Jars of dry ingredients that are essentials in the kitchen

The 7 Ingredients You Should Always Have In Your Pantry & Fridge So You Won’t Make Bad Meal Decisions

On some occasions, eating can be elevated to ritual, but on many days it’s mundane.
By very rough estimates, we eat 71,175 meals between the ages of 5-65, and outside of occasions, unlike birthdays and holidays, most of our adult meals get lost in life’s everyday shuffle.
— Adriana Krasniansky, This Mold


At some point in my weary adult life, I came to an epiphany that most of us eat out of convenience.


Having worked in an office and from home, I noticed my colleagues (and myself) wedging our meals around our daily work obligations. At our busiest, we’ll grab the nearest, cheapest, easiest-to-eat meals. We’d eat at our desks. And if working from home, instant noodles.


In 2018, I stopped eating out of convenience and started becoming more mindful about how I eat. That means educating myself about how food turns into health. What I learned has trebled my appetite (and appreciation) for food because you really are what you eat.


Jars of dry ingredients that are essentials in the kitchen


The food we put into ourselves has an effect on our body, energy, and mind. While convenient eating is great because it shifts the weight off some heavy adulting, the long-term effects aren’t. Sluggishness, brain fog, constipation, and fatigue are some of the things that go away when a person starts to eat more mindfully. And well.


If you’d like to level up your meal decisions, start becoming more aware of the food you’re eating. Get educated about how food works. And start cooking at home too!  When the meals you eat at home are wholesome and healthy, it carries over into your eating habits outside. The best part is, grocery shopping for healthier eating isn’t that complicated or expensive either… 


Here is a master list of 7 essential foods to stock up for healthier eating. They’re nutritious, easy to procure… affordable, and can be thrown together in 5-minutes to make a ton of delicious recipes. 


Feel free to edit the list according to your dietary needs. Enjoy! 


1. Yummy Proteins

The best protein staple for economic eating? It’s got to be poultry


I find chicken and eggs to be an inexpensive protein source that’s easy to cook and convenient to eat. They are nutrient-rich; high in protein, low in fat, delicious, and oh-so-incredibly versatile. You can pair poultry easily with almost all ingredients to cook – tasty soups, mains, side dishes and even, a one-plate meal. 


Fried eggs on a plate in the kitchen


I buy my poultry in bulk because it’s cheaper. I refrigerate the eggs and freeze the meat. That way, I can conveniently add them to my meals whenever I want. 

    • Nosh it up? Try…
      • Beef / pork / lamb
      • Frozen seafood 


2. Goodness Grains

No brainer but rice is obviously the Asian staple grain of choice. Even if you’re a novice kitchener, there’s probably a 10-kilogram bag of rice slumped in the corner of your kitchen somewhere. 


Grain and rice in a bowl


Grains are a rich source of carbohydrates, keeping the body energised and moving. However, if you’re cutting out rice, don’t starve your body from an energy source. Get your carbs instead from high-fibre grains like oats, muesli, and granola. Then, balance with more protein sources. Fibre provides the body with a steady, slow-burn sort of energy that lasts throughout the day and keeps your digestive system moving.


    • Rice
      • Jasmine rice / Basmati rice / short grain rice 
    • Whole Grains
      • Oats /Muesli / granola 
    • Nosh it up? Try…
      • Quinoa



3. Oodles of Noodles And Pasta

Like rice, the versatility of noodles and pasta can’t be overstated. When I want something carby that’s not rice, I combine noodles or pasta with egg, meat, vegetables, and spices to make a filling lunch or dinner.


Nutrition-wise, noodles don’t provide much on their own but they do have healthy qualities. According to nutritionists, vermicelli noodles are lower on the glycemic index than white rice so it’s nice to know that bihun won’t cause blood sugar levels to spike.


Ready made pastas that are essential in the pantry


A healthy meal with noodles is going to depend on what you cook it with. You could do a stir-fry with lots of leafy greens, garlic, onion, and meat slices. Or pasta with bacon bits and cream sauce. Or a spicy bolognese sauce.


But this is about you, not me. Whatever your preferences might be, here are some noodly suggestions to add to your pantry… 

    • Noodles
      • Kuay teow / bihun / yellow noodle 
      • Udon / ramen / buckwheat noodle (soba)
      • Soy noodle / spinach noodle 


    • Pasta (Whole Grain)
      • spaghetti / penne / fettuccine
      • risotto / couscous


4. Daily Dairy

Oh, essential dairy. A supply of milk and butter opens the refrigerator door to better health and PLENTY of yummy meals every day. 


Dairy is favourited in my food list because it’s so versatile. You can use it in practically anything and everything. From cooking breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. To bake or make smoothie bowls and snacks. Dairy incorporates so easily into recipes, you’re spoiled for choice over how you want to meet your daily calcium intake. 


