This September, we’re going “Back to School”. Each week, I’ll be sharing a basic technique or kitchen how-to to help you tackle healthy cooking with confidence. Tired of never having the answer to, “What’s for dinner?” Keep your kitchen stocked with these vegan pantry staples and weeknight cooking will be a breeze.
So far on Back to School, we’ve covered basic kitchen tools, how to make perfectly fluffy grains, and how to sauté vegetables. To close out the series, I want to talk about one of the most important keys to healthy eating: a well-stocked whole-foods pantry.
For me, casual home cooking (whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack-time) is an intuitive process. The first thing I do before making any meal is open the fridge and see what vegetables I have on-hand. I pull them out, head to the
pantry (okay, so our house doesn’t actually have a pantry) cupboards to see what I can supplement the veg with, and start brainstorming different flavor profiles. In the winter, I might go with a sweet potato-lentil soup or tomato coconut curry, and in the summer, soba noodle bowls or a farro salad.
If you keep your kitchen stocked with a variety of vegan pantry staples, you’re never too far away from a nourishing homemade meal (or a solid meal prep routine). Another bonus? Most of these are budget-friendly. Just add vegetables!
Here’s a list of vegan pantry staples – and some fridge ones, too – I always have on hand. (Scroll to download a printable grocery list!)
They’re packed with fiber, protein, and minerals, keep me feeling full, and I love how versatile they are. I buy my grains at the bulk bin section (forgoing single-use plastic bags in favor of these reusable ones!) and store them in these airtight jars. My go-to’s: brown rice, quinoa, farro, and rolled oats. I use them to make sushi burritos, grain bowls, salads, and more.
My go-to’s are whole wheat pasta, brown rice noodles, udon, and no-boil lasagna sheets.
I prefer the dried kind because cooking beans from scratch lets you control the amount of salt and flavorings you use; home-cooked beans also have better texture than canned ones. I do usually have a few cans as well, in case I’m short on time. My go-to’s: green lentils, butter beans (aka large lima beans), and chickpeas. These tomato-braised beans are my favorite recipe.
Tofu + Tempeh
Oh man, do I love me some condiments. They are a must for flavoring your meals and rounding out flavor profiles, like Japanese, Indian, or Mexican, for instance. The good news is that most of these keep for a long time, so after the initial investment, you won’t have to replenish them for 3 to 6 months. I always have: soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, seasoned rice vinegar, Thai red curry paste, miso, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, tahini, all-natural peanut butter, and maple syrup.
Herbs + Spices
Along with condiments, these are key to rounding out flavors. My must-haves are: smoked paprika, garlic powder, ground cumin, chili flakes, Herbes de Provence, curry powder, za’atar, and nutritional yeast. As for salt, I use [additive-free] fine sea salt for cooking and coarse sea salt for finishing dishes.
Nuts + Seeds
A handful of these in your smoothie or salad, or atop avocado toast, oatmeal, or creamy soup, is a great way to add a nutritional punch and textural variety to your meals. I typically have: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, and/or cashews.
Misc. Canned and Jarred Things
Canned tomatoes are great for curries, soups, pastas, and so much more. Rich [full-fat] coconut milk is a must for curries and creamy vegan soups, and great for cooking rice. As for jarred items, I like to keep capers and oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes on-hand for adding brightness and depth to dishes. Kimchi is another favorite for topping fried rice and noodle bowls, and the probiotics inside are amazing for gut health.
Misc. Fresh Items
Fresh garlic, ginger, and onions are the start of so many great recipes. I always keep lemons (or limes) around, too, since I use freshly squeezed lemon juice to add brightness to many meals. Similarly, almost all my recipes get a sprinkling of fresh herbs right before serving. I usually have: cilantro, parsley, dill, and/or basil.