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20 student kitchen cupboard essentials

Once you've got these essentials in the cupboard, your meals will pretty much cook themselves (well, almost)! Nearly everything listed will keep for years, too.


When first arriving 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 fast 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 isn't the healthiest of options.

With just a few basic kitchen essentials, you'll be ready to start cooking up a storm in no time at all.

Investing in these cheap basics at the start of the year will make rustling something up much easier and cheap in the long-term, as these kitchen cupboard essentials will last you right up until the end of the year.

Once you've got all these essentials ready, you'll just need something quick, easy, and tasty to cook – we have you covered!

Top 20 kitchen cupboard essentials

  1. Salt and pepper

    Salt-and-PepperTwo of the most obvious kitchen essentials, but these can't go without a menchie since they are like the superheroes of student cooking!

    Whilst we do recommend you reel in your salt intake since it's not great for your health, mastering the art of seasoning well will make even the most depressingly boring dishes super satisfying to scoff.

    We'd suggest investing in a proper salt and black pepper grind to increase the taste levels – whilst white pepper and table salt still do the job, you'll thanks us for the suggestion later.

  2. Tabasco

    eatingchilliTabasco is a great staple for spicing up any meal you have. Just as a warning: there is a high chance you will get addicted to this stuff as a student – slowly but surely you'll start to feel like no meal is right without the spicy/ peppery/ vinegary goodness and we have known some people to carry the pocket-sized bottle around with them. It's almost like they make it that size on purpose!

    Tabasco can last out of the fridge 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 chili powder to add to dishes instead, but be aware that you'll be missing out on the vinegary bonus!

  3. Mixed dried herbs

    herbsUsing 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 muchg anything will taste nice! It's just a matter of working out which ones float yer boat…

  4. Cooking oil

    oliveoylYou'll need oil for cooking almost anything. A lot of recipes you come across will specify suggest using extra virgin olive oil, but whilst this is definitely the good quality, good-tasting stuff, bog standard olive oil will do and it's highly unlikely you'll notice any difference unless you have an extremely sophisticated pallet (in which case – good luck with your student diet!).

    If you're on a tight budget, you can also opt for the cheaper options of sunflower or vegetable oil, which will do the job just as well.

    A popular option nowadays is coconut oil, which can be a bit more expensive but is really good for you and also gives your food a tasty subtle coconutty flavour!

  5. Pasta

    dogpastaWhen you're a budget-pro university student, pasta really is your best friend. You could eat pasta pretty much every day of your life and never get bored of it if you jazz it up with different sauces and ingredients. Just ask any Italians you know!

    If you are 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!

  6. Rice

    ricebearYet another dried essential to add to the list, rice can go with almost everything and can be an equally cheap carbohydrate to mix up with pasta throughout the week to keep things interesting!

    If you're looking for inspiration of what to have with your rice, we've got an ace chilli con carne recipe that is sure to become one of your go-to recipes.

  7. Chopped tomatoes

    tomatosfunnyUnlike fresh tomatoes, tins of these bad boys will literally last for years. Use them to slap up a pasta dish, a curry sauce – anything really.

    Our recipe vaults are full of ideas with tinned tomatoes as a base, such as our famous chilli con carne as well as these great chicken enchiladas.

  8. Tomato puree

    tomato puree essentialAnother store cupboard essential 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 with tinned tomatoes involved and it'll magically bring out the flavour of the tomatoes.

    You can also use it as a base to make your own pizzas!

  9. Flour

    floureverywhereFlour 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, as demonstrated from the image above, it's decent for cooking with too.

    It works a treat when whipping up sauces (like this simple fail-proof cheese sauce) and is a basic necessity when baking cakes and desserts!

  10. Sugar

    gimmesomesugarWithout sounding too much like Gillian McKeith, 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 – from stir-fries and bolognese sauce to cakes (a particular favourite of ours being this one).

    To keep things versatile, we'd recommend going for caster sugar over regular sugar, as it's much better for cooking with since it desolves quickly.

Check out this guide to the best foods to eat whilst studying – stay healthy, alert, and avoid those sugar crashes!
  1. Bread

    turtlebreadUnless you're unfortunate enough to have a gluten intolerance, bread will probably make up a large fraction of your student diet! Sandwiches are the best meals ever 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. Stick it in the freezer and you'll never have to worry about eating it all before it goes stale.

  2. Baked beans

    beansThis might be a bit of a stereotype, but there's a reason why baked beans are the national cuisine for students. Good on their own, on a baked potato or toast.

    The best thing about beans is that they're cheap and tasty, but also count as one of your five a day!

    Try adding some tabasco or other herbs or spices to make your own style of beans too.

  3. Potatoes

    potatoartscaryBoil 'em, mash 'em, roast 'em, make them into weird potato art that's a bit scary… So many things to be done with potatoes!

    One great way to cook them is simply cut them into cubes, chuck them onto a baking tray with salt ‘n pepper and a mix of herbs and spices, drizzle on oil and cook for around 30 minutes at 180C!

    Definitely a cupboard essential, but beware of sprouts after keeping them too long. Store them in a dark, dry cupboard in a paper bag and they'll keep much longer.

  4. Onions and garlic

    cryingonionThis charming little twosome can turn pretty much anything into a tasty meal busting 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.

    Another tip is that if you really loath 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!

  5. Soy sauce

    soysauceIf you're a fan of Asian food (which we totally are), then it's well worth investing in some soy sauce. Soy sauce is your source of salt in Asian cooking (they don't use regular salt at all really), 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!

  6. Tuna

    tunacathappyOkay, 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 the energy levels and brain power.

    Throw a can of it in pasta bakes, salads and sandwiches for great meals which keep hunger at bay.

  7. Stock cubes

    oxostockStock cubes are really useful to have in your cupboard as 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.

  8. Soup

    fourfliespleaseFirst 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 cuppasoups! Cuppasoups are also a great snack to carry around in your bag that you can 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!

  9. Ketchup

    Freezing KetchupKetchup isn't just for fries! We're including ketchup in this list not just as a condiment to have with any potato-based snacks, but weirdly ketchup can be used in heaps of recipes to give it 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!

  10. Tea and coffee

    teatimeWhen you're stressed out and all else is lost, at least you can fall back on your good old pals 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 collections grow. It might seem a bit expensive stocking up at first, but these items will last for a long time.

If you do need to pick up some kitchen utensils as well, check out our list of the best kitchen gadgets for inspiration.

Have we missed any kitchen cupboard essentials out? Let us know your suggestions below and we'll add the best ones to the list.

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