Do you ever miss meat? Do you ever miss cheese? What do you eat in a day?) I really don’t mind repeating my responses, because if someone is asking, that usually means he or she is genuinely curious about my lifestyle. And I’m a sharer, so it just aligns with my personality to offer up anything I know or have experienced if there’s a chance it could be helpful to someone else.
When I was really trying to get serious about eliminating animal products from my diet, it was a little overwhelming to just jump right in head first. There’s so much to consider on a foundational level, and restructuring the way I thought about food and my plate (among many other things) was a bit intimidating. In addition to being a sharer, I’m also a questioner (helpful really, as those two traits tend to compliment one another), so digging in and doing research is something that felt (and continues to feel) very natural for me. So dig in I did – I researched meal ideas and supplements and health benefits and potential risks and nutritional data…you get the picture. My browser history looked like I was borderline obsessed with plants. And I guess that’s kind of true. I learned a lot by what I read/watched. But I learned even more by what I did. For all of the questions and research, nothing really stacks up to good old experience. Getting into a grocery store and a kitchen is where I really started to ‘get it.’ I found my groove in the plant-friendly aisles, and started figuring out some simple meals that tasted great.
So when vegan-curious people inevitably ask me ‘where do I start?’ I have to scale back my answer a bit. Not everyone is a questioner. In fact, most people are ‘just give it to me simple and straightforward’ types. That brings us here, to this post. I think lists are helpful and easy, and the one below will detail ten of the basic items you’d find in my (and most vegan) pantries. Now, this obviously isn’t everything, but this is a good ‘where do I start?’ foundation. The goal is to get comfortable with the basics, and build from there. Experience, remember? It’s the provider of confidence, and the greatest teacher.
In no particular order of importance or favoritism 😉 :
Rice (brown, basmati, etc): Kind of a catch-all ingredient (seriously – rice definitely would’ve won the ‘ well-rounded’ superlative in high school) – quality rice can stand on it’s own, is a great compliment to practically any meal, can be ‘milked” or made into flour, and provides minerals, vitamins, and ‘good’ carbs (necessary for brain fuel and energy). Much like avocados, I get panicky when we are low on rice in our house.
Flour (rice, chickpea, whole wheat, almond, all-purpose, etc): This is a bit of a lay up (duh, most people have flour in their pantries), but it’s essential to plant-based baked goods, so I couldn’t leave it off. Branch out of the nutrient-void, bleached white flour box and into the world of alternative flours – tons of healthy, and/or gluten free options out there.
Nut butter: Not the most allergy-friendly item on the list, but if you can eat nuts, it’s a must. Pretty much any nut can be ground into ‘butter,’ but my favorites are almond, cashew, and trusty peanut butter. A great source of healthy fat, protein, nutrients, and fiber, nut butter can be a yummy addition to smoothies, oatmeal, toast, fruit, or baked goods. And PB&J’s. My three-year-old thinks those are their own food group.
Chia and/or flax seeds*: Major powerhouse items on this list, chia and/or flax seeds are multi-purpose and do not hold back in the benefit departments. Both are incredible sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber (as a starting point). Add to smoothies, salads, make a chia ‘pudding,’ or use either as an egg substitute. ‘Super’ foods, indeed.
Beans and/or lentils (black, garbanzo, kidney, etc)*: Another incredibly versatile staple (are you catching a trend here?), beans and lentils show up in lots of plant-forward meals like black beans and rice, chilis and soups, veggie burgers, tacos, etc. They’re full of protein, fiber, awesome for heart health, and a ‘blue zone’ food.
Nutritional Yeast*: Possibly the most ‘vegan’ item on this list, nutritional yeast brings the B vitamins and the ‘cheesiness’ that make it a household favorite for plant lovers. Sprinkle this condiment on basically anything, but I especially love it in creamy sauces and on toast. Doesn’t hurt to know that I’m getting a complete protein and a bunch of minerals and fiber with my flavor booster.
Good multi-purpose seasoning mix (like this one): I’m a fan of seasoning. The more intense and bold the flavor, the more I’m into it. My husband is usually the opposite, so you can imagine that things get interesting around here when we ask one another to ‘taste test’ something. I believe that a solid seasoning blend can easily take a meal from a 6 to a 10, so I think it’s crucial to keep a couple handy in your pantry (alongside other herbs and spices. Load it up).
Healthy snacks (a few favorites: this, this, and this): This one is sort of broad, but it’s crucial to have easy grab-and-go things for when you’re crazy busy (or feeling lazy – both are justified). I also have a child who asks me for a snack approximately 49 times per day, so kid-friendly options are important too. Having a few packaged choices (along with fresh ones) keeps me from reaching for anything unhealthy or stopping by a drive-thru for convenience.
High heat oil (grapeseed, avocado, etc): Oil is a bit controversial in the plant-based community, as some experts believe it’s better to just leave it out. I get the argument, so I’ll say in my opinion, using high quality oil should be done in moderation. I do think occasionally adding a very small amount to a pan when sauteeing veggies, or a teaspoon of organic EVOO to a salad dressing is fine. Make sure you’re cooking with oils that specify ‘high heat’ – that’s a biggie that tends to get overlooked.