10 Must Have Staples for Quick and Healthy Vegan Cooking

People often ask me what my tried and true basic pantry staples are. When you start cooking vegan food, I'm always surprised that people think I buy these strange ingredients or need fancy equipment. The truth is, that my basic pantry staples are as common as can be, they are simply delicious whole foods, natural and found in your local supermarket. 

Although as a vegan I do also love and enjoy the more specialty treats like vegan cheeses or sausages and other specialty products. I have to admit I rarely buy these nowadays. These are more a part of my life when I'm craving something specific, or I want to really replicate a dish I used to love. Still, the truth is that most of my classic comfort food favorites can be made easily with basic whole foods. You can make the craziest most delicious meatloaf based entirely on oats, lentils, mushrooms and walnuts, or the creamiest alfredo sauce for pasta with some pre-soaked blended cashews, amazing burgers with black beans, veggies, brown rice and spices, and even a delicious mushroom omelette or frittata with some chickpea flour. Don't even get me started on dessert! There's nothing wrong with having specialty items every once in a while, but when you ask me what my staples are, these rarely make the list! By staples I mean those things that require an instant shopping trip if I notice I'm out. Those basic staples I don't even need to put in my shopping list because it's a given that I'll need them.

You know how much I love lists and bullet points, but here's the deal, when it comes to loving plant-based foods it's SO HARD to keep it down to just ten basics! I tried my best, but note that there are so many other vegetables and staples that I buy weekly, I just had to pick my top 10. Also note I cheated and added some little seasoning bonuses at the very end.

Are you ready? The list I'm about to share is just a little glimpse into my weekly fridge and pantry, but especially into those nutrients that I try to include in my diet as much as possible. We'll talk about each of them, and I'm also going to give you a quick idea for a dish or meal you can whip up in no time. Don't forget to check out our recipe section and our online program for even more meal ideas and recipes.

Staple #1: Green Leafy Vegetables

Our favorites: Kale, bok choy, collard greens, romaine lettuce and spinach.

Other great choices: Swiss chard, arugula, dandelion and mustard greens.

Green leafy vegetables, especially choices like kale or collards are so packed with nutrients that they have been ranked number 1 in nutrient density out of all veggies. They are also packed with fiber along with many other nutrients and antioxidants including folate, vitamins K, A, B6, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and here's where it gets extra brownie points: they are packed with calcium!

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Make delicious salads with kale by massaging it and tenderizing it with your dressing or with some avocado and lime juice.
  • Sauté kale or add it to a stir-fry.
  • Add lots of greens to your smoothies and balance out the flavor with some banana or pear for natural sweetness.
  • Make our simple pan fried bok choy or if you're a member of My Brownble, make our yummy everyday steamed kale which has delicious Asian flavors and is ready in 5 minutes.

Staple #2: Whole Grains (and basic whole grain products)

Our favorites: Brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat bread.

Other great choices: millet, buckwheat and bulgur wheat.

Whole grains are simply the bomb! They are filling, packed with fiber, calcium, magnesium and yes, even protein! Especially in the case of quinoa which is in and of itself a complete protein containing all essential aminoacids. All of them are amazing though, which is why it's always important to eat a variety of them. They are great for improving satiety and they're just plain delicious.

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Make your favorite pasta dishes with healthy sauces and lots of vegetables.
  • Make your favorite sandwiches including pb and j, a no-tuna sandwich made with mashed chickpeas, minced onions, tomato and celery and a little eggless mayonnaise, or a veggie sandwich with some delicious hummus and roasted veggies like peppers, portobello mushrooms and sizzling onions. Same goes for a veggie and pesto panini.
  • Make buddha bowls with some simple brown rice or quinoa, lots of green leafy veggies, some black beans and salsa or guacamole.
  • Serve your favorite whole grain alongside a veggie and tofu stir-fry like our sweet and sour stir-fry with pineapple.
  • Have delicious breakfasts like oat porridge or overnight oats with lots of fruity toppings or make our delicious oat coconut cranberry bars for a quick and easy snack.

Staple #3: Beans and Lentils

Our favorites: Black eyed peas, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, black beans and brown lentils.

Other great choices: Pink lentils, kidney beans, cannellini beans, puy lentils (especially for salads).

What can I say about beans. The first thing I can tell you is I hated them as a kid. The texture was just off for me somehow and it was one of the few things I didn't like to eat except when I had a hearty warm bowl of lentil soup (still one of my favorite dishes to make). Things changed as I became an adult though, when I learned how to cook them and found my favorites. Beans are such nutritional powerhouses they are the cheapest superfoods around. They are high in protein and fiber, and these two factors help your body digest slowly which keeps you satisfied for longer, prevents blood sugar and insulin spikes and prevents weight gain. They are also packed with phytonutrients vitamins and minerals, and completely lacking in saturated fats and cholesterol. They have been named by many health professionals "the perfect food". Plus they're delicious! If you're not in the habit of eating them, I just want to say two words to you: Mexican food!

