The Everything Pantry
Do you want to save money on groceries? Do you want healthy nutritious food on a tight budget for your family?
In 2017 Global News put out an interesting article finding that Canadians average around $200 per month per person on groceries. That is significant as it equals about $800/month for a family of 4. I’m a frugal fanatic and try to keep my budget at half that estimation at most.
In the whole view of our monthly budget, our grocery and sundry (other household supply) cost is one of the few things we can modify at any given time to “create space” when we need a few extra bucks for something that has come up during the month. I have always looked to my grocery budget when I needed to tighten our financial belt for that exact reason.
That being said, nutrition filled food is non-negotiable for me. It’s easy to extreme coupon and fill your pantry with “crap.” Everything in moderation with regards to food is one thing, but processed food on a regular basis is another. While my hubby has an iron gut (and once ate a 3-week-old sandwich he had forgot was in his fridge, describing it as “only a little zingy”), myself and son #1 both have less than stellar digestion so “food is medicine” really applies.
The fact that the grocery budget is more fluid and isn’t dictated by a payment date lends itself to a little more creativity. Over the years I have tried many methods and tricks for saving money on my grocery budget and from that principal, “The Everything Pantry” was created.
In fact, this whole blog was created because of a request from my sister to tell her everything I have learned about saving money. I had so much information to pass on, but it was just scads of notes, meal plans, inventory lists and cost analyses that I had created and housed in various binders. This blog was the perfect platform to put it all together for her and share my passion for frugal living with anyone else who might find it useful.
Multi-use items are the key
The key to saving money on your grocery and sundry budget is to purchase, in bulk, a number of key items that you can create most everything else you need from. Easy enough concept right? The more difficult part is sifting through the vast amount of recipes and cooking methods available to find the ones that actually taste good and work.
I have made numerous batches of baked beans that were too vinegar-y or to molasses-y. It took me a year to perfect my favorite Kentucky style BBQ sauce not to mention how much time I spent on ketchup recipes before I realized apple cider vinegar seems to be a new fad people put into everything, but plain white vinegar often tastes best because of its clean uncomplicated tang.
The unexpected benefit of the “Everything Pantry” method is that you rarely run out of anything! Need crackers for the kids lunch tomorrow, whip some up. Run out of mayo, no prob Bob. Plus, you save the fuel cost of having to run to the store to purchase pre-packaged goods.
A couple more unexpected benefits that encouraged me are:
1. The connection my kids formed with where their food comes from. They understand that meat comes from animals. We buy our meat in bulk from Crazy 8cres, a nearby farm that the boys visit. They have interacted with the animals they will eventually eat and they have a much deeper appreciation for animal care and the environment they live in.
2. Their connection with me. They appreciate that I am putting in the Sweat Equity to create the food they eat from scratch so I can save money. That savings allows them opportunities to play hockey, attend a school of choice and our family favorite, adventure road trips!
Sweat Equity Earnings
Creating food from scratch does take “extra time and effort.” Let me put forth an argument for why that benefits you. First, you are going to spend time and effort going to the store and buying a pre-made product anyway. Then again at home when you do some sort of preparation with it.
Besides the money savings you will earn with your sweat equity to make a product from scratch, you also get to have more control over what you spend your time on. Your time is just as valuable as your pennies.
Personally, I love doing dishes and cooking because that is when I get to have my favorite Netflix, CBC Gem or Amazon Prime shows on in the background. It’s my chill out time.
Learn HOW to cook
That statement seems like a no-brainer, and frankly, quite vague, but it was a hurdle for me. Before I became pregnant with my first son I was a vegetarian. Not because of any theology, but because I had no idea how to cook meat so I thought I didn’t like it. It’s not that I didn’t eat meat while living at home as a kid, my mom was a good cook. I just never picked up the “how to” part. I remember boiling a pot of ground beef and macaroni for 8 hours trying to make soup. That was utterly disgusting by the way.
