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 food we want at the grocery stores!
In times of shortage, sickness or when you’re just too busy to go shopping regularly, it’s good to have a couple of vegan essentials in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
That’s why we came up with a list of 25 vegan staple foods, all of which can be crafted into a large variety of plant-based meal options!
But before we get into the vegan essentials, we would like to point out that fresh fruits and veggies should always be in your kitchen. That’s why we’ve refrained from mentioning them on 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 learn more in our in-depth article on how to shop for fruits and veggies – even when you’re on a budget.
We also highly recommend not only fresh but also frozen fruits and vegetables (check the label for the seasonings!).
Having them on hand is super convenient; they won’t go bad, are already washed and cut, and are 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 that we wanted to point out here on our list, and this issue isn’t specific to a plant-based diet. For that reason, your salt, pepper, basil, cinnamon, turmeric, and smoked paprika won’t make our “vegan essentials” list.
If you’re looking for a complete list to stock your vegan kitchen, check out our article below.Full Vegan Grocery List (Free Download) →
Most of the items on our list are great for anyone who wants to create healthy, delicious and cheap meals.
But for vegans especially, these foods offer some texture, flavor, and essential nutrients on a daily basis!
Should you not like some of these ingredients, simply skip them or replace them with different items of your choosing – but please make sure to have enough filling and nutritious foods around to ensure your success and satisfaction!
Quick Vegan Food List
We thought we could start with an overview of what the main foods are that compose a vegan diet. This can help you tremendously when thinking about putting together meals or replacing single items that are not vegan.
- Green leafy vegetables
- Colorful non-starchy vegetables
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes or pumpkin
- Fruits from sweet to sour, fresh, frozen or canned
- Legumes like lentils, beans & soy products
- Whole grains like brown rice, oats, millet or wheat berries
- Refined grains like white rice or couscous
- Grain products like bread, pasta or cereal
- Nuts, seeds and butter made from them
- Dairy-free milks, preferably fortified
- Vegan meat substitutes made from legumes, grains or veggies
- Soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, vinegar and lots of spices
Please keep in mind that this just meant to give you a rough idea. Nowadays, there are a lot of convenient and tasty fun foods at the store that you can fill your vegan pantry with!
We highly encourage you to keep your eyes open, read the labels, and try different foods whenever you feel like it.
If you’re not sure how to create a balanced and nutritionally sound vegan diet, be sure to read our thorough plant-based nutrition guide, including free downloads, below!Full Vegan Nutrition Guide + Downloads →
To be honest with you, any healthy diet should be predominantly plant-based, and our hand-picked list will suit anyone looking to eat an affordable and health-promoting diet.
Before we begin to list our essential vegan staple foods, we just want to say that we could have added many more foods, but for this list, we wanted to keep it basic.
Eating a vegan diet can seem overwhelming, especially for beginners! To make things easier, find our step-by-step transition plan here.
So, 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.
To make things more actionable for you, we linked to some great recipes you can make using a specific staple food!
The Essential Vegan Staple Foods
Let’s stock your vegan pantry, freezer and fridge! We tried to keep this list as generic as possible and not let our personal taste preferences influence it too much – still, you might really like or dislike a specific item.
Needless to say, you could get a lot fancier in your kitchen with baking ingredients, hot sauces, baked goods, treats, and much more.
While creating the list, we thought about it like this: 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 give some substance to veggie 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. Oats 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!
Okay, so we know that we just wrote that buying fresh fruits and vegetables should be a no-brainer.
But trust us: bananas deserve a special mention. We eat them at least once every single day 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 (just like in our sugar-free banana bread). 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 properly ripen them at home if you can only find green or yellow ones at the store – the perfect bananas should have at least a few brown spots.
Beans are on the top of the list when it comes to filling and budget-friendly foods. Packed with complex carbs, fiber and protein, they are a nice addition to almost 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 or can be used to make vegan meatballs – even smoothies or desserts, such as truffles or brownies, can be made even better with the help of some tasty beans.Plant-Based Protein 101 →
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.
