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Chelsea teaches you about all of the things you absolutely need in your kitchen for cheap meal prep and cooking on a budget. Want to learn what to cook after your kitchen is stocked? Check out this video:

The Financial Diet blog:

Chelsea: Hey guys, it's Chelsea from The Financial Diet and today I'm going to be talking about one of my favorite elements about being good with money and that's home cooking. Which might not sound obvious as, like, budgeting or investing or all of that fancy money stuff might, but I actually have found that in my life being a good home cook and learning to love cooking is one of the best ways to save a ton of money while also making your life way sweeter. So basically if you're the kind of person who like Carrie Bradshaw uses your oven for storage and pretty much lives off of a diet of like sad salads that you get to eat at your desk or, you know, frozen meals that you eat or Seamless as I know many people are. To get good with food and cooking really is two fold, one is making things easy on yourself so you can't be lazy and the other is really having the tools at your disposal to be able to always make something good. 

Now when it comes to making things easy one of the best ways to do that for yourself is do, like, a big batch cooking night, most people choose to do that on Sunday. Where you plan out a meal you portion some off for the week, you freeze some for later and you really take that out of your hands, so that you can't find yourself on a Tuesday night lazy and starving and ordering the same Chinese meal that you get every Tuesday. But when it comes to having the right tools, it's really about knowing the kind of stuff that you need so that you can always make something out of what's in your kitchen. And most of that comes down to really basic things like herbs, spices, oils, sauces, so that no matter- if it's just a little bit of rice, a little bit of vegetables, maybe some left over meat from something, whatever, you can always put it into something that feels like a real meal. 

Now I come from a home where my mom cooked every single meal more or less and I cooked it with her. So I was always very used to making things from scratch and learning what kinds of ingredients to use with things, but I know that for a lot of people even just knowing the right kind of spices to really have in your cabinet is pretty foreign. And when you can't cook anything it's almost the only option to spend tons of wasteful money, whether that's on pre-made foods, on Seamless, or on going out to restaurants. So in order to make sure that something good can always come from your kitchen, I've found that these 19 ingredients that you really need to have on hand to get you out of any pinch and into any delicious meal. 

The first category is herbs, seasonings, and pastes. So the first one is obviously salt and pepper, which should go without saying, but I've been to a tragic amount of people's apartments where they don't have salt and pepper. And if you're already mastered the having salt and pepper element, I think it's maybe time to upgrade to like the nice flaked kosher salt because it's a lot more gentle and just tastes better then you can start maybe expanding your "salt arsenal" and you can have the pink Himalayan salt or truffle salt or whatever. And then as far as pepper spring the extra dollar fifty, get the grinder because pre-ground black pepper is sad and makes everything taste like a school cafeteria. 

The next is crushed red pepper. Now not only does it add a little bit of a kick without being strong or overwhelming, it's also something that can almost act as, like, an entire flavor profile in itself. Like you take some pasta, toss it in with some toasted garlic and little bit of butter or good olive oil, some salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper and that's like a meal. Cinnamon because you can use it for both sweet and savory dishes and it's also a great way to make coffee taste like Christmas. Herbs de Provence, which is this really aromatic savory blend of herbs that is great for any roast meat, roast potatoes, that kind of thing. Good chicken bouillon because you always need broth for like a huge variety of things and sometimes you don't want to have to run out of the store and get like a, you know, big container of chicken broth or stock or whatever. If you can keep the good bouillon and you can spring for ones that taste a lit bit better, I like the paste kind that you keep in the refrigerator, you'll always be able to make a soup in a pinch. 

