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Top 5 Must-Have Pantry Staples for a Plant-Based Diet

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Mandy Alzner

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“It’s too much work!”

“I didn’t have the time.”

“It requires too much planning and preparation!”

These are the most common criticisms of plant-based cooking that I hear from people who’ve tried it. I have to admit, I can’t really argue with these points. It does require more planning to eat plant-based, but that’s just because we have to be a little more selective with our ingredients. A properly stocked pantry is key to saving time and ensuring you always have options on hand.

Here is my list of the top 5 pantry staples every plant-based cook needs:

Pantry Staple #1: Beans and Lentils

Beans and lentils are little nutrition powerhouses! They are packed with plant protein, fiber, iron, potassium and magnesium, among many other beneficial vitamins and minerals. I prefer to use dried beans because the soaking process removes those pesky lectins that give beans a bad rep for making people gassy. It also allows you to control the amount of sodium in your dish.

BUT it does add another layer of thought and prep to your cooking, so swap out dried for canned if your tummy can tolerate it. You can also batch cook several cups of dried beans when you have a little extra time. Just soak them overnight, boil them until soft, cool completely and freeze in them in 1.5 cup servings – you’ll have delicious low sodium, lectin free beans on hand and ready to use for months.

Lentils are a little easier to work with because they don’t require soaking! Simply boil them in water, or broth for extra flavor, until soft and use them as you would any ground meat. I love crisping them up with some taco seasoning as a taco salad topper!

rice from the pantry

Pantry Staple #2: Rice or Quinoa 

Rice or quinoa can be a nourishing and filling base to many of your dishes. Roast a bunch of veggies in your favorite spices and toss them on a pile of quinoa with your favorite dressing and you have a delicious and satisfying meal.

If you’re tight on time, heat up some chickpeas and frozen stir fry veggies in a store bought curry sauce, pour that over some brown rice and you’ve got another weekday dinner that can double as lunches for a couple days. Both rice and quinoa are quick to cook and can be made in large batches that last the week. 

cashews from the pantry

Pantry Staple #3: Cashews

Cashews are a surprisingly versatile and nutritious little nut (which is actually a seed). They are packed with protein (5g per ounce!) and can be used to replicate the creamy dairy element in many dishes. Simply soak the raw unsalted cashews in boiled or super hot water for 15-20 minutes and then blend them, preferably in a high speed blender, using just enough water to achieve the thickness of the dairy you’re replacing.

Start with a small amount of water, just to get the blender going, and add more little by little until you get the consistency you’re looking for.

*Tip* When using cashews in a savory dish, remember to balance out the natural sweetness of the nut with a little extra salt. If nuts are a no go in your home, medium or silken tofu can also be blended up and used to replace dairy in your soups and sauces!

ground flax seed from the pantry

Pantry Staple #4: Ground Flax Seeds

Ground Flax may seem like a strange thing to have on hand, but it’s actually a is very versatile and nutrient dense ingredient that can be used in a variety of both sweet or savory dishes. They are high in fiber and rich in omega 3s and many other essential vitamins and minerals to promote a healthy body. I like to sprinkle some on top of a yogurt parfait or smoothie bowl, mix it into oatmeal or even into pancake batter.

Ground flax can act as a wonderful egg replacement in all of your delicious baked goods or as a binder in things like homemade burgers. To replace one egg, all you have to do is combine 1 tbsp ground flax with 2 tbsp of warm water and let it sit for a couple minutes. It will thicken and become the perfect binder for your muffins, banana bread, cakes, and cookies! Plus, you gotta love that extra boost of nutrition in your yummy treats….makes it easier to eat the whole batch!

pasta from the pantry

Pantry Staple #5. Pasta 

Pasta is probably my favorite food. I think I could eat a bowl of pasta everyday and never get bored of it. The versatility of pasta with its endless sauce options makes it a perfect pantry staple for a plant-based diet. I prefer to use whole grain or chickpea pasta to boost the fiber or protein in my meal, but plain ol’ white pasta is delicious and a great option too!

My favorite way to use up the sad veggies at the back of my fridge (the half tub of mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, the bag of wilted spinach, the onion I only used a bit of…you get the idea) is to make a pasta sauce by roasting them with some olive oil and Italian seasoning until they get all soft and saucy. Just toss that with your favorite pasta and you’ve got a quick and satisfying meal. 

So in the end, we may need to spend a little extra time on planning, grocery shopping and meal prepping BUT, in my opinion, the pros of incorporating some plant-based meals into your weekly rotation far exceeds any cons. Just make sure you stock up on these 5 essentials pantry ingredients, and you’ll be ready to whip up easy and nutritious plant-based meals any day of the week.


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