Stephanie Hallett
February 23, 2017 4:32 pm

It seems obvious that knowing how to (successfully) prepare your own meals is a basic tenet of adulting. But if your pantry’s not well stocked, or your fridge contains condiments only, then it’s going to be tough to eat right. That’s why we put together this list of cooking ingredients every 20-something needs to own.

These ingredients are basic and cheap enough that they won’t blow your budget, but will make you seem like you know what you’re doing in the kitchen. Plus, having a well-stocked pantry means you can still eat even on days when it’s snowing so hard you can’t see out your window. Bonus!

Ready to take notes? Let’s do this.

1Sea salt.

If this seems way too GD obvious, bear with us. Professional chefs will tell you that the vast majority of home cooks under-salt their food, leading to meals that are bland and flavorless. While you don’t want to go overboard with this ingredient for health reasons, it’s an important one to have on hand and will take your home-cooked meals to the next level. Invest in good-quality sea salt for even better results.

2Dry or canned beans.

Beans are the kind of ingredient you want on a bad-weather day: Easy to prepare (just add salt!) and the perfect compliment to rice. You’ll have a complete meal in no time.

3Olive oil.

Good olive oil is the start of a great meal. You can cook with it, use it to make a sauce, or just drizzle it in a dish with balsamic vinegar and serve with bread for a snack that looks fancy but is actually insanely simple.


Brown, white, jasmine, basmati, wild, or otherwise — this staple is an important part of any millennial pantry. Throw eggs on rice for an easy meal anytime of the day, or add heaps of vegetables, protein, and a tasty sauce for a bowlful of goodness.


Add a little more protein to your diet with eggs (if you’re vegan, obvs you’ll be sitting this one out)! They cook in minutes, can be thrown on top of virtually anything, and yes — can definitely be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

6Frozen veggies.

Ideal for anyone who can’t keep fresh vegetables from wilting in their fridge, or for days when you’ve simply run out of fresh produce.


Packed with potassium and the perfect snack on the go, bananas are a cheap source of nutrients that pair well with plain yogurt, cereal, and smoothies.

8Nut or seed butter.

Peanut, almond, sunflower — the particular nut or seed is your choice. But keeping a jar of this tasty protein on hand is great for snacking and even adding to sauces.


A staple of many savory dishes, this spicy bulb will bring your cooking to the next level.

10Broth or bouillon cubes.

Use broth to start soups, add flavor to sauces, or braise vegetables, and add a bouillon cube to flavor beans, rice, and other grains.


Keep regular potatoes and sweet potatoes on hand for days when you want some healthy starch in your diet.