20 student kitchen cupboard essentials
Keen to try out new recipes but feel like you're always missing the key ingredients? Stock up on these and your meals will pretty much cook themselves (well, almost)!
When you first arrive at uni, it can be really easy to get into the habit of continually reaching for the takeaway menu – especially if you've never really cooked before.
Hold tight though! Eating takeaways isn't so kind on your wallet (although we have a guide to eating takeaways on a budget that will make it less painful), and it's not the healthiest of options either.
Investing in just a few kitchen cupboard essentials at the start of the year will make rustling something up much easier and cheaper in the long-term, as they'll last you right up until the end of the term.
Top 20 food essentials for the kitchen
Salt and pepper
Two of the most obvious kitchen essentials, but these can't go without a mention since they're basically the underrated heroes of cooking!
Although we'd recommend you reel in your salt intake (it's not great for your health), mastering the art of seasoning will turn even the most depressingly boring dishes into an absolute delight.
We'd suggest investing in proper salt and black pepper grinds to increase taste levels – while white pepper and table salt still do the job, you'll thank us for the suggestion later.
Tabasco is a great staple for spicing up any meal you have.
Just as a warning – there's a high chance that you'll get addicted to this stuff as a student. Slowly but surely you'll start to feel like no meal is right without its spicy/ peppery/ vinegary goodness, and we've even known some people to start carrying the pocket-sized bottle around with them. It's almost like they make it that size on purpose!
Tabasco can last in the cupboard for a month or two but pop it in the fridge and it should keep for months. An even cheaper alternative would be to keep some chilli powder to add to dishes instead, but be aware that you'll be missing out on the vinegary bonus.
Mixed dried herbs
Using a variety of mixed dried herbs is the secret to cooking great-tasting food on the cheap. It's all about choosing the herbs you like most, and a good idea is to go for a seasonal mix such as Italian mixed herbs or Mediterranean. Invest in a shaker of these and they will add a bit of oomph to all sorts of dishes.
If you manage to choose the 'right' herbs, pretty much anything will taste nice! It's just a matter of working out which ones float your boat.
To cut costs even further, you could even try growing your own herbs on the kitchen windowsill.
You'll need oil for cooking almost anything. A lot of recipes you come across will suggest using extra virgin olive oil, and while this is definitely the good quality, good-tasting stuff, bog-standard olive oil will do.
Cheaper options like sunflower or vegetable will also do the job just as well, and it's highly unlikely that you'll notice any difference – unless you have an extremely sophisticated pallet (in which case, good luck with your student diet!).
If you are prepared to spend a little more money, coconut oil is meant to be really good for you. Plus, it also gives your food a tasty subtle coconut-y flavour!
When you're a pro at budgeting, pasta really is your best friend. As long as you jazz it up with different sauces and ingredients, you could eat pasta pretty much every day of your life and never get bored of it.
If you're looking for a really simple snack then pasta with a little olive oil, grated cheese and some salt and pepper is the ultimate comfort food and costs about 30p to make. For the thrill-seekers amongst you, add a couple of dashes of Tabasco into the mix!
Yet another dried essential to add to the list, rice can go with almost everything. Plus, to keep things interesting, it can be an equally cheap carbohydrate to alternate with pasta throughout the week!
If you're looking for inspiration for what to have with your rice, we've got an ace chilli con carne recipe that's sure to become one of your go-to favourites.
Unlike fresh tomatoes, these bad boys will literally last for years. Use them to slap up a pasta dish, a curry sauce – anything really.
Closely related to the above, a tube of tomato puree will cost you around 30p and goes a long way.
Add a spoonful to any recipe that involves tinned tomatoes and it'll magically bring out the flavour of the tomatoes.
You can also use it as a base to make your own pizzas!
Flour is one of those things you should always have sitting waiting in your cupboard. Not only is it great for making a riotous good mess (flour fight anyone?), it's decent for cooking with too.
Without sounding like Jamie Oliver, too much sugar definitely isn't good for you. Particularly as a student, sugar can really mess with your energy levels and cause you to crash hard if you overdo it.
However, there's no denying that a little bit of sugar is good for loads of recipes, including stir-fries, Bolognese sauce and, of course, cakes (a particular favourite of ours being fondant cupcakes).
