Living as a student on your own is rough. Your parents don’t make you food anymore, and you don’t even know the first thing about buying groceries. Going to the grocery store is a foreign concept, and the options can be overwhelming. So where do you start? Well, I’m here to help with that. Having a fully stocked fridge all the time is not needed. There are many things you can create (on a college budget), with very few ingredients, using items you have stocked in the fridge and pantry. Here's how to overhaul your kitchen with simple ingredients. 

First off, my all time favorite ingredient ever: garlic. Stock it up; it’ll last. A whole unpeeled bulb can stay good for up to half a year. HALF A YEAR. Insane. However, unpeeled garlic only stays fresh for ten days. Personally, I always buy bulbs of garlic. Why you ask? Well, it lasts me at least two weeks, and they’re only like, a dollar. One dollar for a full bulb of garlic for two weeks worth of delicious garlicky meals! Also, you can put this is everything to make it better. Literally anything that you can think of. 

Second, lemons. They up your cooking game by 100% because they add acidity to a dish. If it feels like your food is falling flat, add lemon. Is your dish a tad too sweet? Lemon. Do you just feel like something is missing? ADD LEMON. Trust me on this one. There are tons of recipes that use lemons, and they will never go to waste in your house. You can even use them practically if they are going bad or bought too many. Lemons are badass. Yeah, I said it.

Chicken stock (or vegetable stock) is an essential. Whipping up quick, flavorful meals will be so much easier when using a stock. The most important use of stock (at least in my humble opinion) is to deglaze a pan. Don’t know what deglazing means? Here’s a quick lesson: You know that brown stuff that is left over after sautéing meats in the bottom of your pan? That’s fond. Fond is amazing. ALWAYS use your fond. In order to get that delicious stain out of your pan, you have to use some sort of liquid to deglaze the pan and transfer all of that goodness into your food. You could use water, but that’s not super flavorful. Stock is the way to go. A simple base for all of your sauces is fond and chicken stock and boom. Delicious meal.

Dried pasta. Dude. Pasta with ANYTHING turns out great. You can literally have a three ingredient meal: pasta, olive oil, and garlic. There’s a quick, easy, and delicious meal ready for you. It’s also a great side dish to compliment your protein or vegetable of choice. If you don’t know where to start, start with pasta. Also, all those shapes are super fun and can make any meal look happier!

Oil and butter: obviously an essential. Should be stocked all the time in my opinion. They can be added to everything; even those packaged quick meals (like Pasta Sides, which are awesome). I don’t think I really need to elaborate much on these. BUT, I would stay away from extra virgin olive oil! Unless you’re using it to drizzle on at the end, don’t cook with it! The smoking point is low, meaning that you will be prone to burning everything in your pan, which is no bueno.

Frozen veggies. Vegetables are needed in your diet, and these will always be there for you. They last way longer than fresh vegetables and only take a few minutes to cook, not to mention they’re cheap. You can up your vegetable intake by inserting them into any meal without much hassle from these bad boys. My favorite to get are frozen broccoli and green beans. I use them in stir fry’s, pasta dishes, on the side of any protein, or just by themselves.

FRESH. CRACKED. BLACK. PEPPER. I'm weirdly obsessed with this one. It’s so much better than table pepper, I promise. Maybe I’m just partial because I love pepper, but it adds so much to every dish. The taste is also extremely different than regular table pepper; way more flavor. Also actually cracking the peppercorns is pretty satisfying. Get that ASMR fix while cooking; all the chills.

Eggs, another obvious one. They’re cheap, easy to master and rich in protein. I just started to force myself to eat eggs more because of the convenience and price point. If you don’t like eggs, start off with a simple scramble and season the hell out of them with some cheese, hot sauce, and a side of toast. It’ll change your view, and give you a simple and healthy breakfast. You can also use them to add some flair in easy dishes like ramen. I know, revolutionary. Also eggs are needed for a lot of recipes with baking, and are used as a thickener in cooking. They’re always good to have on hand and are super versatile.

Chicken (if you’re not vegetarian or vegan). I always have chicken. I buy value packs that come with about four huge chicken breasts, and when I get home from the grocery store I put each breast into a freezer bag. Write on the date and throw that ish in the freezer. This way they don’t take absolutely forever to defrost, (only about an hour in cold water), and it’s a perfect size for a dinner of two or three (depending on the size of the breast). You can put chicken in virtually anything, and it makes a great base for sauces. Refer back to when I was talking about deglazing with chicken stock. The fond is unbeatable.

Soy sauce. Extremely versatile and super delicious. I do enjoy Chinese inspired dishes, so I use a whole lot of soy sauce. It can be used in SO MANY dishes, and is a great base to build from. It adds a saltiness and depth of flavor to some boring dishes. It can be used with any type of vegetable to elevate it: in stir fry’s, fried rice, or to just liven up some chicken. It’s also a base to make sauces like teriyaki (which is my personal favorite) and other Asian inspired sauces.

Brown sugar is great in not only baking, but cooking. It adds an amazing sweetness, and can be used for almost every meal. It’s great for making glazed vegetables (or anything glazed for that matter) You can season meat to add sweetness, put it in salad dressings, etc. Adding brown sugar can make any meal go from bland, to sticky, sweet goodness.

Look, college is scary but your food choices don’t have to be. With these simple ingredients you’re destined for delicious and cheap meals almost every night of the week. We’re all in this together.