For those of you curious about plant-based living, this list should help you begin the kitchen makeover for developing nutritious plant-based meals (without compromising taste of course).
I think everyone has the question, where do I even start? What’s vegan and what the heck should I stock in my pantry? I’m going to share with you the items I’ve found the most useful in my journey of re-learning how to navigate the kitchen and create tasty, healthy, and easy plant-based meals.
First, what does it mean to be plant-based? Well.. plant-based eating is exactly what it sounds like! Plants first, everything else second, except meat & dairy which are last or not at all. What I love about plant-based living is the flexibility. I was always very intimidated by the vegan rhetoric of “NO” and I think it can have the same effect on others. Instead of listening thoughtfully on veganism, I’d find myself tuning it out. It’s not that I wasn’t interested or curious, in fact I quite was, but the “radical” ideology was a lot to swallow. It took years for me to make the switch and the day it finally clicked was the day I replaced “no” with “occasionally” instead. This mindset is a lot easier to adopt if you can relax a bit and think, it’s OK if I have a cheat meal once in a while. Since then, I’ve spent a lot more time actually learning about the ethical, environmental, and health benefits to living and eating this way. Now I’m much more inspired to stick with it. I no longer consider veganism a “radical” decision. In fact, I think anyone could do it (and find plenty of reasons to). But if you’re like me and it sounds intimidating, I suggest plant-based living as a more easily attainable step in the right direction. To learn more about my personal journey, check out my ABOUT page!
Second, I have an important suggestion for you. This may be a painful and time-consuming task but I promise it will make things MUCH easier in the long run. The primary commitment of a vegan (and inherently a plant-based eater) is to cut out animal products. That means anything with milk, butter, cheese, eggs, and of course meat. If you’re looking to restock your pantry, we need to make some space! Go through EVERYTHING you have and read the label. If it contains any of the previously mentioned ingredients, donate it or toss it out. Casein, lactose, and whey are common ingredients that are derived from milk products so avoid them as well. The reason I say this could be painful.. you’d be surprised how many things in your cupboard actually contain animal products. You might be getting rid of nearly everything. I know it sounds scary but it feels quite rewarding once you’re done! I promise you, this will be one of the biggest first steps and a huge relief as you continue on this path. Knowing that everything in your pantry is vegan makes meal planning easier and eliminates temptations. If there are certain things you love to use and can’t imagine living without, make a list and look up vegan replacement items. You’ll find there are plenty of comparable products at your local grocery store that are entirely vegan and just as delicious/easy to use.
Now to the good stuff! I’ve come up with a list of my top 10 essential pantry items for a plant-based lifestyle. This should give you an idea of what to grab at the grocery store if you’re looking to add more nutrient-packed items that are great building blocks for vegan home-cooking.
1. Beans: Ok I have to admit, for much of my life I was never really excited to see beans on my plate. Since I’ve switched to a plant-based lifestyle I’ve completely opened up to experimenting with foods I would skip over before. Now my perception has completely changed! My favorite is definitely chickpeas (UMM HUMMUS AND FALAFEL), but black beans and pinto beans are fantastic as well. They can be used in pretty much anything which I love. I’m the type of person who will walk through the kitchen and grab everything I see to throw in a pot or in the oven. I use organic canned beans I buy at the 99 cent store, but eventually I may switch over to the common practice of boiling a pot of fresh beans at the beginning of each week. Do what works best for you.
2. Parboiled Brown Rice: Life saver! For some reason, I cannot make good rice. Every time I try, I royally F it up. Parboiled brown rice is the answer to my rice god prayers. It’s partially cooked during processing, which means it takes less time at home (only 20 minutes) and easily cooks to perfection. The other benefit is it contains more nutrients than regular brown rice. This is because when the grains are parboiled they still have the hull on, allowing them to soak up additional nutrients that are usually discarded. If you can’t find parboiled brown rice, any rice is good to have on hand. I personally enjoy black/purple rice and wild rice as well as quinoa (not rice but still awesome). Skip the white rice it doesn’t offer you much substance.
