Half the fun of having your own kitchen is stocking it with all of your favorite foods and choosing what you eat each day. There are some ingredients, however, that are absolutely essential to have on hand to avoid running out to the corner store every time you go to make a meal. Here are the ten ingredients that should be in your kitchen at all times.
1. Chicken/Vegetable Stock. Whichever you prefer, having cans of this stuff will make your life unquestionably better. Stock is especially useful for one of the easiest, one-pot meals: soup. Until it’s opened, cartons of stock keep almost indefinitely. For a cheap and relatively tasty stock, go for College Inn (clearly made for penny-pinching college students); if you don’t mind spending a little extra cash and want a more flavorful, natural stock, I recommend the Pacific Natural Foods brand.
2. Herbs & Spices. One of the problems many amateur cooks run into is lack of flavor in their dishes. Herbs and spices can instantly add that missing element in a dash, literally.
3. Frozen Veggies. Students that are constantly on the go often have trouble cooking all of the fresh vegetables in the refrigerator before they wilt and rot. Keeping a few bags of your favorite veggies in the freezer is a great solution to this problem. Not to mention that it will guarantee that you always have a quick fix to meet your daily serving requirement.
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is the miracle ingredient of any first kitchen. It’s healthy, flavorful, and available at the grocery store. It can be used for cooking, dressing, or dipping; it’s worth every penny and good until the last drop.
5. Rice/Pasta. Both of these grains are a no-brainer. They’re incredibly easy to make and versatile. Stock up on brown rice and whole grain pasta for a nutrition boost.
6. Lemons. This citrus is great to have around to brighten up the flavors in a dish or use in a simple salad dressing. Lemons last a long time in the fridge.
7. Canned Beans. A great source of fiber and protein that can bulk up almost any meal in a flash. There’s a wide selection of legumes and they’re all wonderfully economical.
8. Eggs. A great source of healthy fats and proteins, eggs can be served up a variety of ways in no time at all. They’re also very helpful to have on hand for any baking that might occur.
9. Bread. Another carbohydrate staple, bread is the perfect vehicle for anything you might have in your fridge that might be questionable to eat on its own but is delicious when stashed between two slices.
10. Hand Fruit. Whether for a breakfast on the go, a healthy afternoon snack, or sliced up in a salad, you can’t go wrong with a nice bowl of fruit. Apples, in particular, last a long time and if they aren’t gone by their expiration date you can chop them up and put them in some muffins or make some homemade applesauce in no time at all.
11. Milk. This ingredient is essential to any American household. We all know it’s traditional uses and are very familiar with using it. So follow your mother’s lead and be sure to have milk (or a milk alternative for those of the lactose-intolerant/vegan persuasion) in your refrigerator at all times. Even if you can stomach lactose, you might consider purchasing a shelf-able, milk alternative that will keep in your pantry for emergencies.
12. Nuts. With this ingredient, a little goes a long way and any kind of nut will last you quite a while. Whether thrown into a salad for some crunch or eaten as a quick and satisfying snack, nuts are a simple way to get those healthy fats, curb your pre-dinner hunger, or add some variety to a meal’s texture.
Chrysanthe is a senior at Smith College who shares an off-campus apartment with her best friend. To unwind, she enjoys long walks, bad television, good beer, and most of all a gin and tonic.