Cooking for yourself for the first time is a big task that not everyone is prepared for. Yes, this does mean ditching your microwaveable meals for the stove. Stocking your kitchen not only with food, but also with things to cook the food with, is a class they should have taught in high school, but didn’t. Having essential healthy foods you can incorporate into different dishes is important and necessary for a functional kitchen. So put on your apron and get out your grocery list—it’s time to stock your kitchen!
A great substitute for butter that tastes amazing on just about anything, olive oil is a fantastic, healthy staple to keep in your kitchen. “I always use olive oil to cook,” says Kasia Jaworski, a senior at Villanova University.
Taking Kasia’s example, olive oil can be used to fry vegetables, drizzle on pasta with a little garlic and pepper or use in countless recipes. It’s definitely a good option to keep stocked in your cupboards!
Grains are a staple for your diet. They can be incorporated into most of your dishes and are just as good on their own. Stock your cabinets with your favorite grain. Some options include whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, brown rice, oats, cereal (try to avoid Cocoa Puffs!), whole-wheat pasta and quinoa.
Zoë Renauer, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, says, “I always have quinoa on hand. It never goes bad, not to mention you can mix it with any veggies or meat you have in the fridge, and it will almost always come out well.” Grains can be incorporated in numerous dishes and will last a while in your kitchen!
Seasonal fruits and veggies
As the year goes on, new fruits and veggies come into season and are perfect for your kitchen. Stock your kitchen with whatever is in season for a healthy addition.
You can also buy frozen fruit and vegetables, which will last longer. “I buy fruits and veggies all year long, but I make sure I always [have] broccoli in my freezer,” says Krista Emerson, a sophomore at Fort Lewis College. “Steaming it with some olive oil is the best [snack] and something everyone should have.”
We’re always told to have protein with each of our meals, but the same thing over and over isn’t very appetizing. Fill your kitchen with multiple proteins that you can add to different meals. Meats and eggs are great sources of protein that you can make many dishes with.
“Living on my own, I find I eat a lot more eggs,” says Carson Elsen, a junior at The Ohio State University. “They aren’t too high in calories and I can make them in everything and put them in lots of recipes.”
If you are vegan or want an alternative, beans, nuts and tofu are also fantastic ways to get your protein that are easy to work into meals. “I try to stay away from red meat, and I’ve found that it’s easy … with tofu and nuts,” says Katherine Hood, a senior at Seattle Pacific University. “I always keep them in my kitchen.”
Whether it’s in a sandwich, on celery or from a spoon, peanut butter is always satisfying and super delicious. “Always have peanut butter in your kitchen,” says Sarah Scott, a culinary arts major at Newbury College. “You never know when you’ll crave a PB&J, plus it tastes really good with veggies. It’s essential to my diet.”
The creamy goodness of peanuts in a jar is going to be a staple for your kitchen and a great source of protein, so you don’t want to be without it!
Basic items to stock in your cupboards with are:
- Milk (almond milk or soy milk are great alternatives for those who can’t have dairy)
- Butter or margarine
- Salt and pepper
At some time or another, you’re going to need to pop the lid off of something. A bottle opener is helpful for these instances, especially if you’re over the age of 21. Having one in your kitchen drawer means you’ll always be prepared!
You don’t realize how much you strain foods until you don’t have a strainer in your apartment. Whether you’re making pasta or veggies, having a strainer in your kitchen means you can avoid having soggy, wet broccoli.
“I use my strainer also for sifting out lumps in my sugar and for various recipes,” says Tiffany MacAtee, a senior at Boston University. “It can be used for a lot more than just my pasta.”
Whether you’re cooking for a bunch of friends or you just want to have leftovers for the next few days, a big pot to cook a large meal in is a must. “Once a week I’ll make a big pot of pasta, and as the week progresses, I will eat pasta with different things,” says Tasha Davern, a junior at Columbia University. “It’s like 10 meals without having to cook 10 times.”
Having a big pot available to you will make cooking those big meals less of a hassle. All you need now is the storage space for it!
Casserole dishes, which sound like something only your mother would own, can be used for more than just casseroles. Bake your brownies, cook your veggies or roast your potatoes in a casserole dish!
“My mom bought me a casserole dish for my birthday and I thought it was lame until I started it using it whenever I use the oven,” says Caroline Hampton, a sophomore at the University of California, Davis. “You really can cook anything in it.”
With all of this food in your kitchen, you’re going to need somewhere to store it. Tupperware is the answer to this problem. “At the beginning of the school year, I bought several Tupperware containers, and I keep all my leftovers in them,” says Kelly Bostwick, a sophomore at the University of Oregon. “They keep my food fresh for days.”
Store your leftovers in Tupperware so you can have them the whole week!
Cookie sheets can be used to make more than just delicious chocolate-chip cookies! Lots of dishes need to go in the oven, and they need a nice flat surface to be cooked on.
“I use my cookie sheets weekly,” says Sharon Cook, a junior at the University of Portland. “I bought it just for when I bake, but they work great for personal pizzas.”
Don’t forget your spatula and slotted spoon when shopping for kitchen essentials! Fork and knives will only get you so far when you attempt a Rachael-Ray-worthy pasta dish.
Having your first kitchen is exciting, and filling it with these delicious foods and handy cookware will make it all the better! These items make for a healthy lifestyle (unless you eat a jar of peanut butter a day), and they’ll also start you on your way to having a fully stocked, totally functional kitchen by the time you’re out of college. Stock up on all of your essentials and remember to keep buying them (yes, this means using a grocery list weekly), and your stomach will thank you!