Having a well-stocked kitchen means that a nourishing meal is never more than a cupboard or freezer away. Sadly (and realistically), we cannot always get all the amazing plant-based goodies that are at the grocery stores! Either space is short, or money is. But do not worry, we came up with a list of 25 vegan staple foods that you can get which offer you a large variety of meal options.
Before we get into things, we would like to point out that fresh fruits and veggies should always be in your kitchen, so they are not mentioned in our list (with very few exceptions). So please make sure to get some of your favorite, maybe even seasonal fruits and vegetables to create wonderful, healthy meals. You can find out in our in-depth article how you can do so even on a budget. We also highly recommend not only fresh but also frozen fruits and vegetables (without seasonings!). Having them on hand is super convenient, they won’t go bad, are already washed and cut, and sometimes even fresher than your other produce. Greens are also an essential part of a healthy diet, vegan or not, so look out for these at the store.
Having said that, every awesome cook also needs at least some variety of herbs and spices. There weren’t any in particular to point out here on our list and this issue isn’t specific to a plant-based diet. So, your salt, pepper, basil, cinnamon, turmeric, and smoked paprika won’t make our “essentials” list, therefore. If you’re looking for a complete list to stock your vegan kitchen, check out our full grocery list here.
Most of the items on our list are great for anyone who wants to create healthy, delicious and cheap meals. But especially for vegans, these foods offer some texture, flavor, and essential nutrients on a daily basis! Should you not like some of them, simply skip or replace it with a different item. But please make sure to have enough filling and nutritious foods around to ensure your success and satisfaction.
Lastly, we could have added many more foods but wanted to keep it to the essentials. If you’re new to plant-based eating and cooking, this list should give you a good idea of what most meals are made of. In order to make things more actionable, we linked to some great example meals you can make using a specific staple! Needless to say, you could get a lot fancier in your kitchen with baking ingredients, hot sauces, baked goods, treats, and much more. But whilst creating the list, we thought about it that way: if we were to live somewhere for a week or two, which foods would we get to create our daily meals? So, here we go.
1. Rolled Oats
Though this might seem cliché, oats really are one of our most used food staples! They are incredibly versatile and make for a filling, delicious breakfast every morning. We like to either use them for granola, muesli, cooked oatmeal or overnight oats – but they are also a lovely addition to a fruit smoothie, help to create burger patties, can be made into oatmeal bars or chewy cookies. You can easily make oat flour, too, by just blending your rolled oats for a few seconds. They are super healthy because they contain soluble fiber and beta-glucans, which may lower total cholesterol and control blood pressure. Oats are amongst the most filling foods around!
White, purple, yellow, red, we love them all! Potatoes have gotten a bad rep over the past years and some people are afraid that they might cause weight gain or diabetes. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Potatoes are around 70-80% water and lead the list of the most filling foods on the planet… which makes them perfect for satiety and weight loss. They are also a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, dietary fiber, and pantothenic acid. We like to switch between white and sweet potatoes (which contain a huge amount of vitamin A’s precursor carotenoid). Our favorite uses for this humble starch are hash browns, baked potatoes, potato salads, stews, curries, oven baked fries, mashed potatoes and simple steamed potatoes. They are also the base of many vegan cheese sauces! You could even add sweet potatoes to a smoothie or eat it baked with some fruit for breakfast since they can taste rather sweet.
3. Canned Beans
Speaking of filling foods, beans are on the top of the list here, as well. Packed with complex carbs, fiber, and protein, they are a nice addition to most any savory dish! Although they are a little healthier and tastier when cooked from scratch, we always have emergency canned beans (BPA-free lining!) in our kitchen. Beans are a lovely addition to salads, stews, pasta dishes, Buddha bowls – even smoothies or desserts, such as truffles or brownies, can be great concoctions. We sometimes make our sauces with pureed beans or, the vegan classic: hummus! Chickpeas are amazing for mock tuna or falafel. When buying your canned beans, make sure the only ingredients are beans and water, if possible. In the Blue Zones, the regions with the highest populations of centenarians, beans are seen as an important food staple for longevity and health.
Similar to beans, lentils are very filling and provide lots of fiber, complex carbs, and plant protein. They can also offer you a decent amount of iron, B vitamins, zinc, and potassium, making them an amazing food for athletes and people looking for weight loss. Lentils are smaller and have a slightly different texture than beans. You can just add them to stews, make lentil soups, salads, vegan meatballs or meat loaf, sloppy joes, red lentil chili, Bolognese, and much more. They are a great and versatile meat replacement and pretty quick to cook which is why we always use dry lentils instead of canned. No matter if red, yellow or black – you should definitely have some lentils at home!