To keep things versatile, we'd recommend going for caster sugar over regular sugar, as it's much better for cooking with since it dissolves quickly.
Unless you have a gluten intolerance, bread will probably make up a large proportion of your student diet! Sandwiches are ideal when you're on a budget, and you can keep things interesting by getting creative with every sandwich you make.
We know this is technically meant to be a cupboard-only list, but it's worth knowing that bread also lasts way longer if you put it in the freezer and defrost (or simply toast) before use. That way, you won't have to worry about eating it all before it goes stale.
This might be a bit of a stereotype, but there's a reason why baked beans are seen as the staple cuisine of students. Whether they're on a baked potato, toast, alongside some meat and veg, part of a fry up or just by themselves, beans are the epitome of versatility.
What's more, they're cheap, tasty and also count as one of your five a day!
If you want to take your beans game to the next level, we've even got some baked bean recipes that use them in ways you may never have considered.
Boil 'em, mash 'em, roast 'em, make them into weird potato art... there are so many things to be done with potatoes!
One great way to cook them is to simply cut them into cubes, chuck them onto a baking tray with salt, pepper and a mix of herbs and spices, drizzle on oil and cook for around 30 minutes at 180°C!
Potatoes are definitely a cupboard essential but beware of sprouts that will grow if you keep them too long. Store them in a dark, dry cupboard in a paper bag and they'll last much longer.
Onions and garlic
This charming little twosome can turn pretty much anything into a tasty meal bursting with flavour. Whether you're making a simple curry or a Bolognese sauce, they're the base of pretty much everything you cook in a pot!
Just chop them fast so you don't end up crying all over your kitchen.
Or, if you really loathe the process of chopping garlic, you can actually buy it pre-chopped in jars to use when you wish. It certainly doesn't taste as good as the real stuff, but it lasts ages in a jar and saves you a stage of prep!
If you're a fan of Asian food (which we totally are), it's well worth investing in some soy sauce. Soy sauce is arguably the most common source of salt in Asian cooking, so if this is something you think you'll be rustling up, invest in a bottle.
We recommend going to a Chinese supermarket to get your soy sauce as opposed to buying it in a regular supermarket – the bottles are around double the size and half the price!
Okay, if you really don't like tuna, skip this one.
It may seem like an odd one to include in the list, but the nutritional value that you get for the price is incredible. Tuna is packed full of protein which is great for keeping up your energy levels and brain power.
Throw a can of it in a pasta bake, salad or sandwich for a great meal which will keep your hunger at bay.
Stock cubes are really useful to have in your cupboard. They're an important addition to a lot of staple dishes and are needed in pretty much any pot of soup you make.
Veggie or chicken are the most versatile of all the stock cubes, so if you're investing in just one flavour, we'd suggest going with one of those.
First off we'd like to point out how easy it is to make your own soup, but if you're not up for that, there are other cheap and cheerful options!
Tinned soups are always great to have stored in the cupboard for a rainy day, as are the seriously cheap sachets of Cup a Soup!
Cup a Soups are also great to carry around in your bag to have as a study snack – all you have to do is ask for a cup of hot water in the uni canteen (which, if the person serving you has half a heart, they won't charge you for).
Again, if you're a big lover of Asian cuisine, multipacks of miso soups at Chinese supermarkets are seriously cheap, so get stocking up!
Ketchup isn't just for fries! We're including ketchup in this list not just as a condiment, but as an ingredient to be used in heaps of recipes that need a sweet and rich kick.
You wouldn't believe how many tomato-based curry recipes recommend a good splodge of the stuff, and spaghetti Bolognese just isn't the same without it!
Tea and coffee
When you're stressed out after an all-nighter in the library, at least you can fall back on your good old pal's tea and coffee.
Keep a steady stock in your cupboard for late-night heart-to-hearts, break-ups and early morning pick-me-ups.
So there you have a basic list to get you started – and as the year goes on you'll see your cupboard collection grow. It might seem a bit expensive stocking up at first, but these items will last a seriously long time.
If you need to pick up some kitchen utensils as well, check out our list of the best kitchen gadgets for inspiration.