One of the greatest benefits to moving into your first apartment is having the freedom to cook whatever you want and save money while doing it! But, if you’ve never had to stock a fridge or a pantry before, you may be at a loss for what to purchase. Though cooking may seem like a time-consuming (and expensive) chore, there are many healthy, fast, and affordable options out there. These great healthy food staples are perfect for your new home.
Having a basic stock of spices is important in any kitchen, especially for healthy foods. Seasoning is the key to good cooking, particularly if you’re working with less expensive products or lots of fresh veggies. This means that having good spice set is essential. If you’re cooking chicken for the 5th night in a row, it’ll be nice to add a little variety. After all, chicken seasoned with paprika tastes incredibly different from chicken seasoned with curry powder.
Many spices can seem a little pricey at first – consider they’re not really the bulk of a meal – but most of them will last you at least the length of your lease and you’ll probably get a ton of use from them.
What spices are good to have on hand for a college apartment? Salt and pepper is a good place to start (duh). Of course, building a solid spice stock depends on what kind of flavors you like, but here are a few suggestions to start with: Basil, Coriander, Cumin, Curry, Cinnamon, Chili Powder, Garlic Powder, Paprika, Oregano, Crushed Red Peppers, and Rosemary.
Stocking your fridge and pantry with basic breakfast foods is an absolute must for the college apartment. Even if you’re skipping breakfast – which you definitely shouldn’t be – never make the mistake of thinking that traditional “breakfast foods” are only good for morning eats. You can’t underestimate the holy power of “brinner” (for the unenlightened: breakfast at dinner time), especially in your busy college years! The best part about breakfast foods is that they’re usually easy to make and on the cheaper side price-wise.
Oatmeal is healthy, nutritious, easy to make, and comes in a variety of flavors. Better still, buy real oats without the packaged artificial flavors and add raisins or banana slices and brown sugar. Yogurt follows the same principle, whether you prefer regular or Greek.
Bacon (or turkey bacon if you want a lower calorie alternative) is not only delicious – oh, so delicious – but also can be used when you want to splurge calories on a decadent snack (bring on the Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies and Bacon Nachos). And, you can prep bacon on the weekend and warm it in the toaster before you scramble out to that early morning class.
Eggs are both versatile and affordable, so they are highly recommended. Raw eggs will stay fresh for at least a week. But keep in mind once you’ve cooked or hard boiled an egg, they will go bad within a few days.
Canned and Frozen Foods
Though not always the most fresh, having certain canned and frozen foods on hand can save you both time and money – both of which are essential ingredients to college life. Because of this, there are some canned foods that you should consider having in your cabinet at all times.
Canned beans are a fantastic source of protein, whether they be black, red, or white. They are an incredibly versatile ingredient, because they can be served alone, on the side of a bigger meal, in salad, and a number of other dishes. Oh, and don’t forget to add some chopped bacon to those beans. Mmmm, bacon.
Frozen and canned vegetables are also a life saver when you’re whipping together an unplanned meal. Consider a quick fried rice with a couple scrambled eggs, some frozen veggies and a splash of teriyaki sauce. Whether it be canned tomatoes (common ingredient in crock pot dishes or pasta sauces), canned corn, or canned succotash, you can always rely on having some quick-to-prepare veggies on hand.
Of course, in the case of canned veggies, taste can sometimes be altered from the preserving process. You just have to make your own judgement on what you want to buy fresh and what you want to buy canned. However, if you don’t want to take the time to prepare veggies with your meals or don’t like the price tag on fresh produce, then canned veggies can be a great way to add extra nutrition to your meal on the go.
Essential Cooking Oils
Having various cooking oils stashed away in your kitchen is almost as essential as your spice stock. These oils will come into play with almost everything you cook, whether you’re frying, baking, sautéing, etc. They can also add a punch of flavor to dishes or proteins that otherwise wouldn’t bring much flavor.
Much like spices, the exact cooking oils you should keep on hand vary depending on your tastes. However, here are a few good oils to start with: olive oil, canola oil and toasted sesame oil. While we’re talking about oil, don’t forget to grab some balsamic vinegar. It’ll last forever and when combined with a good oil, salt and pepper makes a great dressing. Though it’s not the most healthy option, if you like to fry things, add Peanut Oil to that list.
Though there are cheaper brands out there, it’s usually best to look at mid to upper range oils if you want the most bang for your buck. Oils in this price range usually retain the most flavor, meaning you’ll ultimately use less and spend less in the long run.
The best part about grains is that they’ll add some substance to your meals and give you enough solid calories to keep you running (and full) for a long time. There are quite a few affordable options that you can buy in bulk.
Pasta not only takes very little time to cook, but it also serves as a perfect vehicle for any number of meats, veggies, and sauces. Rice is also a good option because it’s easy to make – though it takes a little bit more time than pasta – and is quite filling.
White bread is a typical apartment staple, but not necessarily the best option for college students. Though bread can be useful to have on hand, it tends to go bad pretty quickly unless you use it frequently or have some roommates to help you eat through the loaf. You can store bread in the fridge to lengthen shelf life. Just pop it in the toaster for a minute and you’re good to go.
In-Season Fresh Fruits & Veggies
It can be easy to slack on buying fresh produce once you take a look at the price tag, but ultimately, it’s one of the easiest and healthiest food staples you can have in a college apartment. Fresh fruit can make for a great salad or mobile breakfast, while fresh veggies can spice up any dish, or make for a great snack or side.
To save some money, take the time to discover when certain fruits and vegetables are in season and what you can cook with those ingredients. The price of fruits and vegetables rise when they’re not in season because they need to be imported.
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