As hard as your freezer is going to work for you, your cupboard is going to be where you save the most time and money once it’s fully stocked. By stocking your cupboard properly, you will have the means to make meals that will fill hungry bellies and sometimes only cost pennies to make.
Just like your freezer, the cupboard contents are going to be divided up into sections: proteins (tinned meats/fish, carbs (rice/pasta/beans), tinned veg, sauces and meal kits, baking (flours, sugars, mixes), treats, cleaning and household.
Again protein is a big one for keeping us all healthy and having a supply of tinned protein options is a great idea. If an early-80’s taste of SPAM has been your only foray into the world of tinned meat options, then you can be forgiven for cringing; please be aware that the products have come a long way since then. That said, tinned ham or chicken is not first on my list when needing something to eat; I’ll reach for the tuna or salmon every time. Ones that, following a taste test specifically for this blog, I can recommend as being edible and tasty (if a little salty) are the ASDA Cured Chicken Breast £2 (price increased from £1.89 two weeks ago!) and ASDA Premium Lean Ham (£1.30). Stirred into a pasta bake, or chopped into a frittata (fancy name for what is essentially an omelette) or mixed through cold pasta to make a pasta salad they’re a decent alternative to fresh products.
Tinned fish like tuna and salmon are hugely versatile and can easily be turned into pasta bakes, fish cakes, added to pasta salads, eaten plain or dressed with salad etc. ALDI and LIDL are your best bet for these as their prices are consistently cheap; also check out places like B&M and Home Bargains for deals on these. Sardines, pilchards and mackerel are all also great for sandwiches and salads.
This is the part of your cupboard/pantry that will ultimately see you feeding your family and keeping them full. Carbs like pasta, rice, couscous, instant mash, and soup mix (lentils, barley, split peas etc) will bulk out your proteins and keep people full…and they’re cheap!
I have heard some people be fairly precious about the brand of pasta they will use in the past; which made me giggle because generally, the only difference between pasta brands is the packaging! That said, wholemeal pasta takes longer for your body to process, so health-wise it is the better option. I get my wholemeal pasta from ALDI because it’s cheaper than everywhere else (ALDI £0.69/500gm and ASDA £0.85p/500gm), is it penny-pinching? Yep, and I make NO apologies for that. ASDA does some 1kg bags of fusilli and penne that are great cupboard stockers and a couple of packs of spaghetti are always handy to have.
Couscous is not, in fact, some weird grain, it’s pasta, teeny tiny pasta and it’s super cheap, super filling and super easy to make. All you need to remember is 1:2 – 1 cup of couscous to 2 cups of boiling water + stock cube/pot. There is no stovetop involved, just add the boiling water to the couscous, cover it and wait 10 mins – then eat! For a cheap meal stir through cooked chicken, peas, corn or sundried tomato and basil with some parmesan if you’re feeling fancy.
When it comes to the rice you can either go microwave part-cooked or dry. I am 100% a microwave rice girl because it’s my cooking weak spot and I tend to either overcook it into a sloppy mess or serve crunchy rice. So, for me, packets of the 35p microwave rice are a cupboard staple – from simple side dishes to making yummy Chinese egg fried rice or adding to soup to thicken it up, they’re a time and money saver. If you are more clever than me, then a 1kg bag of rice could cost about 45p and make 5 times as much rice. Smarty pants.
Tinned Pasta needs to be mentioned, because frankly if you have kids there will be a time when all they want to eat is spaghetti on toast or ravioli on rice or some other weird concoction. There is absolutely a difference in quality between brands, but it can be a crap shoot finding the good ones, so my advice is ‘there is nothing that cannot be improved with herbs and lashings of cheese! Buy what you can afford and get creative.
Tinned vegetables have had a bad rap as being less healthy than fresh, and while they have been shown to lose small amounts of some vitamins like C, other vitamins like A and E are higher in canned foods than fresh! Who knew!? Given this, tinned fruit and vegetables can offer an affordable and nutritious option for meeting daily fruit and vegetable needs, so stocking away some peas, carrots, potatoes and corn is not going to do any harm.
Tinned tomatoes are something that I am NEVER without and for good reason, they are dirt cheap and massively versatile and can be made into anything from tomato soup, to pasta, added to stews and soups or heated and made into a meal like Shakshuka with eggs. I also have tomato paste on hand for when you need to bump up the tomato flavour or make pizza sauce.
Pulses – not the one on your wrist, I am talking beans, lentils, chickpeas etc – are a time and budget saver. Baked beans are in almost every pantry cupboard for good reason, people love them and they’re quick, cheap and easy to eat – dense in carbs they are pretty good for you too. If you have never seen, much less eaten a lentil then they may not be on your radar, but tinned lentils can be a great meat extender – add to bolognese or chilli to bulk it up and add more protein.
