What are the vegan food staples of a plant-based diet you should always have on hand in a plant-based kitchen? A list of 20 items to stock up on. I am sharing my favorite plant-based staples with you, that I always keep on hand: With many of these, you should already be familiar!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 🎥 Video
- 1. Oats
- 2. Bananas
- 3. Plant Based Milk & Dairy Alternatives
- 4. Tofu & Soy Products
- 5. Beans & Lentils
- 6. Nuts and Seeds
- 7. Nutritional Yeast
- 8. Dietary Supplements
- 9. Frozen Fruit & Vegetables
- 10. Pickled Vegetables
- 11. Pasta
- 12. Whole Grains
- 13. Flaxseeds
- 14. Maple Syrup and/or Agave Nectar
- 15. Vegetable Broth
- 16. Spices, Herbs & Essential Oils
- 17. Condiments & Sauces
- 18. Apple Cider Vinegar
- 19. Vegetable Oils
- 20. Flour & Starches
Having a well-stocked kitchen means that a delicious meal is never more than a couple of footsteps away. In times of shortage, sickness, or when you’re just too busy to go shopping, it’s good to have some vegan essentials in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. I listed 20 essential items I keep in my small apartment kitchen, so you don't necessarily need a big pantry, or lots of storage room, in order to have these items on hand.
Oats is one of my most used vegan food staples and I always buy them in bulk! They are incredibly versatile, come with lots of health benefits, and make not only a filling, delicious breakfast in the morning.
There are many savory oat recipes out there too. With a food processor or a high-speed blender, you can make oat flour for healthy pancakes, baked oats, and other gluten free & vegan baking.
Yes, it's a given that fresh fruits and veggies should always be in your kitchen. However, bananas deserve a special mention since they can be used in so many different ways in a vegan kitchen.
They are super nutritional as they are high in fiber, potassium, calcium, and prebiotics. Despite having fresh bananas on hand, I also like to keep a batch of very ripe bananas in my freezer (the riper they are, the sweeter they are - so don't be afraid of brown spots).
Use bananas to top your oat-based breakfast, your peanut butter sandwich, or to make delicious banana bread. Bananas can also be turned into delicious desserts, plant milk, (n)ice cream, and also make a great smoothie (bowl) base.
Use them for your plant based baking to substitute eggs, or to replace some granulated sugar or fats, like in this Sweet Oatmeal Muffins recipe.
3. Plant Based Milk & Dairy Alternatives
There are many dairy alternatives out there nowadays. The most important dairy replacements I keep around in the kitchen are dairy-free milk, plant-based yogurt, and plant-based butter (mainly for baking, and sandwiches). Having some vegan food staples to substitute milk and other dairy products makes the transition to a plant-based diet so much easier!
I use plant-based milk in oatmeal, to make smoothies, in coffee, as a base for sauces (or to make them creamier), for mashed potatoes, curries (like this Japanese "beef" curry), baked goods, and for many more purposes. There are many plant-based milks out there, to name just a few: there is soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, oat milk, cashew milk, pea milk, quinoa milk, and more.
As you can see you have many options and lots of different kinds to try out over time to find out which ones you like best. You can get flavored vegan milk alternatives as well – the most common ones are vanilla or chocolate. Many plant milk can easily be homemade too.
I always keep unsweetened oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk in our fridge and pantry. Be sure to also try the wide variety of plant-based cheeses, yogurt, and ice cream to find your favorites!
4. Tofu & Soy Products
Moving on to another classic vegan food staple: tofu and other soy products. This delicious plant-based protein has gotten some pretty unfair bad press in recent years. Even though it comes with lots of nutritional value: It’s a great source of all eight essential amino acids, iron, calcium, selenium, and magnesium, and has also been shown to reduce the risk of several cancers, including breast cancer. If you want to read more about soy and its actual effects on your health you can read more about it here.
