12 Staples All Frugal Cooks Should Have in Their Pantry

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You don't have to spend a fortune to feed yourself and your family well. In fact, having just these 12 inexpensive staples in your pantry will enable you to make a ton of healthy, filling meals, whether you're working off a recipe or just combining elements on the fly.

12 Staples All Frugal Cooks Should Have in Their Pantry
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12 Staples All Frugal Cooks Should Have in Their Pantry
One of the most versatile staples around, you can throw pretty much anything into pasta to make it a meal or a side dish. Get noodles in different shapes and styles to mix things up: spaghetti, elbows, penne, fettuccini, egg noodles, etc., and experiment with different sauces to increase the variety factor.

Beans are a wonderful, inexpensive source of protein that can be used to substitute for meat in many recipes (whether you're vegetarian or just looking to shave a few bucks off your grocery bill). They're known as a "superfood," boasting all sorts of health benefits and packed with fiber that keeps you feeling full longer. Stock up on black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, great northern beans and cannelloni beans, all of which can be used in a wide variety of dishes.

Canned beans are more convenient, but dried beans are cheaper. Soak overnight in water, then bring to a boil on the stove and let simmer for an hour. Combine beans with rice or quinoa for a filling lunch, or eat it in tortilla wraps with salsa, lettuce and cheese for an affordable, healthy and filling meal.

Another good meat substitute, lentils are packed with fiber, protein, Vitamin B and iron, and they can be used in everything from soups and stews to salads and curries.  French, Indian and other varieties can be thrown into a crock-pot with veggies, beans and broth to slowly cook while you're at work.
A great source of protein that can be cooked many different ways, eggs can work for any time of day. Omelets are an easy way to turn odds and ends like leftover cheese and veggies into delicious, easy meals.
Traditional cow milk is ideal for both baking and cooking sides like mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. Almond milk, soy milk and coconut milk can be used in certain recipes and are great alternatives for vegans or people with lactose intolerance. And let's not forget that childhood staple: cereal and milk (of any variety) creates a filling breakfast, especially if it's combined with eggs or other protein, and perhaps a piece of fresh fruit.
White and brown rice are the most obvious choices, but you can also stock up on protein-rich quinoa (my personal favorite, and what's in the photo) and barley for a change of pace. Just like pasta, grains can be mixed with all sorts of things to create a wide variety of cheap, healthy and well-rounded recipes.
Good old-fashioned oats can be used to make everything from oatmeal to bread to granola. They've been shown to lower cholesterol, boost heart health and have even been dubbed another one of those "superfoods." For a healthy snack, try baking no-added-sugar oatmeal and raisin cookies.
Not just for breakfast and snacks, bulk cereal can also be crushed and used as coating for chicken, fish or shrimp; tossed into meatloaf mix for added body; and used to create a crunchy layer on casseroles. Look for high-fiber, low-sugar varieties.
You can buy these ready-made or save some cash by making them yourself the next time you're cooking meat. They're great for adding extra depth and taste to a dish and can be used for everything from braising vegetables to soups and stews. Those who love slow cookers should definitely have some on hand.
Perfect for making soups, stews and sauces, canned tomatoes can also be used to add extra flavoring to omelets and other dishes. Fresh tomatoes are relatively affordable when they're in season, but canned tomatoes provides a frugal alternative during the frozen winter months.
Cheap and full of protein, tuna can be turned into sandwiches, salads, casseroles and more. It's another staple that can be mixed with lots of other things on this list in a wide variety of combinations.
Bring out the flavor in even the simplest of dishes with the right spices and seasonings. There's no limit to the cuisines you can make with the help of basics like garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder, cloves, curry powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, paprika, rosemary and thyme.

Paula Pant traveled to 32 countries, runs a popular finance blog and is a successful real estate investor. Her blog, Afford Anything, shows you how to live your boldest, brashest dreams -- whether that's travel, adventure, launching a business, or enjoying a debt-free life.
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