An image of a pantry shelf. Items like beans, nuts, lentils, rice, and pasta are stored in glass jars.

Shopping your own pantry can be a way to save on your grocery budget. So many pantry staples have multiples uses, and it is easy to forget their versatility. We bring you ideas on ways to use those often overlooked extras and already in the cupboard.

It's not always easy coming up with meals on a tight budget. If you find yourself eating the same meals over and over again, here are some pantry recipes to "shop your pantry" and creatively cook on a budget. By using what you already have, and keeping recipes simple, you can save money and eliminate food waste. Cheap meal ideas can be simple, and we have resources at the end of the article to help you further.

Beans

  • Use in salads
  • Add to pasta
  • Cook in stir-fries
  • Make into dips
  • Add to soups

Canned beans or pulses – come in so many varieties, for example, kidney, black, or chickpeas. Canned beans don’t need overnight soaking, so make for an easy weeknight dinner addition. Dried beans can be a cheaper alternative.

Bake tinned butterbeans with basil and tomato sauce or a tin of whole peeled tomatoes. Serve with crumbled feta as a savoury breakfast or lunch. Add a slice of bread or sourdough, spread with avocado to make it go further.

Bread

  • Bread and butter pudding helps use up stale bread, or make it into croutons or toasties.
  • Soldiers with egg
  • Cob loaves with a dip or filling
  • French toast
  • Cinnamon toast
  • Make into breadcrumbs and freeze for later.

Chia seeds 

A good source of fibre. (Avoid these if you have difficulty swallowing)

  • Add to smoothies
  • To make into puddings, soak overnight in the fridge, with milk, a drop of vanilla essence and dash of cinnamon. Even better if you have smoothie left-over to add on top of the pudding. These can double as a breakfast food.
  • Add to muesli or granola
  • Sprinkle over your cereal
  • Add to yoghurt

Chickpeas

  • Add to soups
  • Add to stews
  • Make falafel
  • Make hummus

    wooden bowl overflowing with chickpeas topped with parsley


Couscous

  • As a side with casseroles or stew
  • In stuffing (pearl couscous in roasted capsicums for example)
  • Add to fritters or savoury pancakes.

We love ours in a salad, served with roasted vegetables. Add a little butter to the hot water when soaking to create a fluffier couscous.

Eggs

  • Fried
  • Hard or soft boiled
  • Poached
  • Scrambled
  • Baked
  • Omelette
  • Frittata
  • On toast
  • Curried and in a sandwich
  • If you have flour, butter, fresh vegetables and eggs, you can also make vegetable fritters. (Fresh zucchini and a tin of creamed corn work well)

Herbs and Spices

Change up your go-to recipes with herbs and spices. Mash potato? Add a little mustard (dijon or wholegrain) for a flavour kick. Transform a simple salad can from bland to tasty with the addition of fresh herbs from the garden. If you have a windowsill, chances are you can grow herbs like mint, chives, rosemary, basil, parsley and thyme.

Make a flavoured salt rub with the addition of herbs (rub on your meat, sprinkle over salad)

  • Rosemary sprigs, sea salt, a little pepper. No need to dry the rosemary. Just add a few sprigs to 1 cup of sea salt, a dash of pepper and done.
  • 1 cup Sea Salt, 1 Chilli and Zest of 2 citrus fruit (Cut the citrus and chilli  into slices and dry in the oven at 140 degrees C for 20 minutes)

Glass jars with herbs like chilli, fennel seeds, pepper, on a grey background

Lentils

Cheap and cheerful, add these to soups, casseroles and even bolognese. Lentils are high in protein and fibre. Add French-style lentils or Beluga (that hold their shape) to salads or make into tapenade.

Lentil Burgers – cook 1 cup of lentils. In a food processor, add your choice of ground spices, (for example 1 tsp each of cumin, garam masala and coriander) a can of chickpeas, an egg and breadcrumbs. Add some parsley for freshness if you have it on hand. Shape into patties, dust with a little plain flour and cook on a bbq grill or flat plate for 3 – 4 minutes each side. Serve with greek yoghurt or tzatziki.

Oats

Add to smoothies, make ANZAC biscuits, make into muesli or granola. My mother used to add it to crumble topping for Apple Crumble.

Porridge toppings

  • Mixed berries
  • Sliced apple, brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon
  • Sultanas, sliced apple and honey
  • Sliced dates and a drizzle of golden syrup
  • Tinned plums and honey
  • Sliced banana with a drizzle of honey
  • Sliced almonds with a drizzle of golden syrup or maple syrup
  • Grated apple, chopped almonds, and maple syrup

Pasta

More than bolognese and macaroni tuna, we tend to keep cooking the same recipes and forget that pasta is a versatile ingredient.

  • Salad (for example, with cherry tomato, mozzarella cheese, a dash of oil, red wine vinegar, olives and basil.)
  • Added to soups
  • In frittata
  • In fritters
  • Use in a pasta bake. These are easy one-dish dinners. Throw in vegetables, cooked pasta, use pasta sauce or tinned soup, top with grated cheese, and bake in the oven at 180 degrees C for around 20 mins.