3. Rolled Oats: This is by far my favorite type of oat. Great flavor and texture, perfect for breakfast, energy bars, or in baking recipes. I use them in banana bread (one of my favorite things to make- I’ll post the recipe soon). I was never an oatmeal fan before I tried these but now I’m hooked. Plus the fact that they are so versatile makes them the perfect pantry item.
Amazon: Bob’s Red Mill, Organic Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats, 32 oz
4. Vegan Broth Concentrate: I LOVE making soups and stews. I could probably live off of them. Buying broth every time I feel like whipping something up can be annoying. I also tend to forget about the open one in the fridge and it goes to waste. Instead, I’ve found this amazing organic vegetable base concentrate by “Better Than Bouillon”. It does need to be refrigerated after opening but it should last you quite a while. I’ve tried their garlic one as well (UGH WHY IS GARLIC SO GOOD???) but unfortunately I haven’t seen it on the shelves in a while. Otherwise, I recommend both.
Amazon: Better Than Bouillon, Organic Vegetable Base, 8oz
5. Fruit: Fresh, frozen, or dried fruit should certainly be a staple in your diet. I start every morning with a nice big fruit smoothie made in my NutriBullet blender. The best fruits to have on hand are bananas (fresh for a grab and go snack or to make banana bread, peeled and frozen for smoothies), blueberries (taste delicious in everything), apples (can be used fresh or frozen in smoothies), pineapple (refreshing and sweet), melon (easy to cube for a snack), grapes, and dried raisins, cranberries, apricots and coconut chips. I also buy packs of frozen pitaya and acai to use as a smoothie base. They are pricey compared to other frozen fruits but I really enjoy them so it’s worth it for me. Lastly, DATES! OH MY GLOB. If you’re not on the date train it’s time to hop on. I pick them up at the farmers market but you should be able to find them at the grocery store. Throw a handful in a smoothie for a life changing mouthgasm.. sorry not sorry.
6. Nuts: ALL THE NUTS. Seriously! (Except peanuts for me). Stop by a bulk bin store and grab a couple scoops of your favorites. Cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, and pistachios are always good to have. I use them in smoothies, desserts, trail mix, energy bars, salad and rice toppings, sauces and more. Go with raw or roasted and skip the salted.
7. Coconut Oil: What makes coconut oil different from other oils? Its medium chain fatty acids are known to help with weight loss, cardiovascular health, energy, and immune system support. Other vegetable and seed oils have long chain fatty acids which are notorious for the opposite effect. I use coconut oil for sauteing veggies and as a butter substitute in baking. Keep in mind, one tablespoon of any oil contains about 14 grams of fat (so does butter). There are 9 calories in 1 gram of fat. That means ONE tablespoon of oil or butter has 14 grams x 9 calories = 126 calories from fat. So use just want you need! Many in the plant-based community get by without oils. I find this to be difficult but still try to use them sparingly or not at all if I can swing it. Last resort, I always go with coconut oil.
Amazon: Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, 16 Ounce
8. 100% Pure Maple Syrup: If you’re going to use any type of sweetener, maple syrup is definitely my favorite choice. It’s a natural sweetener that adds a bit of flavor depth. It may cost a little extra but take a look at the back of that Ms. Butterworth or Aunt Jemima bottle. The first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. These (and many other brands) have absolutely NO natural maple syrup. I promise you will not regret spending the extra few dollars once you taste REAL maple syrup again. Over the years the industry has gotten away with stuffing our “food” with filler ingredients that have no nutritional value but are cheap to produce. If you see corn syrup as an ingredient in any items you’re looking at, just walk away. One of the greatest things I’ve heard and truly believe is, “you vote with your dollars.” If you buy cheap processed crap, that’s what you’ll see more of on the shelf.
