Now more than ever we need to think about how we are stocking our pantries. We want to have a good balance between things that are going to nourish our bodies, food items that are practical and can create a quick healthy meal, and some items to help us curb our cravings for sugar and sweets for those long days at home. Here are some of my top pantry essentials for meal planning on a plant-based diet.
I have been thinking a lot about how I have been stocking my pantry lately, and how by limiting my trips to the grocery store this is changing how I have been eating. Meals are still nutritious and delicious, but they do take a little more creativity and no longer am I following recipes from my favourite online bloggers. I wanted to put together some tips on how to stock your pantry with pantry essentials, and some of my strategies on how to create simple and healthy meals out of what you have on hand.
Pantry Essentials For Meal Planning
Stock Your Pantry With 5 Grains
Grains can be stored for long periods of time, especially if they are stored properly. Heat, air and moisture are the enemies of whole grains; store any opened bags and containers of grains in sealable glass jars, such as mason jars, glass peanut butter, or pasta sauce jars that have been well washed to keep your grains fresh. Keep your jars of grains in a dark cupboard, away from direct light and heat. Choose nutritious grains that are higher in fibre and lower glycemic index – see list below.
Some of my favourite grains to have on hand:
- Basmati Rice
- Brown Rice
- Wild Rice
- Black Rice
- Bean Pastas
- Oats, traditional
Some Of My Favourite Recipes Featuring Grains
- Ginger French Lentil Stew with Couscous
- Baked Tofu Kale Quinoa Salad with Glory Bowl Dressing on Quinoa
- Seedy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
- Easy Moroccan Couscous Salad with Raisins
- Japanese Salad Bowls with a Miso Tahini Dressing and Brown Rice
Have 3 Proteins On Hand
The great thing about plant-based proteins is that they have a longer shelf-life than other sources of protein. Dried legumes will stay good for years if stored properly, in sealed containers outside of direct sunlight and heat. Tofu and tempeh can be frozen, and often taste better, developing a firmer more textured consistency. A quality peanut butter will stay good for one year out of the fridge.
Some of my favourite plant-based proteins to have on hand:
- Dried Legumes (e.g. red lentils, brown lentils, chickpeas, black beans, mung beans, pinto beans)
- Canned Beans (e.g. chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans)
- Tofu, organic
- Tempeh, organic
- Edamame Beans, frozen and shelled, organic
- Peanut Butter, natural
- Hemp Hearts
- Eggs, free-range*
*Not a plant-based protein, but see my post The Health Benefits of Eggs + Why I Eat Eggs for why I have included them in this list.
Some Of My Favourite Recipes Featuring Plant-Based Proteins
- Best Lentil Salad Recipe with a Mustard Vinaigrette
- Baked Tempeh Asian Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing
- Baked Tofu Kale Quinoa Salad with Glory Bowl Dressing
- Vegan Buddha Bowls with Lentils and a Miso Tahini Dressing
- Japanese Noodle Soup with Miso and Edamame
Choose Long-Storage Vegetables
The current recommendations are to stock up on groceries to last for up to 2 weeks. Some of my favourite vegetables such as kale and baby-spinach might not last that long in your fridge. For these vegetables, you can freeze any leftovers to use in smoothies or smoothie bowls later (see Low Carb Smoothie Bowl with Cauliflower and Greens). Long-storage vegetables go great in roasted sheet-pan dinners, or soups and stews.
Some of my favourite long-storage vegetables include:
- Squash (Butternut, Acorn, Kabocha)
- Sweet Potato and Yam
Some Of My Favourite Recipes Featuring Long-Storage Vegetables
- Butternut Squash Curry Lentil Soup with Turmeric
- Easy Vegetarian Bean Soup – Budget Friendly
- Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
- Low Carb Smoothie Bowl with Cauliflower and Greens
- Healthy Coleslaw Recipe with Toasted Almonds
Canned Pantry Staples To Have On Hand
To create some simple and healthy meals, while still allowing for creativity in the kitchen there are a few must-have items to have on hand. Canned tomatoes are essential for my curries with chickpeas, added to a stew or soup, or for a pasta sauce. Coconut milk can turn a curry or a soup into a five-star dish.
Some of my must-have pantry staples include:
- Canned Tomatoes
- Canned Coconut Milk
- Canned Chickpeas or other Legumes
Condiments and Other Essentials To Have On Hand
Have ingredients on hand to make your own salad dressing or sauce for your Buddha bowl. Spices can take a dish to the next level.
Some condiments and other essentials might include:
- Soy Sauce or Tomari
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Olive Oil or Avocado Oil
- Hot Sauce
- Nutritional Yeast
- Vegetable Stock
Some Recipes That Can Be Made With These Essentials Include
- ULTIMATE Guide On How To Make Salad Dressing
- Baked Tofu Kale Quinoa Salad with Glory Bowl Dressing
- Japanese Salad Bowls with a Miso Tahini Dressing
- Simple Peanut Sauce Indonesian Style
Healthy Snacks and Baking Supplies To Have On Hand
More time inside might trigger your desire to bake or create healthy snacks. Having ingredients on hand may help curb your craving for salty chips or other junk-foods. I love making popcorn with nutritional yeast, or baking healthy cookies, or making energy balls to make sure I always have a healthy snack on hand.
