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.
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.
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.
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.
- Peanut butter & jelly sandwich
- Bean & rice veggie burgers
- Peanut butter & banana wrap
- Tortilla Soup
- 3 bean chili
- Red beans & Rice
- Oats with fruit
- Toast + PB or jelly
- Veggie fried rice
- Tuna noodle salad
- Tuna wraps/sandwich
- Creamy tuna potato salad
- Rice pudding + canned fruit
- Pasta (w chicken &/or beans)
- Baked potato + chili
- Baked potato + frozen broccoli
- Baked potato soup
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.
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)