Kitchen Basics: Stocking the Cupboard
If you’re anything like the typical American in the 21st century, your kitchen could use some help. I know mine could: It’s small, there’s not enough counter space, and certainly not enough storage in my cupboards. And yet, there are ways to make even the worst kitchen work well enough to cook decent meals consistenty.
A first step is having on hand the basic ingredients you need. These will vary depending on your preferences and how often you cook, as well as whether you decide to bake cookies or cake for dessert once in a while. But with a few basics in your cupboard, you’ll be surprised at the variety of meals you can make quickly and easily.
For starters, some dry staples:
- Pasta (choose the shapes you prefer) and rice
- Salt, pepper, and other herbs and spices you like (I recommend basil, oregano, thyme, chili powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and parsley for starters)
- All-purpose flour
- Granulated sugar
Now, add some liquid seasonings:
- Olive oil (buy the highest quality you can afford of the type you prefer. If extra virgin is too strong for your taste, don’t worry!)
- Canola or vegetable oil
- Balsamic vinegar (start with a small bottle. You’ll find many uses for this!)
- Soy sauce
Some vegetables that store well for long periods come in handy:
- Russet potatoes (Idaho baking potatoes)
- Yellow or white onions
- Fresh garlic (if you buy fresh, you can skip the garlic powder listed with the spices, above)
Perishables for the refrigerator that you will use often include:
- Butter or margarine
- Lemon (or lemon juice)
- Salsa, curry blends, fish sauce, chutneys, and other seasonings specific to any ethnic cuisine you enjoy
- Milk (if you’re not a milk drinker, try non-fat dried milk so you don’t have to worry about spoilage)
Finally, a few cans in your cupboard:
- Tomato sauce
- Chicken stock
- Black olives
- White and/or black beans
- Soups you enjoy
With these staples, a few fresh items from the store each week — meat, produce, and dairy — are pretty much all you need to make dozens of easy meals. If you have these basics already on hand when you find a recipe that strikes your interest, you only need to add a few extra items to your grocery list to fix a good meal.
This list may seem daunting, but remember two things. First, you don’t have to buy everything at once. Buy what you need as you need it, but try to keep track of what you have so you don’t re-buy items. Second, this entire list can be bought for less than $100. If you can spare that amount to stock your kitchen all at once, go for it! Think of how quickly you would spend the same amount of money eating out. The return on your $100 investment in terms of your time, your health, and your calorie count is well worth it.