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A Stocked Pantry Is The Key To Feeding A Family Of Four On $100.00 A Week! Part One!

Updated on July 20, 2021

Eat Well And Spend Less By Having A Pantry!

Feeding a family of four breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts for 100 dollars a week can be done. Cooking on a tight budget requires some work, but it is possible. The menus and recipes for each day will be posted, as well as a shopping list with actual prices that I paid for the sample week's meals. Budget cooking requires planning, being willing to invest some time in preparation, shopping sales (not all over town; I use 3 stores: one for produce, another for groceries and a bread outlet store.), and perhaps the most important, having a well-stocked pantry. That requires a little bit of money, but it will stretch your food budget. You don't have to do this all at once, just try picking up a few of the items I mention as they go on sale or as you need them. I have found that the items that cost the most are the spices. For example, a 5 pound bag of flour costs less than $3.00, but a small bottle of vanilla can be as much as $5.00.

Spices are very expensive, but I may have discovered a few ways around that. In California, there is usually a section in the regular grocery store that stocks Mexican food. There is an entire area of cellophane wrapped spices that are 99 cents a bag. They are printed in Spanish, but have English translations in small print underneath the Spanish. They are the same spices that are purchased in a can or bottle, they just don't have the fancy packaging or high price. Some examples are black pepper, paprika, oregano, cumin, parsley flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, etc. Sometimes the large grocery chains will have the 'Buy two, get a third free' sale on brand name spices. That is the time to buy them. Usually right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can find cheaper prices on necessary spices. The ones I always have on hand are: salt, ground black pepper, garlic salt, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, paprika, cumin, oregano, dried parsley flakes, bay leaves, almond extract, Chinese Five Spice, Old Bay, vanilla extract (real, not imitation), ground ginger and ground cloves. They all last a long time, except for the vanilla, salt, garlic salt and the two peppers I always use.

If you are a young couple and just starting out, you may not be trying to feed four people, but you will still need a pantry. If someone is going to throw you a bridal shower, ask that person to arrange it so that everyone brings one or two spices or extracts (lemon, vanilla, almond, rum, etc) that they think represent you and your soon-to be spouse! Have them put the spices on a table and take turns explaining how the spices represent each of your personalities! This can turn into a very, very funny part of your shower! Hopefully, you won't end up with 30 cans of pepper or crushed chili peppers! What a hot, fiery marriage that would portend!

The baking items I have in my pantry are 5 lbs. of flour, 5 lbs. of sugar, 2 pounds of powdered sugar, baking soda, baking powder, 2 lbs. of corn meal (purchased in the bulk bins for $1.19 per pound), corn starch, bread crumbs (homemade, recipe to follow), long grain white rice, about 4 pounds (purchased in the bulk bins at 79 cents a pound), arborio rice (about 3 cups), rolled oats, about 3 pounds (purchased in the bulk bins at 79 cents a pound), 2 pounds of brown sugar, 1 or 2 cans of Hershey's cocoa powder and at least one bottle of corn syrup. I keep most of these in airtight containers, that way they stay fresh and dry. These products are kept on the top two shelves of my pantry cupboard. With these ingredients, the spices listed below and some milk, eggs and/or butter, you will have everything you need to make homemade puddings, cookies, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, cakes, frostings and breads. Think about it! With some of the above ingredients, some vanilla, butter and milk, I can make you the most decadent chocolate cake and frosting that you will ever have! It is second to none, especially if you are a chocoholic! To see this recipe, link to:

The next shelf consists of canned goods, for the most part. I wait until canned vegetables go on sale for 59 cents each and stock up. I buy whatever brand is the cheapest. I have found that canned vegetables are not that different from house brand to name brand. The vegetables I buy in cans are used in salads for the most part. I try to keep 3 or 4 cans of the following: sliced beets, cut green beans, sweet corn, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, diced tomatoes and canned chilis. I also keep canned fruits such as peaches, pineapple, applesauce and fruit cocktail. Again, I buy the store brand with fruit, unless I can get the name brands on sale and they are cheaper. Canned soups that I try to keep in stock consist of cream of mushroom, cream of chicken and tomato soup. Last week, my grocery store had Campbell's Tomato Soup on sale 2 for a dollar. That is a great opportunity to save some money by buying quite a few. Another staple is chicken and beef broth. I like any organic broth that has reduced sodium. I am able to buy broth in a one quart box for $1.99. That is a great price and for my cooking needs, I keep 3 boxes of chicken and 1 box of beef broth.

