Grab this FREE Printable Pantry Staples Checklist to reduce your grocery bill. Plus, learn why you should keep these items in the house and on hand for cooking and baking, and how long food lasts in the pantry.
One of the biggest budget line items for any family is food. Whether you’re feeding a family of 4 or 14, for most families the biggest struggle when it comes to maintaining a budget has a lot to do with what you have to buy at the grocery store.
I am a huge believer in the power of pantry staples. When I have a list of the items our family uses the most, as well as the pantry staples that allow us to reuse leftovers easily, it means we are spending less at the grocery store each week! I feed our family of 4 for under $350 each month!
Why Pantry Staples Are Important
At their most basic, pantry staples are the essential food items you need for cooking most of the recipes your family loves.
Keeping pantry staples stocked means that you’re having to go to the grocery store less. When you’re having a tight budget week or in case of an emergency, having these items in the house also means you don’t have to stress about not having anything to cook.
I like to keep track of these items, because it’s what I create meal plans from. Each week I take an inventory of the pantry, spice cabinet, fridge and freezer, and make the shopping list and menu for the week based on what we have first.
Knowing what items to keep stocked in the house also means that you can be more intentional about only buying the items you DO go to the grocery for when they’re on sale (not including the essentials your family needs each week). This makes a huge impact on how much you’re spending!
Be sure to scroll until the bottom of this post to download your FREE Printable Pantry Staples Checklist too!
Note: Some links may be affiliate links. That means I may make a commission if you use my links to purchase, at no extra added cost to you! I only recommend products that I personally love and believe in. Full disclaimer here.
Are Pantry Meals Unhealthy?
There’s a common misconception that pantry meals are unhealthy, because people picture pasta and frozen food. However, that doesn’t have to be the case!
While our family loves pasta and grains, we utilize them mostly with fresh fruits and veggies we snag at the store on sale. We also incorporate many of the dry items from our pantry as part of repurposing leftovers. It makes a big difference when I can take the roast chicken we made one night and incorporate it into enchiladas the next, or stir fry bowls the night after that!
Keep in mind that you can also use frozen or canned vegetables when you don’t have access to fresh ones (or can’t afford them). Did you know that frozen vegetables actually have the same nutritional content as fresh ones? This is because most of them are frozen at the peak of freshness. I love to grab frozen onions, spinach, corn and more on sale, and be able to add in veggies into meals whenever I want to grab them out of the freezer.
I work to purchase our pantry staples on sale, which means for us it works to grab them at any grocery store. If you have a membership, it’s even more affordable to grab many pantry essentials (like rice, pasta and beans) at places like Costco or Sam’s Club.
Many of the items I buy in bulk are part of the free printable pantry staples checklist that I can up with to help you save more money on your grocery bill, too!
How to Make Pantry Staple Meals
Utilizing pantry staples and making our menu for the week around those is the #1 way that I drastically cut our grocery bill. It doesn’t have to be tough! Here are a few tips:
- Always use items on hand
- Include leftovers
- Use things that will expire first (like eggs, cheese, raw meat etc)
- If you’re utilizing frozen meat, use the meat that was frozen earliest.
When it comes to creating meals from our pantry staples, here are the steps I take:
- Look at the fridge first. What needs to be eaten right away? What items are closest to their expiration date? Take an inventory of the raw and cooked meat, cheese, veggies and fruit.
- Head to the pantry next. What do you already have in the pantry that can be combined with the items you just identified in your fridge? Pasta, beans and rice are always a great base, and chicken stock can be used to make most leftover meat and veggies into soup in a pinch! Be sure to also take a look at any sauces you have in there too, especially for repurposing leftovers.
- Look in the freezer last. If you need to take out a meat or veggie, I recommend using the items that have been frozen the longest first. This is because freezing food doesn’t mean it lasts forever, and sometimes it’s easy to forget you put things in there.
- Seasonings go far! Even the simplest of foods can come together with the right seasoning mix. Add extra flavor by incorporating garlic, jalapeños or a special sauce.
Here are a few of my family’s favorite recipes that we make all of the time using our pantry staples! I used some of these recipes to build the free printable pantry staples checklist at the end of this blog post, too.