Farfalle fan shaped pasta which is spilling out of a glass jar resting sideways.

Popcorn

We usually have a pack hiding in the back of the pantry, forgotten—a quick snack for hungry kids.

Quinoa

Porridge, salad, stews, baked into muffins, ANZAC style biscuits, or pilaf, quinoa is a handy inclusion.

Rice

Savoury or sweet, rice is a great budget staple.

  • Fried rice
  • Boiled
  • Added to soups
  • In casseroles or on the side,
  • In a stir-fry or mince dishes – for example, chop suey,
  • Risotto
  • Pilaf
  • Nasi Goreng
  • Biryani
  • Kedgeree

Sweet dessert

  • Rice pudding
  • Creamed rice (short grain)

Version 1 Creamed rice

Add whipped cream to cooked cold rice, put some drained peaches on top. Heat a little raspberry jam and drizzle over the top.

Version 2 Creamed rice

Add whipped cream to cooked cold rice, fold in drained pineapple. Sprinkle with toasted coconut flakes.

Yoghurt

If you consume yoghurt regularly, a yoghurt maker and sachets can be worth considering.

Turn plain Greek yoghurt into Labneh (also called Labna) yoghurt-cheese. A type of soft, spreadable cheese with a slightly sour taste. Roll into balls as a savoury cheese. Labneh is lovely as a spread on bread with olives. Add a little honey to it and serve on a platter with any summer fruits, E.g. figs, apricots, peaches.

Weet-Bix

I always enjoy my weet-bix as a breakfast cereal with a little yoghurt, fruit, and milk. Given weet-bix is always in my pantry, and I know there are plenty of other uses, I went straight to the source for inspiration. Sanitarium has more weet-bix recipes than you can imagine. Imagine it in sweet and savoury, breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner dishes. In frittata, pikelets, fritters, muffins, or served hot with banana and peanut butter, not to mention Breakfast Crumbles. The suggestions make my morning ritual seem very bland indeed.

Image of whole grain wheat biscuits cereal. Two are placed in a bowl that is clue and white, a spoon rests beside the, The tablecloth is tan colour. 

Substitutes or versatile variations

Tortillas 

Of course, you can use them with enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and as wraps.

Tortillas also make fabulous pizza bases. Or, you can cut them into triangles and crisp them in the oven for 10 minutes, so they become a little like a nacho chip.

Warm them in the oven a few minutes until soft, then shape into muffin trays. Add beaten eggs, herb and cooked or frozen vegetables, and you have a simple quiche-like lunch.

Ditto pita pockets, fill them like a kebab.

 

Tinned Soups

For those times where you need more than a tin of soup to fill the belly, turn it into a heartier meal with these suggestions.

Tomato – lovely poured over meatballs and baked in the oven.

One of our family’s budget dished growing up was, boiled sausages cut into chunks, with cooked macaroni, both stirred through tomato soup.

Cream of Asparagus – add diced onion, tinned soup, can of tuna, 250g cooked pasta and grated cheese. (add in frozen or fresh vegetables if you like to make a one-pot dish). Cook the pasta first. Add vegetables, soup, pasta to a large baking dish and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake 20 minutes in a 180-degree Celcius oven, until golden brown.

 

portion of tomato soup with meatballs picture. Basil sprinkled in the soup.

General Tips

Many pantry staples will have recipe suggestions on the packaging or go to their company website to search recipes online.

Breaking buys into the sizes you consume, and freezing the rest helps save on perishable foods with short term use-by dates.

Freeze – left-over pesto, lemon juice, tomato paste, pizza sauce – these kinds of things will freeze in ice cube trays for future use.

 

Useful resources

4 ingredients

All about simple recipe ideas to save you time and money. Recipes made with 4 or even fewer ingredients, explained in an average of 4 sentences with easy to find ingredients. You can search through many recipes on the website, or you can pick up a second-hand copy of the cookbooks without too much hard work.

Simple Savings

Years ago, I had some colleagues tell me about the $21 Challenge. The $21 Challenge focusses on savings. The average Australian household of 4 people spends $320 per week on food. For 1 week, you try as hard as possible to stay out of the shops. Instead of doing your usual supermarket shop, you use what is already in your cupboard, pantry, garden and freezer to stay within your $21 budget. A “grocery slashing marathon”. The site has printable resources for stocktaking and menu planning. There is a Facebook group to join, and the resources on the site are worth checking out.

School Lunchbox 

On Instagram. We apologise in advance for the Dad jokes. This Dad makes lunches (and the odd breakfast) simply cool. Not necessarily budget ideas, but in his book “Lunchbox Express” he does have a $50 shopping list that covers 2 children’s lunches for one week. They are healthy lunches and packed full of fruit and veg. It works out at $5 a child per lunch. Shop around, and you can probably cut the cost.

Taste 

Pantry recipes with less than 10 ingredients, using pantry staples. Includes substitutions.


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