Stock a Natural Food Pantry for Less

By Sarah Winfrey on 13 November 2009 (Updated 17 November 2009) 16 comments

Most people are under the impression that, while eating natural is healthier, it's also more expensive. And I'll grant that, sometimes, this is true. However, part of eating naturally is having natural food on hand, and this is where you can save money.

While having processed food on hand for snacks and recipes will cost you more (because you pay for the preparation), having natural ingredients is often cheaper simply because they aren't prepared. Read on for tips on what these cheaper items are, where to get the best deals, and why you might want to find them.

There are three places that I've found great deals on natural staples.

Bulk bins at local natural food stores

While much of what you'll find in these stores is more expensive than the regular supermarket, the bulk bins often offer good deals.

Big box stores

Big box stores also offer great deals on large quantities of ingredients that are more popular. If you'll use all the food before it goes bad, shopping like this can save you a lot of money.

Regular supermarkets and grocery stores

Many regular supermarkets and grocery stores have started offering unprocessed, natural foods. Look for them in large bags that cost less than similar processed food. You may have to look at the top and the bottom of the shelves to find these, as they'll want to sell you the more expensive food.

Here are some tips on how to buy and use some of the staples.

Legumes

Dried Beans

Because they're dried, a pound of these beans will feed quite a few people for one meal, or provide quite a few meals for just a few people. Beans pack quite the punch when it comes to fiber and protein, and some of them have a lot of iron, too. Be sure to keep a few kinds of beans on hand, as some of them have different nutritional offerings. In addition, different beans have different tastes and textures, so you'll want to keep more than one type on hand.

Lentils and Split Peas

Used in everything from soups to curries and great as fillers even in things like pasta sauce, these are definitely worth keeping on hand. While they might seem small and insignificant, lentils and split peas both contain a lot of protein, as well as being well up there on the soluble fiber scale. Small they might be, but they pack a nutritional punch that's worth more than their weight in gold.

Grains

Wild and Brown Rice

Brown rice is a great substitute for white rice. It doesn't have that same sticky texture, but its slightly sweet, nutty taste and the little bit of crunch it provides will only add to your rice dishes.

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Wild rice, while not actually rice, can pretty much function as such when you need it to. In addition to the nutritional benefits it offers, like being high in protein, folic acid and B vitamins, it also adds a fragrance and a splash of color contrast to any dish you use it in.

Barley

Barley is a seriously underutilized grain. Pearled barley will cook faster, as it has the outer casing of the barley softened slightly. It won't lose that much nutritionally, though, so if you need something that cooks quickly, this is the grain for you. On the other hand, slow cooked whole barley has a crunch that nothing else can quite replicate. Barley is great in soups and pilafs, or wherever you might normally use rice. It functions well as a thickener, and also tends to absorb the flavors around it.

Oats

You can get oats in all sorts of varieties, though the old-fashioned rolled ones will cost you the least. They're great by themselves, as a hot breakfast cereal, but also function well to add texture to breads, cookies, even cakes and brownies. Oat flour is also available, though it will usually cost you more than regular flour. It can be used in a variety of recipes.

Others

Nuts

Make sure not to buy more nuts than you need, because they go rancid fairly quickly. Each kind of nut is slightly different, so it's worth keeping several on hand, or even a mixture. They can be eaten alone, added to soups and salads, toasted, even put on ice cream. The healthy fat they contain can go far both towards filling you up and helping you eat healthy.

 

This article was included in the Make It From Scratch Carnival.

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Guest's picture
Lauren McCormick

This is great. Now if you can tell me how to stock a gluten-free/dairy free pantry cheap, that would be a keeper! Thanks for the info....

Guest's picture
Lauren McCormick

This is great. Now if you can tell me how to stock a gluten-free/dairy free pantry cheap, that would be a keeper! Thanks for the info....

Guest's picture
Guest

I do buy nuts in bulk when they're on sale. If they aren't already in an airtight package, I use my vacuum sealer to seal them up (in bags or canning jars) and then I freeze them. I've never had any problem with it. They taste great, and the texture is unchanged.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Lauren--Hmm....that would be an interesting topic. If I get the chance, I'll see what I can find.

Guest--The vacuum sealer sounds like a great idea. I'm assuming it comes in handy for quite a lot of things.

Guest's picture
A

Just bought the gluten-free grocery shopping guide and have found it very helpful. I try to buy whatever I can at Aldi for the cheapest prices, but even my local supermarket is carrying more and more GF at reasonable prices. Our local health food store is very good, but a bit more expensive. Main thing for me with GF is that the prepared foods are expensive, and sometimes I just don't have time to prepare all my own meals. It is getting easier, though, as GF awareness improves. Hang in there, Lauren, and keep looking around at the options you have now--things may be getting better.

