It’s a question most of us have asked ourselves time and again: what to eat for dinner tonight? Maybe you don’t have much food at home or perhaps you have enough options to prepare something simple but aren’t in the mood for a boring meal. You could order out (again), but that isn’t exactly the budget-friendly way to go. 

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this conundrum. Next time you’re at the grocery store, you could pick up some inexpensive staples that might not seem like much, but can elevate basic meals without adding a lot of extra time or effort. Are you ready to delete your favorite delivery app? Here are five cheap groceries you should always stock up on, according to chefs. 

Rice and Beans

Rice and beans are a staple in many households because they’re shelf-stable and very inexpensive. There’s also a lot you can make with these simple ingredients explains Catherine McCord, founder of Weelicious and author of Meal Prep Magic. “Beans and rice are a staple in our house. Every week I make Pressure Cooker Beans with bay leaf and other aromatics and a big pot of rice in my rice cooker. We add salsa, sliced avocado, or any leftovers like grilled chicken or vegetables to make an affordable, quick meal.” 

Then McCord uses the leftover rice to whip up a variety of recipes including Rice CakesLeftover Rice Pudding, and Breakfast Rice Bake. So both of these ingredients can stretch your dollar and time as far as possible.


While many people are hesitant to stock up on fresh foods because they are perishable—potatoes are the exception to this rule. “My kids worked for a potato farmer at our farmers market, so we had endless potatoes year-round to make affordable and filling Po-TacosPizza Stuffed Potatoes, or their favorite, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas,” McCord says. “It’s fun getting creative with one simple ingredient that stays fresh in a cool, dark place for weeks and even months before cooking so you can vary the way you prepare the baked potatoes.” Best of all, every supermarket has potatoes. 

Jarred Items

Sick of plain pasta again? Chef Chris Aquilino, director of culinary at Elior North America, likes to jazz up his meals with jarred items, including pesto, olives, jalapeños, artichokes, sardines, and anchovies.” These base items are great for making quick sauces, adding to salads, or even elevating cocktails. They also stay fresh for a long time.

Herb Purées 

Whether you’re making a sauce, some chicken, or marinating meats, there are seemingly endless uses for herb purées, which are generally packaged in tubes. According to Aquilino, herb purées, such as basil and cilantro, can even stay fresh for weeks at a time. So don't be afraid to open up that tube. 

Tomato Paste

Aquilino also suggests stocking up on tomato paste. There are numerous ways to cook with tomato paste including topping fish and making barbeque sauce. It’s hard to go wrong with this ingredient. While you can easily find canned tomato paste at most supermarkets, Aquilino prefers the kind available in a tube.