Eating is a necessity, cooking is an art

A few weeks ago, I was discussing food (one of my favorite topics) with my sister-in-law and discovered something shocking: she told me she eats out at least 75% of her meals.

I was floored. As someone who considers one Jimmy John’s lunch per week a splurge, this first hit the overly frugal side of me. Then I started thinking about how hard it was to stay on track when I used to travel because it’s tough to make the best choices when eating out.


I’m not much of a cook – I get spoiled by my husband who’s a really good cook.

She further explained, as much as she really wants to cut down on eating out, she’s never been much of a cook (I can totally relate). Furthermore, going to the grocery store overwhelms her; she’s just not sure where to start (oh, can’t relate on that one – I feel right at home at the supermarket!).

I tell this story, not to pick on her or shame her habits but to use her as an example that not everyone knows how to meal prep or come up with new dinner recipes; how to pack a lunch or make time for breakfast every morning. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s not out of anyone’s reach to learn all those things.

In the spirit of helping her find a starting point, I offered to put together a simple list of must-have foods. The basics that should always be in the kitchen in order to have options for breakfast, a packed lunch, satisfying dinner and, of course, plenty of snacks.

Below is a list of 25 foods to always have in the kitchen. A great starting point for your first grocery shopping list, allowing for some wiggle room to adjust for your own personal choices, including vegetarians (like me!) and vegans.


Tons of meat for him, prepped pasta meals for me.

1. Chicken, fish/tuna, or hamburger (always have one staple)
-Lean, plain versions (not breaded, packed in oil, etc.)

Note: one serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards

2. Eggs or Egg Beaters

Note: if you like hardboiled eggs, they last awhile, are easy to make and can be used in sandwiches, salads or as a snack

3. Greek Yogurt
-Low-calorie/high-protein like Chobani 100 or Light & Fit

Note: if you like sour cream, plain Greek yogurt tastes exactly the same and is a much better choice

4. Cheese
-Shredded and/or thin sliced

Note: lighter-colored cheese is generally the better choice but full-fat cheeses are fine too, just use less

5. Beans
-Black, kidney, chickpeas, etc.

Note: use for Mexican dishes, sandwiches, wraps, or mixed with some veggies for a simple salad

6. Potatoes
-Sweet or regular (reds, whites, mixes)

7. Brown rice
-White is okay to use too

8. Oats/Oatmeal

9. Wraps, tortillas or light wheat bread (or all, depending on what you like)

10. Wheat pasta

Note: mix a ½ cup of pasta with a whole zucchini, sliced into ribbons/noodles, for a lower calorie, lower carb pasta dish

11. Frozen
-Bagged or single-serve; plain or mixes

Note: Variety is good; try to have a few different kinds

12. Bagged spinach and/or head of lettuce

13. Zucchini
-See above, for use with pasta

14. Tomatoes, Cucumber, Peppers, etc.
-Whatever you like; what you’d use on sandwiches, in salads, pastas, etc.

15. Berries
-Black, Blue, Rasp and Straw – all are great

16. Apples

17. Bananas
-If you like them on toast or in oatmeal, a half banana is great for breakfast

18. Cherries, oranges and pineapple
-Rotate in, when in season

19. Peanut Butter
-Go with the natural varieties or a full-fat vs. reduced fat version

20. Avocado

21. Olive Oil

22. Light butter/margarine

Extras and Snacks
23. Soup
-Cans of light and low-sodium versions of your favorite soups
-Mixes (you can make a batch in the crock pot and add extra veggies/protein to it)

24. Rice Cakes
-Flavored ones to snack on instead of chips
-Apple or chocolate flavored for sweet snack (add peanut butter)


Always have plenty of these in my pantry – and at the office – and whenever I go anywhere.

25. Protein Bars
-Pure Protein or Quest, ideally

Note: be very cautious when choosing protein bars; many don’t have much protein and they’re closer to a candy bar

Finally, add and adjust so you get some of your own personal favorites. For example, Chris and I love cereal, both as a snack or sometimes for dinner, so we always have at least one box (simple options like Honey Nut Cheerios, Corn Flakes or Special K) and milk.

What foods are your must-haves? Any advice you’d give to my sister-in-law or others who aren’t pros in the kitchen? Comment or tweet me @runlikeagirl311 on Twitter.


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