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Any Mexican dish you love, from tacos to tostadas, enchiladas or burritos, can reach nutritional nirvana by using beans as the main protein source. Add toppings like salsa and guacamole and you've got a winner.
  • Make Buddha bowls like the ones mentioned before.
  • Make delicious bean dips or hummus and enjoy them as a spread on a sandwich or wrap or as a snack with some raw vegetables.
  • Use them as a base for scrumptious veggie burgers like our black bean and portobello mushroom sliders.
  • Use them in salads or hearty stews like chili.

Staple #4: Nut (or seed) butters

Our favorites: all natural peanut butter, almond or cashew butter.

Other great choices: pecan butter, Brazil nut butter, plus all the seed butters including tahini, sunflower seed butter and pumpkin seed butter.

Let's face it, anyone who grew up on pb&j like I did knows how important this staple is! The good news is it's vegan, and contrary to popular belief peanuts aren't actually nuts, they're legumes! This means a serving of peanut butter counts as one of your protein sources for the day. Can't have peanut butter? Try almond or cashew butter or any of the other nut or seed butters available nowadays. Almond butter and tahini (sesame seed paste) have the added bonus that they are packed with calcium, so these are great options as one of your calcium sources for the day. Before you ask me about the fat found in nuts, yes, they are higher in fat than other foods which is why keeping portions in check is important, but here's what you might not know. Studies have shown nuts are so packed with nutrition that they have actually been directly linked to a higher life expectancy. They contain omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols which help lower bad cholesterol and l-arginine which helps the lining of your artery walls and prevent blood clots. Yowza! Just remember to always buy an all natural brand that only contains the nut itself (and possibly some sea salt in some cases, but no other ingredients).

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • The classic pb&j sandwich (use a natural jam without added sugars or sweeteners like St. Dalfour).
  • Savory Asian sauces for stir fries or even thinned out as dressings like our Thai peanut sauce.
  • Delicious creamy hummus made with tahini and some raw veggies as a snack.
  • A delicious snack wrap with a whole grain tortilla, some almond butter, banana and mango slices or berries.

Staple #5: Avocados

We need to give a Nobel prize to the first person who saw the avocado tree and decided to see what that hanging fruit was all about. I have a serious love for avocados, and although they are higher in fat than other fruits, they are also packed with nutrients and fiber. It's my favorite substitute for refined oils which are much less healthier for you since they've been so extracted from the original whole food. They contain over 20 vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamin K, A, E, C, magnesium and folate. They help keep your heart healthy, help your eyesight and even lower your risk of depression. My favorite benefit of these however, is that they are so filling and delicious that they can make even the healthiest plant-based meals incredibly decadent, and this means you'll stick to your new healthy diet for good!

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Delicious tacos and burritos topped with guacamole.
  • Big green salads with lots of raw veggies and avocado.
  • Pesto pastas using creamed avocado instead of oil when you make your pesto.
  • Breakfast toast topped with mashed avocado with a little lime or lemon juice, some sea salt and a sprinkling of turmeric and fresh cilantro on top.

Staple #6: Sweet Potatoes

I have a serious love affair with sweet potatoes. They are packed with beta-carotene, they're creamy, hearty and give you that stick-to-your-ribs feeling we all love. They are packed with fiber which means that even though they are starches, the release of blood sugar into the bloodstream is slower and steadier. They are perfect for people who can't tolerate nightshade veggies like potatoes, and they are sweet, making them perfect as a base for desserts when substituting oil and eggs in cakes, cupcakes, puddings and muffins. They are also packed with vitamins A and C, potassium and lots of calcium. Purple sweet potatoes commonly found in Asia, and now more readily available, are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, and a staple in diets in our planets "blue zones": populations with the largest number of people who live past 100 years of age. They are also perfect for taming that sweet tooth after meals when you consume them during your meals.

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Roasted sweet potato wedges with some sea salt, pepper, paprika and cinnamon.
  • Sweet potato fries as a side to your sandwiches and veggie burgers.
  • Make our blueberry sweet potato chocolate cake which is so delicious no one will believe it's gluten free, sugar free and completely vegan.
  • Sweet potato mash or purée as part of your holiday meals.