Have you ever heard of people fearing that vegans don’t get enough Omega-3s? Well, our answer to that is: flaxseeds. These little powerhouses contain the largest amount of alpha-linolenic acid, a primary Omega-3 fatty acid out of all foods! This compound is important for healthy brain function, heart health, and fighting inflammatory diseases. Flaxseeds are an easy egg replacer: by just mixing them with water, they form a gel that you can use in your baking. Totally free of cholesterol while adding fiber to your dish! Win win. An easy way to consume flax is to put it on your oatmeal, in smoothies, on top of salads, or use it in baking. Make sure the seeds are ground, so you can actually absorb the Omega-3s! A fancier option of flaxseeds are chia seeds which have a very similar nutritional profile and use but are definitely more expensive.
We wanted to add the most versatile nut to the list and couldn’t decide between cashews and almonds – as you can see, cashews won. It’s mainly because we just recently discovered our love for self-made sliceable cashew cheeses, to be honest. But cashews are arguably the tastiest of all nuts! They are great for toppings on your oatmeal or cereal, they do well in savory curries or stews, can be blended into milk or cream, and are a great base for vegan cheeses. You can also just snack on them. Cashews are a little lower in fat than most other nuts and have 82% unsaturated fatty acids (which are better than saturated). Enjoy them for their amazing texture and taste as well as mineral content. Make sure to eat them in moderation, though, since their fat and calories can easily accumulate and lead to weight gain!
7. Brown Rice
Now, we understand that most people aren’t used to eating brown rice. Even Asians usually choose white rice because of the texture and flavor! But hear us out for a minute. It’s all a matter of getting used to and the brans in the brown rice offer you lots of additional minerals and fiber! In this state, the rice hasn’t lost its “wholeness” through the refinement process, making it more helpful in reducing arterial plaque and lowering the risk of heart disease. If you’re new to a whole foods way of eating, you can use any type of rice that you like most: white, jasmine, basmati, long grain, short grain, wild rice, red or even black! We eat rice almost daily as rice pudding with fruit in the morning, rice salad, veggie stir fries, Mexican beans with rice, Sushi rolls, curries, soups, and basically any thrown-together dish works well with rice. Seriously, if we had to choose one food to live off forever – it would be this one. So, do it like the Asians who wisely ask “Have you had your rice today?” when they greet you.
Okay, so we know that we mentioned in the introduction that buying fresh fruits and vegetables should be a no-brainer. But trust us, bananas deserve a special mention. We eat them every single day at least once since they are our favorite dessert! This very versatile fruit finds its way into our meals in the form of oatmeal topping, rice pudding creamer (cooking the banana with the rice), peanut butter sandwich topping, smoothie base, and banana (n)ice cream. They can also be used in baking to substitute eggs and replace some sugar. Other than that, we like to freeze our very ripe bananas and snack on a few frozen pieces for dessert. Bananas are high in fiber, potassium, calcium, and prebiotics. They can help with constipation, acid reflux, high blood pressure, and even depression! Make sure to ripen them at home properly if you can only find green or yellow ones at the store – the perfect bananas should have at least a few brown spots.
9. Plant-Based Milk
Not a day goes by without using our beloved soy milk! Almost any dish deserves at least a splash of this healthy, creamy goodness in our home. It’s more processed than most foods in our kitchen and we don’t consume a ton of it, but a little goes a long way here. We also like to get oat milk, rice milk or almond milk from time to time and different kinds of milk are great for different uses! Soy milk is the richest of them all, almond milk is easily made at home and rice milk is naturally sweet and very light. We use plant-based milk in our oatmeal or cereal, as a base for sauces (or to make them creamier), to make smoothies, in our tea or coffee, in mashed potatoes, curries, baked goods, and many more instants. When purchasing at the grocery store, make sure to read the label and choose a brand without added sugar or oil if possible! You can get flavored milks as well, the most common ones are vanilla or chocolate. These are great for a treat.
10. Apple Cider Vinegar
This all-rounder is a favorite for the whole health scene. There are crazy claims surrounding it, such as dramatic weight loss results, elimination of candida overgrowth and slowing the aging process. While we don’t believe that there is such a thing as a miracle food that alone can do this, it certainly is helpful in an array of areas. Be sure not to overdo it, though, since chronic use of high doses could lead to problems. The awesome thing is that you can use ACV outside of the kitchen as well: to rinse your hair after washing it, as a facial toner, or an all-purpose cleaner. If you don’t like the taste of it so much, you can choose balsamic or rice vinegar for your recipes. We mostly use it for salad dressings or to add to tomato sauces, making vegan buttermilk, and giving soups or dips a nice fruity, sour hint. Some people want to drink it in the morning on an empty stomach to improve digestion – but we haven’t come to like this use, so far.