Tofu comes in more varieties you could think of: Starting with firm tofu and extra-firm tofu (unflavored), silken tofu (which is especially great for desserts, puddings, and dips), all the way over to baked tofu, smoked or marinated.
We eat tofu very frequently, so I try to have 2 packages of firm/extra firm, and 2 packages of silken tofu on hand in my fridge at all times. Additionally, I keep 1-2 blocks of drained firm tofu in my freezer as well.
(Freezing your drained tofu turns the remaining water into ice crystals, which creates small, sponge-like holes that remain once the tofu is thawed and the ice turned into water. Draining, freezing and then defrosting tofu makes it far spongier, firmer, and chewier. That helps tofu to absorb more flavors and liquids when prepared. This is giving you the possibility for super flavorful and juicy tofu dishes.)
Tofu's possibilities in the kitchen are endless! You can make scrambled eggs out of it, add it to Asian stir-fries, soups, use it as a filling, marinate and bake it, use it as a mince alternative in vegan lasagna or bolognese, turn it into feta for salad toppings, as a topping on sandwiches, bake with it and more... Not a big fan of tofu? Try tempeh!
Other soy products that are nice to have on hand include Tempeh, Edamame, Miso, and Textured Soy Protein. I especially love using low sodium miso paste as a substitute for regular salt.
5. Beans & Lentils
Beans and lentils are on the top of the list when it comes to filling and budget-friendly foods. They are packed with complex carbs, fiber, protein, folate, and phytates. Which may help reduce the risk of stroke, depression, colon cancer, and more (source). All this is making them a great addition to almost any savory dish, a healthier protein source than animal protein and should be eaten daily!
Beans are a lovely addition to many savory meals such, as salads, stews, pasta dishes, Buddha bowls and can be used to make vegan meatballs or plant-based burgers. Many beans and legumes also make incredibly creamy sauces, delicious smoothies, or even sweet desserts, such as edible cookie dough, pie crusts, or brownies.
When buying your canned beans, make sure the only ingredients are beans and water, if possible! When using canned beans drain and rinse them thoroughly. (Rinsing them reduces sodium and the amount of gas-producing sugars.)
6. Nuts and Seeds
Loaded with healthy fats and protein, nuts and seeds are great on salads, breakfast bowls, or by the handful. My favorite nuts to keep in my kitchen are almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds. I also always have flax seeds on hand, but I dedicated them to a place in this list (see number 13).
Despite using them as toppings or eating them by the handful, there is more you can do with nuts and seeds! Many make excellent creamy bases for sauces, additions to pestos. They can be turned into plant-based cheese and come in form of nut and seed butter as well. The most common nut butter I always have on hand is peanut butter and (white) almond butter.
In vegan baking, they can make a great sugar, egg, and/or fat substitution while adding extra protein and nutrition! Try these incredible delicious Almond Candy Bars.
7. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional Yeast is rich in B vitamins, protein, and trace minerals. It is also a great source of plant-based B12. When buying nutritional yeast look specifically for fortified nutritional yeast! Since only fortified nutritional yeast contains high levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid (B9). Both help your body make and maintain your DNA and red blood cells. I try to incorporate it into my meals almost every day.
You can top your pasta or pizza with it, blend it up with cashews to make vegan parmesan, add it to your popcorn, make creamy 'cheese' sauces with it, add it to mashed potatoes and so much more! Just like tofu, the sky is the limit here.
8. Dietary Supplements
The right plant-based diet will nourish you with lots of nutrients. However, it's always good to incorporate dietary supplements into your meals as well - that goes for all diets. They offer a simple and easy way to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need!
To learn and know what your body needs I always recommend taking regular blood tests. Look for a plant-based one that offers at least these essentials: B12, Vitamin D, Iron, Vegan Omega's, Vitamin K2, and Minerals (like Magnesium and Selenium). I personally also like to promote my gut health by adding pre-and probiotics to my diet!
