Before I moved out on my own, I made several lists. They included what kind of furniture I needed or had, my budgetary constraints, pros and cons, and also what kind of food I’d need on that first grocery trip after move-in. You can find lots of advice online on the staples you should have in your pantry or fridge for basic meals or situations. Generally, you then shop to build off of those. However, since living on my own and even a bit before that, I found that certain items kept returning to my kitchen that weren’t necessarily on those lists. So, with that in mind, here are my must-have staples.
Pasta & Sauce. I am (and was) but a twenty-something on a budget who loves carbs. So, of course, I buy a lot of pasta. I do try to change up the noodles so I have some variety and the sauce as well. And thanks to all the spices I have, I can modify the flavor of the sauce, and use other staples to change consistency or type as well. Sometimes it’s just butter, noodles, and cheese, and other times we go a bit fancier.
Jasmine Rice. Another expected pantry staple, but the great thing here is the possible variety. Most people go for enriched long grain white rice, but jasmine is my preference for its mouthfeel and how it cooks and goes with a lot of things. I’ve tried basmati before, but that didn’t really work for me. I also generally don’t have the patience for brown rice although the texture there can occasionally be pleasant.
Knorr Rice Sides ~ Cheddar Broccoli. More specific here, this is the rice I use for my cheap, easy tuna-rice casserole. It can also be eaten on its own, but I like combining it. The rice is pretty affordable, but sometimes goes on sale. It mixes decently with other spices or things like cheese or breadcrumbs. Overall, I’ve been in love with this for years.
Tuna. I use this in either with sandwiches or my cheap, easy tuna-rice casserole. It’s affordable and I buy both the cans and the pre-flavored packets. They often go on sale, which is also great for saving more money. Plus you can’t deny that shelf life.
Grits. I was first introduced to this delicious typically Southern food in 2015 and, since then, it’s been part of my go-to breakfast. It’s basically my oatmeal, except I put eggs on top. It seems as if I might have been the only one buying instant grits at my usual store because now they’re not carrying them anymore and I have to hunt them down at other places.
Popcorn. Every kitchen needs a snack staple that you have on hand for late nights, movies, or what have you. I usually can’t have chips or cookies because they disappear far too quickly. Popcorn, however, is pretty safe. It’s delicious, filling, and satisfies that crunchy craving. The unfortunate thing is that so many are movie theater butter or butter lovers and that’s just not me. I’m a basic butter bitch—keep it simple.
Hot Chocolate. There’s something immensely comforting about having hot chocolate on hand whenever you need or want it. In the morning? Cool. Late night cocoa? Awesome. Mid-afternoon? You’re good. I also like adding a little bit of *spice* with cinnamon sugar and occasionally a dollop of whipped cream if that’s on hand. It just makes life so much sweeter, literally.
Tea. You know that scene in Scott Pilgrim vs The World where Ramona Flowers lists out a whole bunch of teas? Yeah, that’s my apartment—except I have more. I actually prefer tea to coffee nowadays. Green tea is generally my favorite, and I’m a fan of Bigelow’s green tea with lemon or Yamamotoyama. There’s just something so lovely about wrapping your hands around a warm mug and enjoying it.
Sauces. If you have a lot of bland-ish staples or basic foods then having a variety of sauces to zhoosh them up is great. I absolutely rely on my soy sauce, Sriracha, hoisin, and hot sauce to make my life tasty (among others). I do have at least three different hot sauces in my fridge at a time—currently Sriracha, Tapatio, and Slap Ya Mama—because I need spice and variety.
Onions. Perhaps some of the most versatile of vegetables and long-lasting, onions are great because they go with so many different things and can be prepared in a lot of ways. I tend to go with sweet onions over white—even though there are such things as flavor profiles—but I’m not that nitpicky. Plus it’s pretty easy to chop up an onion real quick and add it to a dish.
Minced Garlic. My secret is that anytime a recipe calls for minced garlic I don’t use fresh garlic because I’m a cheap and lazy person. Instead I reach instead the giant tub from Sam’s Club in my fridge and grab the equivalent, heartfelt amount. I use it in so many things and, sometimes, when garlic powder just isn’t enough this does the job. You really can’t have enough garlic.
Pickles. Some people want basics on hand so they can throw together a charcuterie board at any moment. I only need pickles. They’re delicious and tangy and perfect in the middle of the night. They work as a garnish or side to a sandwich or a snack. The difficulty, of course, sometimes comes in getting the damn jar open, but that’s just life sometimes.
Everyone has different things they can’t live without in their kitchens. Some may be fancy, bougie things and others really fall into that staple category. Either way, having some stuff you continually love in your life (and stomach) is something I definitely recommend.
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