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!
Plus, our favorite vegan mayo is made in just 5 minutes using cashews!
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 their mineral content. Make sure to eat them in moderation, though, since their fat and calorie content can easily accumulate and lead to weight gain!
Ok, so the next fresh fruit on our list. We promise this will be the last one!
But lemons can be just so magical. They make so many dishes and even beverages taste better!
You can add either a slice of lemon or some freshly pressed juice to your water and it will be sure to delight your guests. A great way to get some extra flavor and vitamins!
We personally like to use lemons in many savory meals since they enhance the flavor of other components – an especially great idea if you want to lower your sodium intake, as replacing some of the salt with lemon goes a long way. Try it!
Lemon juice also works wonderfully for sweet recipes. These healthy vegan mini lemon tarts are a perfect example!
By the way, topping your salads, grain or vegetable dishes with a splash of lemon juice isn’t just tasty but also helps with the absorption of iron. If you cannot find fresh lemons, then go with bottled!
Although we already mentioned beans as a great vegan pantry staple, hummus deserves an extra place on our list. Usually made from 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 (we can’t just dip into 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 actually also make it out of any beans or lentils, and adding tahini or garlic is a great way to give it additional flavor.
When making some at home, you might want to skip the oil if you don’t need it and try adding some veggies like eggplant or bell pepper if you want to get a nutritional boost.
White, purple, yellow, red – we love them all! Potatoes have gotten a bad rap 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.How To Eat Up & Lose Weight →
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).
8. Frozen Berries
For the purpose of keeping this list of staple foods to a manageable length, we decided to add only one frozen food item. So, another fruit gets a shout out!
Even though we don’t use frozen berries in a ton of ways, they somehow still find their way into our daily meals.
Frozen fruit in general is very convenient to have at home since they don’t have to be carefully stored and washed – plus, they don’t go bad in the freezer, and you can always just take out as many as you like.
You can top your oatmeal or cereal with them, put frozen berries in your smoothie, make ice cream out of them, use them in baking for muffins, put them in water for some flavoring, use them for a dressing, or eat them in coconut yogurt.
Berries are packed with antioxidants, have a low glycemic index, are a good source of fiber and can help fight disease.
During summertime, we just take some out of the freezer and snack on them! Sweet, sour, and refreshing.
Moving on to another classic vegan staple food: tofu. This delicious plant-based protein has gotten some pretty unfair bad press in recent years, but we’re still just as enthused about it as ever!
Tofu is made from soybeans and comes in more varieties than you can 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 a filling or a crumble, marinate and bake it, put it into spring rolls, dumplings, vegan lasagna, soba noodle 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.Is Soy Good For You? →
Sesame butter (also called tahini) 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! The sky is the limit here. We love all kinds of nut and seed butter and often have almond or cashew butter at home as well.
Tahini is especially healthy since sesame seeds are rich in minerals (especially calcium!), protein, vitamin E, and B vitamins. It may also improve healthy skin and cell growth.
There are many varieties of rice – we usually suggest going for the whole food version of this pantry staple: brown rice.
Now, we understand that most people aren’t used to eating brown rice. Even people in East Asia 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 bran in the brown rice offers 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, mushroom risotto, Sushi rolls, curries, soups, bean chili and basically any thrown-together dish works well with rice.
Seriously, if we had to choose one food to live off forever – it might be this one.
12. 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 for many more purposes.
You can get flavored vegan milk alternatives as well – the most common ones are vanilla or chocolate. Try them all and see which one you like the best!
Ok, so isn’t pasta an obvious staple in everyone’s diet? Because it should be. We love this delicious starchy food in all its shapes and sizes.
Plus, there are lots of gluten-free versions on the market as well, ranging from rice to corn pasta, lentil, bean or buckwheat pasta. This means that pretty much all dietary preferences can be met!