9. Frozen Fruit & Vegetables
Does your produce tend to turn bad in your fridge? Freeze it! I love frozen fruit and vegetables since they come with so many benefits. It is especially great to prevent food waste and it helps you to buy seasonal, but still, be able to enjoy specific produce out of season! Fruit and vegetables are usually kept fresh for 6 to 12 months in the freezer!
Frozen fruit makes great snacks, especially in the summer (my favorite are frozen grapes). Generally, it's very convenient to have frozen berries and fruit. When frozen they don't have to be carefully stored and washed and then eaten within the next couple of days or they'll go bad. No, they keep fresh and you can always just take out as many as you like.
They make a great addition to baked oatmeal and smoothies. You can make ice cream or sorbet out of them, or use them in baked goods like muffins, in water for some fruit-infused flavoring, or eat them in plant-based yogurt (or quark) with some homemade granola.
10. Pickled Vegetables
In addition to the fresh and frozen variety, pickled veggies are a great way to prevent food waste, preserve produce and nourish your gut health. They add crunch and tang to salads and sandwiches.
We always keep at least a big jar of pickles, kraut, and kimchi in our kitchen! Pick up a jar of your favorite pickled veggie at the grocery store, or if you love it, and find some spare time, try pickling your produce!
I'm pretty sure pasta is a staple in most households worldwide (even non-vegan). There are lots and lots of different kinds, from regular wheat to gluten free (eg: lentil pasta, cauliflower pasta, shirataki, bean pasta), to enriched vegetable pasta or whole grain, like buckwheat pasta (eg soba noodles). By now I believe there is some kind of pasta for anyone! I mean if you have a spiralizer you can even make noodles out of vegetables, like Zoodles!
I like to have a few different types and shapes at home to whip up meals like a spaghetti dish with Bolognese, a one-pot pasta dish, Bean Alfredo, and more!
Though pasta is usually made from flour and a more processed food than intact whole grains, such as quinoa or millet, it’s still a great choice to nourish your body with energy (especially when you choose gluten free, whole wheat, or buckwheat pasta).
Or try making your own pasta! I love to make traditional pierogi (polish dumplings) from scratch from time to time. It's super relaxing, very rewarding, and reminds me of my good times visiting Poland.
Traditionally (Italian) pasta is made without eggs. However some brands add eggs to their pasta, so check the label to make sure you don’t buy pasta made with eggs! One of my favorite vegan-friendly pasta brands to buy is Barilla.
12. Whole Grains
Quinoa, Millet, Barley, Bulgur, Popcorn, Farro, … The list goes on and on. These nutrient-packed grains are super filling, high in fiber, and usually easy to prepare. They often make the perfect meal prep, where you cook a big batch in advance and eat from it throughout the week!
Most of these are very versatile and can be eaten either sweet or savory. Eating whole grains appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and stroke. You’re probably already used to buying these, but a lot of people don’t realize that these products are usually vegan and very healthy.
Be sure to experiment to find your favorites! And don’t forget you can also choose whole-grain pasta, bread, and tortillas instead of plain as well! (Just double-check the ingredients to be sure dairy and eggs aren’t added to the product.)
My favorites to have on stock (despite oats and a variety of whole-grain flours) are tri-color quinoa, brown rice, popcorn, and bulgur! Most whole grains can be stored in air-tight containers in a cool, dry place (before being cooked) and kept fresh for up to 6 months. In the freezer, they keep up for around 12 months. When cooked they approx. last for 3-5 days in the fridge and up to 2 months in the freezer.
Worried about your Omega-3 income on a vegan diet? Fear no more because this highly underrated superfood contains the largest amount of alpha-linolenic acid, a primary Omega-3 fatty acid, out of all foods! This compound is important for healthy brain function, digestion, heart health, and fighting inflammatory diseases.
