10 Cheap Foods That Last a Long Time

These foods with long shelf lives can improve your diet while saving you money

If you're filling your pantry, especially if you are on a tight budget, focus on cheap and nutritious foods that have a long shelf life, like rice, apples and peanut butter. You'll spend less at checkout, and you'll waste considerably less food at the end of the week. All price estimates mentioned were good as of March 2020.

The Spruce Eats / Madelyn Goodnight 
  • 01 of 10


    Ingredients for roasted potatoes

    The Spruce

    A five-pound bag of potatoes is without question one of the biggest bargains in the produce department. For about $4, you'll get enough potatoes to make a many meals. Bake them, toss them into soups, add them to casseroles, or make potato salad or a big batch of oven fries. Potatoes are incredibly versatile, and if you store them properly, they'll easily keep for four to six months. Some potato varieties are particularly good for storing. These include Yukon gold, russet, Kennebec, Katahdin, and red Pontiac.

  • 02 of 10

    Beans and Other Legumes

    Assorted Organic Dried Lentils and Beans in Small Bowls
    Dana Hoff / Getty Images

    Beans cost much less than meat and are a source of protein, fiber, and minerals. Load up on canned beans, or save even more by purchasing dried beans and cooking them yourself. One pound of dried beans costs about $1.50 and is enough to make 6 cups of cooked beans. That's the equivalent of four cans of beans. 

    If you don't want to fuss with soaking dried beans, use lentils. They don't have to be soaked first and they cook quickly.

    Dried beans are best used within a year but can be stored longer. Be sure to add extra cooking time when using older beans.

  • 03 of 10


    Savany/E+/Getty Images

    A half-cup serving of rice costs just five cents and is the perfect base for a filling meal. Rice is an important staple throughout most of the world, so you won't have any trouble finding a large variety of recipes for it.

    White rice has an incredible shelf life. It'll keep for four to five years in the pantry. Brown rice has is more nutritious but has a shorter shelf life, lasting six to eight months in the pantry and eight to 12 months in the refrigerator. Since brown rice is more nutrient-dense, consider keeping it in the freezer, where it'll stay usable forever.

  • 04 of 10

    Peanut Butter

    Directly Above Shot Of Toasted Bread With Peanut Butter On Table
    Isabelle Louche / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Peanut butter is a cheap and versatile source of protein. A 16-ounce jar costs about three dollars. Beyond using it as a spread for sandwiches and bagels, you can add it to shakes, or whip up delectable desserts like peanut butter bars, cookies and fudge. Peanut butter also appears in savory dishes, like Thai peanut chicken.

    Unopened peanut butter is good for a year past the best-by date printed on the jar, so stock up when you find it on sale. Once you open the jar, it will last about three months. Natural peanut butter is an exception to this rule. It's good for two to three months past the printed best-buy date when stored in the pantry. It stretches to three to six months when stored in the refrigerator.

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  • 05 of 10


    Des/RooM/Getty Images

    Most fruits have a high water content, so they go bad quickly. If you're tired of finding science experiments in your fruit bowl, make apples your go-to fruit. Under the right storage conditions, they'll keep for up to five months, which means you can safely stock up when you find a deal on your favorite variety. When your apples start to go soft, all is not lost. They can still be used to make applesauce or apple butter.

  • 06 of 10


    Alexandra Ribeiro/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Baby carrots don't have a very long shelf life, but whole carrots do. Tuck a bag in the veggie bin in your refrigerator, and it'll be good for at least four to five weeks past the best-buy date printed on the bag. As long as they don't feel soft or slimy, carrots are perfectly fine to eat. Enjoy this versatile vegetable as a snack, roast them for a side dish, or chop them up and add them to soups. You can even use them to make a carrot cake if you're craving something sweet.

    Tip: If your carrots still have their long, leafy tops when you buy them, be sure to cut them off. They'll pull moisture from the carrots and cause them to dry out faster.

  • 07 of 10


    Pasta with broccoli
    Danette St. Onge

    A box of pasta is a great meal starter on a busy day. Just whip up a quick sauce or pour one out of a jar (no judgment here), and you have a complete meal.

    Dried pasta is always a good deal, but it's an even better deal if you catch it on sale. Aim to pay $1 a box or less. Pasta is good for one to two years past the date printed on the box, so you have plenty of time to use it up.

  • 08 of 10


    Porridge with blueberry
    Marina Jerkovic /Picture Press / Getty Images

    Oatmeal is a steal at just 21 cents per half-cup serving, and it has an equally impressive shelf life. Quick oats (also known as one-minute oats) can be kept for two to three years past the best-buy date. Instant oats and steel-cut oats have a shorter lifespan of one to two years past the best-buy date, but that's still plenty of time to use them. 

    Enjoy oats for breakfast, but don't overlook all of their other uses. Oats are an excellent addition to cookies and bread, and can even be used to stretch ground beef. Add up to a cup per pound of beef to make your meat purchases go further.

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  • 09 of 10


    Using Flour to Make Dough
    Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images

    Flour costs 50 cents a pound or less, and there's no end to the things that you can make, sweet and savory. When stored properly, all-purpose flour is good for six to eight months past the date that's printed on the bag. Whole-wheat flour and specialty flours like self-rising flour have a shorter lifespan of four to six months past the printed date.

    To stretch the shelf life even further, keep your flour in the freezer. There's no need to bring it back to room temperature before you use it.

  • 10 of 10

    Frozen Veggies

    Frozen vegetables in a colander
    Philippe Desnerck / Getty Images

    Frozen vegetables are an amazing storage food. You can get more veggies into your diet and avoid having them go bad before you're able to use them by loading up on the frozen varieties at the store. Prices range widely depending on the vegetable. They usually cost considerably less than fresh produce, and since they're frozen soon after being picked, they tend to pack a bigger nutritional punch.