Here’s our favorite way of waking up: drinking a large glass of water with some lemon juice in it! Especially if you’re used to drinking soda or artificially flavored water, it can be tough to get used to drinking plain old water again. Here’s how lemon (and other citrus fruits such as lime or orange) comes in! You can either slice it up and add it to your glass of water or just add some freshly pressed juice to it. A nice way to get some extra flavor and vitamins in! We personally like to use it as a part of many savory dishes since it enhances the flavor of other meal components – especially if you want to lower your sodium intake, replacing some of the salt with lemon goes a long way. Try it! Topping your salads, grain or vegetable dishes with a sprinkle of lemon juice isn’t just tasty but also helps with the absorption of iron. And just like apple cider vinegar, you could use it for cleaning around your home.
12. Nutritional Yeast
Remember vegan cheeses – they wouldn’t exist without this little helper. Nutritional yeast is made from a single-celled organism which is grown on molasses, then dried with heat to deactivate it. Even though it has an unappealing name, nutritional yeast offers a taste so similar to cheese that most vegans are totally crazy about it. Some brands add vitamin B12 to their nutritional yeast, which is already high in B vitamins naturally. It also offers you some folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein while being low in fat, free of gluten, sugar, and preservatives (check labels). You can top your pasta or pizza with it, blend it up with cashews to make vegan parmesan, add it to your popcorn, to creamy sauces, mashed potatoes, and so much more! The sky is the limit here.
Moving onto another classic vegan staple food. Tofu is made from soybeans and comes in more variety than you could think of! Starting with soft or firm tofu (unflavored), silken tofu for puddings or dips, all the way over to baked tofu, smoked or marinated. Many faux meat products are made with it, as well. We like to go for plain tofu at the store, then add the flavors ourselves at home. You can make tofu scramble, add it to Asian stir fries, soups, use it as filling or a crumble, marinate and bake it, put it into spring rolls, dumplings, lasagna, soba salad, sandwiches or bake with it. There are endless possibilities for this creamy and healthy food! It’s a great source of all eight essential amino acids, iron, calcium, selenium, and magnesium. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of several cancers, including breast cancer.
Possibly the tastiest and most versatile of all dried fruits are dates. They could also be called nature’s caramel which makes them an awesome addition to your oatmeal, granola, smoothie or any dessert! We like to use it as a sugar replacement in many recipes because they are much healthier, being a whole food. Dates offer a wide range or minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, and fiber. A lot of scientifically proven health benefits can be found here. You can use them for snacking (stuff them with nuts!), to sweeten any of your meals, and to add an unexpected and delicious flavor to grain dishes or vegetable braises. They make a good base for crusts, can be rolled into energy balls and are used in many raw desserts. You could substitute them for other dried fruit, such as raisins or figs.
Although we mentioned beans before, hummus needs an extra mention here. Usually made of chickpeas, this all-rounder is always useful to have in your kitchen. You can use it as a dip, sandwich spread, topping, or as a base for your dressing. Because vegans sometimes miss out on convenience and cannot just open a traditional package of cream cheese or cottage cheese, we like to have a batch of hummus in the fridge most of the time. Just like beans, hummus is rich in protein, fiber, and many minerals! You can make it out of any beans or lentils, actually, and adding tahini or garlic is a great way to give it additional flavor. Definitely skip the oil here since you don’t need it and try adding some veggies if you want to get a nutritional boost.
When purchasing mustard, make sure to check the label first! Some of them contain honey, many others can have a rather long list of preservatives and additives. We like to opt for plain, sugar-free mustard most of the time and use it for sandwiches, soups, dips, dressings and as an addition to a few other sauces. Mustard is made of seeds which are a rich source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, folate, and vitamin A. It can help with respiratory diseases, skin issues, cholesterol levels, and digestion. You will be surprised how much flavor it can add to very simple dishes! Mustard can make a plain baked potato or steamed cauliflower very delicious within a few seconds.
No time to cook up brown rice? Choose some pasta instead, preferably whole grain. There are lots of gluten-free versions on the market as well, ranging from rice or corn pasta to lentil or bean pasta. There are even buckwheat noodles, called soba. We like to have a few different types and shapes at home to whip up a spaghetti dish with vegetable Bolognese, a one pot pasta, our favorite mac and cheese, or an Asian noodle dish. Though pasta is made from flour and therefore more processed than intact whole grains, such as rice or millet, it’s still a fairly healthy choice. Plus, what would life be without pasta? So, go for these complex carbs full of fiber, get out your canned tomato products and let’s have a pasta party tonight. It’s fairly easy to sneak some veggies into pasta sauces by the way, should you have picky eaters in your family.
