My freshman year of college was the only time in my life when all daily meals were made for me by someone — with the exception of my formative baby years, of course. Since then, I've always had a kitchen to cook crafty late-at-night meals. Like most Millennials, I started with basic breakfast dishes and variations on mac and cheese, then I moved on to complex meat prep and even soups made from scratch. I have yet to try desserts or baking, simply out of shear fear of having to follow recipes to the T.
Being able to cook for yourself is a very satisfying feeling. Every time I make something tasty for the first time I feel a sense of accomplishment. Look Ma, I did it! As weird as it may sound, I've always felt the most independent when cooking for myself or my friends. As a writer I do not get a lot of physical labor thrown my way, so in a sense, cooking is the closest I can get to cutting down a tree and building a house.
Since graduating from college and living on my own I've come to learn some important nuggets of wisdom that I would like to share with you all. In particular, I want to share the items you should always have in your fridge and pantry to successfully adult. While some items will seems like obvious choices, my reasoning for having them at all times could help you out of a few jams. My goal is to have you saying: oh we can totally make that right now! Bonus — this list is also helpful to anyone who is on a budget like myself.
Pro tip: It is very important to keep you refrigerator organized and clean. Items that have expiration dates coming up or are highly perishable should be kept closer to the front of the shelf — easily accessible to you. That way you remember to use it and not be wasteful by throwing out perfectly good food.
Milk Or Other Dairy Products
Milk, yogurt, and cheese are what life is all about. You will constantly be using these items and buying more. Make sure not to store milk on the fridge door — at least not if you have roommates. My milk has gone bad quicker because the fridge door was constantly being opened and closed.
Breakfast, lunch, or (PLOT TWIST) dinner. Eggs are a super food. Always keep them above any heavy items and make sure to check the box before buying them for expiration dates and broken shells before purchasing.
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Once opened you can keep them for quite a while in your fridge, so stock up and save.
This will be your lifesaver when it comes to stinky food items. Baking soda sucks up the odors that sometime penetrate your cheeses and butters. No one wants a fishy smelling cheese. Arm and Hammer sells convenient boxes that you replace every 30 days. (I tend to replace mine less because I'm cheap and broke at the moment.)
Sauces On Sauces on Sauces
Always have a variety of sauces on hand. Even badly prepared food can get a dose of goodness out of a bottle. Soy, teriyaki, salad dressing, ketchup, and mustard will last a long time and really pull their weight, especially jazzing up meals on a budget.
Storing this in the fridge will keep it delicious for you.
I've found that I can keep my bread from going stale for an extra two weeks by keeping it in the fridge instead of the counter.
Pickles, olives, and other things in jars can keep for a long time, and serve as a munchie saver.
Fruits and Vegetables
Yes, they're expensive, but they're a surefire way to avoid scurvy! If you want them to last longer, consider buying whatever happens to be on sale that week and then moving it to the freezer.
... Is everything to me. It keeps for a long time, and even if you're not a butter person, you'll always have some random butter-related baking emergency, I guarantee.
Leftovers or Precooked Meals
If you live with other people and have limited fridge space, I suggest pre-cooking all of your meals for the week. That way you leave room for the perishables you haven't used and know exactly what you need to buy.
Biscuits or pizza. No matter what your choice, it will be fast and easily accessible.
You should defrost your freezer every once in a while to keep it working well. Remember to move things around and away from the back wall where it is the coldest to keep your items from getting freezer burn.
Any extra meat or fish that you do not end up using should be put into plastic bags and placed in the freezer. That can delay your next shopping trip by a few days and save you money.
Sometimes you don't want to cook, and that's OK. Sometimes your friends come over and you need to entertain. Either way, frozen meals are nothing to be ashamed of. Stores usually have good deals so you can stock up and just keep them in the freezer for a long time.
Ice-cream is a gift, so keep it in the freezer at all times.
Put frozen grapes in your alcoholic drinks to avoid diluting them — TRUST me.
This is (hopefully) a given, but you never know when an ice-mergency will arise.
Keeping them in the freezer an hour or two before using them helps curtail the tears when you cut into them.
You can do whatever you want with this part of the kitchen. It's not as sensitive as the fridge, so use it as a creative outlet.
Clear Plastic Containers + Labels
Keeping everything in these will make it super easy to find in a pinch.
Salt and Pepper
Obviously a staple of every dish (what is blood pressure?).
For a quick breakfast fix (or dinner, nobody's here to judge).
These babies never go bad. A nuclear incident could occur and you will be fed forever. Plus, these are really great to have ready to go when you're sick and don't feel like leaving the house.
Canned Tomato Sauce
Yes, they're great on noodles, but they can also provide some heft or a base for a ton of other delicious dishes.
These will also last forever. They are a go to when you are out of food (or non-zombie stricken relative post-apocalypse).
Rice/Quinoa/Risotto/Other Less Perishable Grain Products
Mixing one of these with a protein every night is easy and creates variety. That way you feel like a master chef without shelling out the big bucks.
Because nothing is better than a hot plate of spaghetti. (And the fact that it takes eight minutes to make is also a big selling point for me.)
MASHED POTATOES. ENOUGH SAID. But seriously, these are so versatile and so, SO cheap.
This protein will keep longer than meat, won't take up space in the fridge, and is great in salads.
Garlic makes everything taste good, helps your immunity system, AND makes people think you spent a lot of money on the meal.
Similar to potatoes — hella cheap.
Because you never know when they will be ripe. I put a few out to ripen while the rest sit in the fridge.
It take it all back. You can ignore everything on this list and just have a pantry stock full of this stuff.
If you don't want to waste your precious butter on nonstick baking misadventures, this is the solution you need in your life.
And that's all, folks! With these supplies you will triumph in the art of adulting.
Images: Aleksandr Zubkov/Moment/Getty Images; Giphy