Some healthy snack ingredients might include:
- Almond Flour
- Whole-wheat Flour
- Baking Soda and Baking Powder
- Peanut Butter
- Frozen Berries*
*Apples can stay good for 1 to 2 months in your fridge, and frozen berries are great to have on hand for smoothies, healthy crumbles, or on oatmeal.
Here Are Some Healthy Homemade Snack Recipes
- Healthy Nutritional Yeast Popcorn Recipe with Dill
- No-Bake 100 Calorie Peanut Butter Energy Balls
- Seedy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
- Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
How To Put Together A Healthy Pantry Meal
Base Your Meal Around Your Protein
Think about what protein you want to have for dinner, then build from there. If you are having lentils or beans this will also give you time to prepare them for maximum nutrition – see my post How To Cook Lentils + 5 Reasons Why We Should Eat Lentils. If you have some tofu available – think ok do I have stir-fry vegetables or buddha bowl ingredients? If you have edamame on hand – think do I have ingredients for an Asian soup, or can I make an edamame hummus? Here are some example combinations:
- Red Lentils: They break apart nicely so go well in soups or curries.
- Green or French Lentils: They hold their shape better so go great on salads, Buddha bowls or in any dish that would traditionally use minced meat.
- Chickpeas: You can add them to a curry, on top of a Buddha bowl, on top of a roasted vegetable sheet-pan dinner.
- Beans: Beans such as kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans or bean-mixes go great in salads, soups or stews.
- Black-Beans: Great to have on hand to make tacos, just add some Mexican seasoning mix.
- Tofu and Tempeh: Great baked or pan-fried and added to stir-frys, on top of Buddha bowls, or into Thai or Indian inspired curries.
- Edamame Beans: Add them to soups, or on top of Buddha bowls or salads. Purchase them in the shell and they are a great high protein snack.
How To Use Up Leftover Vegetables
When your crisper is looking pretty bare and your not sure what to make, I like to think of my vegetables as going into four categories. From your vegetables, can you make a one – stir-fry, two – a soup or stew, three – a salad, or four – roasted vegetables.
- Stir-fry: cabbage, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, mushroom, onion, ginger, garlic, bok choy, peppers
- Soup or Stew: potato, sweet potato or yam, onion, garlic, celery, carrot, mushroom, parsnip, turnip
- Salad: spinach, kale, beets, carrot, cucumber, tomato, sprouts, peppers, cabbage
- Roasted Vegetables: potato, sweet potato or yam, mushroom, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts
What Pantry Staples Should I Stock Up On?
What do you go through a lot of in your house? Make a list of items you don’t think you could go without, and make sure you have at least a few week’s supply in your house. For some people this might be coffee, for others, it might be frozen berries. Whatever it is, try to make sure you have slightly more than a 2-weeks supply at home, just in case the grocery store is without on your next shopping trip.
What To Start Making Your Own?
Make Your Own Milk-Alternatives
In my house, milk alternatives are what I go through the fastest. I try to purchase three 2 litre containers on each shopping trip but sometimes this doesn’t last. You can purchase the UHT packs of milk alternatives that you find on the grocery store shelves, or you can make your own in a pinch.
My favourite is homemade hemp milk because it is so easy. Simply add hemp hearts to a blender, add some water and blend – no straining required. See my recipe for hemp milk here at Hemp Milk Nutrition & Hemp Milk Recipe.
Make Your Own Granola
This is easier than you think, and there is no need to follow a recipe. Choose what you would like in your granola – oats, coconut, seeds, nuts, dates, raisins and combine them all for a simple raw granola or muesli.
You can toast the oats in the oven for about 10 minutes if you wish, and the coconut for 3 minutes. If you are using nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds and pepitas you can also toast these for about 7 minutes. See my recipe here for Toasted Muesli with Nuts Seeds and Dates.
Make Your Own Salad Dressing
I love homemade salad dressing, which is not only healthier than store-bought but also tastes better. You just need a few essentials such as a nut or seed butter (I love tahini), a vinegar (apple cider or lemon are my favourites) and some flavours (garlic, ginger, miso, nutritional yeast).
I’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on how to make your own salad dressings at home here in this ULTIMATE Guide On How To Make Salad Dressing.
Last Words On Pantry Essentials For Meal Planning on a Plant-Based Diet
How To Deal With Food Abundance
For some people who are not used to having so much food in the pantry at one time, this could trigger some binge eating habits. When there is a constant reminder of an impending food shortage, this could trigger the brain to go into over-consumption mode.
It is important to be kind to yourself and allow yourself the space to not be 100% perfect during these stressful times. Stocking your pantry with healthy items, and saying no to the chips and treats in the grocery store will also help prevent binge eating on unhealthy choices.
Cook With Family
During these times of social isolation, we have more time to spend with our family. Instead of looking at cooking as a chore, look at it as an activity you can do together. Get creative with each other and don’t be afraid to mess up. If you are on your own, video call one of your closest friends and follow-along a recipe together.
Planning Plant-Based Meals
If your still not feeling confident that you could put together a healthy plant-based meal with the pantry essentials you have on hand, an easy guide is using the ‘hand-model’. Choose a ‘fist-size’ of your starch, a ‘palm-size’ of protein, and ‘2 hands’ of vegetables. No need to get fancy and following these basic guides for portions will help you create a nutritious and balanced meal.
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.