A well-stocked kitchen means there’s always something to snack on or whip up, whether it’s 2am or two in the afternoon. While this list may seem lengthy to be deemed essentials, it packs in everything your kitchen needs in order to be on alert for surprise dinner guests or cooking up cupcakes for your kid’s extra curricular activity. It also means less dining out, since there will always be ingredients for a simple dinner or delicious dessert ready to go.
We put together an extensive list of things you need, but have omitted basics that are probably already there such as milk and eggs.
If you aren’t familiar with go-to spices, you want to get acquainted starting now. Spices can make all the difference in your cooking and can take a cheap cut of meat from drab to fab. Technically, they aren’t all spices, but they’re all used to add a kick to main dishes, soups and stews.
- Garlic powder.
For those evenings when you aren’t in the mood to mince fresh garlic, garlic powders adds the same garlic-y goodness with just a few sprinkles.
- Sea salt.
It’s healthier than regular salt and if you’re a fan of coarse salt, sea salt will knock your socks off.
- Various types of whole or ground pepper.
Fresh ground black pepper is brilliant, but check out white and pink pepper which add an interesting dimension.
Perhaps a vastly underused spice, ground sage is ideal for homemade rubs and marinades and pairs well with chicken.
- Red chili flakes.
A few red chili flakes can make all of the difference when making chicken or beef.
- Chili powder.
Use it for basic chili recipes, but also for fish tacos.
- Bay leaves.
Even a dried bay leaf can add significant warmth to stews or a slow-cooked bolognese.
- Ground coriander.
We’d never choose ground coriander over the real deal, but for some dishes, this spice adds a fresh element that can’t be captured with anything else.
- Onion powder.
If your family is finicky about onions, use onion powder to add the same aroma without getting bits of onion all over the food .
Ground cumin is one of our favorite spices to work with, especially when making soups or working with pork.
- Ground mustard.
Add serious intensity to your beef with ground mustard.
- Cayenne pepper.
It’s delicious for chicken and can also be used to make Mexican hot chocolate.
Paprika is a secret ingredient for many for cooking up the perfect burger.
- Basic steak seasoning.
This can be a Montreal steak seasoning or any seasoning meant for beef that your family enjoys.
- Dried thyme.
This is one dried herb that can almost stand up to its fresh counterpart. We love it on pork and in breads.
Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and veggies make a great snack on their own and add some color and nutrition to many dishes.
You decide the type (we suggest red potatoes and leaving the skin on), but potatoes are brilliant for roasting in the winter and grilling in the summer.
Portobello mushrooms can be a tad pricey depending on where you live, but they add a hearty punch to many dishes and can beef up quantity when you’re feeding guests.
Onions of every type rank high on our list of veggies to have in the fridge at all times. Shallots, red onions, white onions and chives are some of our favorites (and the most versatile).
- Leafy green lettuce.
Forget about the iceberg. There’s no nutritional value and seldom any flavor. Instead go for romaine or any leafy green lettuce that is rich in color and texture.
- Bell peppers.
No matter what color you choose, bell peppers are delicious fresh or sauteed.
If you can get used to adding fresh garlic to many meals, you’ll discover that it adds a memorable flavor. If you don’t like mincing, invest in a microplane and grate garlic directly over your saucepan or pot.
A good apple makes a fabulous snack on its own, but it also works well with real honey, plain yogurt and various cheeses.
A banana works by itself and is brilliant on a slice of toast with Nutella.
- Lemons and limes.
Both are a must for whipping up your own quick marinades or garnishing a drink.
Throw them in a salad or get your vitamin C by noshing on it straight up.
Meat, Poultry and Fish
What’s easy, versatile and what exactly are you supposed to do with it? When it comes to main dishes, there’s a few that are must-haves for cooking up a fancy dinner or a quick weekday supper.
- Boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
This is the most healthy chicken, but also the most expensive. Still, a single large chicken breast is often enough for filling out a soup.
- Chicken thighs.
Sure, they have a little more fat, but this also means a lot more flavor. They’re fabulous browned on the stove top or roasted in the oven.
- A whole chicken.
This is a must because it creates a rustic, impressive, yet easy dish if you have unexpected company.
You decide how much you want to spend, but remember that even a cheap cut of meat works when cooked properly.
- Short ribs.
Short ribs can be purchased with or without the bone (the former will cost you a bit more) and can be cooked on the burner, in the oven or even in a crockpot.
It may not be the cheapest fish to purchase, but it’s health value is through the roof and it can easily be frozen should you catch it on sale.
This is a fairly cheap fish that can be fried or baked and takes on the flavor of whatever you season it with.
- De-veined, peeled shrimp.
Cut off the tails and you have a quick ingredient for soups, plus you can quickly fry them for delicious po-boy sandwiches.
- Pork chops.
Pork chops are delicious seasoned with dried thyme and can become super soft in a crock pot.
- Ground beef or turkey.
Turkey has less fat and is interchangeable in most recipes. Use them for burgers, meatballs or tacos.
Canned goods come in handy when you don’t have time to chop or defrost fresh vegetables. Must-haves in the canned goods department are also various types of beans, which add a heartiness to dishes with less (or no) meat.
- Canned tomatoes.
Buy them whole, diced or fire-roasted, but make sure you have them for creating gorgeous sauces and adding depth to stews.
- Canned fruits.
Bathed in syrupy goodness, canned fruits make a quick dessert when served with ice cream or cooked in gooey cakes or bread pudding.
- Peanut butter.
Eat it on an apple, on an English muffin or by the spoonful (we won’t tell).
- Black beans.
These work as a side, but can also beef up burritos as if you’re at Chipotle.
Add texture to chicken cacciatore or pour them in any soup.
