I recently wrote about the most useful items to keep in your storecupboard, covering emergency foods and also ultra quick storecupboard dinners and other meals. Now it’s time to move on to the next article I promised at the end of the last one, all about the best things to stock in your cupboards long term to save money on everyday food.
There are plenty of longlife and shelf-stable food items to keep on hand that can help to keep your general grocery bills down, both by reducing reliance on ready meals and takeaways and by allowing you to take advantage of bulk buys and other offers. Some of them can be basic, simple ingredients, others can be closer to convenience food, and if you don’t need them in the short term then they should keep in good condition for several months.
What you keep in your long term food stores is completely up to you, and it should be based on a number of factors. These include your budget, the amount of cool and dry space you have available, the sort of food you like to eat regularly, the time you have free to cook, and any health concerns you might have. If your budget is small, you can still build up a store over time, maybe by buying an extra item or two every time you do a big shop.
This is a rough guide to what to buy and keep on hand, but feel free to adapt it according to your own preferences. I’d say the main categories are broadly as follows:
- The absolute basics
- Protein foods
- Fruit and vegetables
- Baking, sauces and flavouring
- Convenience foods, treats etc
The absolute basics
If you have nothing else in your cooking-from-scratch cupboard, try to get these most versatile ingredients on your shelves:
- Long grain rice
- Cooking oil
You can cobble together all kinds of meals with these. For example, flour can be used for bread, scones, sandwich wraps, cakes, biscuits, pastry, pasta, sauces, crumbles, pancakes and more. Rice is also a great basis for many thrifty meals, from curries to salads. Cooking oil can be used in stir fries, many cakes, roasts and dressings. You only need a tiny amount of salt, but it’s needed for many dishes.
Aside from different types of flour and long grain rice mentioned above, there are plenty of long life carbohydrates to stock up on. Here are a few ideas:
- Pasta, all kinds
- Cous cous
- Noodles such as rice, egg or soba
- Short grain rice such as risotto or pudding rice
- Other savoury carbs: polenta, bulgar, buckwheat, quinoa etc
- Breakfast cereals
- Sugar, all types
- Honey, syrup or treacle
Carbs have had a lot of bad press recently, but they are part of a balanced diet. Wholegrains are generally healthier than refined carbohydrates, and starchy foods are generally better for you than sugary foods, so try to find a balance.
What you stock here depends on whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian, vegan and so on, but here are some suggestions that cover most types of diets:
- Dried or tinned beans
- Tinned mixed beans
- Baked beans, beans in simple sauces
- Dried or tinned lentils
- Dried soya mince, soya flakes or chunks, or TVP
- Tinned or longlife carton tofu
- Dried veggie burger, veggie sausage or nut roast mix
- Vegan egg substitutes
- Dried milk powder, evaporated or condensed milk
- Jars, tins or tubes of pâté, or fish or meat paste / spread
- Tinned fish: tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies, crab, mackerel etc
- Tinned meat: corned beef, ham, sausages etc
Some of these would also be useful in emergencies, even if you prefer the fresh version.
Fruit and vegetables
Some of these ingredients are great for baking with, others are more useful for creating main meals. While it’s usually best to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, sometimes the tinned or dried version is handier. If you’re only going to buy one thing on this list, I’d say canned tomatoes are the most versatile.
- Dried raisins, sultanas or currants
- Dried mixed fruit, dried mixed peel
- Other small dried fruit for baking: cherries, blueberries, cranberries
- Large dried fruit: dates, apricots, prunes, figs, mango etc
- Tinned / carton fruit: peaches, apricots, pears, mandarins, fruit salad
- Tinned tomatoes, passata, tomato purée
- Jars of tomato-based pasta sauce
- Other tinned vegetables: sweetcorn, mushrooms, green beans, carrots etc
- Pickled veg: gherkins, onions, beetroot etc
- Fancy tinned / jar vegetables: artichoke hearts, palm hearts, grilled peppers
Other baking, sauces and flavouring
These raise your plainer cooking ingredients up to make them more interesting. You don’t need to buy everything on this list, just have a think about what you usually like to cook and eat, and choose the ones that’ll make it tastier.
- Stock cubes or granules
- Dried herbs and spices, including black pepper
- Dried mixed herbs, Italian seasoning, other herb blends
- Spice mixes and pastes
- Olive oil, other oils
- Vinegar: malt, cider, distilled, wine, balsamic
- Table sauces: ketchup, mustard, BBQ, relishes, brown sauce, pickles
- Hot sauce, chilli sauce, sweet chilli sauce
- Soy sauce, fish sauce, tamari, teriyaki seasoning
- Small savoury: olives, chillies, gherkins, capers
- Spreads: jam, marmalade, peanut butter, chocolate, Marmite, etc
- Easybake yeast
- Bicarbonate of soda, baking powder
- Icing sugar, marzipan, cake decorations
- Cocoa powder
- Flavourings: vanilla extract, almond essence etc
- Nuts: almond, hazelnut, walnut, pecan, etc
- Seeds: sunflower, poppy, sesame, pumpkin, chia, black onion, mustard
Convenience foods and treats
These are your less essential items, but sometimes you fancy a little treat or you don’t feel like making something yourself from basic ingredients.
- Drinks: tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc
- Gravy granules
- Garlic paste, ginger paste
- Savoury biscuits, crackers, crispbreads, breadsticks
- Crisps and other snacks
- Sweet biscuits, cereal bars
- Sweets and chocolate
- Custard powder or tinned custard
- Tinned rice pudding
- Longlife puddings and desserts
- Pie fillings, sweet mincemeat
- … and whatever else you like
There’s an overlap here with my list of semi-emergency storecupboard staples, so you might want to have a look at that too.
What’s your storecupboard looking like at the moment? Is there anything you’d never be without?