18. Soy Sauce
Do you love Asian flavors as much as we do? Soy sauce (or Tamari for a wheat-free version) adds more than just saltiness to your dishes. You can look out for low-sodium sauces if you want to further reduce your salt intake. Soy sauce is easier to get than another vegan favorite, Bragg Liquid Aminos, but can be packed with weird additives, colorings, or lots of sugar. We opt for short ingredient lists at the store and use our soy sauce for anything from salad dressings, chilis, curries, stews, to marinades, peanut sauce, sautéing veggies, and more. Soy sauce is a must for most Asian dishes! It really brings out the umami flavor in foods, adding a bit of savory depth to your dishes.
Another versatile little helper, believe it or not, is applesauce. If you buy an unsweetened version (or make it yourself at home), you can use it as a substitute for butter, eggs, and even oil in vegan baking. We often make muffins, cookies, cakes, bread, latkes, and brownies using applesauce! It’s also great with pancakes, as an oatmeal topping, or a simple snack. We like that it has a relatively long shelf life, offers a lot of fiber, vitamin C and is very low in fat and calories. This means you can use a lot of it, taking advantage of the health benefits such as lowering risk for heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and inflammatory diseases.
20. Veggie Broth
Besides soy sauce, another great liquid to sauté your veggies in without using any oil is vegetable broth or stock. It adds a nice deep flavor but shouldn’t contain a lot of sugar or oil. Extra points if you make it low sodium. You can even make it yourself using kitchen scraps which you can collect over a few days. We like to add some veggie stock to many types of soups, stews, dips and just basically anything that needs some basic savory flavor. It contains some of the nutrition from the original vegetables and herbs, so it adds to your vitamin and mineral storage.
Meet our favorite pseudo grain. Did you know that the FAO (The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa”? It’s because of the grain’s high nutritive value and because it plays an important role in achieving food security worldwide. It has antioxidant phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory compounds, omega-3 fatty acids and it even serves as a complete protein source. We like it in the form of quinoa salads, along with roasted veggies, in Buddha bowls, as a breakfast grain, in stews or even as pancakes! Check out our full article on different quinoa recipes here. We must admit, though, that it’s one of the pricier grains. So if you’re on a budget, feel free to skip this one and go for rice instead.
Sesame butter is commonly used in Middle Eastern dishes, such as hummus, falafel, or vinaigrettes. But tahini can also be put on fresh fruit for a snack or right on your bread as a spread! We love all nut and seed butters and often have almond or cashew butter at home as well. These usually have a sweeter, more subtle flavor, and can be used in desserts, as creams, oatmeal toppings, spreads, in sauces, and much more. Tahini is especially healthy since sesame seeds are rich in minerals, protein, calcium, vitamin E, and B vitamins. It may also improve healthy skin and cell growth.
23. Canned Tomatoes
We love canned tomato products! They are not only less pricey than fresh tomatoes but are even better in terms of lycopene content – an antioxidant that becomes more effective when heated. You can stock up your kitchen with tomato puree, tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and ketchup. All of them will last for a long time and are great additions to a ton of meals. From pizza to pasta, stews, soups, dips, spreads, chilis, Bolognese… there are literally too many options to list here. And whenever we freestyle in the kitchen, creating some type of a veggie concoction, we often add tomato products to it. So, it’s definitely a must in every well-stocked kitchen!
24. Maple Syrup
If there’s such a thing as healthy and natural sweeteners, maple syrup is one of them. The only healthier choices would be whole fruit, date sugar/paste or molasses. All of these are tasty but not as versatile as maple syrup is. We use it for sauces, pancakes, in baking as a sugar substitute (along with some fresh dates), for sweet hot chocolate, salad dressings or in our oatmeal. You can also use it to glaze your veggies. Okay, now it seems that we use it a lot! The truth is, maple syrup comes in handy every other day or so. Don’t kid yourself by thinking it’s a health food, it rather adds some deliciousness to otherwise healthy foods. You can find some small amounts of minerals in it, like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc as well as some B vitamins. But the amounts are small and you’re better off eating an overall healthy diet. We definitely prefer it over agave or white sugar!
25. Frozen Berries
Finally, we have another fruit that we wanted to give a special shout out to. Even though we don’t use them in a ton of ways, frozen berries still find their way into our daily meals somehow. They are very convenient since they don’t have to be carefully stored and washed, they don’t go bad in the freezer and you can always just take out as many as you like. Top your oatmeal or cereal with them, put frozen berries in your smoothie, make ice cream out of them, use them in baking for your muffins, put them in water for some flavoring, use them for a dressing, or eat them in coconut yogurt. They are packed with antioxidants, have a low glycemic index, are a good source of fiber and can help fight cancer. During summer time, you can take some out of the freezer and just snack on them! Sweet, sour, and refreshing.
Which of these staples do you also have in your kitchen? Are there any important ones that we left out? Which do you use the most often and in what dishes? Let us know in the comments below.
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About the Author
Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.
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