Making more meals at home is a great way to attack two common New Year’s resolutions at once: getting healthier and saving money. But for many of us, that’s easier said than done—especially when we’re too busy to cook or not in the habit of hitting up the grocery store as often as we should for ingredients.
Stocking up on these seven staples can help. Having them on hand makes it easy to whip something up at home in minutes that’s good—and good for you.
1. Spices and seasonings
Herbs, spices and seasonings can take a bland dish—the kind that makes you stare longingly at the stack of takeout menus while you eat it—and make it actually taste good. If you’re building a spice rack from scratch, start with these six, then add to it as you learn what you like.
- Curry powder, essential for Indian and Thai dishes, but can also spice up roasted vegetables, hummus and eggs
- Soy sauce, a surprisingly versatile ingredient used in everything from stir fry and salad dressings to BBQ and fried chicken
- Italian seasoning, good for all things Mediterranean as well as a base for stews, fish dishes and vegetable sides
- Cumin, for Middle Eastern and Latin American inspiration—plus soups, guac and a variety of meat dishes
- Cinnamon to spice up baked goods, oatmeal and even some savory foods like squash, lentils and chicken
- Bouillon cubes, for soups and stews or to amp up the flavor for other foods like rice
This staple is inexpensive, easy to make and is an ideal sponge for soaking up other flavors (like any of the spices listed above). Rice is the perfect accompaniment to gumbos, curries, stews—anything with a sauce, really. With a bag of rice on hand, you’ve always got something to eat.
3. Frozen vegetables
Like rice, but better for you—having frozen veggies on hand means you can add something healthy to virtually any meal. And because they’re frozen, you won’t have to worry about them going bad before you can eat them, which can help you cut down on the nearly $400 worth of food each American throws away each year, on average.
Can’t quit your local farmer’s market? Buy in-season veggies, wash and chop them, then freeze.
Eggs are the ultimate easy meal—ready in minutes and a great source of high-quality, satisfying protein. And don’t limit them to just breakfast: A fried egg on toast or scrambled with vegetables is a good dinner option, too.
5. Dry beans or lentils
A 1-pound bag of dried beans, peas or lentils is typically less than $2, a steal compared to other protein sources like meat. Toss them into your favorite soups and stews for an extra kick, or boil them on their own as a side.
One caveat: Depending on the variety, you may need to soak the beans before cooking, so they aren’t always the best last-minute meal option.
6. Canned tuna or chicken
Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, a stash of canned tuna or chicken is great for those nights you really don’t feel like cooking. Open, drain, mix with mayo, salt and pepper, and you’ve got a protein-filled meal that you can eat with toast, crackers, salad—or just a spoon.
7. Instant coffee
If you can’t survive without your morning coffee, but never have time to brew your own, try instant coffee instead of swinging by a coffee shop on your way to work. It takes seconds to prepare—just add hot water—and costs just cents instead of $3+ for a coffee out.