The final two shelves are for things like pasta, Worcesteshire sauce, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, red wine vinegar, distilled white vinegar, olive oil, canola oil, mayonnaise, extra ketchup, a box of Velveeta and a large container of Parmesan cheese. I also keep a bottle of pancake syrup (you can make your own in about 30 minutes and it tastes better than any I have ever purchased!) and a few jars of store brand jams and preserves. You might be surprised to know that peach preserves or apricot preserves can be the base for a wonderful glaze to baste your chicken or pork with! Take a couple of tablespoons of both, add about a cup of orange juice and put those in with some pan juices. Let it boil for about 10 minutes and it turns into a beautiful, sweet sauce for your meats. I buy dill pickles in the largest bottle I can. I am able to get a huge bottle of Vlasic Dills for $3.99. Pickle relish or sweet pickles are also one thing I like to have handy. If you keep these items in your pantry, you will always have them and never have to pay full price because then you can wait to restock as they go on sale. I keep 3 - 4 pounds of assorted Barilla pastas. Right now, they are 99 cents a box. When mayo is on sale for $2.99, I like to get two or three jars. I am picky about my mayo and ketchup. I only buy Kraft or Best Foods mayo and I love Del Monte ketchup. I spend about $20 - $25 dollars a month restocking or adding new items to my shelves. When tuna is on sale, I buy several cans at a time. I like the white tuna and that is a little pricey, so I use a can of white tuna, mixed with a can of regular chunk tuna for tuna salad and it is awesome!

Not As Hard As It Looks!

This sounds like alot of work, but it really isn't. Most people who have been cooking for many years will agree that a stocked pantry is the key to saving money in the long run. If you have a pantry, you can make a meal when you have no meats or even cheeses in the house (an example to follow). You also have the ingredients available to make desserts. When you see that special recipe that looks really good, you may find that you actually have all of the ingredients right there. A pantry saves quite a few trips to the grocery store and that saves gas and time. A stocked pantry may be the key to maintaining the desired family food budget! 

I have said in other articles that I find it difficult to pay over $1.99 for any beef, pork or chicken. I just won't do it. The money is not in my budget. Top sirloin is my favorite cut of beef and in the past has always gone on sale for $1.99 a pound. In the last several months, things have changed. Ever since the BP oil spill, it seems that beef prices have gone up. Maybe the beef ranchers got together and figured that people would be hesitant to buy fish, so now was the time (my newest conspiracy theory) to start raising beef prices. Now, it is being advertised at $2.99 a pound, and that is supposed to be a sale price. I did find it last week for $2.49 a pound and I broke down and bought 2 nice steaks for $10.00, but that will feed at least 4 people two meals, so every once in a while is okay, I guess. I usually buy chicken breast when they go on sale for 99 cents a pound, and I buy 3 or 4 packs and divide them up. If they are not available, I will pay $1.77 a pound for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. There is no waste and if you cook it right, 2 chicken breasts can feed four people and no one will feel meat deprived. The recipes and menus I will give in parts 2 and three of this food budget experiment will show you how to do that.

I am sure you have guessed that I have a freezer, but I have had it for years and found it a necessity while I was raising a family. It still comes in handy. While it is not an absolute necessity, if you have an opportunity to buy a used one, it is a worthwhile investment. I have the room to freeze vegetables when they are in season and even blueberries and strawberries. It is November and strawberries and blueberries are not in season. I have about 10 pounds of each in my freezer and when I want them in the middle of the winter, they will be there and taste wonderful! During the summer when tomatoes are 50 cents a pound, you can blanche them and freeze them. They come in handy for soups, homemade spaghetti and pizza sauces. The same is true of corn on the cob. When they are 6 for a dollar, buy 12 ears and freeze them.

Home Made Bread Crumbs!

Before I give you the 100 dollar shopping list, I promised to tell you how to make homemade bread crumbs and a great meatless meal loved by Italians world wide. Instead, I will give you two meatless meals from your pantry. They are both quick and easy, less than 30 minutes.

I go to the Oroweat Bread and Baked Good outlets. I usually spend about $6-$8 dollars a week on bread. Sticking with my $100 shopping list and menu for the week, this is what I purchased:

  • 2 loaves of Francisco Sour Dough Bread ($2.00 each) in the grocery store this is $4.39 a loaf
  • 1 loaf of Oroweat Honey Wheatberry bread (1.99) in the grocery store $3.49
  • 1 package of 8 Oroweat Onion Hamburger buns ($1.99) in the grocery store $3.49

But because I spent over $6.00, I get another loaf of bread or muffins or pack of bagels free. My choice, and I chose Oroweat Country White. It would have cost $3.49 in the grocery store. If I spend $10.00, they will give me a free loaf of bread AND an Entemann's pastry or cake. I freeze all but what I plan to use in the next couple of days. So for $8.00, I have purchased what would have cost me $20.00 in the grocery store. $12.00 is a huge savings and just on bread!

