How to Stock a Plant-Based Pantry: The Only Items You Need to Start Today
One of the first steps, when you are setting off on a plant-based diet, is having a well-stocked pantry. After all, maintaining a loaded-up larder is like giving your future self a gift: the gift of a plethora of easy-to-find, good-for-you supplies ready and waiting for the next time cooking inspiration strikes.
Quick check: When was the last time you gave your pantry a good clean-out? Shifting to a primarily plant-based diet doesn’t have to mean a total overhaul—but there are a few things that can make the transition easier, like saying goodbye to those languishing boxes of cookies and crackers and bumping up your supply of healthy, whole-food basics to snack on when hunger strikes. Here's a list of our favorite plant-based provisions to keep on hand, starting today.
HEALTHY WHOLE GRAINS
Whole grains provide a whole host of complex carbs, which lend lots of energy while helping to keep blood sugar balanced. They’re also rich in B vitamins (all that folate!) and minerals such as magnesium and selenium, and some, like quinoa, are stellar sources of protein, too. Whole grains such as oats and brown rice are earthy and grounding and serve as a hearty, nourishing center to a balanced meal. Buy your grains in bulk and store them in airtight glass jars once you get home.
Quinoa: Technically a seed, this pseudo-grain packs in eight grams of protein per cup (cooked) and contains all 23 amino acids.
Rice: The healthiest varieties include brown rice, basmati, wild rice, and black forbidden rice: Rotate your rice every time you restock—there are nutritional benefits to choosing each type (like antioxidants and trace minerals such as manganese).
Wheatberries, Farro or Rye: These chewy, nutty grains contain gluten but are a good alternative to rice if you’re looking for something slightly more substantial. Rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium, they’re also packed with fiber and protein. They bulk up a salad instantly or you can add a cupful to vegetable soups, too.
Oats: Naturally gluten-free, oats are prized for their cholesterol-lowering ability, thanks to their high content of beta-glucan (soluble) fiber. Use oats to make oatmeal, granola, or savory porridge and reap the numerous heart-health benefits. Just be sure to seek out certified gluten-free oats if you have Celiac disease.
Whole-grain, high fiber bread: The heartier, the better: Bread serves us best when it’s super seedy and grainy (all that fiber!). Look for a loaf without added sugar.
Popcorn: Yes, good old popcorn! Packed with fiber, popcorn is a great whole-food snack. Make your own microwaved version by tossing 1/3 cup whole dried kernels in a teaspoon or two of olive oil and salt, then add the mixture to a brown paper lunch bag. Fold over the top and microwave for approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds (may vary depending on your wattage) and wait for the popping to slow to once every minute. Top with nutritional yeast (more on that below) and serve.
WHOLE WHEAT OR HIGH-FIBER PASTA
While traditional semolina pasta is undoubtedly delicious, its status as a refined carbohydrate means it’s not the best option in terms of nutrient density. Instead, try more nourishing noodles made from quinoa, beans or legumes, which are full of protein, and yep, that good-for-you fiber.
Pasta alternatives: There are plenty of new varieties on the market now, many of them gluten-free, to boot. Seek out chickpea, red lentil or black bean blends served up with your favorite red sauce. Throw in some veggies for good measure (we’re partial to peas).
Soba Noodles: This buckwheat-based option is dense enough to stand on its own with Asian-inspired peanut sauce and veggies, but it also lends luscious texture to a bowl of Pho or miso soup.
ALL SORTS OF LEGUMES
Get friendly with legumes. These filling, fiber-rich staples are powerhouses of protein and minerals. Legumes are a great transition food on your way to going more plant-based: They’re an easy way to incorporate plant foods while you’re working on reducing your animal protein intake. Add lentils to your beef Bolognese, swap ground turkey for black beans in your fave chili, and pile on the refried beans in your chicken tacos, too.
Beans: There are a multitude of types, but stock up on black beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, kidney beans as a starter pack. Dried beans can be soaked and sprouted for better digestibility or look for organic canned varieties and rinse well. Cooking beans with a small strip of seaweed also improves their nutrient availability and absorption (and can mean less gas, too).