When I moved out on my own I wasted time and money essentially making shoe leather for dinner. Handling meat seemed gross because I had never taken the time to understand how to handle a piece of meat or what it’s component parts were. Plant based food seemed less intimidating.
Mind you, I couldn’t cook plant based foods well either. I ate a lot of beans and rice dowsed with taco seasoning and cheese to make it edible, but at least they were much less expensive mistakes than meat. In general, learning how to cook upped my plant base cooking skill as well and is an essential element to healthy low cost grocery budgeting.
A funny thing happened on the drive home
After I married we spent a ton on groceries and eating out to compensate for my lack of cooking skill. My decision to get after it and master cooking came once I was pregnant with son #1.
When you’re pregnant, your body has a mind of its own. I knew a gal who desperately wanted to eat dirt because her body knew she was mineral depleted. I, on the other hand, needed meat protein. As hubby and I were driving home from town one afternoon I caught site of the Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse sign and it was all over.
I gripped the door handle and let out a guttural yell, “I NEED A BACON CHEESE BURGER!” Hubby was dumbfounded. Could he have heard me right? Was his dream of meat and two veg dinners actually within his grasp? Tentatively he asked if he had heard me correctly, unsure if questioning my command might somehow shake me out of my meat trance and rescind this char-grilled manna from heaven, plunging him back into his dry chickpea loaf hell.
No, I meant it. I NEEDED that burger. I ordered a sandwich gargantuan enough to feed Big Foot and had at’er. It was like a scene from a horror movie, there was BBQ sauce in my hair, on my shirt. I might as well have tied my hands behind my back and went in face first. That’s when I realized, I needed to learn how to cook or this was going to get REALLY expensive.
One documentary series I wish had have been available to me then was Netflix’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” There is so much actionable knowledge packed into this 4 part series.
Other favorites are Netflix’s Cooked, Master Chef Professionals and The Great British Baking Show. I have learned more from watching these shows than any book I’ve read. Maybe it is because you eat with your eyes and these shows impart knowledge while you consume the food visually. It imprints on your brain.
Ok, that was all interesting and slightly humorous information, but what are the concrete strategies I use?
My goal with this page is to lay out the framework of the Everything Pantry for you. I will also give you an itemized inventory list with a PDF version you can download and print off.
for your FREE "The Everything Pantry" Checklist
Because there is such an abundance of info to share in recipes and methods, I am writing a post on each of the pantry items in the list BELOW and attaching a link so you can easily access the information.
Check back daily for new additions.
Any of these items can be swapped out for home grown, canned, dried or pickled versions.
Feel free to add items as your budget allows. This is the bare bones template I use.
- “Real” salt (for seasoning only)
- Iodized salt (mouth wash, household cleaning/laundry)
- Black peppercorns (seasonings)
- Extra virgin olive oil (cooking fat, Whole Wheat & Olive oil drop biscuits, lotion)
- Canola oil (for browning meat only)
- Lard (cooking fat, pan release, lotion)
- Coconut oil (baking fat, granola cereal, granola bars, curry)
- 5% white vinegar (cooking acid, cleaning)
- Balsamic vinegar (cooking acid/flavour, Italian salad dressing)
- Rice vinegar – unseasoned (cooking acid/flavour)
- Real lemon juice (Cooking acid, canning, easy lemon curd)
