I'm a Bargain-Shopping Food Writer, and These Are the Pantry Items I Buy at Lidl
We're all creatures of habit. We choose sides and dig our heels into time-honored loyalties, from sports teams to car companies to … pantry staple brands?
Yep, the kitchen is absolutely no exception to behavioral conditioning. Think about the goods you buy over and over again, not thinking twice before paying premiums for the name brands we grew up with. They're familiar; we trust them. However, with the rising cost of groceries (and general cost of living), why are we still doing this?
If you're making something very special and a particular ingredient is a key feature, then yes; by all means, splurge. However, for the most basic, everyday items that get mixed in and mixed up with other ingredients, there's no reason why we ought to pay more for products that are uniform across the board. If it's something that plays only a structurally supporting role or is part of a big-batch project, like for the school or church bake sale, it's kind of a waste of money to pay for packaging no one will ever see. Who's going to notice or care what company's sugar is in your brownies?
This is where Lidl comes in.
Because while I also have strong brand loyalty to certain products (e.g., where the manufacturer directly impacts the version and flavor of the ingredient, such as peanut butter), this affinity doesn't extend to stuff like sugar, baking powder, cornstarch and the like. This is especially true with the Lidl Love It Guarantee, where you'll get a refund and a replacement for a similar item if you don't find their product a satisfactory stand-in; there's literally no risk whatsoever in giving their generic version a shot. Plus, as a European brand, there are certain store-brand pantry goods that Lidl does even better than their name-brand American counterparts! Look for the Preferred Selection label for your first clue. In the meantime, here are some of the best, most reliable and high-quality pantry finds I pick up from Lidl.
Rule No. 1: if it's going into something where the individual ingredients won't be distinguishable, let's pay less. That goes for baking soda, cornstarch, all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour, all of which are slightly cheaper than the supermarket store brands and significantly less than the name-brand stuff. For those who don't bake with gluten, almond flour and organic coconut flour are also much more affordable with Lidl's labels. And if you're making sweets, sugar's a bargain here, too. Lidl offers brown, dark brown and confectioners' sugar for just $1.70 for a 2-pound bag, and conventional sugar is $2.50 for twice that. If you like, you can "splurge" for organic at under $3 for a resealable 2-pound bag.
Spices & Salt
Sure, you can (and should!) keep room in your budget for nice spices. But for everyday ones you burn through quickly, in quantity, and therefore replace regularly, why not go generic? For garlic powder, oregano, cumin, red pepper, salt and the like, Lidl has become where I check first when it's time to restock. Its own brand of iodized salt is literally half the cost of the name brand they also carry, at a mere 54 cents. Not a single jar of their dried herbs and spices is over $3, even the expansive organic line, and they don't even look as no-frills as more recognizable budget brands like Badia. How they keep the prices low is by varying the ounces, so some types aren't as full by volume. However, those are the ones you should be replenishing more frequently anyway, as potency does wane over time.
Shelf-Stable Fruit Products
Applesauce at Lidl is available in a range of varieties and is always priced the same as the "sale" price at the big stores. I use it a lot as an oil substitute when baking and also to dip tater tots into (it's like latkes, without the work!), so the half-cup portions are perfect, even if they're not as good of a value as the bigger tubs.
That's not the only processed fruit that's a solid buy at Lidl. Spreads, jams, jellies, preserves … whatever you call them, they're a great value here, especially if you keep a sharp eye out for the Preferred Selection label for the German imports and flavors. They tend to have higher concentrations of real fruit—more even than name-brand American favorites, which have come under fire for advertising "100% fruit" when the concentration is less than the regulated 47% required to be labeled a preserve.
Stock & Broth
Used to be, I'd wait for holiday season sales to stock up on aseptic cartons of cooking stock and broth. With a Lidl around, I don't have to. They carry a full line and wide variety, including low-sodium, that's literally half the cost of the name-brand version sitting on the shelf right next to it. It's only going to be infused with other flavors as you turn it into soup or sauce anyway, or used as an enhancement, like when you use it to moisten stuffing, so why not? Especially for a dollar a quart when it does go on sale!
Related: 48 Soups You'll Want to Make Forever
Why pay a premium for sugary cereals we eat for pleasure? Lidl's are just as good, and they're a fraction of even supermarket white-label prices, blowing the cost of national brands out of the water. For instance, the lowest I've ever seen Honey Bunches of Oats dip down to is $1.88 a box if you buy multiples, but Lidl's is $1.49 on the regular; cornflakes, "oat hoops," "fruit rings" and "magical forest" cereal with marshmallows are even less. They have healthier picks, too, like shredded wheat, but if you want to go all-out healthy, the oats are hard to beat. All of their oats float around $3, from the giant 42-ounce rolled and quick to smaller containers of steel-cut and organic. For the latter, the BOGO sales make it a no-brainer to buy a couple to tide you over until the next sale.
While sauces, dips and dressings are food accessories, in the marketplace, they're a category giant expected to be worth $181 billion by 2025. That doesn't mean you have to pay top dollar for them, though. As a German company, it's no surprise that they have great mustards, like Dijon, stone-ground and seasonal varieties at much lower prices than other imported gourmet brands. They have American spicy brown and yellow, too, and to go hand-in-hand with that, several varieties of ketchup. Their organic one is among my favorites.
Their barbecue sauces and marinades don't slouch, either. Lidl is always coming out with seasonal limited editions, and most of them are tagged at around $2.25 a bottle. Most of the ones I've tried have been really good, and I especially love the Tart Cherry BBQ. And even if I didn't, I could have tapped into the Lidl Love It Guarantee, making it no harm, no foul.
There are certain snacks that we just can't compromise on. Brand and manufacturer can make a huge difference in minute ways. However, there are also some snacks where Lidl actually improves on their original inspiration. For example, the Organic Butter Microwave Popcorn is fantastic. It doesn't have the fake movie theater butter taste we know and love, but it's a fluffy popcorn with plenty of salty satisfaction. Their thin potato chips are nicely salty and crunchy, not too greasy, and a cross between Wise and Lay's. Sales can drop them down to as little as $1.24 a bag.
Related: Homemade Microwave Popcorn Recipe
But the best of them all are the Dutch Butter Cookies—think a bigger, toastier, more sugar-crystalled version of the pretzel-shaped blue-tin butter cookies that we grew up with. They may not exactly be the bargain-buy swap that's led the other categories, but after saving so much money, you sure deserve them.