Staple #7: Broccoli and brussels sprouts

I get so sad when brussels sprouts are out of season where I live, which is probably the reason why I'm obsessed with them when they pop up in the farmer's market again. Both these and broccoli are part of the cruciferous family of vegetables (along with cauliflower, cabbage, kale and bok choy), which have been shown to aid in cancer prevention to such an extent that a daily intake of them is recommended. They are packed with calcium, magnesium, folate, vitamins K, A, C, A, and have countless other phytonutrients. They also happen to be great at keeping you full longer and are so satisfying. 

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Simple steamed broccoli tossed in a mixture of dijon mustard, soy sauce, garlic powder and a drizzle of sesame oil.
  • Veggie stir-fry with smoky tempeh and lots of broccoli florets.
  • Roasted brussels sprouts as a side.
  • Separate the leaves of brussels sprouts and make crispy chips in the oven, similar to a kale chip.
  • Grate brussels sprouts and add them to your coleslaw or other salads for an amazing flavor.

Staple #8: Fresh herbs

Our favorites: cilantro, parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme and sage.

Other great choices: oregano, mint, chives, marjoram, tarragon and dill, among others.

Did you know fresh herbs are also green leafy vegetables? Yup! They contain so many nutritional benefits for the body that even though they're teeny tiny they pack a nutrient punch! They also happen to be the best way to add amazing flavor to your dishes without adding excess oils or salt. They are all extremely different in flavor which means you have an option for hearty wintery stews and veggie roasts (like with sage, rosemary and thyme), or fresh tastes for raw, Mexican or Italian style dishes like with parsley, basil and cilantro. They contain a ton of phytonutrients, calcium, vitamins K, C and A, and folate among others.

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Add tons of herbs to salads and any dishes you're making.
  • Top your stir fries and curries with lots of fresh cilantro.
  • Make guacamole with some cilantro.
  • Toss your pasta dishes with some fresh basil and parsley.
  • Make our oil free pesto for a total basil powerhouse.

Staple #9: Fresh and/or frozen fruit (especially berries)

Our favorites: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, banana, mango, pineapple, pear and apples.

Other great choices: kiwi, papaya, grapefruit, oranges, pomegranates, plums, watermelons, among others.

Fruit is always hanging out in my fridge and counter. It's packed with vitamins and minerals, and especially in the case of berries, a TON of antioxidants. They tame that sweet tooth without adding too many calories and they are health promoting in countless ways including weight management, prevention against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and are great for your skin and hair.

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Smoothies with lots of greens, berries and banana or pear for sweetness.
  • Fruit salads with a dollop of non-dairy yogurt and some walnuts for breakfast.
  • Overnight oats or warm oatmeal with berries, banana slices and kiwi.
  • Grilled pineapple when you're having a barbecue, or pineapple in your stir-fries and coleslaws.
  • Apple and pear slices with some cashew cheese on the side or a little nut butter as a snack.

Staple #10: Almonds or cashews

These are here for totally naughty purposes, but also because of all their healthful benefits. They have all the amazing nutrients I mentioned when I talked about nut butters above, with two added bonuses: almonds are very rich in calcium, and cashews can be soaked in water overnight and blended to produce the creamiest bases for sauces and homemade vegan cheese! Almonds are also perfect after soaking for making your own homemade almond milk.

Your quick and easy meal ideas:

  • Almonds ground up with some sea salt in a food processor to make our famous almond parm which you can use to top pizzas, pastas and risottos.
  • Almond milk or cashew milk.
  • Cashew mac and cheese or our creamy fettuccine alfredo.
  • Lightly toasted in the oven and eaten as a snack or used to top salads.
  • Made into almond or cashew butter.

Bonus round 1: Let's talk Basic seasonings

The basics: Sea salt (unrefined), peppercorns, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin and curry powder, soy sauce or tamari soy sauce for a gluten free option, and nutritional yeast for all its cheesy goodness and B vitamins.

If you like some spice: your favorite cajun spice mix, spicy paprika and chili flakes.

Bonus round 2: The flavor trifecta!

Always keep the flavor trifecta at home: onions, garlic and lemons.

 

We'll have more plant-based staples for you soon, but now you're ready to start cooking some delicious and healthy vegan meals that are just as delicious as old-time meat and dairy-based favorites.

Don't forget to share this post with friends or family who are trying to eat more fruits and veggies and improve their health! 

You can also enjoy more of our recipes here, and we'd love for you to join us in our video-based online program My Brownble, where we teach you how to cook amazing vegan food, and help you on that ongoing quest of finding balance. You'll learn how to indulge in your favorites and still prioritize your health, creating healthy habits that last you a lifetime. 

In and out of the kitchen. 

...and there's so much more. You can check out all the details here.