- Dried shiitake mushrooms (fish sauce substitute, umami flavour, mushroom powder seasoning)
- Plain gelatin powder (fruit juice gelatin)
- Hot sauce: Tabasco or Sriracha
- Soy sauce (Worcestershire sauce, Hoisin sauce)
- Toasted sesame oil (cooking fat, seasoning, stir fry)
- Flour: all purpose and whole wheat (whole wheat bread, English muffin loaf, Soda bread, whole wheat tortillas, crackers, spaetzle noodles, Perogies, cookies, cakes, Pie/tart shells, hot water crust pastry)
- MASECA corn flour (corn tortillas, tortilla chips)
- Buckwheat (chocolate crunch cereal, maple almond cereal, cinnamon toast crunch cereal)
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Cream of tartar
- Corn or arrowroot starch
- Quick rise yeast
- Cocoa powder – unsweetened (sweet/savory flavoring, hot chocolate)
- Chocolate chips – semisweet
- Granulated sugar
- Confectioners sugar
- Brown sugar
- Maple syrup (vanilla extract substitute, sweetener)
- Honey (sweetener, granola cereal, granola bars, Torrone candy, cough drops)
- Fancy Molasses
- Chicory root (coffee substitute)
- Tea: Orange Pekoe
Rice, Grains, Beans
- Long-grain white rice
- Brown rice
- Pasta: spaghetti, macaroni (Mac n’ Cheese)
- Polenta aka corn meal (Parmesan polenta)
- Rolled oats (granola cereal, granola bars, chocolate oatmeal fudge bars, oatmeal, oat flour, breadcrumb substitute)
- Beans: cannellini, navy, chickpeas (side dish bean recipes)
- Lentils: green, red (sausage lentil bake)
- Popcorn kernels
- Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin
- Nuts: Almond, Brazil
- Peanut butter or almond butter
- Vegetables: mixed vegetables, corn
- Tomato – diced, unsalted (salsa, chili, minestrone soup)
- Tomato – plain sauce, unsalted (Pulled Pork sauce, tomato soup, pasta sauce, chili, Sloppy Joe’s)
- Tomato paste (ketchup, BBQ Sauce, thicken, color, and enrich the flavor of tomato sauces and other semi-liquids such as soups and stews and an acidic edge)
- Roasted red peppers or smoked peppers
- Anchovy fillets or paste
- Evaporated milk
Dried Herbs and Spices
- Bay leaves
- Cayenne pepper
- Celery seed
- Chili powder
- Curry powder
- Fennel or dill seed
- Granulated garlic
- Ground cinnamon
- Cinnamon stick
- Whole cloves
- Ground cloves
- Ground cumin
- Ground ginger
- Ground sage
- Rubbed sage *optional
- Ground coriander
- Marjoram *optional (substitute 1/2 the amount of marjoram called for with Greek oregano)
- Dried parsley
- Ground allspice
- Ground anise
- Whole anise seed
- Ground turmeric
- Ground black pepper
- Ground cardamom
- Liquid smoke *optional
- Onions (minced)
- Onion (powder)
- Paprika: sweet and smoked
- Sesame seeds
- Whole nutmeg
- Dried lemon zest
- Dried orange zest
- Whole mustard seed – yellow, brown (mustard powder, ballpark mustard, Dijon substitute, seasoning)
Dairy and Eggs
- Coffee cream
- Plain yogurt (fresh eating, yogurt leather, sour cream substitute)
- Unsalted butter
- Parmesan (wedge)
- Eggs (mayonnaise, egg salad)
- *Optional* Potatoes: yellow and/or russet (Perogies, mashed, French fries, wedges, shredded hash browns, Montreal steak spice cubes)
- *Optional* Onions
- *Optional* Garlic
- Apples (*Optional* store individually wrapped in newspaper if you have free fresh source. Free stackable cardboard bell pepper boxes from the grocery store work well in place of baskets)
- Green cabbage
- Potatoes: yellow and/or russet (sliced)
- Apples (chips)
- Bananas (chips)
- Fruit leather (strawberry, plum)
- Unsweetened shredded coconut
- Jelly, jam or preserves
- Pickles (dill, dilly beans, dill relish, sweet bucket pickles)
- Beef: Ground (skillet hamburgers, skillet Swedish “meatball,” Sloppy Joe’s), roast, flank steak
- Pork: ground (ragù sauce), loin or roast, bacon, bone-in picnic ham (honey-mustard glazed ham), kielbasa sausage
- Chicken: Whole, flash frozen breasts
- Vegetables: California mix, bell peppers, spinach
- Fruit: mixed berries