Many vegans eat chia seeds for that reason. And yes, chia seeds and flax seeds are both very nutritious – no question! However, flax seeds do appear to have an advantage, especially when it comes to reducing hunger and appetite, as well as lowering the risk of certain cancers. Plus, they are way more affordable than Chia seeds!
As a comparison: The average price of flax seeds is ca. $3.99 per pound. While the average price of chia seeds is ca. $9.99 per pound.
Just like chia seeds and flax seeds/meal soak up moisture and create when mixed with water, a gel-like substance. Flax meal and water are used to create a vegan egg, but you can also use this process to turn it into a very nutritious breakfast pudding, add it to smoothies or breakfast bowls, and more! I always have flax seeds, or flax meal (pre-ground flax seeds) on hand in my kitchen and try to incorporate a minimum of 1 tablespoon into my daily diet.
If you buy whole seeds: Make sure to freshly grind the whole seeds in a food processor, blender, or coffee/spice grinder before eating, so you can absorb the Omega-3s!
14. Maple Syrup and/or Agave Nectar
If there’s such a thing as "healthier" sweeteners, maple syrup and agave nectar are two of them. The only way up to even healthier sweeteners would be whole fruits, dates (fresh, in sugar or paste form), and perhaps molasses.
Agave Nectar is a great honey alternative, while maple syrup can be pretty versatile. I want to mention that both of these are still high-sugar foods and should be consumed in moderation! You can find some small amounts of minerals in it, like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc as well as some B vitamins. But, the amounts are small – and you’re much better off getting these nutrients by eating an overall healthy diet. However, I will always prefer using maple syrup, and sometimes agave nectar, over granulated white sugar!
You can also use it to glaze your veggies; as a substitute for white sugar in baking; in sauces; for pancakes; to sweeten oatmeal, smoothies, or salad dressings. Maple syrup and agave nectar come in handy every other day or so, but I wouldn't make eating them a daily habit.
15. Vegetable Broth
Veggie-based stews and soups are hearty and delicious vegan dinner options and are especially comforting during fall and winter. However, start thinking outside the soup and stew bowl here! Vegetable Broth is the perfect flavor booster in whole grains, beans, lentils, sauces, and more so I love to always have some on hand. Vegetable broth is also a great alternative to oils, for example: sautée your veggies in it.
Plus, you can reduce your food waste, save money and make the best out of your vegetable scraps by making your own vegetable broth (it'll be low sodium that way too).
16. Spices, Herbs & Essential Oils
Together with condiments, spices, herbs, and essential oils are often overlooked. As you grow in being a vegan chef you'll learn that these can either make or break a meal. Plus many of them come with incredible and surprising healing health benefits! Be sure to stock up on your favorites, and/or start your very own herb "garden"!
Over the years my spice and oil collection grew and I have a dedicated area for them in my kitchen. The favorites that I can't live without are: Italian seasoning, graham masala, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, turmeric, ground ginger, paprika + smoked paprika, black and cayenne pepper, cinnamon, lavender, and vanilla. (I have even more in my spice cabinet, but these are the ones I use the most)
When using essential oils make sure they are pure, edible, and use only a few drops (they are highly concentrated). Adding a drop too much can overwhelm food and ruin a whole meal or baked food, so be careful.
Yes, pure essential oils are pricey, but only they come with a multitude of benefits! Fake oils can be harmful to you. How do you know the essential oil is pure (in the US)? Learn about it here. Many essential oils such as peppermint, lemon, and orange are amazing flavor boosters in desserts, candies, and chocolates. Other, more herbal oils, such as thyme and marjoram are better especially great to boost savory foods such as stews and sauces.
When it comes to fresh spices and herbs I always have some ginger and garlic, and often basil, parsley, and cilantro on hand. Fresh herbs also make great pestos and salad dressings!
Another great way to incorporate more spices and herbs into your diet is by tea! I have a teapot with an incorporated infuser for loose tea and a tea light warmer (love it). One of my favorite teas to drink is green tea and hibiscus.