Dairy with cereal in a bowl as it is an important ingredient


Dairy goes well with oats, fruits, and berries to make great breakfast food. Best of all, it also pairs well with sugar, eggs, and flour to make… CAKE 🍰  


Aside from being a source of calcium, dairy provides the body with healthy fats. Butter, not so much. But milk and cheese are great brain food. Milk fat protects the brain cells, improving memory power and mental sharpness. 


By the way, Farm Fresh. That brand has the most authentic-tasting milk in Malaysia and it’s my go-to.

    • Dairy
      • milk
      • butter
      • yoghurt 


Lactose intolerant? Stock up on oat milk instead. NO, not the expensive supermarket kind. Make your own creamy oat milk in just five minutes with a blender and two ingredients – one of which is water. Nosh it up? Try…cheese. 


5. Frozen Fruits

I love my fruits but it grates me to have to peel or cut them so. I solved this with frozen berries! It’s the easiest way to include a portion of fruit into your daily meals. Berries are small but they pack a mighty punch of antioxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and magnesium which keep your body working, repaired and illness-free.


Adding frozen berries to your meals is so convenient. They require NO PREP or washing whatsoever. I can add them straight from the freezer into my yoghurt or muesli. I also blend them with oats and milk for a yummy, nutritious smoothie before I start the day.


Different berries in a bowl


Frozen berries aren’t too expensive either. They can be bought in bulk which means cheaper 🤩 Suppliers on Lazada and Shoppee sell half a kilo of fruit for prices as low as RM15.

    • Frozen Berries
      • Strawberries / blueberries 
      • Raspberries / blackberries


Should I want fresh fruit instead, these are my usual options because they require little peeling, cutting and make a minimal mess.


    • Apple / orange / lemon / bananas
    • kiwis / dragon fruit / cherry tomatoes   



6. Fresh Vegetables

Vegetables add a pop of colour to meals and for your health: Essential vitamins, minerals, potassium and dietary fibre. I like adding vegetables to my meals because they make me feel like I’m making healthy food choices even if I only have, one stalk of kailan in my bihun soup.


The challenge of fresh vegetables (especially the leafy ones) is they don’t last more than two weeks in the fridge so you have to commit to cooking them. And let’s be real, commitment is hard for our working generation. 


Assorted vegetables of tomatoes, mushrooms and chilis that are essential ingredients in the pantry


What I do is buy vegetables I know I can mix-n-match with other ingredients. Like mushrooms for meat and pasta meals. Bok choy for stir-fried sides and soup noodles. And tomatoes for egg-drop soup. That way I get to meet my nutritional needs by wasting inventory space in the fridge.


Here are some low maintenance, easy-to-pair vegetables to stock up on: 

    • Garlic / onion / ginger / 
    • Potato / tomato / carrot / mushrooms 
    • Spring onions / coriander / parsley
    • 2-3 favourite leafy vegetables you don’t mind committing to


7. Herbs, Spices & Flavour

What is food without flavour and richness? With herbs, spices and herbs, cooking becomes less tedious and more adventurous as you have the power to transform food into flavoursome dishes you’ll be inspired to eat all the time. 


Herbs and spices also impart significant health benefits. Rich in phytonutrients (plant nutrients), herbs and spices have antioxidant properties that help the body heal or fight inflammation. Turmeric, for example, is a powerful anti-inflammatory while the popular garlic-ginger-onion trinity strengthens the immune system. 


A bunch of herb for seasoning on a copping board


Plus, when food is that flavourful, you’ll find yourself ditching the extra salt, sugar, fats and MSG. Here’s a list of starter sauces, herbs & spices to oomph up your meals: 


Classic Must-Haves

    • Salt / pepper 
    • Soy sauce / fish sauce / oyster sauce / miso
    • Olive oil / cooking oil / sesame oil / 
    • Garlic powder/ onion powder


Eastern Spices 

    • Cinnamon / cardamom / cloves / star anise
    • Five Spice / peppercorn / fenugreek   
    • Curry powder / cumin powder /
      chilli powder


Western spices 

    • Rosemary / thyme / basil / dried parsley 
    • Red pepper flakes / cayenne pepper / paprika 



And there you go! Here are the seven yummy ingredients that will help you make better meal choices and cultivate a better relationship with food. I love my food and eating, to me, is a daily ritual that sparks joy. It doesn’t matter if the meal is simple or gourmet, my enjoyment comes from satiating my hungry tummy and experiencing the flavours of a well-cooked meal. And of course, nourishing my body with something healthsome.


And the thing is, eating healthily doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated or expensive. It just needs to start at home, in your kitchen. I hope this list kickstarts some new food habits and that you’ll always be inspired to eat well. Bon appetite!


Now that you have the essential ingredients, why not try out some recipes! For further reading, check out Simple Meal Prep Ideas For Busy People and Quick and Easy Lunch Recipes For Your Work from Home Meals.


I tell stories for a living. And when I'm not, I'm sipping tea with the universe. Don't you think low-fat water is ingenious? Oh, I also write an emotionally intelligent comic called Nell & Rose.

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