A well stocked plant-based pantry means less headache at meal time, and faster meals. It’s also a great foundation for your healthy diet and weight loss regime, and of course – it’s helpful in an emergency, whether that means you’re snowed in or there’s a global pandemic. And with the onset of COVID-19, I think it’s safe to say most of us turned to our cupboards at some point to take stock of what we’ve got on hand.
Many people aren’t cooking at home anymore, and while take-out can be a lifesaver at times, it’s not usually a healthy option. And if you’re anything like me when I first started on my journey to health, my pantry consisted of boxed and highly processed meals like Rice-A-Roni, Cup O’Noodles, and Mac and Cheese. Definitely not the most nutritious of choices. If your goal is to take control of your health, the best way to do that is to cook at home more often.
Why should you have a well-stocked plant-based pantry?
The short answer is that cooking is simpler and faster when you already have the ingredients that you need. And even though each person’s pantry will look different, there are still two universal keys to a well stocked pantry:
- It’s stocked with items you know how to cook with and feel confident using, and
- it’s stocked with ingredients that are long lasting
What should you include in a well-stocked plant-based pantry?
You should always make sure that you’re keeping items you are most likely to use – don’t stock something you’re not fond of because if you don’t like it, you’re not going to make it. And it’s a waste of money when you keep buying a head of cauliflower that you end up tossing out each week, when it inevitably goes bad because you didn’t find a recipe to use it in. That being said, these are some of the main categories to consider:
These whole-grains can serve as the base for a stir-fry, casserole, or curry. Oats are wonderful as a filling breakfast, and a great option if you’re trying to bring down your cholesterol. Try adding barley or rice to soups to make them even more filling.
- Brown Rice
- Wild Rice
Canned and Dried Beans & Lentils
Dried beans are probably the cheapest and healthiest option as canned beans are usually higher in sodium, but either is a great choice. Dried beans can take longer due to soaking and cook times, but if you have a pressure cooker you can speed that up immensely. I like to keep a mix of dried and canned on hand so I’m always prepared if I don’t have time to wait for my beans to cook. Lentils can make a great meat substitute when mixed with a packet of taco seasoning. Chickpeas are perfect for making your own homemade hummus or falafel, and white beans are a great low-fat substitute in recipes calling for cream; just blend and add to soups to make them thick and creamy without the fat or dairy.
- Red and Green Lentils
- Pinto Beans
- Black Beans
- Kidney Beans
- White Beans
Canned & Jarred Items
If there was only one canned item I could keep it would be tomatoes for sure. Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste are all fundamentals. I like the fire roasted diced tomatoes because they add an extra flavorful base to soups, curries, and stews. Use the paste and sauce for making homemade pizzas and Bolognese. Vegetable stock or broth is a must for soups as well as sauteing or try cooking your rice with it rather than water to impart extra flavor. Artichokes are versatile and can be added to salads and casseroles, or make an artichoke dip. Jackfruit can be a great healthy meat substitute in place of pulled pork or shredded chicken.
- Green Chilis
- Vegetable Broth or Stock
- Canned Tomatoes
- Fat-Free Refried Beans
- Artichoke Hearts (in water, no oil)
Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butters
Because nuts have a high fat content, keeping them in the freezer or fridge can help keep them from going rancid before you get a chance to use them. Nuts and seeds are perfect toppings for salads, or smoothie bowls. And of course making a variety of homemade non-dairy milks, sauces, and even cheeses. My favorites to stock are:
- Pine Nuts
- Sunflower Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
- Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
Sweeteners & Baking
Most of these items are typical to a baking category, but some have multiple uses. Maple syrup can be added to sweeten up sauces and provides the added benefit of natural vitamins and minerals not found in refined sugars. Apple sauce is invaluable as a healthy replacement for oil in baking recipes and can also make an easy snack to boot! Dried fruit can be a nice addition to baked breads or muffins, as well as a topping to breakfast oatmeal or even salads.
- Maple Syrup
- Dates and Date Syrup
- All Purpose Flour
- Corn Starch
- Baking Soda
- Baking Powder
- Vanilla Extract
- Apple Sauce
- Dried Fruit
Condiments & Sauces
Keeping some of your favorite plant-based and vegan condiments and sauces in stock is paramount. These can make the difference between a satisfying or disappointing meal. One of the less common ones on this list is nutritional yeast (also called “nooch” among seasoned vegans). Nutritional yeast imparts a bit of a nutty, cheesy flavor while also being a great source of B vitamins.
- Hot Sauce
- BBQ Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- Thai Red Curry Paste
- Nutritional Yeast
An assortment of vinegar is a great way to add more flavor to your meals. It’s invaluable for making tasty sauces, marinades, and dressings. Vinegar is great for tenderizing cooked greens (like kale, collard, or mustard greens) and helping them to taste amazing. In an oil-free kitchen, it’s also a convenient option to saute with that imparts more flavor than using just water. And of course, vinegar is perfect for making your own oil-free salad dressings.
- Red & White Wine
- Apple Cider
- Rice Vinegar
Spices & Dried Herbs
Here’s where your cupboard can really shine! Herbs and spices are a perfect zero- to low-calorie way to add so much flavor to your food, so go crazy. Two of my favorite essentials are garlic powder and smoked paprika. Garlic makes everything taste better to me, and smoked paprika can be a wonderful resource for a transitioning meat eater because it imparts such a deep, rich, smoky flavor to everything. Below are a few of the basics I keep on hand:
- Sea Salt
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Smoked Paprika
- Garlic Powder
When choosing produce the key is to pick items that are long lasting and provide the most versatility. Potatoes are one of those staple items in almost any plant-based pantry, and there are so many varieties to choose from: my two favorites I keep in stock are Yukon Golds for their naturally creamy flesh and thin skin and Garnet Yams for their big dose of beta-carotene and flavorful versatility (depending on how you cook them they can be a sweet treat or a savory side). Most fresh produce, even if it is long lasting, will need to be stored in the fridge, but there are some items that do best when they stay out of the fridge like: garlic, onions, potatoes, and avocados.
- Lemons & Limes
The freezer is an amazing resource. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at peak ripeness so you won’t be missing out on nutrients. Buy fresh bananas, peel and then freeze, and you’ll always have some in stock for a quick smoothie. You can also store your fresh ginger in a bag in the freezer and use for easily grating into recipes. Or pull a quick stir fry together with a bag of frozen vegetables, some cooked rice, and a little soy sauce.
- Assorted frozen vegetables and vegetable blends
- Assorted frozen fruit
- Whole grain and/or sprouted breads, pizza crusts, and tortillas
- Hash browns (oil free)
If you’ve decided to adopt a plant-based diet, the best thing you can do to set yourself up for a smooth transition is make sure you’re keeping healthy, whole-food items on hand in your pantry. Making things simple for ourselves makes it easier for us to succeed in the long run. I hope the list above was able to give you a good starting point for what kinds of things to stock in your pantry and some ideas of how to use them. Remember, everyone’s pantry will look different, but if you’re keeping the two universal rules in mind (stocking healthy items you’re comfortable cooking with, and choosing items that last) you’re sure to succeed.
For even more tips, ideas, and some of my favorite pantry recipes make sure to download my free Guide to Stocking Your Plant-Based Pantry below:
Now I’d love to hear from you: What are some of your pantry essentials that you always keep on hand? Leave a comment below and let me know. And if you think someone you know would be interested in tips for stocking their plant-based pantry, please share this post with them on social media.