How Long Do Pantry and Fridge Staples Last?
I know this is an area where a lot people struggle, since items all last for differing amounts of times.
Did you know that most foods are actually good after the expiration date on their package? Of course it truly varies from food to food, such as when they were frozen, packaged etc. For many foods, the date printed on the package is actually the “best by” date, not the date that the food becomes bad.
According to Consumer Reports, “With the exception of baby formula, there are no federal regulations on date labeling. Often the “best if used by,” “sell by,” and “use by” designations are just a manufacturer’s best guess about how long their food will taste its freshest. Supermarkets may also use the dates as a guide when stocking shelves.”
Here is a general breakdown of how long different pantry staples are good for after the date.
Beans (3-5 years)
Canned fruit (1-2 years)
Canned chicken (3-5 years)
Canned veggies (1-2 years)
Chicken broth (1 year beyond printed date)
Olives (1 year)
Pasta sauce (1 year unopened)
Shelf stable milk (2-4 weeks after expiration date)
Tomatoes: (18-24 months)
Butter (6-9 months)
Cheese block (1-2 months)
Cheese slices (1 month)
Shredded cheese (1 week after best by date)
Milk (5-7 days after expiration date)
Sour cream (3 weeks)
Yogurts (opened 1 week, unopened 1-2 weeks after expiration date)
Breadcrumbs (8-10 months)
Cornmeal (1 year)
Dry Pasta (1-2 years after best by date)
Oats (1-2 years)
Potato flakes (10-15 years)
Rice (indefinite shelf life if kept in a cool, dry place)
Fruits & Veggies
Apples (3 weeks in fridge)
Citrus fruit (1-2 weeks in fridge)
Frozen fruits & veggies (8-10 months)
Garlic (3-5 months)
Carrots (3-4 weeks in fridge)
Onions (2-3 months in fridge)
Peaches, pears, plums (3-4 days in fridge)
Potatoes (2-3 months in cool, dark place)
Bread (3-6 months in freezer)
Cheese (6 months)
Ground beef (best within 4 months)
Chicken (9 months raw, cooked chicken 2-6 months)
Milk (3 months)
Baking powder (9-12 months)
Baking soda (2 years unopened, 6 months opened)
Brown sugar (2 years)
Cocoa powder (2-3 years)
Chocolate chips (2 years)
Cream of tartar (6 months)
Flour (1 year at room temp)
Honey (2 years)
Pancake mix (opened for 1 year)
Powdered sugar (2 years but technically forever)
Maple or agave syrup (2 years)
Olive oil (2 years)
Sugar (2 years but technically forever)
Vanilla extract (5 years)
Vegetable oil (6 months)
Yeast (2-4 months past expiration date if unopened, 4-6 months in fridge once opened)
Spices & Sauces
Bay leaves (1-3 years)
BBQ sauce (opened in the fridge for 6 months, unopened in the pantry for 1 year)
Mayonnaise (opened in the fridge for 2 months, unopened in the pantry for 3 months past date)
Most dry seasonings (2-4 years)
Mustard (opened in the fridge for 1 year, unopened in the pantry for up to 2 years)
Soy sauce (2 years in fridge)
Misc. Pantry Items
Cereal (6-8 months after expiration date if unopened)
Chickpeas (dried lasts for 2-3 years)
Crackers (6-9 months)
Dried fruit (1 year)
Granola bars (6-8 months)
Nuts and seeds (6 months in fridge or 1 year in freezer)
Nut butters (1 year)
Free Printable Pantry Staples Checklist
This list of pantry essentials is based on the items our family uses the most to keep our grocery bill low. Your family might hate some of the things on this list, and that’s ok! Feel free to cross out ones that don’t fit your needs, and add ones that do! This free printable pantry staples checklist is designed to help you have a better idea of what items to keep stocked in your own home.
This pantry essentials checklist is yours to use however you would like for personal use! Print it out, hang it in the pantry, keep a list on your phone, whatever you like!
I hope this list of pantry essentials was helpful for you. Being more strategic about grocery purchases and learning to utilize inexpensive staples, like the ones on this list, can truly make a difference!