Nearly everyone loves a sandwich, but we can get tired of the same ol’ thing, day in day out. Shake up your sandwiches by keeping the following ingredients stocked and find out they can even make a delicious dinner.
- Whole grain bread.
Whole grain bread is healthy and the flavor stands up to great quality cheeses and meats.
There’s nothing like a sandwich on crusty bread. Some grocers now carry whole grain baguettes, so keep your eyes peeled.
Who isn’t a fan of salami? Throw it in a sandwich or use to create an antipasta platter for guests .
A ham sandwich can go simple or be dressed up with Dijon and brie.
- Sliced turkey.
The less processed, the better, since it will pack loads of flavor and is low in fat.
- Cheddar cheese.
You choose the type, though we’re fans of sharp cheddar which is brilliant for a classic grilled cheese sandwich.
- Swiss cheese.
Another low fat substitute that is perfection when toasted with turkey or ham and Dijon.
If you have a ripe avocado, sprinkle garlic powder to create a paste and use it as a delicious sandwich spread.
Sliced olives can go in a sandwich or stand alone as a side when rolled in herbs and tossed in a vinagarette.
Pickle spears with a crunch can be served alongside a sandwich or on an appetizer platter for company.
Baking isn’t nearly as tough as it looks, but it does take practice. Best of all, it’s ridiculous cheap to cook up biscuits or a cake from scratch when you have the proper ingredients at your fingertips.
- Good vanilla.
By now you’re probably sick of the phrase “good vanilla,” but we mean nothing with additives or filler. Straight up vanilla extract is what you want and it will make all the difference in your baking. Consider it an investment since a little goes a very long way.
- Cocoa powder.
A must for puddings and cakes.
- Half and half.
Sometimes creamier is better. Half and half can also be used in cream sauces.
- All-purpose flour.
Ideal for whipping up a fast batch of drop biscuits.
- Whole wheat flour.
Many (though not all) baking recipes can be made with whole wheat flour. It’s also useful for making your own bread or pizza crust.
- Granulated sugar.
This basic a must-have for those who want to start baking regularly.
- Confectioner’s sugar.
Use it for baking or to add a nice touch to muffins or even store-bought ice cream sandwiches.
- Baking powder.
A must for making biscuits and cakes.
- Baking soda.
Another basic for baking and an essential for breads.
- Semi or bittersweet chocolate.
Real melted chocolate can be what makes many homemade dessert recipes.
In the Pantry
Crackers, noodles and a few other goodies are must-haves that should lurk at the front of your pantry shelves.
- Whole grain crackers.
Again, these are the most healthy, but any cracker your family is a fan of can fill the void.
- Dried lasagna sheets.
These oven-ready sheets of pasta can easily be layered for the world’s fastest lasagna.
- Spaghetti or fettuccini.
A long pasta is great for tossing in a simple oil and herbs.
- Ziti or penne.
Small pasta is ideal for casseroles, baking with cheese or capturing hefty tomato sauces in every bite.
- Egg noodles.
Quick drop egg noodles are idea for adding to soups or cooking with Asian-infused dishes.
A simple, fast side dish that accompanies meats well.
This grain is super healthy and makes a great dish when seasoned and rolled with roasted vegetables.
- Pancake mix.
Many pancake mixes are just as tasty as working from scratch and just need water and a whisk.
- Whole grain cereal.
Use it to add crunch to yogurt and fruit or eat it as a quick snack with milk.
Sprinkle with cinnamon or brown sugar for a delicious morning treat or use it for oatmeal cookies.
While we’re huge fans of fresh food, sometimes frozen options are just smarter for the wallet and more practical for real life. Here’s everything that your freezer needs in order to be useful.
- Green beans.
We’re all for fresh, but when it comes to a lot of veggies, the frozen version is just as delish and far more convenient. Sautee green beans with shallots or give them a Southern twist by adding bits of bacon.
Add butter and cook it up or let it defrost and add color to a salad.
You can buy these with or without shells and then quickly cook them with sea salt for a tasty, healthy side or snack.
When it comes to frozen potatoes, look for the package with the least amount of additives (there are many organic versions on the market these days). Use them for making french fries or home fries when you aren’t up for peeling and boiling.
Because of its high fat and salt content, you may not use bacon daily, which means it goes bad. Ration it out in wax paper and then in foil for small frozen portions that can be used to add flavor to meats.
Most families go through strawberries quickly, so buy the bulk bag of frozen strawberries and leave a covered container full of them in the fridge for easy access.
Blueberries are pricey, so usually buying them frozen is a better deal. Use them in pies and remember they can be thrown in frozen for smoothies.
Nuts are best stored in the freezer (the oils can cause them to go bad quickly otherwise) and almonds can be rough chopped to add texture to anything.
- Stuffed pasta.
Make extra sauce and pull out frozen stuffed pasta for a work week dinner that’s satisfying and fast.
- Pre-baked pizza crusts.
These can be purchased at a local bread shop and frozen or found in the freezer section of your grocery store.
These aren’t musts, but can make it easier to add an extra touch to your cooking.
Red and white wine vinegar.
Perfect for simple homemade dressings.
Have it with waffles, in your tea or for adding sweetness to a vinagarette.
Marmalade jelly or preserves.Use it in your dressings or have it on toast or with cheese.
Sometimes you need the vigor of tomato paste, even when using fresh or canned tomatoes.
Preferably the freshest salsa you can find. Add it to soups, use it to top a salad or sandwich or simply serve it with chips.
A well-stocked kitchen is something that everyone should aspire to have since it cuts down on trips to your favorite fast food restaurant and prevents you from overspending when you’re at the market. When you have the essentials on hand and know what to do with them, you’ll find out that you’re (almost) always in the mood to step into the kitchen.