Lentils: Available in a variety of colors and textures, some can melt into soups and others can hold their own in a tomato sauce. Test out red, green, brown and black varieties and keep a couple on hand when you determine your favorites. They contain high amounts of folate and other B vitamins and offer plenty of iron, too.
NUTS & SEEDS
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of heart-healthy plant-based fats and can lend creaminess or crunch, depending on the usage. Always purchase nuts in their natural state: raw and unsalted, then roast, toast, salt or season to your liking in small batches at home: this preserves their fatty acids for longer. Buy in bulk and store half in the freezer to prevent them from going rancid.
Nuts: Consume a variety on a daily basis (a ¼ cup is a good serving size) for cardiovascular support from fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants. Try walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios and rotate through them regularly.
Nut Butter: Protein-rich and creamy, nut butters of all kinds (peanut, almond, cashew) lend a satisfying richness to oatmeal, muffins, and desserts. They also make a filling plant-based snack when paired with veggie or fruit slices.
Tahini: This paste made from ground sesame seeds serves as the base for hummus but can also stand alone as a mineral-rich dip for veggies or apples—it packs in 64 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon. It also whips up into a mean salad dressing with lemon and olive oil.
Seeds: Seeds have officially reached superfood status thanks to their protein, fatty acid, and mineral content. Sprinkle hemp hearts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax or chia seeds on top of soups, salads or as a garnish on breakfast foods. Whip up a chia or flax pudding as a grain-free alternative to oatmeal or a filling snack.
Seed Crackers: Seek out seed-based crackers for a whole-food take on what’s normally a processed and refined carb.
We’re lucky to live in a modern world full of plant-based and nut milks, and finding your favorite is just a matter of personal preference. (Check out The Beet Meter right here at The Beet, for our ratings and reviews, and then add your own when you found your favorite!) They’re pretty easy to DIY, but there’s also a wide range of shelf-stable or refrigerated options or even jarred milk bases, where you just add water.
Nut Milk: Take your pick of almond, cashew or macadamia. Nutritionally speaking, they’re all fairly similar, though some store-bought varieties have added calcium and vitamin D. Some may contain stabilizers such as carrageenan, so read labels carefully if you’re sensitive. Use these alternative milks anywhere you’d pour cow milk: in cereal, in baking, in cream sauces, etc.
Coconut Milk: Keep a can or two kicking around your pantry in case of curry cravings. Coconut milk or coconut cream also makes a great base for smoothies and soups.
Oat Milk: The preferred choice for stirring into coffee or tea, as it tends to blend well and froths up beautifully.
OIL & VINEGAR & CONDIMENTS
One foolproof way to make a plate full of vegetables more satisfying? Drizzle them with a good-quality olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Don’t fear the fat: it’s super healthy for hormone balance, necessary for the absorption of vitamins such as A, E, D and K, and is essential for fighting inflammation, supporting brain and eye health, and for strong hair, skin, and nails. Fat is also a prime source of energy, containing the most calories per gram of any food.
Avocado Oil: With a high smoke point of 500º, avocado oil is a great high-heat cooking medium, whether you’re sautéing, roasting or frying. It’s also full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Olive Oil: Extra virgin varieties shouldn’t touch heat: Use them instead for dressing salads or drizzling on cooked foods. They’re rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, as well as vitamins E and K. Refined olive oils—note: the opposite of extra virgin—, can be used for light sautéing and low-temp roasting (below 375º).
Apple Cider Vinegar: Revered as a health-boosting tonic, apple cider vinegar can be used to make a homemade salad dressing, quick-pickle a jar of sliced veggies, or add tanginess to finished dishes. Adding a teaspoon to two ounces of water and drinking before meals can also help ramp up your body’s digestive power by stimulating stomach acid production, helpful if you often have heartburn, gas and/or indigestion.
Liquid Coconut Aminos: This salty, soy-sauce alternative adds an umami quality to tofu, tempeh, and other meat alternatives. Liquid aminos is a liquid protein concentrate that’s gluten-free and non-fermented, which is essential if you’re sensitive to gluten or histamines.
