Pantry staples for tight budgets

Tired of watching the price of food go up while your stomach grumbles? Here are some low-cost, easy foods to keep in your cupboard at all times.

Glass jars of beans on a wooden shelf Photo: revac film's & photography

I’m sure by now we’ve all experienced the weight of the rapidly increasing inflation that’s heavily plaguing nearly every aspect of our lives. Whether it's housing, tuition, phone bills, or groceries, the cost of living is only increasing, and it's incredibly overwhelming. But in times of desperation, we need to get thrifty—and food shopping is no exception. So, here are a few of my cheap pantry staples that can help bulk up meals or just provide some much-needed comfort, without the fear of spoiling.


Canned foods

Now I know that canned foods are not a revolutionary idea, but it wasn’t until I started buying groceries for myself that I realized how financially savvy a cupboard full of canned goods can be. They range from sweet to savoury, protein-filled to just an item of pure convenience.

Legumes: As a vegetarian it can be difficult and costly to make sure I get all my nutrients, but cans of chickpeas, lentils, or beans offer a cheap and fulfilling way to keep me going. High in protein, iron, and fibre, legumes can be turned into pasta sauces, stir-frys, chilis, etc., and make for a filling and nutritious meal.

PRO TIP: Mixing canned lentils with canned or jarred pasta sauce (which starts at $0.79) bulks up your meal and will keep you fuller for longer!

Fruit: After making my rounds at the grocery store, I’ve concluded that fruit is one of the most expensive items. And, like many things, I want it more because I know it's not in my budget. This conundrum has led me to canned fruit, the distant cousin to the fresh and healthy item of my affection. Honestly, it's not as healthy as the real thing, but for less than $2 it does the trick.

P.S. If you want to treat yourself to fresh fruit, find out what’s in season. Like mixing lentils with pasta sauce, buying the produce that's in season is going to make the most out of your money (and it’s going to taste way better if it’s local).


Instant mashed potatoes

I can’t believe it has taken me three years of university to find the gold that is instant mashed potatoes. They’re a dried, non-perishable item that—once cooked—makes at least three meals and can last in the fridge for over a week. Not only do they take less than two minutes to make, but if you buy the right ones (“Idahoan” is my favourite) they’re also residence-approved as all they require is a kettle. Walmart often has deals on them—including 4-packs for $6—making them a staple for each of my grocery orders.

You don’t even need butter, salt, or milk!


Pasta and rice

As much as I regret to admit it, I hate cooking. The thought of whipping up dinner from scratch after a long class knowing I still have homework and dishes to do immediately demotivates any chef-like inspirations I may have. That’s why keeping my pantry stocked full of pasta and instant rice is my biggest lifesaver. Boxes (or bags) of pasta start at $0.90 and make at least three meals, depending on how hungry I am. As for rice, a regular-size box of minute rice costs around $5 and lasts me about a month. 


Seasoning packages

These have been a lifesaver for quick meals that don't break the bank. Rather than buy individual seasonings or sauces, you can buy pre-mixed seasoning pouches for whatever meal you want to make. Chilli? Got it. Stir Fry? Check. Tacos? Absolutely. For less $2? It can’t get much better than that.