Buying fresh food and then not getting down to cooking it is the WORST. It’s like grinding up twenties in the garbage disposal. By depending more on frozen, canned, and the like, you will rarely waste your food! Buy breads, cereals, fresh meats, dairy and some produce on a “need” basis according to what you plan on making that week.
I can distinctly remember my first big food shopping trip as a new wife. Ketchup, Saran wrap, soy sauce. I didn’t quite know what I’d need. I know now, though, and my kitchen is humming. Sometimes when food shopping costs make me sad, I like to play “how many meals can I find in my pantry and freezer?” It’s a surprisingly good time.
If you are a new cook and want to get better, setting up shop is your first move. There is no shortage of recipes out there, and if you’re like me then you only pull the recipes when you have most of the ingredients. Buying ingredients ahead that will last a long time will allow you to tear out more recipes!
Cooking at home saves you money, saves you calories and can actually be a pretty good time. There is some expense on the front end, but trust me, you’ll make it up soon enough.
I arranged this in sections and italicized the ingredients that are a bit more random and get used seldom. Pick and choose. If you don’t bake, you can skip the baking pantry. If you hate spicy, DON’T BUY SRIRACHA. Oh gosh if you like spicy, buy sriracha and put it on EVERYTHING.
Some prep basics:
Large freezer Ziploc bags (gallon sized)
Sandwich sized Ziploc bags
Technically, spices and herbs should be used within the year they’re purchased. They won’t go “bad”, however, they will just lose their potency. A rule of thumb with herbs is this: If a recipe asks for fresh herbs but you only have dry, use a third of the amount. Say a recipe asks for 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, use 1 tsp. dried rosemary (there are 3 tsp. in a tablespoon).
Table salt, kosher salt
Crushed red pepper
Pumpkin pie spice
Cream of tartar
Keep your oils in a cool, dark place. Any oils you don’t plan on using frequently (like sesame), store in the fridge. Though I wrote whole wheat pastas, it’s good to have some “white” pasta on hand for when guests come that dislike whole wheat.
Chicken broth (Swanson Organic Free Range Chicken Broth tastes best)
Crushed tomatoes (Tutterosso is the best brand)
Diced tomatoes (Red Pack is the best brand (Red Gold on West Coast)
Prepared tomato sauce (Giada’s brand at Target got GREAT reviews)
Cannellini (also called Great Northern) beans
Chickpeas (also called Garbanzo beans)
Whole wheat string noodles (angel hair, spaghetti, linguini, etc)
Whole wheat shapes (rotini, penne, ziti)
Little noodles (pastina, acine de peppe, orzo)
Whole wheat couscous
Tuna (light is better for you than chunk white)
Whole Peeled Tomatoes (Progresso is the best brand)
Tomato Puree (Hunts is the best brand)
White wine/Red wine vinegar
Apple Cider vinegar
Jarred roasted red peppers
Jarred sundried tomatoes (in oil)
Jarred artichoke hearts
Light coconut milk, canned
Arborio Rice (used to make risotto)
Bulgar wheat (YUM! In organic section. Higher fiber and lower calorie than brown rice, and cooks a WHOLE LOT quicker, too)
This will all keep! Store your whole wheat flour in the fridge unless you plan to use it within a month or two of purchasing.
All purpose flour
White Whole wheat flour
Sugar (sometimes called granulated)
Brown Sugar (Sold as light and dark; recipes will tell you which to use but I find that more recipes call for light brown, so buy that. It’s just that dark brown sugar has more molasses in it, so the flavor is more robust)
Powdered Sugar (sometimes called confectioners’sugar)
Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
Unsweetened chocolate (Ghiradelli is the best brand)
Dark chocolate, chips (Ghiradelli is the best brand)
Semisweet chips (Nestle Semi Sweet chocolate chunks have a great flavor)
Old fashioned oats
Vanilla extract (buy imitation if you only plan on using it for cookies, cake, pancakes, etc, as it makes NO DIFFERENCE IN FLAVOR. If you like making puddings, custards, etc, then use real vanilla)
Shortening (small container, it can go funky after a year or two)
Light corn syrup
Instant espresso powder
Canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
Sweetened condensed milk
Nonfat dry (powdered) milk
Meat is good for many months if properly frozen (wrapped very tightly). Nuts will keep for up to a year in the freezer, as will your frozen veggies. It’s very difficult to buy organic if you shop on a budget. Frozen organic is a great way to go. These fruits/veggies were flash frozen at the peak of freshness and frozen is almost always cheaper. For berries, thaw in fridge in a cereal bowl overnight and enjoy with yogurt the next morning!
Chicken (Trader Joes frozen bag of chicken.. tenderloins.. best value)
Nuts: Almonds and Walnuts are most used (best stored frozen so they don’t go rancid)
Shrimp (Buy cooked, tail on or off, when on sale)
Frozen bananas (mash 3 very ripe, peeled bananas and freeze in ziplock bag)
Frozen whole bananas for smoothies
Bell pepper strips
Edamame (both in shell and shelled)
Fresh Veggies/Fruit to have on hand
Most of these fruits and vegetables are affordable this time of year. The apples and oranges will keep for weeks in the produce drawer of your fridge, as will the carrots and celery. The potatoes, onions, and garlic will last several weeks as well, though they might start looking like aliens. For real.
Carrots (not the baby ones, the real ones)
Sweet Potatoes (stored in dark, room temperature pantry area)
White potatoes (stored the same way)
Onions (stored the same way)
Garlic (stored the same way)
Apples (Macintosh for baking, Fuji or granny smith for eating)
Bananas (store at room temperature)
When on sale, a honey dew, cantaloupe or pineapple. They’re sweet if they smell sweet when you sniff the stem end. Let sit at room temperature several days and then cut up – if unsure of how to chop properly check out youtube).