I had the pleasure of giving a webinar Thursday on "Must-Haves in Your Plantiful Pantry". I talked about some essential pantry items that make following a plant-forward diet more convenient and sustainable. I'm going to go through them one more time here, so you can get an idea for some helpful pantry items to have on hand.
# 1 Beans
Whether originally dried or canned, beans are not only one of the most nutritious foods you can put into your body, they are also versatile, and a reliable source of protein, iron, and micronutrients in a plant-based diet.
The trick to becoming good at using beans in your diet, is to find your favorite beans. Don't just use black beans and chickpeas because that is what's available and most used in recipes. I've found that if those are the only beans I have in my pantry, I get very bored and start looking for other things to cook with. However, if I've made a batch of navy beans, or we have pinto beans around, I get more excited about cooking with them.
Find the beans that excite you with their texture and flavor!
Here are some ideas on how to use beans:
Feel free to use beans in soups, stews, or chili.
Make a delicious Indian curry out of lentils or chickpeas.
Saute them with vegetables and use them in enchiladas, tacos, burritos, or wraps.
Make them into a bean spread or hummus. These can be savory or even SWEET.
Use them atop a bowl of warm grains, such as in a Buddha Bowl.
Throw them into a cold mixed salad.
Convert them into a sandwich spread, or even use them in dessert (Hello, black bean brownies).
The thing about beans.... if you are cooking them from dried, they take a little more forward-thinking and a bit of time (or a pressure cooker). Salt and BPA-free canned beans can be a very useful item to have on hand for quicker cooking, or if you are a last-minute dinner decider like me!
# 2 Whole Grains
Whole grains are easy to buy in either the bulk bin aisle or spread out between a variety of aisles in the grocery store (I find them in regular aisles, international aisles, and health aisles depending on the grain).
These are a staple for most plant-based eaters. Not only do a majority of a plant-forward eater's calories come from complex carbohydrates (or those with the fiber still intact, as opposed to refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar), but they also are very nutritious and versatile.
Examples are brown rice, quinoa, oats, wild rice, bulgur, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, cracked wheat, barley, freekeh, rye berries, Kamut, spelt, corn, and popcorn!
They of course make their way into a variety of processed foods too, that we can include as a part of a balanced plant-forward diet. These include sprouted grain bread, whole wheat bread products, whole wheat or whole grain-based pasta, and whole-grain crackers (read the nutrition label to ensure it is fiber-full and does not contain white flour, extra sugar, or too much oil).
Here are some ideas on how you can use grains:
In oatmeal or a breakfast porridge of mixed grains.
Served warm as the base of a bowl or stir-fry.
In a cold salad with vegetables and beans (think Tabouleh) or on top of a raw veggie salad to help with satiety (carbs help turn off hunger).
You can use them in desserts as a whole grain or it's flour.
You can make your own granola or snack bars.
As the container of a delicious sandwich or wrap (whole grain bread or tortillas).
As the base to a delicious toast of avocados, or peanut butter and chia jam.
You can also take in delicious whole-grains as a ready-made cereal, like bran flakes, or other unsweetened varieties.
# 3 Soy Products
No, I'm not telling you you have to like or tolerate tofu in order to be plant-based, but if you do like them and your body tolerates them well, then you will benefit from their myriad of health benefits! These include their anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory behaviors which come primarily from the isoflavones. Soybeans are also rich in protein and iron, which transfers to the products made from them as well.
Tofu is ALSO incredibly versatile. You can use it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Confused as to how? Check out my list below. Other soy products such as tempeh (fermented soybean), miso, tamari, soy sauce, soymilk, edamame (immature green soybeans), soy nuts, or soybeans are also useful in a variety of recipes, or as a snack themselves.
Wondering how to incorporate more soy foods into your diet?
Use tofu to make your own healthy yogurt alternative (see my recipe here).
Swap out soymilk for a nutritionally superior alternative to milk (don't like the taste? Try working your way from the "Original" blends which have a little sugar to help with flavor).
Sear or pan-fry marinated tofu to add to Asian recipes.
Mash tofu with additional ingredients to create a ricotta cheese alternative for lasagna.
Make some tofu nuggets in the oven or air-fryer to satisfy that fast-food craving.
Scramble it with veggies for breakfast, or swap it out for the eggs in quiche.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to tofu, so even if you can't stomach the odd tasting block of plant-cheese-like substance, start by using it covertly, and see if you can build up a preference for it over time. Your body will thank you!
# 4 Canned and Frozen Fruit and Vegetables
Many of us already know how convenient it can be to pull out some vegetables from the freezer when we've run out or don't have time to cook some from raw. Not only are frozen fruits and vegetables nutritionally adequate to fresh, but they can also be superior because they are processed at peak ripeness, rather than being picked a month before you buy it.
In terms of canned vegetables and fruits, they can be useful and even a tasty snack (I love applesauce and canned peaches). Just be careful of the salt content of vegetables, and ensure you opt for fruits packed in water, over syrup.
Here are some ideas of how you can use canned and frozen vegetables and fruit:
Pull out some vegetables as a quick side to your dinner.
Make a simple chia jam with frozen fruit and chia seeds.
Use frozen peas as your protein source in a smoothie.
Use frozen fruits in oatmeal, smoothies, or to make chia jam (just made that today).
Use frozen mixed vegetables to make quick fried rice with leftover rice.
Buy frozen vegetable mixes to make a stir fry.
Buy frozen zoodles (zucchini) to use instead of spaghetti noodles.
# 5 Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds sadly deserve a slight warning attached to them as they are high in calories and can lead to a slowing of weight loss or even weight gain if relied on too heavily. Nonetheless, I use them every day in my plant-forward cooking because of their....you guessed it- VERSATILITY.
I can't say that word enough today! Nuts and seeds ARE very nutritious, as they provide essential fats (ALA) and lots of unique minerals. I also love them because of the way they can help with the texture of plant-forward meals and with our satiety.
Wondering how to use nuts and seeds aside from as a salty snack?
#1 use should be adding some flax or chia to your breakfast routine. You can also sprinkle hemp or pumpkin seeds on salads or toasts (flax and chia are wonderful sources of ALA, an essential fat).
Replace normal butter or margarine with nut butter on toast.
Use cashews to make a creamy cheese sauce for nachos, mac n' cheese, or a dipping sauce.
Use walnuts to add texture to plant-based burger patties or taco meat.
Add nuts, seeds, or nut butter into oatmeal or smoothies for protein and creaminess.
You can buy powdered peanut butter now that you can use as a protein powder or you can rehydrate for lower fat peanut butter.
You can use nut butter in savory dishes as a sauce or in a stew.
You can use nut butter as a dip for fruits and vegetables.
Use flax and chia as an egg replacer in baked goods. It works wonderfully!
I hope with these foundational foods, you feel equipped to start stocking your pantry with plant-based essentials. These are definitely the items and meals I most often make.
Stay tuned to learn more about plant-based pantry staples, with the emphasis on ingredients used in plant-based cooking next week!
Did you miss my Webinar on "Must-Haves in Your Plantiful Pantry"?
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