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Stocking the Broke Kitchen for Under $100

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Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.

Today: Tips for stocking a broke kitchen, from pantry essentials to produce, all for under $100.

Your Best Cheap Feast

In my dream culinary life, I'd spend entire mornings shopping at the greenmarket and afternoons cooking in a sprawling kitchen with unlimited counter space. My fridge would have two fully-stocked cheese drawers at all times. I'd also have an adorable, well-behaved dog that I adopted from Petfinder.

In the real world, I live in an old walkup in Brooklyn that hasn't been renovated since the '70s, with three roommates and a crazy super. My kitchen is only slightly larger than my body. If I shut my fridge door too quickly, the freezer door pops open, and vice versa. Checking my bank account balance online is an experience that ranges from slightly painful to full-blown-panic-attack-inducing. I don't have a dog. 

Living at the intersection of broke and busy can be a gastronomical challenge, but I am still able to eat well without sacrificing nutrition or burning through all of my income. I realized pretty quickly that cooking a meal from scratch will almost always cost less than buying dinner -- and that the first step to eating well on the cheap is having a well-stocked kitchen. If your pantry currently consists of a few boxes of cereal and a jar of peanut butter, fear not. You can stock everything you'll need for under $100.

More: Prepare a cheap feast with one of these recipes from our community.


Shelf-stable pantry items:
Grains: flour, oatmeal, rice, quinoa, pasta, polenta (or grits) 
Seasonings: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, sea salt, black pepper 
Canned goods: beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, tuna
Other: sugar, baking powder, vegetable stock, peanut butter, raw nuts, dark chocolate

Spices: Luckily we don't live in the Middle Ages, where these were luxury items. Here are 10 versatile essentials for every kitchen.  

Thinking outside the traditional grocery store is a quick way to keep costs down and get more for your money. If it's an option, look into a food cooperative -- I drank the (artisanal, small batch) Kool-Aid and have never looked back, especially now that I'm paying less for better quality. 

I always keep these basic perishables on hand: 
In the fridge: eggs, butter, Greek yogurt, and milk.
On your counter: lemons, onions, and good bread.


Fill in the gaps with a lot of produce -- the more the better. I like to buy kale and bananas every week as a starting point; from there, I eat seasonally. Not only is seasonal produce more affordable, but it will always taste better. (One exception: avocados. I eat them every day, year-round.) 

If it's possible, spring for a CSA share. And it's always, always worth swinging by a local farmer's market to look for deals. Don't be fooled by the myth that farmers market produce is always pricey; shop for the cheapest items, and don't be afraid to ask the farmers for "seconds" -- those are the discounted fruits and vegetables that may be a little bruised, but taste just as good.

Weekly splurges
I make sure to leave a little bit of my overall grocery budget (around $50, or just over $7 per day) on hand for the extras - strong cheese, a great piece of meat. Balancing basics with indulgences is what keeps a broke kitchen frugal without being austere. 

What do you stock in your pantry to keep your meals affordable but exciting? Tell us in the comments!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: On the Cheap, Farmers Markets, Everyday Cooking, My Broke Kitchen