Here is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of what I keep in my refrigerator and freezer. It is a general list of things that I like to keep on hand. Keeping some things on hand at all times makes creating kitchen masterpieces easier. (After all, it is culinary art when you aren't following a recipe...and sometimes even when you are!) Obviously, I'm not telling you that you should keep all of these things and these things only on hand, this is just meant to be a guide if you are just starting out, or if you like how I do things and want to set up your own kitchen in a similar way. Use this as a reference, but be sure to throw in your own flair to suit your family's specific tastes!
Let's start with the freezer:
-I usually keep various types of meat on hand. Meat freezes well, so whenever something we like goes on sale for a good price, I will pick it up and freeze it for later. Some things need to be properly stored to avoid freezer burn, and some things can just be thrown right in the freezer. When freezer burn is a threat (for things like say, steaks or chicken breasts that come in those black styrofoam trays wrapped in food film) I typically wrap them in foil (sometimes I even do a second layer of cling-wrap first) and label them with food type and purchase date. If I ever strike it rich, I'll probably invest in one of those vacuum-seal food storage systems...that would be perfect for preserving such things! But I digress....Most of the time I like to keep these kinds of meats on hand:
1) Some form of breakfast meat...bacon, ground sausage, sausage links, etc.
2) Some form of beef or pork...steaks (when affordable), smoked sausage, pork chops, pork loin, the occasional rump roast...
3) Some form of seafood/fish...flounder (easy to get cheaply in individually vacuum-sealed bags), shrimp (only when it's REALLY on sale...love shrimp, but it gets pricey), sometimes tilapia (my husband doesn't care for this, but I do so it sometimes finds its way into our home), and VERY occasionally salmon or scallops
-I always keep frozen veggies. They are great for pumping up nutritional value into any meal and work great not just as sides, but also in soups, stews, rice dishes, etc. There are some that I refuse to buy frozen because I've never had quality products preserved in this fashion. This is true for green beans...they just don't cook the same as green beans from a can. I always pass them up on the frozen food aisle. Then there are others that are staples in my kitchen. These include: peas, corn (kernels, not on-the-cob), sliced carrots, and broccoli (cuts unless florets are on sale). Occasionally I'll pick up a blend with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, etc. and I do love yellow squash in the summer (which I usually get fresh and freeze myself, but it is just fine store bought).
-Right now I have the top tier from my wedding cake in the freezer.
-I also keep extra cream cheese and butter frozen for later use.
-I try not to keep any ready-meals full of preservatives and unneeded additives in the freezer, but occasionally we may have a frozen pizza or a pasta meal laying around for nights that I don't feel like/don't have time to devote to cooking.
-I try to never keep anything pre-breaded in the freezer. My idea is that if I want to bread something, I can do it myself, and I won't have to feel guilty wondering if it is unhealthy, because if it is unhealthy, at least I made it that way instead of buying it that way.
Moving on to the Refrigerator:
-I tend to keep these condiments on hand for the kinds of foods we like to make: BBQ Sauce (My family recipe or Sweet Baby Ray's), Hoisin Sauce, Italian Dressing, Ketchup, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, Liquid Smoke, Louisiana Hot Sauce*, Mustard*, Oyster Sauce, Ranch Dressing, Salsa (My husband's family's recipe), and Soy Sauce (Low Sodium). (* = Things my husband likes, but I could probably do without.)
-For general cooking, I keep: eggs (cage-free or free-range...as long as they aren't the ones with a bunch of hormones...I do splurge a bit to buy more expensive eggs because I use them so often), milk (my husband is lactose-intolerant, so we have to buy the more expensive special milk...we use the calcium-fortified Lact-aid...anytime I say I used "milk" be aware that I was using this kind of "milk"), pre-grated cheese (always cheddar/colby jack, usually also mozzarella, and Parmesan, occasionally other things on sale like mexican blends or asiago), yeast packets for bread making, unsalted butter sticks, low-fat cream cheese, a red onion or diced green onions, cucumbers, baby carrots, mushrooms (portebellos are my favorite, but since they are expensive sometimes I just go with the cheap white ones), and a hot house tomato. When in season, I like to keep avocados, but they don't find their way to the refrigerator until after they've been cut open. (Again, sometimes a little expensive.)
-For breakfast foods I keep eggs, milk, cheese, and breakfast meats as stated previous. I also buy yogurt when on sale for on-the-go breakfasts. We also try to keep fruits like oranges and apples when we can get them on sale. We always have bananas, but we keep them on the dining table.
-For snacks and sides I keep hummus (that I make myself), pickles (dill spears or baby sweet pickles), fruits and veggies as mentioned previous, bagged salad, cottage cheese (goes great with blueberries when on sale!), and string cheese (when on sale).
-My husband likes to make sushi (which is much cheaper than buying it, and it's super good for you!) so we typically keep nori, wasabi, and pickled ginger on hand. Whenever we can afford some artificial crab meat, we snap that up for some yummy Japanese-night goodies!
-Beer and Wine: I'm not as big of a beer fan as my husband, but we keep a few beers on hand for him and we have left-overs from other people that get abandoned. I sometimes use these orphans for beer bread or for tortilla soup. Leftover wines are often found here too. These orphans also often find their way into sauces or soups.
-We own a water filtering pitcher that I would die without. I just don't like the taste of tap water...don't judge me!
-Leftovers are constantly coming and going because I cook often, usually in big quantities.
-When money's less tight, I like to keep more fresh stuff (like zucchini, and Romain lettuce, and baby spinach, oh my!) as well as light sour cream, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and other baking funzies.