Having a well-stocked kitchen is essential to helping reduce expenses while on our debt-free journey. I’ve written before about our pantry essentials to ensure that we’ve always got some basic meals on hand, but equally as important is what we cook with. Creating a frugal and efficient kitchen doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the function of your kitchen. Here are some essential, budget-friendly kitchen must-haves. Here are my favorites, and some must-haves, in a frugal kitchen!
My Dutch oven* gets a LOT of use around our house. From cooking soup, and one-pot meals, and roasting large cuts of meat, it is a culinary staple in our house. While yes, they can be a tad pricey – and it has kept me from getting one for the longest time – the sheer number of times ours gets used within a week more than makes up for it. Add to that the fact that I’ve had our 6qt Martha Stewart enameled Dutch oven* for over 10 years, becomes a no-brainer.
If spending that much money on a Dutch oven isn’t doable, check yard sales, clearance, and closeout sales in our area. I got a smaller 2 quart for less than $20 because the store was going out of business. Amazon also has really good quality enameled Dutch ovens for very reasonable prices.
Cast Iron Skillets
Cast iron is durable and very versatile. It can last for a long time with proper care as well, making it a frugal kitchen staple that can be passed down for generations!
I love using our deep cast iron* for frying chicken tenders on the stovetop, but it’s also the perfect tool to finish the chicken off in the oven without needing to dirty another dish.
Again, if cast iron isn’t doable in your current budget as a new purchase, put it on a gift list, and check yard sales as well as local thrift stores.
Glass Storage Containers
When it comes to storing leftovers, and meal prepping, I prefer Pyrex storage containers* and Ball Mason Jars* over plastic food storage any day. I can easily take leftovers from the fridge to the oven just by removing the lid of the Pyrex, or pour the contents of the jar into a pan. And when we’re ready to wash them, they clean up nicely whether they’re being washed by hand or in the dishwasher. It’s perfect!
I prefer to get a variety of sizes – like in this pack* – since I can never tell how many leftovers there will be. The kids are enigmas at this stage. Eat me out of house and home one night, and the next they’re eating like birds. The seven-cup container is perfect for meal prep or nights when there are tons of leftovers. My only complaint is that the set didn’t come with more of that size!
In this day and age, it’s so easy to get recipes online. But there are times when I enjoy looking through a cookbook. For me to get a cookbook, it has to meet a few requirements. It needs to have plenty of recipes that we’d use, not just one or two. And the recipes need to be versatile.
One book I have that meets those criteria is Cook Once Eat All Week*: I forget how I stumbled across this book, but it has been an exceptionally valuable reference when it comes to trying to figure out meal prepping, all while increasing our recipe arsenal and getting the kids to eat more veggies. If you struggle with the nitty-gritty of meal prepping like me, you have got to check this book out.
A large stockpot* is a versatile addition to any frugal kitchen. Not only can it help to make batches of soups, stews, and chilis (the ultimate collection of frugal meals, in my opinion), but a stockpot can also be used to cook larger batches of pasta, or even help to make homemade applesauce or peeling peaches and tomatoes for preserving.
A stockpot is also helpful for meal prepping and batch cooking – where you make a batch of base ingredients that can later be used in different dishes throughout the near future. So, if you use your stockpot to make a large batch of chicken soup, you can freeze portions of it, thaw them later, and add noodles or cooked rice and serve.
I have a 12-quart Calphalon that has been passed down to me, and I have an enameled one similar to this* from Aldis. I use them both, but prefer the Calphalon since the bottom is thicker and doesn’t burn what I’m cooking as easily. The Aldi’s enameled one is better for boiling water for various needs.
Cookware is something that can get expensive fast, but please don’t buy cheap Teflon cookware. The extra cost upfront means that your set will last you a long time before needing to be replaced, while cheaper cookware you will be replacing constantly.
I have an 11-piece Calphalon stainless steel set* that was a Christmas gift, but it’s lasted me well over a decade. The key to keeping the set in good condition is similar to your cast iron – simply learning how to cook with stainless steel and clean it when you are done using it.
A basic set of multi-purpose cooking utensils helps to expand the versatility of your kitchen. All that is needed are a spatula, ladle, slotted spoon, and tongs. They will cover a wide variety of your cooking needs.
But personally, a larger set like this* that includes measuring cups and spoons, a whisk, a spaghetti spoon, and a basting brush will round out your utensils, and make food preparation easy!
Quality Measuring Cups & Spoons
When you’re baking, it is essential to have precise measurements. Having a set of measuring cups and spoons is necessary for success.
The utensil set above has some cups and spoons included, but one thing to look for to add to your kitchen necessities are measuring cups and spoons that are stamped with the measurement. That way the label doesn’t fade off over time, like they do on ones that have the label printed on.
Glass measuring cups, like these here*, will also last a long time. You can also use Mason Jars for liquid measurements as well.
Quality Knife & Cutting Boards
Investing in a good knife set* will help make food prep efficient, in turn making it much easier for you to continue to prepare food at home. A good quality chef’s knife doesn’t have to be super expensive; a sharp and reliable knife will be more than sufficient.
In addition to quality knives, a few sturdy cutting boards are another item you will need. I prefer this bamboo cutting board set* which includes flexible, color-coded mats with icons for meats, fruits, and vegetables to help reduce food cross-contamination.
Dish Rack & Reusable Clothes
Reusable dish sponges are the ultimate multipurpose addition to your kitchen. Not only can they be used to wash dishes, but also to scrub clean the stove, counters, etc. Most sponges last for 400 or more uses. That means a simple 5-pack of reusable sponges* can last longer than 5 years, and making it a worthwhile investment.
A dish rack*, or even a dish mat*, can help your dishes air-dry. That in turn will save you water and energy costs since you won’t need to run the dishwasher frequently. Bonus points for using a dishwasher as the drying rack!
Quality Mixer & Blender
While these aren’t necessary, they will help you create homemade meals more often, lending to a frugal kitchen.
The same can be said for a blender. I don’t use a blender often, so the food processor/blender set* I had was never used. But an immersion blender is simply perfect for me. I use it to puree soups, applesauce, etc.
Before making either of these purchases, make sure that these are items that you will use regularly. Buying a stand mixer and only using it for mashed potatoes and the occasional boxed cake probably isn’t worth it; you would probably be better off with a hand mixer.
On the other hand, if you regularly make smoothies, an immersion blender* may not be the best purchase for you.
Reusable Water Bottles (& Straws)
And I don’t mean hopping in trends of the new *in* water bottle. What type of water bottle* you use is entirely up to your personal preference. I had a plastic Thermos water bottle that lasted me through grad school and beyond – 15 years before it was finally broken enough to be done.
Since then, stainless steel beverage containers have become preferred for my water. I use stainless steel straws* to reduce waste, and the Yeti I have keeps the water cold for hours. I find I’m refilling this much more than I was the plastic bottles simply because I’m drinking out of straws and tricking myself into drinking more.
No matter what route you choose. reusable water bottles will save you money on continually buying bottled drinks, and help to reduce your impact on the environment.