17. Condiments & Sauces
Mustard, Ketchup, Mayo, Soy Sauce, Sriracha, Worcestershire Sauce, Barbecue sauce, and so on, are all perfect for taking things to the next level. Out of many of these, you can make great salad dressings, dips or use them as an addition to give more flavor to homemade sauces or flavor meat alternatives (like tofu, textured vegetable protein, seitan, etc).
Watch out for added sugars and animal products like milk powder or eggs when buying condiments. I prefer condiments without added sugar (or low in sugar). One of my favorite brands for no sugar ketchup and other condiments is TrueMadeFoods! However, there are many brands out there. Keep experimenting to find your favorites. Or start making your condiments at home! I love making my oil-free mayonnaise from time to time. Which is also great as a salad dressing and comes with extra protein.
18. Apple Cider Vinegar
There have been some crazy claims about apple cider vinegar made (weight loss, slowing the aging process, improving blood sugar control, and so on). And yes, this sweet vinegar may come with a lot of health benefits when consumed in moderation. However, one food alone won't cure it all! Do not drink apple cider vinegar straight, as it can burn your esophagus, or in excess.
The awesome thing about it is that you can use ACV outside of the kitchen as well. Use to rinse your hair after washing it, or as an all-purpose non-chemical cleaner!
I mostly use it for salad dressings, to add to sauces; or to give soups, stews , or dips a nice fruity, sour hint. You can make vegan buttermilk with it, by adding it to plant milk and letting it sit for a while! Apple Cider Vinegar is also a staple for vegan bakers since it is a popular flavor and texture enhancer. It often supports substituting eggs (1 teaspoon ACV + 1 teaspoon baking soda). It can also add extra flavor to homemade candy and caramels.
19. Vegetable Oils
Having a small selection of vegetable oils (and vinegar) is often crucial to a vegan chef. Using oils in your cooking and baking can give your food incredible flavor and texture! However, vegetable oils are no health foods and I overall recommend trimming use to a minimum (don't use oil daily)!
Oils that I liked to have on hand in my kitchen: Olive Oil (extra virgin) for its rich flavor and heat tolerance, unrefined Avocado Oil for its flavors, and since it seems to be the "healthiest" option out there, Sesame Oil for its flavor and mainly for Asian styled meals; and Vegetable/Canola Oil for its neutral flavor.
I also have some Coconut Oil on hand, but even though it's considered a "healthy oil" in many minds I use it very rarely. It's a delicious and great addition for vegan and gluten free baking, but very high in saturated fats, showing a significant rise in cholesterol levels within hours of consumption in your blood (learn more about why too much cholesterol is bad here).
Overall science does not hold the notion that coconut oil is healthy, if anything it shows coconut oil may be worse than saturated fats from animal products (source).
20. Flour & Starches
Having flour and starches in your pantry is especially important when you are a plant-based baker!
I always have a variety of different flours in my kitchen on hand: unbleached all-purpose flour for traditional baking; spelt, rye, and whole wheat flour as the healthier alternative and for bread baking; chickpea, coconut, and oat flour for healthy foods, treats, and gluten free baking. I usually make my oat flour by grinding old-fashioned oats in my food processor. For fine oat flour, I sift it before using it.
Starches are often used in vegan baking to substitute eggs, act as a binding agent, or give volume, strength, and texture to your baked goods. They can also help thicken sauces, stews or pie fillings, and fruit compotes. My favorite starches to use are Tapioca because it's a healthier starch choice; Potato starch, because it can do wonders in vegan baking; and Cornstarch, because it's available in any store very affordable. (All of these should be consumed in moderation of course. However for cooking and baking you usually just need 1-2 teaspoons anyways.)
If you're not into baking this may seem like a lot to have on hand. Just buy the flour and/or starch you like and need. Only keep it in bulk if you are using it regularly.
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