Cooking from home saves money and improves health but many people think it’s expensive to have a variety of food in a week. Initially it can be overwhelming if you’re starting at 0 and “building a pantry” as I call it (getting basic staples in your cupboards, fridge, and dry pantry to easily make most dishes and desserts). But if you know what you like to cook and eat the most, that can help guide you on building your pantry.
These are the top 21 things you’ll need no matter what cuisine you prepare. Remember that larger quantities are cheaper per ounce so buy refillable containers, if possible.
- salt and pepper
- spices (buy them as you need them based on recipes you’re making. I advise first getting basics like: oregano, basil, Italian, paprika, chili powder, ground mustard, parsley, cumin) (in the Ethnic aisle, there are common spices for a fraction of the cost of McCormick and other brand-name spices)
- milk and/or heavy cream (half and half)
- cheeses that you use (American, grated real Parmesan and cheddar, etc)
- canned diced tomatoes
- stocks/broths (2 veggie, 8 chicken, 2 beef)
- brown sugar
- real ketchup
- prepared mustard and/or dijon mustard
- real maple syrup (keep in the fridge for longevity)
- frozen meats (portioned for each intended use- I buy large sizes of ground beef from Costco then portion it into 1-pound quantities and then wrap it in foil, label it, and freeze it. Any meat can be frozen before its expiration date- chicken, turkey, beef, ground meats)
- grains like: oatmeal, quinoa (has protein), barley, buckwheat, etc
- sweet pickles (chopped up, they’re relish)
- rice (jasmine and basmati are very fragrant and flavorful white varieties. brown and wild rice are great with a more nutty flavor)
- nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, etc)
- canned vegetables (corn, beans, chickpeas, etc)
Staples for Cookware and Utensils:
- spatula ($3-$10)
- rubber scraper ($5-$10)
- frying pan ($25-$50)
- large skillet pan with lid (10″ or 12″) ($50)
- stockpot with lid (can buy Farberware set on Ebay for $80 with 4-5 pots with lids)
- large stockpot with lid ($25)
- dutch oven/soup pot with lid ($40 or so off Ebay)
- grater ($10)
- chef’s knife ($10-$50)
- cutting boards ($10-$15)
- spoons, forks, knives
- measuring cups and measuring spoons ($5-$10)
- mixing bowls of multiple sizes ($10-$20)
- whisk ($5-$10)
- digital meat thermometer ($10)
- rice cooker & steamer ($25-$40)
Once you have some basic supplies, try to make simple recipes that don’t require a lot of ingredients (like Italian dishes, meat & potatoes kind of meals, and soups). Every week or so, try and add more ingredients to your pantry and more spices to your collection. I would add 1-2 spices a paycheck and eventually built up my spice pantry.
I remember when I first moved out of my parents’ house that I spent probably $300 worth of groceries and staples ontop of about $800 worth of kitchen supplies (including food processor, blender, and KitchenAid Mixer) and it was overwhelming. But if you invest in good-quality supplies and ingredients, you’ll have the tools necessary to make meals for years. I am an experienced cook with many years experience, so having the right supplies is very desirable for me.
Over time I’ve added other things to my supplies like: a mandolin slicer, KitchenAid Mixer attachment: shredders and slicers, etc.