Kidney beans will also do the same for Chilli Con Carne, or you can add soybeans or cannellini beans too; they can also be great added to cheap soups to bulk them up, or when making your own soup to make it more of a meal. Chickpeas are fantastic added to couscous and served with any kind of curry, or add them to jarred curry sauce with some frozen or tinned veg to make a hearty veg curry.
SAUCES AND MEAL KITS
I am not going to lie, I can make a fabulous spaghetti sauce from scratch, but at 6 pm on a weeknight from hell, I am not spending 45 mins making it before I make dinner…I’m opening a jar of ready-made sauce from the cupboard and having dinner ready in 20 mins. So when I tell you to have some in your cupboard, it’s a ‘tried and tested’ thing. ALDI are fabulous for their jarred pasta sauces; the tomato lasagne sauce and the meatball ones are solid winners. ALDI’s pasta bake sauces, Korma and Tikka Marsala curry sauces are also pretty good, on par with brands like Homepride. Are they hugely authentic? No. Are they tasty? You betcha! Tip: add a teaspoon of peanut butter to the korma and thank me later!
Another winner is ALDI’s range of stir-through sauces; if you can cook pasta and grate cheese then you have a meal ready in under 12 mins.
Something else not to discount is the little packets of recipe seasoning mix that you get in supermarkets; having some of those on hand for things like sausages, chicken etc as they’re an easy flavour boost for cheaper ingredients and takes the pressure off you to get everything prepped.
Meal kits can be expensive, a branded burrito kit can set you back £3.50, but a packet of own-brand wraps, own-brand taco seasoning and some cheap salsa can be half the price.
Baking might seem like the last thing you’d want to do, but honestly when you have no bread and people to feed being able to put together a basic damper loaf with flour, milk and butter in ten mins can make life easier. Not to mention being able to whip up quick and easy things like pancakes and cakes for treats. Flour (plain and self-raising), sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, vanilla extract and icing sugar are all pantry staples that last ages and come in handy more often than you’d think. Having a couple of cheap vanilla sponge cake mixes (ASDA £0.40p) in the cupboard can also be a help for desserts.
Chocolate, crisps, and sweets are all things that we are used to having freely; but when times are lean those things are often some of the first to go off the shopping list. If off-brand or own-brand dupes of your favourites are available, give them a try and you may be surprised. ALDI is great for everything chocolate, the Everyday Essentials bars are great to have when the kids want to make something like chocolate bark, and the Dairyfine range is great. You can also find brand-name chocolate in ALDI for under £1 for multipacks.
Poundland, B&M and Home Bargains should also be on your treat radar as well; check out their stock of crisps and chocolate, alongside things like coffee, hot chocolate and sweets, as they are often below supermarket prices.
Mrs Hinch, I am not – but I do like a clean house. Poundland is great for branded items, they are often on deals that are not available in the supermarket, while own brand or off-brand cleaning products or supermarket dupes are a great way of keeping your cleaning items stocked. While I am all for indulging in the latest seasonally fragranced multipurpose spray as anyone, most of the time I prefer something that was recommended by a friend who cleans homes professionally: in a spray bottle mix 1/5 bottle of dish soap, 1/5 bottle vinegar and 3/5 bottle of water. Shock horror, it’s the best damn cleaner I have ever used…and the cheapest. Spray on, leave for 5 mins to work (all multipurpose cleaners have a ‘dwell time’ to work properly) and then wipe off, dry with a cloth and gaze in awe at your perfectly clean surface. I use some essential oil or some fragranced oil in the mix and change the scents when I please. So, you can buy the branded stuff; but you can make your own cheaper and better.
Let’s talk crap. When you’re talking about loo rolls, you can divide a nation! To quilt or not to quilt – fragranced or not; 2ply or 3ply? Regardless of your feelings, you should work out how much you are used and stock your cupboard so that there will always be one pack (not roll, PACK) of loo roll still unopened on shopping day. Keep an eye out for the new 6 packs, which are double length, meaning they are really 12 packs pretending to be 6 packs. They are often on a deal and worth a look.
Tissues and paper towels are another lot that should be one pack ahead on shopping day – check ALDI’s range for tissues that won’t leave your face red raw and paper towels that work. ALDi is also a winner in the bin bag department; their heavy-duty bin bags are some of the best on the market.
Laundry detergent and softener can be expensive, so if you’re able to find deals on your favourite ones be it in B&M, Poundland or your supermarket then stocking up with an additional pack is not a bad idea. That said, some supermarkets like ALDI and LIDL have had rave reviews about their own label products, so it’s worth giving them a try and seeing if the budget alternative works for you and your family.