Guest's picture
Billy

I have a friend who freezes nuts after she buys them in bulk (she's like a mother to me) and she always offers me some when I see her. They always seem to be fresh in her zip lock bags.

Thanks for this great article - I love to eat healthy and am always looking for ways to save money while doing so and this article taught me things about barley I never learned.

Guest's picture
Kristina

As nut growers, of course we eat tons of nuts -- nut loaf, waldorf salad, cookies, walnut pie -- if you can put a walnut or almond in it, we eat it. Every year, we freeze probably 60 pounds of each in gallon zip-locs and never have any problems, except when the occasional bag breaks. Makes the dog happy, though...

I love the bulk bins at both our local supermarket and health food store. I have had problems with bringing home moths, though, so bags of bulk foods also get popped into the freezer for a day or so to kill any extra protein living in there.

Anytime you cook from scratch, you are going to save money. Bulking up your meals with inexpensive, tasty, and nutritious ingredients like beans and rice can really help, too. I grow a lot of my own veggies and tons of herbs, which is not any harder than growing houseplants.

Guest's picture
Guest

Not sure if it's exactly a money saver, but I'd personally put quinoa on the list of amazing, multifaceted bulk nutrients.

Guest's picture
J.

You could consider Quinoa a money-saver, because it's a complete protein and a good source of calcium and iron, yet cheaper than most animal sources of protein and minerals.

Of course, as with many food items, the question of whether it will save you money depends on how you use it.

Guest's picture
Jon

Well done, our cupboards look pretty similar. You ever try Quinoa? When I lived in Peru for six months, I had it for breakfast as a drink and for lunch/dinner as a grain with meat. Incredible! Additionally it's the only complete protein source for a grain that I know of (as opposed to brown rice, where you have to eat it with beans). Anyway I digress, keep up the great work!

Guest's picture
Rebekah

This looks like my pantry.

I've got dozens of food allergies and avoiding preservatives/additives helps. Some ingredients ARE more expensive--like dried blueberries--but you just adjust your meal plan.

Amaranth is also good. It doesn't pack quite as many nutrients as quinoa, but it does contain many essential amino acids.

Guest's picture
Genevieve

You have some good points on how to stock a pantry for less. But, many of us can totally stock our pantry just like that but have no idea what to do with the food after that. People on-the-go or people working 3 jobs don't have time to cook and some don't even know how to cook. If you're addicted to highly processed, cheap food then you will have a hard time switching to beans, barley and oats. I'd like to see a post on HOW to eat healthy when you're on-the-go AND on a budget.

Guest's picture

Great list. Here are some more food you can store in pantry without much burden on your pocket http://www.mewithoutdebt.com/2009/10/eating-what-i-have.html

Guest's picture
Howdy

Exactly what do you mean by "natural"? Do you mean raw,organic, unprocessed (to what degree), stuff you can find only in the produce sections, dried goods?

I find that I really don't like legumes, grains and others in general, unprocessed, preprocessed or otherwise. I have to ask, are you really using nuts in such volumes you need to "stock" them? Do you buy that volume of dry good for the sake of them being "dry". Or do you/have you always enjoyed them?

Clearly, you are a great cook and love to spend time in the kitchen and enjoy the collection of said goods. But what about the rest of us who don't care for this type of fare and hate the insane amount of cooking and preparation.

Any suggestions for getting deals on those "other" types of "unnatural" food you could share with us?

And just to change the topic, what are your guilty pleasures (food wise, of course) that your thrifty/cost conscious circle of acquaintances would gasp at if they knew you were partaking?

Thanks for the informative article.

Guest's picture
J.

"It doesn't have that same sticky texture, but its slightly sweet, nutty taste and the little bit of crunch it provides will only add to your rice dishes."

I used to think brown rice was crunchy. It turned out I was undercooking it. Try using a full 2:1 ratio of water:brown rice, and cooking on a low flame for 45 min or until the water is absorbed and the grains have split open. Then turn off the flame and leave covered for 15 min to steam and become nice and fluffy. I think you will find your brown rice much more enjoyable this way, as well as more digestible. And kids will accept it much more readily without all that heavy chewing.

Guest's picture
Guest

Another great staple to have in our pantries is quinoa.

As equally nutritious as lentils because they provide a complete protein, one serving of quinoa provides all the essential amino acids our bodies need.

This grain-like seed is very healthy and also worth the investment.

It can run anywhere from $3.99 to $8.99 per pound, depending upon the store. Now some people may think that seems to be expensive but you consider that just one fast food meal can easily cost upwards of $10 or more, it starts to become clear just how economical even quinoa can be.

1/4 Cup Dry Quinoa = 1 Serving

1 Pound of Dry Quinoa typically yields about 10 servings (or 10 meals).

So for less than the price of one fast food meal, I can get 10 meals out of a one pound bag of quinoa---Not bad in my opinion.