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, everyday cooking (whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack-time) is an intuitive process. The first thing I do when starting any meal is open the fridge to 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 noodle soup or cauliflower curry, and in the summer, my beloved peanut noodles or Vietnamese summer rolls.
If you keep your kitchen stocked with a variety of vegan pantry staples, you’re never too far from a nourishing homemade meal (or 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 for everyday cooking. (Scroll to download a printable grocery list!)
My regulars: brown rice, farro, and rolled oats.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. I use them for sushi burritos, grain bowls, salads, and more.
I prefer dried beans versus canned because cooking beans from scratch lets you control the amount of salt and flavorings you use; they’re also fresher that way and have a better taste. I do usually keep a few cans as well, in case I need some beans in a pinch. My go-to’s: green and red lentils, butter beans (aka large lima beans), and chickpeas. Greek tomato braised beans and chana masala are what I make the most.
Tofu + Tempeh
Oh man, do I love me some condiments. They are a must for rounding out flavor profiles. 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, Yondu, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, tahini, 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.
Miscellaneous Canned and Jarred Things
Canned tomatoes are great for soups, pastas, and so much more. 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.
Miscellaneous Fresh Items
Fresh garlic, ginger, and onions are the start of so many recipes. I always keep lemons (or limes) around, too, to add brightness to many meals. Similarly, almost everything I cook gets a sprinkling of fresh herbs before serving. I usually have: cilantro, parsley, dill, and/or basil.