the exact costs for the week, it would be quite a bit less than my target, as I still had 2 eggs, 1/2 bag broccoli, all but 4 tbsp margerine, plenty of garlic salt, 6 slices turkey bacon, half a jar of peanut butter, a few slices of bread, some rice, potatoes and lentils, and 6 bags of oatmeal left! Even with the full price added in, I had $2.44 left to spend at the end of the week.

There were only a few cooking-intensive meals, then several meals consisting of leftovers. Peanut butter sandwiches were always a go-to in case I didn’t want leftovers for lunch and dinner, or just needed a hearty snack throughout the day.


Here is a break-down of all the meals I ate this week:

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 7.57.01 PM

This ‘diet’ may actually have been for the better, as I was eating less meat and calories in general, and slowly cutting down on caffeine. I actually felt quite healthy throughout the majority of the week, though energy spikes and troughs as well as a growling tummy was more frequent.


Overall, this week was not as difficult as I imagined it being, but I recognized some significant advantages:

1. I have a fully functional kitchen. This includes a microwave, stove-top, oven, refrigerator, and freezer. I have ample containers in which to store excess cooked food to be eaten again later. This all helps in stretching the food you do have.

2. I do not mind the process of cooking, eating leftovers, or the same meal multiple times. In fact I enjoy those things. There are tons of people who do not like one or all three. Being able to cook, even simple methods, is limitlessly helpful in stretching your food dollars versus convenience foods. And being willing to cook large batches and re-eat that meal later is also a huge money saver.

3. I have access to fresh, affordable produce and very reasonably priced staple food items. Many, too many, people do not have access to fresh produce, the ability to stop at four different stores to price-compare, or to pick up 2 cucumbers for $1 just because they’re on sale, they look fresh, and you want a snack.

4. I have been in the practice of planning, shopping, and cooking for myself on a very tight budget for a very long time. Many people who end up on SNAP due to unfortunate circumstances have no practice with coupons, budgeting, or meal planning. They may not know how to stretch a dollar because they never had to before. This just adds to the overall burden.

Over the next few posts I will be posting the recipes of meals I cooked during the challenge, so stay tuned!


Final Thoughts

I decided I am going to buy a duplicate of all the foods I had this week, and donate them to a local food pantry so others in my community can be fed. I am also hosting a food drive at my work place until the end of the month.

I hope you took something away from this, and if you’re not inspired to take on the challenge yourself, at least you’re more aware of the daily struggles millions of your fellow Americans face, and know more about how you can help.




**UPDATE: All SNAP Meal Recipes listed below: