The 7 Best Plant-Based Staples to Keep On Hand Now, According to Nutritionists
As the health crisis sweeps across our country, it’s easy to spiral into thinking about all the things you can’t control. Here’s one thing you can: The food you choose to fuel your body during these difficult times. Sure, you could launch into frozen burrito season, by why not feed your body the nourishing, wholesome foods it so craves—especially amidst so much chaos? That’s why we tapped plant-based nutritionists to find out what vegan staples they’re loading up on their kitchen right now and how they’re using them. Read on, and creamy cashew pasta sauce, here we come.
Butternut squash can keep for up to a month when stored in a cool, dark place (don’t store whole squash in your fridge), but you can also buy packaged frozen cubes. Either way, it’s worth adding to your at-home cooking routine: “Butternut Squash is one of the vegetables I always have in my kitchen because it can be both sweet and savory,” offers
Mary Ellen Valverde, MS, LDN, CNS, who helps women thrive on plants for their health through her nutrition practice. Beyond roasting it, Valverde recommends using butternut squash in soups, sauces, buddha bowls, and more—she even creates noodle substitutes from butternut squash ribbons. Packed with vitamins A, B,C and potassium and magnesium, the nutrient-dense veggie is a veritable superfood.
We’re nuts for these nuts, lending creaminess to pasta sauces, adding crunch to salads, or simply snacking on between meals. “These are an excellent source of plant based protein and they are one of the most versatile shelf-stable foods on the market,” says Shena Jaramillo, MS, RD, of Peace and Nutrition. “Cashews are an excellent source of fiber [and] also contain vitamin C, phosphorus, and zinc.” BRB, cashew nut hummus break.
Whether you eat them as a side dish at dinner or dice them up into salads or stews, this nourishing root vegetable is a boon for quarantine cooking: “I like to steam or roast one-to-two large sweet potatoes as part of weekly meal prep,” says Nicole Stevens, MScFN, RD, who shares recipes and nutrition information at Lettuce Veg Out. “Sweet potatoes are extremely high in beta carotene which the body converts into vitamin A; this is a nutrient that vegans may lack if they aren’t eating enough orange or dark green vegetables (or fortified foods).” P.S. We think this weekend calls for some sweet potato brownies.
Dried chickpeas work too (and keep for up to three years) if you can’t get your hands on a can of ‘em. “Canned chickpeas are a pantry staple I always have on hand. They are easy to rinse and toss into any dish (soup, salad, pasta, wraps) or can be blended into creamy sauces and dips for a boost of fiber, plant-based protein, healthy carbs, iron, potassium and magnesium,” shares Sevens. Considering chickpeas are often under a $1 a can, they’re pretty budget-friendly, to boot.
These tiny but mighty seeds boast an impressive nutrition profile: “Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber and also contain protein, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus,” says Jaramillo, who also notes that they’re one of the few plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, “which can help reduce inflammation and reduces risks of depressive disorders.” Store them in your fridge for two years or more and slip them into smoothies, jams, granola bars, and, of course, chia seed puddings.
Humans cannot exist on carbs alone for dinner, y’all, no matter what you’re pasta-crazy brain is telling you during these trying times. Instead, rotate that one-pot vegan pasta with some protein-rich tofu, one of Stevens' favorite sources of the macronutrient along with healthy fats, calcium, and iron. “It’s an ingredient I keep in my fridge or freezer at all times. Tofu is like a sponge and will soak up whatever flavours you add to it,” she says. “Stir fry is an easy way to use tofu, but it can also be marinated into vegan feta cheese, blended into sauces (like a Caesar salad dressing), or crumbled into tofu scramble.” Speaking of which, you have Mexican Tofu Scramble on deck for breakfast tomorrow, right?
Nooch yeast, how we love thee. Pick one fortified with B12: “This is absolutely essential for any vegan at this time as it is one of the few sources of B12 that vegans can obtain from food. It is also cheap to buy and very versatile,” says Jaramillo. “It can be used as a no-sodium seasoning in stir-fries or on popcorn. It can be used as a thickening agent in soups or simply as a flavor additive.” Any excuse to have more popcorn, we’re in.