My husband is gone for 2 months so I'm going to try to not by food except for produce. If I have to buy food it needs to be cheap (pasta, rice, etc) I do have meat in the freezer. I am well stocked in other basic pantry items. Help me with some recipes for me and the boys!
Single, student mama to 3 boys
We are doing a very similar "program," so to speak. I have been buying mostly fruits and veggies through our local co-op Bountiful Baskets. They are in a lot of places, so if they're near you it is worth it to check it out. We get a lot of produce for a very cheap price, and it challenges us to try new things. Most of the other stuff we cook with it is from the pantry - noodles, especially. We were doing a lot of rice (and have TONS on hand) but after the recent arsenic/rice thing in the news, we haven't been eating rice. I need to go get some organic rice so we can get back to eating that. I think even with organic it would be cheaper than a lot of other things, versatile, and filling. We are using more potatoes now since we don't use as much rice.
We do eat meat, but I usually stock up once a month with a $50 budget for meat, and store whatever we don't use from that $50 budget that month in the deep freezer. I look at meat as a challenge to make it stretch as far as it can, especially because it is SO expensive here. I try to look at protein as just that - protein... it comes in many forms, and often cheaper than meat. Eggs are a great way to get protein without a huge expense, and I like that you can cook up just enough for each person, and not waste.
Beans are wonderful too, and I usually make a huge batch from a lb of dried pinto beans at least once every two weeks, if not every week. They get served as a main dish, and as sides both. You can change it up by changing the seasonings or veggies that you put in with it. This week I grabbed some leftover rib bones that I had put back in the freezer from a previous meal, and cooked them down in water in the oven for about 3 hours. That made a crazy delicious broth, and I was able to pull about another cup of meat off of the "used" bones. I threw all that into a pot of beans with some home-roasted tomatoes (got a ton from the co-op that we needed to use up). I added just a bit of bbq sauce that we had leftover in the fridge, and some minced garlic that I always keep on hand. They were SO delicious, and packed full of protein and veggies. You can add anything from shredded carrots to leftover salsa and corn. You can turn beans into chili too, which goes a long way and totally changes the flavor profile.
Also - it isn't a "pantry" staple, but we do get good milk sales here - sometimes down to $1.50/gallon. You can make a lb of mozzarella cheese from a gallon of milk in about 30 min, so when it goes on sale, I am buying about 10 gallons of milk, and making a TON of cheese. I like to add seasonings like rosemary and garlic to mine, and then I put it in the freezer in 1/2 lb increments. It goes a long way and tastes amazing. It is also another source of protein! Also, you can do a lot with the whey that is leftover from milk, so I freeze that too, and cook with it so it doesn't go to waste.
Ramen noodles are a big way that we make the budget stretch. I know they aren't super healthy for you but they are CHEAP and can make food stretch. One of our go-to ways to eat it is just to add our favorite veggies to microwaved Ramen, and enjoy. The kids love it with a whole cut up tomato in their bowl and a little cheese on top. I don't feel awful if they eat that because at least they're getting some produce and a bit of protein. This site has literally got 120 recipes for different ways to make Ramen noodles to keep it interesting and frugal.
Back with more ideas in a few. :)
I make a ton of pancakes and waffles (no eggs) from scratch (not mix), and stick those in the freezer in gallon sized baggies. That makes for VERY cheap and easy breakfasts. For toppings I often use whatever fresh fruit we get from the co-op and just a sprinkle of powdered sugar. You can also make your own syrup from fruit and sugar, or from brown sugar and water cooked down on the stove. MUCH cheaper than buying maple, though I do love maple syrup!
Oatmeal is a wonderful meal-stretcher for breakfast, and it is SOOO versatile! We're entering pumpkin season, so you could buy a cheap big pumpkin to roast, peel, and puree into your own pumpkin (I've seen them for around $2.50-3.50/each for the huge ones here). I did that with 3 big pumpkins last year and I am *STILL* using up all the pumpkin I made! When you have your puree, put it in sandwich baggies 2 cups at a time and freeze. That is about the same measurement as a can of pumpkin. I love to add this to oatmeal in the mornings with a little brown sugar and cinnamon. It is always a hit, and so very healthy!
I like to make a bunch of muffins ahead of time too, and stick them in the freezer for days when we just need to run out the door or need something quick and yummy for the lunchbox. You can make yummy muffins from pantry staples too. I like to add dried fruit and nuts that I pick up at the Dollar Tree really cheap (my pantry is usually stocked with those).
Stir fry is a go to favorite, and if you do have organic rice on hand it helps it to stretch far. You can use just bits and pieces of whatever little piece of meat you have on hand for this, and use up any veggies that need to get used in the freezer or veggie drawer.
Hash is another one of my favorites. It is best made with kielbasa, but you can make it with any meat or protein of your choosing (chicken, eggs, leftover roast, whatever). It is good with spam too, if you have that in your pantry (though yes, I know it isn't healthy). I cube up a bunch of potatoes with skins on and boil them until they are soft enough to easily prick with a fork (not mushy). Meanwhile, be sauteeing a cut up onion and a cut up apple in a Tbs or two of butter until they are soft. Drain the liquid from the potatoes and add them to a hot oiled skillet, letting them brown a bit. When they are browned to your liking, add the apples/onions, and your cooked protein (if you're using eggs, add them raw and cook in the skillet with the other ingredients). Season lightly with sage, salt, and pepper and enjoy.
A go-to pantry-only meal is vegetable soup. I mix together a can or two of tomato sauce/paste/diced-tomatoes, and any other canned veggies (with liquid) that looks good from the pantry. Often I will have canned potatoes in there too, but if not, you can either omit potatoes, use fresh, or sub out noodles. I cook it all down in the crock pot all day, and season as necessary. I often use thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper. If I have any leftover meat bits from other meals or broth to use up I will use it then too.
Other soup ideas that are frugal and really go a long way: chicken & dumplings, potato soup, taco soup, hamburger soup, split pea soup, pumpkin soup, tomato-noodle soup, corn chowder, lentil soup, and french onion soup. Soup goes a very long way, and if you serve with fresh home-baked bread it really seems like a feast.
Spaghetti is another good one that you can usually do from pantry staples if you have sauce on hand. If you don't have spaghetti sauce, you can always add butter, garlic, and parmesan to the noodles and top with your favorite veggies and/or meats. I made this the other day with some tilapia I got with a b1-g2-free sale, and added some cooked-down collard greens. It was definitely a different meal for my family but everyone loved it.
Stuffed baked potatoes are a wonderful meal as well. Bake your potatoes as per usual, scoop out the insides, mix with your favorite veggies and/or meats, and top with just a bit of cheese to melt over the very top. It is always a hit around here and makes leftovers stretch if I use that for the filling!
For drinks we either drink water or tea. We're usually pretty stocked on tea bags in the pantry, so that qualifies as a pantry-"food" I guess!
Those are quite a few of my favorite "tricks" to keep things frugal, and pulling from the pantry as we're able. Hope it helps!