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A stocked pantry pays off

"Feed your family on $10 a day!"

"All this for just $2 a serving!"

"Eat like royalty for pennies!"

Lately, these promising headlines are everywhere, from magazines to newspapers to Internet blogs. Even TV has gotten into the act, with the morning chatfests featuring budget cooking from celebrity chefs and food-minded thrifty souls. No doubt, tough times are pinching the food budget.

What these headlines don't tell you is that you need a stocked pantry to achieve savings, unless you know where to buy two eggs, a cup of chicken broth and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

Yes, you have to spend money to save money.

For $100, you can stock your pantry with workhorse ingredients that will help you make a variety of dishes. Pick up $25 worth of staples at each weekly grocery trip to start building your larder.

The price of pantry staples is amortized, and that's how savings are achieved. You may spend $3 for a container of dried Italian herbs, but the contents can be used in 10 dishes for just 30 cents a teaspoon. Divide that 30 cents by six servings and you are talking about pennies. It's a good investment because Italian herbs can be used many ways.

Another example: A simple recipe for Baked Lemon Chicken in the Taste of Home Cookbook calls for butter, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. If you have to buy everything at once, the initial outlay is about $17.

A cook with a moderately stocked pantry likely has everything but the chicken, plus rice and a can of stewed tomatoes or corn to serve as a side dish. That means the immediate cost of the dish is $9 for the chicken. (It could be even cheaper if you use thighs rather than pricey boneless, skinless breasts.)

Yes, you have to spend money, but by building your pantry step by step, you make it easier to make interesting meals. Why do it at all? Because over time, it is simply cheaper to cook at home than to pick up takeout or eat at a sit-down restaurant, where you'll need to leave a tip on top of the cost of the meal.

The list on Page 1E is $100 worth of pantry items with suggestions for ways they can be used. Watch grocery store sales and stock up on buy-one-get-one-free deals of products you use. Clip coupons, buy store brands and purchase in larger quantities if you have the storage space.

Keep a shopping list handy to write down items as you get low or use them up. For this story, we didn't include these basics that most people have on hand: favorite condiments, such as mustard, ketchup and mayo; salt and pepper; bread, butter, sugar, flour and milk. And your favorite salad dressings.

A tip on buying spices and herbs: Natural food stores often sell them in bulk. You can buy just a tablespoon or two, which is a good idea for infrequently used spices or for trying something for the first time.

The pantry we are building today will help you make dishes like the previously mentioned Lemon Baked Chicken; a simple roasted red pepper sauce that can be used for pasta, grilled fish or as a dip; and a crowd-pleasing Chicken and Biscuits Casserole. If you are planning on doing a lot of baking, you'll need more items.

Prices are from a St. Petersburg Publix on a recent Sunday; some items were on sale, which is what you'll find when you shop, too. We went for store brands when available and the less expensive brands when they were not.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter, too (@keelerstircrazy). Her recipe blog, Stir Crazy, can be found at

ItemPriceUse it for . . .
Dozen large eggs$1.49Breakfast dishes, quiches, baked goods, egg salad, hard-boiled eggs for salads
8-ounce wedge of Parmesan cheese$4.69Salads and pasta dishes
1-pound block of

cheddar cheese
$4.49Mexican dishes, omelets, salads,

Horseradish$2.59Dressings, dips, sauces
Green olives$2.59Salads and sauces
Black olives $1.25Salads and sauces
Capers$2.39Piccata dishes, tuna salad, dips
Sour cream89 centsCasseroles and sauces
Cream cheese99 centsDips, baked appetizers, spreads

$1.59Casseroles and breakfast dishes
Soy sauce$2.19Asian dishes and marinades
Hot sauce$1.59Egg dishes, soups, Mexican dishes, salsas and dips

ItemPriceUse it for . . .
Olive oil$4.49Sauteing and grilling, salad dressings, vegetables dishes
Vegetable oil$2.49Sauteing, baking, grilling, salad dressings
Chicken broth2 for $4Soup, stews, pasta sauces
White and red wine

$1.50 eachSalad dressings and

Barbecue sauce$3.50Grilling, sauces
3 1-pound boxes various pasta $1.27 eachItalian dishes, casseroles, soups, salads, side dishes
2 pounds rice$1.99Soups, stews, casseroles, side dishes
Spaghetti sauce$1.49Pasta dishes, meatball subs, baked casseroles
Salsa$2.70Dips, salads, spread,

Mexican dishes
2 cans diced tomatoes$1.49 eachSauces, soups, stews,

Tube of tomato paste$2.15Sauces, chili, soups, stews, casseroles
Italian dried herbs$2.79Soups, stews, casseroles, omelets, pizza, salad dressings, marinades
Lemon-pepper seasoning$2.79Grilled meats, seafood and poultry
4 cans various beans (black beans, kidney, chickpeas, Northern beans)90 cents eachSoups, salads, chili, dips, Mexican dishes, casseroles
Fine bread crumbs$1.79Casseroles, meat loaf, coating for fried/sauteed food
2 cans creamed condensed soup2 for $3Casseroles and sauces
Roasted red peppers$2.29Salads, sauces, soups, antipasti platters, sandwiches
Tuna$5.99, 4 cansSalad, sandwiches,


ItemPriceUse it for . . .
1 head of fresh garlic37 centsItalian dishes, stir-fries,

marinades, salad dressings
1 pound of onions99 centsSoups, stews, casseroles, meat loaf, stir-fries, just about everything
1 pound of baking potatoes (russets)$3.99All sorts of side dishes plus casseroles
Lemons or lemon juice$1 for 3Marinades, salad dressings, drinks, baked goods, dips

ItemPriceUse it for . . .
Corn and flour tortillas$2.50 per packageTacos, quesadillas, burritos, wraps, flatbread pizzas
Pie crusts$2.59 for 2Quiches or pies
Bag of frozen peas99 centsPasta, soups, casseroles
2 boxes frozen spinach99 cents eachPasta, quiches, casseroles, soups


Baked Lemon Chicken

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In a shallow bowl, combine the butter, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Place bread crumbs in another bowl.

Dip chicken in butter mixture, then coat with crumbs. Place in a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Drizzle with the remaining butter mixture.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until juices run clear.

Serves 4.

Source: Taste of Home Cookbook (Reiman Media Group, 2008)


Chicken and Biscuits Casserole

2 cans condensed creamy chicken mushroom soup

1/2 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 cups frozen broccoli, carrots and cauliflower, rinsed and drained

2 cups cubed cooked chicken or turkey

1 can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In 2-quart saucepan, stir together soup, milk, Italian seasoning and pepper. Stir in vegetables and chicken. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture just begins to boil. Reduce heat; cook 3 to 4 minutes longer. Pour into ungreased 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish.

Cut biscuits in quarters and place around outside edges of baking dish over hot chicken mixture. Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown and baked through.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: Pillsbury


Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

2 jars store-bought roasted red peppers

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, or to taste

Cayenne, to taste


Salt and pepper, to taste

In a blender blend together the bell peppers, oil, lemon juice, vinegar, cayenne, 1 tablespoon water, and salt and black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 cup.

Source: Food Network

A stocked pantry pays off 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 7:25am]
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