Taking stock and stocking up: Pantry basics for saving money

October 2009 Posted in Food & Drink

By Kathy Cook Hunter

Cooking from scratch and saving money while you’re at it requires forethought and a kitchen cupboard stocked with the makings of healthy meals. Here’s a list of basic dry and canned foods people often reach for when cooking at home. The list was made with a Twenty Something just starting his/her home in mind – or for anyone who’s decided to save money in the kitchen.

Begin with a thrifty attitude. Shop for on-sale items, consider buying in bulk at warehouse and discount stores, and use food coupons when possible. Stay away from convenience foods, which are usually expensive and full of preservatives.

Purchase a basic cookbook or, if you prefer, search for simple recipes online. Organize or reorganize your kitchen shelves with canned goods, dry goods and boxes.

One expert suggests writing the date on the can, box or bag to track its age. Place your newest purchases in the back.

Buy for your pantry what you like and will eat, aiming for variety and healthful eating. Don’t neglect fresh fruits and vegetables. Remember that a few packages of frozen vegetables in your freezer are more nutritious than canned vegetables.

Basic pantry essentials

Canned goods: Chicken, beef and vegetable broths; canned tomatoes (whole, diced, crushed) including paste and sauce; canned meats and fish such as tuna, clams, salmon, chicken and turkey; vegetables such as green beans, corn and mushrooms; fruits packed in their own juice; canned beans of all types; a few cans of canned soups to add to casseroles or to heat up in a hurry; canned milks, condensed and evaporated.

Dry goods: Dry milk powder; flour, both all purpose (white) and whole wheat; pancake mix; cornstarch, baking powder and baking soda; salt; sugars, granulated and brown; cocoa; a couple of cake mixes; dry soup and gravy mixes, great for adding flavor to soups and casseroles; coffee and tea.

Pasta, rice and grains: Basic pastas, such as spaghetti, egg noodles and shell macaroni; brown or white rice dried beans and peas, lentils and pearl barley; corn meal and oatmeal.

Breads, tortillas, cereals and crackers: A couple of your favorites. Learn to make your own homemade granola.

Oils and vinegars: Vegetable, canola and extra-virgin olive oil; apple cider and white vinegars, possibly balsamic vinegar.

Spices, herbs and seasonings: Cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, whole cloves; dried basil and oregano leaves, ground coriander seed, cumin, rosemary, chili powder and red pepper flakes; garlic and onion powders; pepper, salt and a seasoning-salt mixture. (Note: These can be expensive. Buy your supply gradually at sales.)

Miscellaneous: Peanut butter; jam, jelly and honey; nuts for baking and snacks; raisins and other dried fruit, including cranberries; popcorn; flavorings such as vanilla and almond extracts; shredded or flaked coconut; pickles; bouillon cubes.

Condiments: Catsup, mustard, barbecue sauce, bottled salsa, mayonnaise, soy sauce, pancake syrup.
For more tips try Leanne Ely (savingdinner.com), Michelle Jones (betterbudgeting.com) and Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian (oregonlive.com/foodday)

The following recipes incorporate a number of items from pantry cupboard basics.

Indonesian Rice Salad

Serves 6
1 2/3 cups water
2/3 cup brown rice
1 clove garlic, minced, or 1 tsp. garlic powder
½ teaspoon grated ginger root
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 medium orange, peeled, sectioned, and cut or 1 can of mandarin oranges, drained and cut
½ cup sliced bamboo shoots or water chestnuts
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup chopped green or sweet red pepper
2 tablespoons sliced green onion

In a medium saucepan combine water, brown rice, garlic and ginger root. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer approximately 40 minutes or until rice is tender and water is absorbed. Cool.

For dressing, in a container with a lid combine orange juice, oil, lemon juice and soy sauce. Cover and shake.

In a mixing bowl combine rice mixture, orange pieces, bamboo shoots or water chestnuts, raisins, pepper and green onion. Shake dressing and pour over rice mixture. Toss to coat. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. Serve on a bed of lettuce.

Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese with Vegetables

Serves 6
1½ cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 small onion, cut into thin wedges
2 cups skim milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Cook macaroni according to package directions; omit salt. Add onion during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain well.

For sauce, in a large saucepan combine milk, cornstarch and pepper. On mediun-high heat, cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add cheese; stir until melted.

Gently stir in cooked macaroni and broccoli.

Spoon macaroni mixture into a 1- or 1½-quart baking dish. Arrange tomato slices over mixture. Bake, uncovered, in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

(Recipes adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Eating Healthy Cook Book)

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