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 pretty healthy choice.
Plus, what would life be without pasta? Pick up these complex, fiber-filled carbs, get out your canned tomato products and let’s have a pasta party tonight!
By the way, it’s fairly easy to sneak some veggies into pasta sauces, should you have picky eaters in your family.
Check the label to make sure you don’t buy pasta made with eggs, though!
14. Apple Cider Vinegar
Granted, there are crazy claims surrounding apple cider vinegar, 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 can do this alone, apple cider vinegar certainly is helpful in a couple of ways!
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.
Some people opt to drink it in the morning on an empty stomach to improve digestion, too.
15. Tomato Products
Not only are they less pricey than fresh tomatoes but also incredibly convenient and versatile!
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.
And whenever we freestyle in the kitchen creating some type of a veggie concoction, we often add tomato products to it. It’s definitely a must in every well-stocked kitchen and vegan pantry!Tasty Homemade Ketchup Recipes →
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, as they are a whole food.
Dates offer a wide range of 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 no-bake desserts. If they are too expensive, you could substitute them for other dried fruit, such as raisins or figs
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 choice for athletes and people looking to lose weight.
Lentils are smaller and have a slightly different texture than beans. You can just add them to stews, make lentil soups, salads, vegan lentil 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 they’re red, yellow or black – you should definitely have some lentils at home!
18. Nutritional Yeast
You know vegan cheeses? Well, they wouldn’t exist without this little helper. Nutritional yeast is made from a single-celled organism that is grown on molasses, then dried with heat to deactivate it.
Even though it might have 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 naturally high in B vitamins. It also offers some decent amounts of folic acid, selenium, zinc and protein while being low in fat, free from 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, creamy sauces, mashed potatoes and so much more! The sky is the limit here.Easy Vegan Cheese Sauce →
Meet our favorite pseudo-grain! Although quinoa might not be a very local or cheap food choice (depending on where you live), we wanted to shed some light on it.
Did you know that the FAO (The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) has officially declared the year 2013 to 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 antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, omega-3 fatty acids and it even serves as a great protein source.
We like to enjoy quinoa in the form of a salad, along with roasted veggies, in Buddha bowls, as a breakfast grain, in stews or even as pancakes!The Best Vegan Quinoa Recipes →
If you’re on a budget, feel free to skip this one and go for another grain instead.
20. Veggie Broth
You can probably think of a few good uses for veggie broth already, but how about this one: use it to sauté your veggies with instead of oil!
It offers a nice flavor to any savory meal – if you want to go for healthier store-bought versions, look out for the amount of sugar, oil and 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, sauces and basically just about anything that needs some basic savory flavor.
It even contains some of the nutrition from the original vegetables and herbs, so it adds to your vitamin and mineral intake.
21. 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 easy to get, but we recommend you check the ingredient list at the store and get a sugar-free one if possible.
It also works well for sautéing your veggies!
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.
When purchasing mustard, make sure to check the label first! You might want to skip those with honey or lots of added sugar. But most mustard varieties are actually fantastic!
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’ll be surprised how much flavor it can add to very simple dishes! Mustard can make a plain baked potato or steamed cauliflower very delicious in just a few seconds.
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 replacement: by 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 usually more expensive.
24. Maple Syrup
If there’s such a thing as healthier sweeteners, maple syrup is one of them. The only way up here would be whole fruit, date sugar or paste, and perhaps molasses.
All of these are tasty, but they’re not as versatile as maple syrup. 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 like 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 simply 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 much better off getting these nutrients by eating an overall healthy diet. We definitely prefer it over agave or white sugar!
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.
Applesauce is just a fantastic vegan staple food since it has a relatively long shelf life, offers a lot of fiber and 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 its ability to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and inflammatory diseases.
Which of these staples do you already 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. You can also share this article on Pinterest!