20 Pantry Staples For Budget Meal Planning

I’m guessing you’re reading this post for a certain reason. Maybe you’re on a strict grocery budget and are needing some clarity on what ingredients you should keep stocked for budget meals.

Maybe you’re looking to simplify your pantry and decide that you really don’t need to keep 9 different grains and 47 different spices on hand for that “just in case” recipe.

Or, you could be reading this because dinnertime used to be simple and stress-free and as of late it’s become complicated and not so much fun. You just need a reset!

I’m known for hardly ever cooking the same recipe twice (unless it’s a super winner), but most people who know me well are aware that I’m always bopping around cookbooks and blogs and trying out anything and everything that looks good!

I often hear from people that they wish they had more variety in their weekly meals but that they never have the ingredients on hand. I keep a pretty small stock of items on hand and when a recipe calls for a specialty ingredient, I buy that for the week and then try to include it in upcoming recipes so that it doesn’t take space up in my cupboard for an infinite amount of time.

For example, last week I had to buy some pearl barley for a soup but I only used a cup of it. This week I’m making a grain and butternut squash salad and the following week I’ll cook it up in the pressure cooker with some chicken broth and serve it as a side to some grilled chicken breasts! See what I did there? I bought a specialty ingredient that doesn’t need to take up permanent residence in my cupboard, so I used it in 3 different recipes in a matter of 3 weeks and regained back that space.

When I look through my cupboard to see what pantry staples I always ALWAYS have on hand, these are the 20 items that I keep coming back to. They’re the ingredients that form the base for the majority of our meals, and if I had to make do with ONLY having these ingredients on hand with no meat or produce added in, they could stand alone. This list doesn’t include any items for baking or any refrigerated items, so you’ll be seeing similar lists for those on future blogs. For now, this is just the list of items that live in my pantry and spice cupboard.


Black beans, tuna, salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, olive oil, diced tomatoes (plus an avocado) = quick and easy tuna guacamole! Serve with homemade tortilla chips.

Pasta, tomato sauce, italian seasoning, bread crumbs (plus some chicken) = quick and easy chicken parmesan with pasta!

Brown rice cooked in chicken broth, with a side of olive oil, paprika, and chili powder roasted sweet potatoes = healthy make ahead lunch!

Are you getting the hang of it yet? We can make so many combinations from just these 20 base ingredients by adding a veggie or meat here or there. I love my spices and the ability to have some variety, but everything always goes back to these items for me. If I’m out of these, I better be getting my butt to the grocery store ASAP because chances are I’ll need one or two of them for the next meal.

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