Consider your first real grocery list written.
As graduation season rolls around and you—or your loved one—prepare to move into your post-grad place, it’s important to start with a base of pantry-stable kitchen essentials that will come in handy in the long-term. However, moving into your first apartment, and stocking a starter kitchen, is a daunting task, and it can be hard to know where to begin. Use this list as a guideline for the essential pantry items to pick up now that will help prepare your cooking space—whether big or shoebox-sized—to tackle infinite recipes in the months and years to come.
Oil – Whether roasting veggies or pan-frying proteins, cooking oil is the starting point of many recipes. To start, stick with the two basics: olive oil and canola oil. Olive oil will act as the base for many of your dishes, dressings, and sauces, whereas canola will be perfect for baking and frying.
Vinegar – Vinegar is great for adding extra flavor and brightness to your recipes. Apple cider and white wine vinegars are both great starter options, as they will work well in a versatile range of dishes without being too overpowering.
Spices and Seasonings – Though navigating the seemingly never-ending spice aisle can be a challenge, there are a few essentials that can jump-start your first collection. Stock up on some quality grind-able salt and pepper, and then pick up a small selection of spices and herbs. We recommend cinnamon, cumin, oregano, and cayenne as a solid starter set.
Garlic – Whole garlic bulbs will last 3-6 months on your counter, and can add flavor to everything from meats to pasta sauces. As a bonus, this pantry staple tends to be both inexpensive and extremely versatile.
Onions – Like garlic, onions will stay fresh in your pantry for a good chunk of time—6 months in the winter or 1-2 months in the summer—and act as a great addition to just about any savory dish.
Condiments and Sauce Starters
Mustard – A quality Dijon mustard is not only a great condiment option on its own, but is also an excellent base for simple and delicious dressings. This Dijon Vinaigrette recipe is a great option to get you started.
Hot sauce – This condiment will enhance the flavors of everything from your scrambled eggs in the morning to your leftover pizza at midnight. Whether you prefer a fiery red Sriracha or a tangy green chili-based hot sauce, it’s an excellent staple to have on hand.
Honey – Perfect for sweetening foods the natural way, honey will be a great addition to tea, plain yogurt, oatmeal, sauces, and more.
Soy sauce – This condiment will be perfect for crafting your own Asian-inspired meals, like Ginger-Soy Chicken Thighs with Scallion Rice, or—on lazier nights—for serving with take-out sushi.
Nut Butter – Whether spreading it on toast or using it as the base for hearty Warm Peanut and Sesame Noodles, every pantry should have a jar of the nutty stuff. Whether you opt for crunchy or creamy is totally your call.
Tomato Paste – If you’re a pasta fan—and who isn’t—you’ll want to have tomato paste around as a sauce starter. We recommend mastering a simple and reliable recipe like this Ultimate Quick-and-Easy Pasta Sauce, to impress friends and dinner dates with your off-the-top-of-your-head cooking skills.
The Recipe Basics
Pasta – Once you’ve perfected that perfect pasta sauce, you’ll need to have some carb-filled goodness on hand to pour it over. Dried pasta is the perfect pantry item, as it’s affordable and long lasting, so you won’t have to worry about stocking up too often.
Rice – Rice will also act as the base for infinite easy and delicious recipes—ranging from Vegetarian Burrito Bowls to Chicken Fried Rice. We recommend starting with a big bag of basmati rice, which should last you for the long haul.
Rolled Oats – This pantry staple will be your breakfast BFF, whether prepared warm or fashioned into grab-and-go Overnight Oats. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, whip up a big batch of Chocolate Peanut-Butter Energy Bars for your on-the-move snacking needs.
Canned Tuna - This nonperishable ingredient is a great option for those who want more animal protein in their diet with minimal cooking time. Not sure what to make? Start with these awesome canned tuna recipes.
Canned Beans – Another protein option for those who would rather go the meat-free route are canned beans, which are great to have on hand for everything from lighter soups and salads to heartier dishes like Chipotle Bean Burritos.
Broth – Stocking up on some chicken, vegetable, and/or beef broth will make whipping up soups and stewed recipes a breeze. Just make sure to refrigerate the leftovers if you don’t use the entire container at once.
All-purpose Flour – While flour is obviously essential to almost all baking endeavors, it’s also great for thickening sauces, breading fried dishes, and more. For those who are gluten intolerant, or just prefer to eat grain-free, check out this Guide to Using Alternative Flours.
Sugar – While basic granulated sugar is a good starting point if you’re planning to get your bake on, having bags of brown sugar and powdered sugar on hand is also a good idea, particularly for those with a sweet tooth.
Vanilla extract – While there are plenty of extracts out there, vanilla tends to be the jumping off point for most recipes. When you’re ready to take your pantry game up a notch, you can even make your own homemade vanilla extract to get the most bang for your buck.
Baking powder – Another baking essential, baking powder is key for cake and bread-making endeavors.
Baking soda – This basic ingredient will also come in handy in many baked goods recipes, and as a bonus, can be used to clean your space. Check out more common ingredients that can be used as household cleaners.