Our monthly grocery budget is blown – now what?

We have a new (rapidly growing) baby in our house, which means we’re still adjusting to how much to budget for groceries each month now that we’ve added formula and diapers to the mix. It seems we always get to the last week of the month having already maxed out our monthly budget. We try to stay pretty disciplined about these things, so I find myself getting creative with our meals when this happens.

Sometimes it means a lot of dried beans and rice; sometimes omelets (if we haven’t already eaten all of the eggs) and toast; occasionally I’ll find a packet of ground beef in the freezer that I’ve forgotten about (oh, happy day).

I’ve found, over the years, that having a well-stocked pantry comes in especially handy when you have to be creative. Got flour and baking powder on hand? How about some milk and eggs? Well, by golly, you’ve got pancakes.

How about pasta? No pasta? Then make some (if you have flour and eggs for your pancakes, then you have flour and eggs for pasta) Frozen broccoli? A corner of a piece of cheese? Some milk (or even a can of evaporated milk stashed in the back of the pantry)? You’ve got the makings of a creamy broccoli alfredo.

Some of the non-perishable things I try to keep on hand at all times (in no particular order) are:
Flour (white and whole wheat)
Sugar (granulated and powdered)
Honey
Rolled Oats
Various seasonings and spices
Vanilla extract
Evaporated Milk
Sweetened Condensed Milk
Dried Beans (a variety – navy, cranberry, great northern, black, kidney, black-eyed peas)
Rice (brown, of course)
Baking Powder
Vegetable Oil (I like grapeseed oil for cooking, but can’t always afford it)
Soy Sauce
Cornmeal
Canned tomatoes (in some form or another)
Peanut Butter
Raisins
Tobasco sauce
Worcestershire sauce

With these ingredients, you’d be surprised how many things you can come up with to make for dinner. And it’s not like I have to buy the pantry items every month. Flour and sugar last for 2 or 3 months generally (at the holidays they go much faster, but in general they stick around). I buy dried beans when they go on sale and just keep them around for the times when I need them.

Some of the things I’ve made recently with leftovers and pantry ingredients are (pictured above) lasagna, chicken & dumplings, enchiladas and a tasty frittata.

I encourage everyone to take a look in your pantries and see what you can come up with for dinner before you go out and buy something next time. You might surprise yourself with your own creativity!

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