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What is an ‘ingredient household’? Term for snackless homes goes viral

Did you snack on chocolate chips and croutons growing up? Then you most likely lived in an "ingredient household."

Growing up in my little house in the suburbs, “snack” was a foreign word to my Haitian parents. While other kids had Fruit Roll-Ups, Doritos and Teddy Grahams in their pantries, my mother made sure that ours was chock-full of flour, dry beans and sacks of rice, because pantries were storage for meal prep, of course. If we were hungry enough, children like me living inside "ingredient households" could come up with some pretty wild between-meal bites. But what, exactly, is an ingredient household?

In December 2022, a TikTok trend emerged where users across the platform discussed the phenomenon of ingredient households. An ingredient household is a home that stocks the ingredients used to make meals rather than ready-to-eat meals or snacks. The hashtag #ingredienthousehold has garnered more than 44 million views and has thousands of users sharing their stories.

This concept resonates with me — the closest things to a ready-to-eat snack that my family had in the house were dry cereal and an occasional bag of chocolate chips, so a handful of those or a spoonful of peanut butter were what my siblings and I often ate between meals prepared by our mom. On TikTok, users discuss their own experiences with living in ingredient households, with similar threads being woven throughout.

“Snacks I ate as a kid in an ingredient household,” reads the on-screen text on a video by TikTok user @l0s3r_cat0. The video cycles through images of uncooked tortilla, handfuls of chocolate chips, lunch meat and cheese roll-ups, spoonfuls of peanut butter, croutons and more.

Racking up millions of views, this video and others highlight the ingenuity a hungry kid might have hours before their next meal in a household of this nature.

“When you want a snack but live in an ‘ingredient household,’” reads the on-screen text on a video by user @heyxbean. Showing that ingredient households aren’t limited to childhood, the user shows their own refrigerator, filled with items like coffee, creamer, meat, olives, bagged salad, Parmesan cheese and butter.

As the "File Select" theme from Super Mario 64 soundtracks their own selection, @heyxbean finally reaches for eggs, presumably resigning to the fact that they’re going to have to cook.

The caption “when you want a snack but live in an ‘ingredient household,’” is also used by TikTok user @ceyrudd in their video along with the same soundtrack. Their video shows a fridge stocked with organic tomato sauce, Kalamata olives, coconut cream in a can, sour cream and eggs.

Turning their view from the fridge, the TikToker looks around their kitchen to see baskets filled with apples, pomegranates and seasonal gourds before spotting a gingerbread house, which probably now has a piece missing.

“What is an ingredient household?” reads the on-screen text on a video by user @peculiar_socks, answering the posed question with croutons, chocolate chips and many of the ingredients found in other videos.

This clip, published Nov. 30, is one of the earliest examples of this trend on TikTok, along with another video posted back on Sept. 17 where user @enbyybabyy prepares a flour tortilla with tomato paste and mozzarella cheese to make a pizza-quesadilla hybrid.

“I just want snacks,” reads the caption on their video with the hashtag #ingredientshousehold.

There is, however, an entry on Urban Dictionary from Dec. 23, 2021 for “Ingredient House, defined as “A home that has no ready-to-eat foods or snacks, only the ingredients to make food.”

Other TikToks highlight other ingredients not meant to be eaten as-is being used for a desperation snack.

“Things I used to snack on as a kid living in an ‘ingredient household,’” reads the on-screen text a TikTok by user @cloudycastle0, listing “a cup of shredded cheese I would sneak up to my room in my shirt sleeves,” “rice with sugar on top” and “straight up butter and brown sugar” as examples.

She also adds in the video that she would eat circular sprinkles, chives and, more uniquely, dandelions as snacks in lieu of Lunchables, Bugles or string cheese that her household surely did not stock.

Hordes of commenters under all of these videos are chiming in, sharing their experiences and go-to snacks either growing up or currently living in an ingredient household.

“I grew up in an ingredient household and survived on quesadillas, microwave nachos, and just eating chunks of cheese,” wrote one TikTok user.

“My mom did cook for us different meals, complete meals three times a day, but we never had any snacks so we would snack on weird stuff as well,” said another user.

“THE CROUTONS WERE LITERALLY MY ENTIRE CHILDHOOD,” said another excited commenter.

“The handful of chocolate chips hit hard,” added yet another.

“God this is SO my house. I usually go for a quick sip of Worcestershire sauce,” reads one TikTok comment. (I was taken aback until I realized I have taken a sip or two of soy sauce in my time.)

Other users shared their theories on why ingredient households exist.

“As someone else who grew up in an ‘ingredients’ household I think we were just poor growing up,” said a TikTok user.

“My parents just didn’t have a ton of $ and snack/ready to eat stuff has always been expensive,” said another TikTok commenter, echoing many other users.

For their part, there are some TikTokers who are using the hashtag to share a more serious side to why a house may be ingredients-only. TikTok user @alayna.klinke shared a video relating her experiences with her mother and diet culture. She hypothesized that her home was an ingredient household because her “always dieting” mom never wanted “snacks in the house.”

Sharing a different perpective, TikTok user @grownrebel posted a video where she talks about her childhood years in an ingredient household in the South, particularly as someone who “grew up poor.” Her video and so many others highlight the range of experiences people have growing up in ingredient households and how it colored their view of the world.

One commenter summed up the life of a person growing up in an ingredient household quite succinctly: The experience turns you into a clever little scavenger, which is a skill we all still have.

“Ingredient [households are] so fun,” reads the comment. “Like a little mouse, searching for random little ingredients to feast on.”