There's nothing worse than trying to scrape together a meal with what you've got hanging around and realizing you are missing a few little things that could take your meal from edible to epic.
But if you make sure you always keep these items stocked, you will never again try to justify a bowl of cereal as a dinner option.
In no particular order:
Liquid smoke - This little bottle is full of big flavor. A little bit of this magical elixir transforms ground turkey, tofu, or portabella mushrooms into an amazing beef substitute. Or try a few drops in mac and cheese, potato salad or guacamole.
Onions - In our house yellow, white and red onions are essential staples. White onions are very strong and are best used in fresh salsas or roasts. Yellow onions are sweeter and are perfect for sautéing. Red onions have a lightly sweet and pungent flavor that is best utilized uncooked.
Garlic - I think this is self explanatory. It's garlic. It's delicious. Use it.
Oils - Sesame, Olive, Chili, Sunflower - Having many different oils available can change the whole flavor profile of your dish. Want it spicy? Use chili oil. Want to stir fry at a high heat without scorching your food? Use sesame oil.
Lemons/Limes - A squeeze of citrus can brighten up any meal and balances out strong flavors. Got a slightly-too-salty sauce? A squirt of lemon will fix it. Got a too-spicy stew? A shot of lime will mellow it out.
Rice or Pasta - If your meal needs a little more substance, this is a great way to bulk it up. Add it to soups or toss with veggies and you've got an instant meal!
Beans/Legumes - These protein-packed little nuggets of tasty are my go-to for quick, high protein meals. Throw some chickpeas in your salad and suddenly it's a filling meal. Toss some red beans with broccoli rabe and sausage and you won't regret it.
Fresh herbs - If you're using the dried versions of any green herb, you might as well be sprinkling your food with sawdust. Green herbs get their flavor from chlorophyll and once that is gone, so is the flavor. They cost a little more but this is NOT the area you want to be cheap.
Dijon mustard - This little condiment is a lifesaver. Mix it with a little butter and lemon and you've got a killer dressing for veggies. Whisk with olive oil and herbs and BAM - your salads and pasta have never tasted better. Brush it over chicken, add it to potato and macaroni salads or use it in marinades for poultry and pork.
Chicken stock (not broth) - Chicken stock (not broth) is the base for the most flavorful gravies, soups, sauces and brines. If you don't have this in your kitchen all the time, you're doing it wrong.