Curry paste, which you always want to keep in the fridge because you can make a curry out of basically anything you have in your house. Chili paste or dried chilies if you're the kind of person that likes things spicy. I know that people are obsessed with Sriracha, but if you'd like to upgrade a little bit in terms flavor you can get the scoop, you know, of garlic and chili paste or you can get some dried chopped chilies at a lot of different Asian supermarkets and they're just great if you like spice. Old Bay! I'm from Maryland so I'm a big Old Bay fan, it tastes delicious on anything. Old Bay popcorn, Old french fries, Old Bay meats, seafood, vegetables, Old Bay everything, it's the best! Garlic because aside from warding off vampires, which is extremely important, it's also just something that makes basically anything taste good. Any time someone says about a food that it tastes delicious when you saute it in garlic and olive oil that means it probably doesn't taste good because that makes everything taste good even gross tasting stuff. But garlic, fresh, roasted, sauteed, whatever, it the best thing ever and it has no calories! It's like a gift from god to make our food taste good without being butter. 

Oils and sauces. Olive oil of course you should always have, but what many people don't know that a lot of the mass market extra virgin olive oil are not actually as extra virgin as they claim to be, so this is one of those things where if you're a big user of olive oil and/or you like the taste of it, not cooked just fresh whatever, definitely invest in good olive oil. It'll probably be about $15, maybe even $20 a bottle, but trust me that the taste is totally different and it's made in a much much better way. Soy sauce because if you're a fan of pretty much any recipe from most of the Asian continent, most of it, you're gonna need soy sauce at some point. It's just incredibly useful and it's very similar to salt except it has that extra wonderful kind of almost umami flavor that takes it to that next level. Sesame oil, again especially if you're into cooking a lot of different things from different Asian countries, which I know I am. One thing about sesame oil though, one bottle will last you one million years because a single drop of sesame oil makes everything like you're being punched in the face with sesames.

Vinegar and I actually like to have what I refer to as the holy trinity of vinegars, which in my house is apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar. They each serve super different purposes, but are amazing in their own way. Good mustard because that sad, depressing, yellow, stadium mustard is just like we should all evolve past that. We should not be condemned to eating terrible, neon, school bus yellow mustard for the rest of our lives. We should be experimenting in like hot Chinese mustard, whole grain mustard, different french mustards that sting your nose, all of that should be apart of our vocabulary because yellow mustard is... it's just sad. It makes food taste sad. 

Cooking basics. Flour because aside from the hundred and thousands of things that you will bake that require flour, it's also pretty much the essential component for thickening things except for maybe corn starch. So to make a roux, to make a lot of basic sauces, to make, you know, breaded meats, whatever, you need flour. Always have it on hand. Butter and if you can it's good to keep one little stick on the counter in a butter dish because that way it's always the perfect spreadable texture. Sugar of course and if you're not someone who bakes a lot and therefore needs a lot of caster sugar on hand, I would definitely say cane sugar. It has a slightly better flavor, but serves basically all of the same purposes. I don't know if it's actually better for you, but my mind tricks myself into thinking that it is so that's another reason. Baking soda, you always need it! You never expect to need it and yet every recipe somehow ends up calling for it.

Cooking wine, and by that I do not mean the "cooking wine" that they will sell at grocery stores that taste like turpentine, I mean a not great bottle of red and a not great bottle of white, like you know, $9-10 whatever at the liquor store that you can use for recipes. Now I'm always of the opinion that if you wouldn't drink the wine, you shouldn't use it for cooking, my mother disagrees with me, a lot of people disagree, but there's no reason to not have like one dry white and like, you know, relatively fruity red on hand because, you know, there's always going to be a reason to cook with wine and it makes everything taste good.

So for me those are the basics to keeping any kitchen feeling warm and inviting and full of good flavors, one that will actually make you want to cook in it instead of ordering out for the millionth time that week. Obviously you might have to accumulate some of these things slowly if you don't already have them, but they are definitely things that everyone can find use for in their cupboard. Becoming someone who cooks can feel like a very daunting task, especially if you didn't grow up cooking or watching people cook, but it's just really a question more than anything else of being prepared. Because basically anyone can follow a recipe. And the day you become someone who cooks is the day you stop wasting a lot of money. So thanks for watching and as always don't forget to hit the subscribe button and to go to for more. Bye!