Now for the bread crumbs: I take the Honey Wheatberry loaf and put the pieces on a cookie sheet. I bake this for approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees, making sure the bread is well toasted on both sides. I break the toasted bread into pieces and put it into my food processor with some salt, pepper, oregano and dried parsley flakes. When it is the consistency of bread crumbs, I make sure it is fully cooled and then put them in an airtight container. Choose whatever bread you like. They all make great bread crumbs! Use any leftover pieces of bread, store them in a plastic bag and at the end of the week, I make more bread crumbs. You can make croutons in a similar way. For croutons, just cut bread into 1 inch squares and toast the cubes in some garlic-infused oil. Drain them on paper towels and sprinkle them with some salt, garlic powder and maybe a little Parmesan cheese. They are really good on salad or as a topper for soup!

Lingune Aglio Olio and Linguine Alla Ceci! Easy And Cheap Pasta Dinners!

Of course these are both Italian! What do you expect from an Italian grandmother? The first is a meal that usually serves as an introduction to pasta for Italian children. It is cheap, fast and I still love it! And it comes from a stocked pantry! While these are not meals that are included in the 100 dollar menu, they are an example of what you can do with just a stocked pantry

Linguine Aglio Olio or Linguine with Garlic and Oil.

  1. 1 pound of Barilla linguine
  2. 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup of olive oil
  3. 6 - 8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  5. salt to taste
  6. 1 cup of pasta water
  7. Parmesan cheese, as desired, I use Kraft

Start your pasta pot. When it boils, add a generous amount of salt and drop your pasta. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil and add the garlic and the red pepper flakes. Saute the garlic gently, so that it doesn't burn. You really just want to infuse the garlic into the oil. When the house smells like an Italian restaurant, you can either take the garlic out with a slotted spoon or leave it in. Ladle a cup of the pasta water into a measuring cup, just in case you want a saucier pasta. I don't use pasta water, just the oil. If you want to use the pasta water, add it to the oil and stir it in. Drain the pasta. Return to the pasta pot and pour the hot oil over it. Take a pair of tongs and mix thoroughly. Now is when you would also add some salt. Serve this at the table with Parmesan cheese and a small green salad. This will feed four people easily.

Linguine Alla Ceci or Linguine with Garbanzo Beans

  1. 1 pound of Barilla linguine
  2. 1/3 of a cup of olive oil
  3. 6 - 8 cloves of garlic
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  5. 1 teaspoon of salt
  6. 1 cup of chicken broth
  7. 1 can of garbanzo beans (14 ounces)
  8. 1 can of diced tomatoes (14 ounces)
  9. 1 cup of pasta water (optional)
  10. Parmesan cheese, as desired, I use Kraft

Heat your pasta pot with water. When the water is boiling, add some salt and drop your pasta. In the meantime, put the olive oil in a skillet. Drain the garbanzo beans and put them and the garlic into you food processor. A few quick pulses is all this needs. Add the beans and garlic to the heated oil, along with the red pepper flakes. Saute the garbanzo beans in the oil for about 5 minutes, then add the can of tomatoes, the chicken broth and about a teaspoon of salt. Heat to a simmer. Prior to draining the pasta, take out a cup of pasta water and add it to the tomato and bean sauce if you want a creamier sauce. Drain the pasta and return it to the pasta pot. Pour the sauce over the pasta and with tongs, thoroughly mix together. Serve at the table with Parmesan cheese and a green salad. Again, this will serve four.

While these two meals are not protein-packed or even vegetable-filled, they can provide a quick, satisfying and really delicious dinner on a night you just don't have the time or energy, or any meats left in your fridge. They can both be modified by adding fresh spinach, green onions, mushrooms, etc. to change them up. If you do have meat available, use these as a base and add some chicken, crispy bacon or even some ground beef. I promise that you will end up with a restaurant quality meal at a fraction of the cost!

Part 2 Will Be Your Shopping List and Menu For A Week

In the next 2 sections of this food budget experiment, you will find a complete shopping list and daily menus which will include breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts (dessert recipes in part two), as well as suggestions for time management to make your week go smoothly. You will also find the recipes for the dinners on the menu in part three.

Link to Part Two:

Link to Part Three: In spite of the fact that the URL is wrong, this is the link to Part Three. Being a grandmother, I am not sure how to fix this. I know cooking, not computers.


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