Updated on 09.12.14

Staple Foods You Should Always Have On Hand

Trent Hamm

One of the greatest money savers is cooking at home. You can often prepare tasty, simple foods at home very easily and quickly and with minimal cost; I regularly make meals that take less than ten minutes of preparation time, feed the whole family, and cost only a dollar or two.

Disclaimer: One of my greatest passions (besides personal finance, of course) is cooking. Please, don’t encourage me to start a cooking blog, too, because I just might do it and then my family would never see me.

The biggest problem is that many people do not have a well-stocked kitchen that is geared toward this purpose, so they often end up having to buy a lot of ingredients when they decide to actually try cooking something at home. Not only is it a new and challenging experience, it also seems very expensive because one has to buy so many ingredients.

Now, if you ask me, a well-stocked kitchen should include an incredible amount of staples (and that’s not even a full list of what I’d want on hand – think more herbs and spices). But let’s face it: that’s just not realistic for a lot of people who are just getting started with cooking at home. They want a small investment and the ability to turn out tasty meals without too much concern.

How does this save money? Each time you prepare a meal at home, it is less expensive than eating out. When you have staple foods on hand, it is much easier to prepare a meal at home, and thus you are more likely to prepare something at home than to eat out. $100 is actually a very small investment in your kitchen, since it only takes ten or so meals at home instead of eating out to make up for the cost of the staples.

Here’s my shopping list for bare-bones kitchen essentials. If you have these on hand, you should be well-prepared to produce many dishes, and your food shopping should be reduced to buying perishables, including meats and cheeses and fruits and such. Plus, you’ll discover before long how much tastier home-prepared food is.

Baking powder
Baking soda
Brown sugar (actually useful in many things)
Corn meal
Corn starch
White sugar

Herbs and spices
Black pepper
Cayenne pepper
Tarragon (maybe not essential, but my favorite spice)

Oils, Stocks, Condiments
Beef stock
Chicken stock
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Red wine
Soy sauce
Tomato paste
Vegetable oil
White wine

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  1. Jeremy says:

    Great list, and great timing on this article. I just posted yesterday about two great kitchen gift ideas to ask for during the holidays that could save money for years by encouraging and helping people cook at home.

    And like you, cooking is my second job it seems. I absolutely love to cook, I’m addicted to the food network. Nothing beats some good home cookin’!

  2. I like the article. This makes me wish I knew how to cook. Those ingredients look very good. Maybe you could post some day on some easy ways to learn how to cook without blowing up your kitchen. Since blowing up your kitchen would be a very costly disaster to fix, you can sneak it by under a finance blog :-)

    A Financial Revolution

  3. elkit says:

    I second what mapgirl says: flour(s), tinned items (in my kitchen: tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, tuna) and other long-lasting goods like rice and pasta. And my baking box always holds raisins and nuts, although those sometimes end up directly in my mouth.

    I notice that the more I cook, the more I want to cook. A nice ‘vicious circle” to find myself in. :-)

  4. Pam says:

    My regular items include soy sauce, sesame oil (for flavoring), oyster sauce or teriyaki sauce and ramen noodles or rice noodles. Then I can toss together a quick stir fry. Much tastier and healthier than take-out Chinese. Not to mention cheaper.

  5. Dave says:

    tarragon is not a spice, it’s an herb.

  6. Johanna says:

    Yeah, where are the flours, pastas, rices, grains – you know, the actual staple foods?

  7. Carole says:

    I like your list! i usually keep molasses on hand, insead of brown sugar, though, for anyone who is super frugal, and hates to try softening hard brown sugar. When it’s time to make something with brown sugar, I just mix a bit of molasses (to taste) into the sugar. If you need a cup of brown sugar, a cup of whate, and a a teaspoon of molasses should be alright. I use more, because I like the taste, and like the idea of adding more iron to my diet.

  8. Sara says:

    Great post, but for those of us who still hate to cook, there’s supercook.com. You type in all the ingredients you have in your kitchen-fridge/freezer/cupboards/etc, and it’ll give you all the recipes you can make with those items. And most of the recipes are pretty simple.

  9. leslie says:

    I also suggest: flour and red pepper flakes

  10. zoe says:

    Nice list! For myself I take off yeast (since I don’t bake bread…yet) and sage (don’t really like it), mustard (don’t like it), sherry (same applications as red wine) and white wine (don’t drink it, haven’t felt the need to buy it).

    And I’d add:

    1) white flour (otherwise why would you have baking powder, yeast, etc??)
    2) Cumin
    3) Canned crushed and diced tomatoes, and cheap sauce
    4) canned mushrooms (not a staple for most people but I put them in EVERYTHING)
    5) long-grain rice
    6) long and spiral pastas
    7) canned tuna and salmon
    8) canned or dried black and kidney beans
    9) barley – delicious in soups

    and for slowly perishable staples, potatoes, garlic and onions. Mmmmm.

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