Amazon: Butternut Mountain Farm 100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup, Grade A Amber Rich, 32 Fl Oz (1 Quart)
9. Liquid Aminos: This is a soy sauce substitute made from non-gmo soybeans that packs more nutrients and protein with no preservatives or gluten. Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein and are a necessary part of your diet. I use liquid aminos as a seasoning in many dishes such as stir-fried veggie rice, soups and stews, tofu dishes, dressings, and sauces. I really enjoy Asian inspired fare so this is a useful item. Be careful though, you don’t need much. I would consider diluting it with water or only using a few drops at a time. 1 teaspoon contains 320 milligrams of salt, similar to other soy sauce options.
Amazon: Bragg Liquid Aminos, 32 oz
10. Nutritional Yeast: “Nooch” tastes slightly nutty and is often used as an ingredient to imitate cheese or egg flavor. I use nooch in tofu eggs, on top of pasta, potatoes, and in soups and sauces. The benefit? It’s full of vitamins including B12 (a necessary vitamin that is difficult to get from veggies). Also, it’s an interesting flavor to experiment with. I will tell you now, this is not like real cheese or eggs so my best advice is don’t compare them. That being said, I made a pretty damn good pot of vegan potatoes au gratin the other day and the nooch brought it all together.
Amazon: Bragg Organic Yeast Seasoning-4.5 oz
Coconut Milk: If you love Thai food and curry then coconut milk will for sure be a staple in your household. Thai food is probably my #1 most purchased to-go food of all time. Now I save money and make it at home!
Chia Seeds: A fantastic source of fiber and protein. These little magic seeds can be used in smoothies, oatmeal, pudding, drinks, muffins and even as an egg substitute due to their gelatinous consistency when soaked in water.
Amazon: Viva Naturals – The FINEST Raw Organic Chia Seeds, 2 lb Bag (Packaging May Vary)
Ground Flax Seed: This item is mainly used to create an egg replacement in baked goods. This has worked the best for me in cookie recipes so I’m a fan. Let 1 tablespoon of flax and 3 tablespoons of water sit for 5-10 minutes and you have yourself a binder.
Amazon: Viva Naturals Organic Ground Flax Seed, 15 oz – Specially Cold-milled Using Proprietary Technology for Optimal Smoothness and Freshness
Lentils: After I went vegan I decided to try these for the first time. I can’t believe what I was missing out on! Lentils can be used to make hearty stews, casseroles, plant-based burgers, and more. They offer a fantastic source of protein and fiber. The red lentils are my favorite variety and cook amazingly in red lentil curry stew.
Salt-Free Spice Blend: Spices are typically a given so I didn’t include this, BUT a nice salt-free spice blend is an easy one step to add flavor to any recipe.
Amazon: Bragg Organic Sprinkle Seasoning 1.50 Ounces
Pumpkin Seeds: I don’t know why but I seriously love these. I add them on everything from smoothies to rice. Experiment with items from your local bulk bins and you’ll find it might be your new favorite section of the store! Except for of course the produce section!
Amazon: Organic Raw Pepitas / No Shell Pumpkin Seeds, 16 oz bag. AA Grade
Spelt Flour: For baking of course. Since baking isn’t an essential part of my every day cooking I chose to leave this one off the main list. However, since I have discovered spelt flour I am totally in love! Great flavor and packed with lots of good stuff (high in fiber and protein). Spelt is actually an ancient grain, OOoooh FANCY! I also use it to thicken up stews and other foods.
Amazon: Bob’s Red Mill Spelt Flour, 24-ounce (Pack of 4)
So you made it through the post! Whoop whoop! FYI: I’ve included links throughout to items I recommend on Amazon. I make a small percentage off any sales directed from my site so if you want to make this easy on yourself and order new pantry goodies online, I thank you for your support! Feel free to leave a comment if you have questions or suggestions. What are your favorite pantry items to have on hand?
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