Vegetable Bouillon: When you’re in need of a quick stock or want to pump up the flavor of soups or grain dishes, dissolve a teaspoon or two of vegetable bouillon in hot water and add to the pot.
Defined as foods that are exceptionally nutrient-dense thanks to their rich content of antioxidants, trace minerals, vitamins, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, Superfoods were once only found in specialty grocery stores. Now these nutrient power houses have become much more widespread. Add them to smoothies, soups, salads, and mains to increase the flavor and nutrient profile of your meals.
Celtic Grey Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan Salt: We can’t underestimate the importance of high-quality salt. Most white table salt is super refined and stripped of all trace minerals. Grey salt and pink salt, on the other hand, are found to contain magnesium and iron, and lend a more savory, salt-forward flavor to your favorite dishes, thanks in part to the larger grains—which also allows you to use a little bit less.
Herbs and Spices: Stocking a cupboard with a few dried aromatic herbs and spices means you can take your meals—and your nutrition—to the next level. These add-ons account for a high dose of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory power, even in small amounts. Seek out basil, rosemary, parsley, cinnamon, cumin, chili powder and curry powder to get started.
Nutritional Yeast: Long-considered a staple of a vegan diet, nutritional yeast (nooch) is well-known for its distinctive cheesy flavor. Sprinkle it in place of parmesan on pasta or as a topping on popcorn or blend it with cashew cream to make a delicious faux-cheese sauce. Nutritional yeast (also known as Brewer’s yeast) is an inactive form of yeast that’s high in protein, zinc, selenium, manganese and B vitamins—especially B12, which is often only found in animal products.
Seaweed: A highly concentrated natural source of iodine and other minerals, dried seaweed’s nutritional profile alone should earn its spot as a pantry staple: kombu (kelp) specifically has nearly 2000 percent of your daily value of iodine. Seaweed of all types are also super versatile: From snacking on roasted nori sheets to topping salads with a sprinkle of dulse and stirring kombu into soups, grains and beans, the flakes make for an easy add-on. To make beans more digestible, add a 4” strip of kombu seaweed during cooking, which will help break down the beans’ raffinose sugars, making their nutrients more absorbable and reducing digestive discomfort. Once the beans are cooked, remove the kombu, chop it up and return it to the pot before serving.
Dried Fruits: Raisins, prunes, dried apricots, dried goji berries, and cranberries can hold their own in a trail mix, granola or salad, and they stand tall nutritionally speaking, too: Goji berries, for example, have 18 amino acids, fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, zinc, and the phytochemicals beta-carotene and lutein, just to name a few. Tuck a handful into your breakfast oatmeal or bring along a small container to snack on—they’ll give you a great energy burst.
Yep, you can still enjoy cookies, cakes, muffins, and even breads on a plant-based diet, with some caveats. Plant-based baking focuses on using fewer refined, processed ingredients and less dairy in favor of more natural, whole-food flours and sweeteners and alternative milks/butters. And here’s a handy egg replacement recipe: mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed with three tablespoons water. Let the mixture gel for a few minutes until it reaches egg consistency, then use in baking where the recipe calls for a raw egg.
Natural Sweeteners: Swap white sugar in place of coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, pitted dates or stevia in your favorite recipes: though not all use a 1:1 ratio (you may need to reduce the liquid if adding maple or honey, or presoak dates to soften them—seek out specific recipes that feature natural sweeteners for best results). These alternatives also generally have most of their nutrient profile intact even after processing and bottling, unlike white sugar, which has zero—yep, zero—nutritional content. Maple syrup, for example, is rich in calcium, magnesium and antioxidants, especially the dark-amber hued grade B syrup.
Alternative Flours: Instead of white flour, scout out coconut flour, cassava flour, oat flour, almond meal or even whole wheat flour, which have more protein, vitamins, and minerals to bake into your favorite recipes without changing the taste too drastically. Note that some heavier flours such as almond meal or whole wheat may make your baking slightly more dense and chewy, but a more toothsome texture is generally a small price to pay for those increased nutritional benefits.