One of the biggest hinderers of stress-free meals is a disorganized pantry. Or worse, an empty one. This was me before I had my wake-up call to pull myself together in the kitchen. I’d wait until 6:00 to get started on dinner, and then search through a zillion apps and websites to see what I could cook with the ingredients I actually had in my house. Friends, that was terrible. I dreaded cooking and I absolutely hated dinner time. 9 times out of 10 I sent my husband to go pick something up, or we microwaved some overly processed yuck that had probably been in the freezer too long to begin with.
So how did I get started? Well first, I looked on pinterest and found about 20 different “pantry staples” that I absolutely HAD to keep on hand. And you know what? They weren’t right for me. I wasted money on tons of spices and canned goods that my family didn’t like, and other perishables that wound up rotting because I didn’t have a plan to cook them. So while I’m about to tell you what I keep on-hand all the time at my house, please know this: buy what you like, what you will cook, and what your family will eat. The easiest way to waste money at the grocery store- eating clean or not- is loading up on food that you will throw out.
First up, you should know my grocery routine- I don’t do the once a month shopping. Lots of families I know do this, and it works for them. It just doesn’t work for me. We use a LOT of perishable items, and I’ll be honest- if there’s food in my house, I absolutely cannot get my troop to understand the rationing principle for leaving those granola bars for the remainder of the month. So once a week it is. I also hit up 2 grocery stores- for me, it’s Trader Joe’s and Super Target. That’s because those are in close enough proximity to my house that if I need to leave a cart full of groceries to go home with screaming kids, I can. I also did lots of price-shopping to see where I could get the best deals on organics without sales or coupons, and those two stores won.
Alright, are you ready for my big list? I’ll have it separated by section of the grocery store, and at the end I’ll let you know how I break it down between the two stores. Go ahead and assume everything I list here is organic (which means you’ll need to look for the Certified Organic label- all-natural means absolutely nothing in food labeling, so don’t be fooled.)
- Organic, unbleached flour
- Black pepper
- Herbs/spices you like: for me this is cumin, garlic powder, italian seasoning, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg
- Pastas/Grains you like: I prefer rice pasta (it cooks faster and is easier on little tummies), but I also keep quinoa, couscous, and soba noodles on-hand. You can have more rice or oats here too if those are your thing
- Oils/dressings: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut Oil (check out the zillion uses for this stuff here), organic salad dressings (light/fat free are not your friends guys!), Balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and Tamari organic low-sodium soy sauce
- Baking essentials: baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract (no imitation), dry active yeast
- Snacks you and your family like: ours are Target’s Simply Balanced organic granola bars, fruit leather, crackers, and cereal, and Trader Joe’s peanut butter crackers, pretzels, and dried cranberries and cherries
- Canned goods: beans (we love black beans and refried beans, but also do kidney and cannellini for protein), crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce (for pizzas), and jarred applesauce
- Bread (we love Trader Joe’s organic sandwich bread)
- Tortillas (Target’s Simply Balanced tortillas are my favorite for taquitos and burritos)
- Local raw honey (this will help with your allergies too!)
- Wine- white and red
- Heavy cream (this is the easiest way to kick Campbell’s out of your life. Just keep this stuff on hand and use it whenever you’re tempted to reach for that chemical laden sludge. Harsh, I know. It was a bad breakup.)
- Shredded cheeses you like: we do parmesan, cheddar, and mozzarella
- Sour cream and/or guacamole (because we do the burrito thing for lunch)
- Sliced cheese, if this is your thing. (We love grilled cheese with tomato soup as a backup plan, so this is vital for us)
- Yogurt for the kids (mine love the Trader Joe’s squeezable packs- their store brand organic is a lot cheaper than Stonyfield)
- Eggs: (Common misconception: Brown eggs do NOT indicate they are organic or antibiotic-free! Be sure to check your labels)
- Plain organic yogurt for smoothies
- Veggies that you like: since we have a CSA, we don’t really do anything other than frozen peas. But before, I bought peppers, corn, and edamame blends for making taquitos and burritos)
- Fruits for smoothies. This is a HUGE hit for breakfasts for us, and frozen fruit makes it simple. Target sells a huge bag of organic frozen fruit for $12.99 (although I know Costco has it even cheaper- they’re just not close enough to us)
- Frozen breakfast foods, like pancakes and waffles. (The Earth’s Best brand is at Publix, Kroger, and Target, and we love those)
- Hearts of romaine: I stopped buying bagged salad because half of it was brown in no time, and there wasn’t much in there to begin with. Now I buy organic hearts of romaine, wash and chop them on Saturday, and have them in my salad spinner all week to put in lunch boxes or to serve with dinner
- Whatever you like in your salad- go ahead and toss cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, grape tomatoes, or whatever in with your salad in the salad spinner. Then you can grab what you want throughout the week without any extra effort
- Seasonal goodies: go with what looks fresh, and look at your labels. Farm-fresh does NOT mean chemical or GMO free, so be sure to ask questions. And if you’re doing the farmers market thing, don’t be afraid to negotiate if you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for.
Whew! That was a lot. Are you overwhelmed? Don’t be! When it comes down to it, once I have my staples in stock, those weekly grocery trips are simply to replenish the perishables, the few things we need for lunch boxes, and a few key items for this week’s dinners. I spend between $150 and $200 a week to feed my family of 6, and that includes household items like paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies, and ALL of it is organic/chemical free.
I’ve found that Target has really upped their game when it comes to organic store-brand products. I like Trader Joe’s for dairy, but otherwise I lean very heavily on the Super Target near me for all our organic eating. Add in my Farmer’s Market share each week, and I’m set with no extra trips to the store and more than enough healthy options. Here’s to eating healthy at home- with little to no waste!