Cooking Is Easy: How to Stock up with Kitchen Essentials

When you lead a busy life, cooking can be tricky, especially if you don’t have the right ingredients. Read this guide and you’ll never have this problem again.

A common complaint among busy, hard-working people is ‘I don’t have enough time to cook’. And they’re right – they don’t have time to make a lavish five-course feast every evening, or the time to stand over the stove for hours at a time.

They do, however, have the time to cook something simple, nutritious and delicious.

Stocking up on kitchen essentials can seem like an insurmountable and intimidating task, whether you have a lot of space or just a little. You can pull together a good range of basic ingredients in the smallest of spaces, and if you’re lucky enough to have lots of room to yourself, you can have the beginnings of almost every recipe to hand whenever you want them.

If you’re new to cooking and usually only buy food when you need it, you might make some mistakes the first time you try to stock up on ingredients.

The most important thing is just to keep your common sense with you while you plan and shop: think about how you already eat, and how you would like to eat, but don’t let availability dictate your list. That means that if you know you’re not going to eat rice, don’t buy a sack of rice, even if it is on a good offer.

Buying in bulk is worthwhile when it comes to ingredients that you know you will use, and that won’t go out of date. Good things to buy in bulk are rice, pasta, oats, and other similar grains and cereals. Tinned food is also a good thing to buy in large quantities.

Before you start shopping, jot down a list of your favourite meals, and meals that you eat on a regular basis. Then think about how adventurous a cook you would like to be: do you think that you will stick to simple meals with few ingredients a lot of the time, or are you more likely to try out something new a few times a week? Factor this in to your shopping plans.

If you think you’ll stay simple, let that reflect in the ingredients you stock up on. If you’d rather experiment a little, make sure that you add some more exciting items to your list along with the basics.

Remember: stocking up isn’t about having every single ingredient in the world in the house when you need it, it’s just about having most of what you’ll need. For special occasions, you can always pick up different ingredients when you need them.

Oils, spices, condiments and seasonings


Depending on whether you’re starting from scratch or not, you might need to buy things like cooking oil, salt, pepper, sugar, vinegar, and so on. If your cooking style is minimalistic, having a good range of spices is a great way to make sure that every meal has a winning flavour.

Your condiments of choice could be as simple as a bottle of ketchup and a jar of mayonnaise, or as special as some fine Dijon mustard and a pot of artisan chilli jam.

Sample shopping list: olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, malt vinegar, soy sauce, hot sauce, mixed herbs, mayonnaise

Cans and jars

Some people may turn their nose up at anything coming out of a tin, but they’re just making life harder for themselves. Tinned food lasts for a long time and means that on a manic day, dinner can be as simple as opening a tin of chopped tomatoes and making a quick sauce to go over pasta.

Soup from a can with a crusty bread roll is also a good meal, if you don’t have the time or inclination to make our own soup. Jarred items such as olives or hot peppers also fall into this category.

Tinned tuna represents a staple ingredient in many people’s lives. It’s delicious and nutritious, relatively cheap, and so easy to make into a meal. Mixed with mayonnaise, yoghurt,

Sample shopping list: chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, soup, cornichons, garden peas, black olives, tuna flakes

Pasta, rice, noodles

To make a range of simple dishes, all you will need is a packet of basmati rice and some spaghetti or penne pasta. There are many other options, though, if you want to have more choice.

Dried egg noodles or vacuum packed soba noodles are easy to prepare and great to throw into a stir-fry, or have on the side of a piece of marinated salmon or chicken. If you don’t have time to cook rice on an evening, make sure you have a few packets of microwaveable rice handy at all times.

If you like to eat beans and legumes, but don’t like eating them out of a tin, you might want to buy some dried and take a few hours at the weekend to cook them. This can sometimes work out cheaper than buying the tinned equivalent, and means that you can plan a number of meals including them for the week ahead.

Sample shopping list: basmati rice, macaroni, couscous, egg noodles, spaghetti, dried kidney beans

Meat, fish and protein

fish meat

Unless you have access to a freezer, buying fresh meat and fish in bulk is not a good idea. Find a good supplier and buy as much as you need, and as much as you can eat before it goes off. You won’t thank yourself for saving a bit of money if you end up with a chicken breast going rotten in the back of your fridge.

If you are lucky enough to have a freezer, see if you can find a good deal on a large amount of beef, chicken or salmon, and freeze it in portions that you can defrost as and when you need them.

Vegetarians or vegans who use meat substitutes can buy these products frozen and packaged in single servings, which is incredibly handy for a quick meal.

Sample shopping list: beef mince, chicken breast, pork steak, salmon fillet, veggie burgers

Fresh fruit and vegetables

The first step of countless recipes is ‘fry onion and garlic in oil’ – so get yourself some garlic and onions. When stored properly, these two items can last for a long time, and give you a firm foundation for any number of sauces, stews, soups, and so much more.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are essential to any healthy diet, but they are not easy to buy in bulk. You should only buy as much at one time as you (and the other people that you live with and cook for) can eat before it goes off. The last thing you want is a tower of apples in the fruit bowl suddenly becoming surrounded by fruit flies.

To make sure that your vegetables last as long as possible, take a little time to find out what is in season, which vegetables have the best storage stamina, and the proper way to store each vegetable.

For example, potatoes can last for up to three months if kept in a cool dark place, and carrots can survive for two weeks in the fridge. Strawberries tend to last for a few days at best, while apples can last over a week.

Bagged salad does not tend to last very long, so only buy as much as you need and only buy it when you know you will eat it.

Sample shopping list: lemons, potatoes, bananas, broccoli, satsumas, apples, mushrooms

Eggs and dairy

omelette and tomato

Eggs and dairy are highly perishable, so as with fruits and vegetables, you shouldn’t buy a lot more than you are likely to need. If you eat eggs, they are a great ingredient for a quick and easy meal, whether you have them scrambled, fried, or in an omelette. Having some cheese around to go in your omelette, or in a sandwich or salad, is also a good idea.

Milk is an essential in many households for use with cereal, in tea and coffee, and in various baking applications. Yoghurt, whether plain or flavoured, is also good with cereal and in baking, and is great as a quick snack for nights when you’re just too tired to make a meal.

Sample shopping list: cheddar cheese, semi-skimmed milk, vanilla Greek yoghurt, 10 eggs, mozzarella cheese

Remember that this is not an exhaustive list. If you read it and think “but what about this ingredient that I eat every week?” then add it to your list, as long as you are able to store it and cook it properly. The ingredients you store should be ingredients that you are most likely to use and enjoy.

Once you have a good range of non-perishable basic ingredients, and a steady supply of perishable items such as eggs and vegetables, you can make any number of meals at the drop of hat, and you have solved the problem of being too busy to cook.

About the author


Reader, writer, blogger, part-timer, volunteer, all things to all men. I can usually be found wearing yellow clothes and drinking green tea. Some of my favourite things include waterfalls, polar bears, rum, and charity shops.

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