When moving into your first apartment, one little fact seems to slip everyone's minds- kitchens don't fill themselves. The pots and pans, flour and sugar, or random items that you're so used to having on hand while growing up suddenly disappear once you're on your own. All of a sudden... you have to actually buy the flour and sugar. You don't realize just how daunting filling a whole pantry can be until you move into in an empty kitchen. There are so many little details that are easy to forget and maybe too expensive to indulge in. On top of that, meal planning isn't always possible. Let's be real, more nights than not, a "whatever is in the pantry" dinner is going to happen instead of the finely orchestrated dinner planned a whole week before. This list is an easy way to get started on building your kitchen without overthinking anything, or overbuying. Here are my top 5 kitchen must-haves I think every college student needs.

1. Seasoning

Catherine Cline

The power of adding spices to your food is incredible. You really don't need to be a skilled cook to make a simple dish go from okay to delicious. For example, chicken can soak up so much flavor when you rub a seasoning blend all over before cooking. If you have leftover vegetables, toss those in seasoning too! Roast the veggies in the oven and use as a side or in a salad. It's important to know though, not every seasoning is worth it. Spices can get expensive so I suggest prioritizing options that are versatile. 

Some seasonings that are at the top of my kitchen must-haves list are smoked paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning blend.

2. Simple Carbohydrates

Catherine Cline

It's always smart to have simple carbs like rice, pasta, and oats on hand. If you find yourself with odds and ends of ingredients at the end of the week, adding a grain or oat to the mix can amp up any dish. Carbohydrates also add a lot of volume so it'll make the meal much more filling. Another bonus is the thickening power of leftover starchy cooking water which can be used to make a sauce. To top it all off, carbs also have a long shelf life! Enough said. 

Try adding quinoa to your salad, mixing leftover veggies and meat into spaghetti with sauce, or topping overnight oats with frozen or fresh fruit. 

3. Canned Items

Catherine Cline

Sometimes it's hard to use up all of your fresh produce in one week before it goes bad. I like to balance out fresh foods with some shelf stable items that you can pull out at any time. It keeps me from stressing out about meal planning because I know if all else fails, I will still have some canned goods to spruce up my meal. Canned foods are so easy to heat up and/or add to whatever else you have lying around. 

A few tried and true canned foods that are great to start out with are black beans, soups, chickpeas, and corn.

4. Reusable Sandwich Bags

Catherine Cline

Aside from food items, reusable kitchen supplies are a worthwhile investment. You might find yourself using a lot more sandwich bags than expected if you're saving fresh foods in the fridge or packing lunches. Do your wallet and the environment a favor and buy a few reusable sandwich bags that will last you virtually forever. My favorite brand is Stasher bags. They're easy to clean and keep food fresh.

When cooking for myself, I never actually need a whole onion or bell pepper. Instead, I like to use half of the onion and save the rest in a Stasher bag for my next meal. This helps me get the most meals out of every fresh ingredient I buy. 

5. Cast Iron Skillet

bread, flour, dough
Emily Hu

Deciding what cookware to invest in can be tricky if you don’t have abundant storage space or a giant budget. An easy choice to make is the cast iron skillet. Now this item might be surprising on a kitchen must-haves list, but I've had my cast iron skillet since I moved into my first kitchen and it never disappoints. These babies can live for ages, withstand high heat on the stove-top and in the oven, and give your food delicious flavor. Not to mention, it makes cooking any type of food easy. If you really want to put your trusty skillet to work (and do very little effort yourself), check out these one-pot recipes! The key to a cast iron skillet is making sure you take care of it properly. As long as you do that, it'll do the rest of the work!

Consistency in the Kitchen 

In the end, it's all about staying consistent with what you keep in your pantry. Having a few staples always on hand is a real game changer when you don't want to plan meals in advance for every day of the week. The best part is, cooking good tasting food can be made simple if you have the right basics. From seasonings to a skillet, your pantry will be filled with so much potential after buying these 5 kitchen must-haves. Happy cooking!