Pantry staples may not be the first thing you think of when making a healthy meal for your family.
After all, many of the foods packaged in boxes and cans can be loaded with tons of things we really shouldn’t put in our bodies. Chemicals, additives, excess sodium, sugar, and oils love to stake a claim to the pantry.
And it gets more complicated if you’re eating a plant-based diet. A lot of the sneaky ingredients in non-perishable foods contain dairy or other animal products, like the animal rennet in pesto or gelatin in peanuts—WHAT?!
There are tons of healthy plant-based, shelf-stable options for filling your cabinets, thanks to many companies who have started sourcing more responsibly to create products that are better for our bodies and the planet.
Here are 12 pantry staples that make healthy meals easy and flavorful, even for the nights when you do NOT want to cook!
Vegetable broth or bouillon is an essential ingredient for soup. Try cleaning out the fridge and throwing your vegetable scraps in for a nutritious, no-waste meal! If you can find vegetable stock powder, you’ve got a great addition to a veggie burger recipe, too.
Canned tomatoes make a perfect addition to a pasta dish when fresh ones might not be on hand.
- Make a quick pizza sauce by pulsing canned tomatoes in the food processor with a few Italian seasonings.
- Keep a few cans on hand so a curry stew or minestrone soup is always an option.
- Drain the tomatoes to add to a salad and save the juice to use for cooking rice.
- Fire-roasted tomatoes can add a great depth of flavor to a dish.
Look for organic canned tomatoes in BPA-free cans whenever possible.
Canned Beans + Chickpeas
Beans are a great source of plant-based protein! Get creative with this pantry staple; you can do so much more with beans than burritos, chili, or rice.
Beans are a great base for hummus, which you can use in a ton of different ways! Stay traditional with canned chickpeas or try something new and make hummus with black, kidney, pinto beans, and more. If prepared on the thicker side, slather it on sandwiches or scoop it into a salad. If thinner, it’s an excellent dip for veggies or tortilla/veggie chips.
If you haven’t played around with this versatile fruit yet, you’re in for a magical treat. When cooked properly, jackfruit makes an amazing meat substitute. It easily absorbs marinade flavors, and makes a fantastic mock pulled pork.
Drizzle on oatmeal or granola bowls, dip cut apple slices, or eat it straight off the spoon. However you choose to eat nut butter, it’s a must-have in any vegetarian or vegan pantry.
Peanut butter makes a creamy base for Asian salad dressings and sauces—and gives it a little protein boost, too. Add a scoop of almond butter to smoothies or enjoy a bite after dinner in place of a sweet treat. Try cashew or sunflower butter in place of peanut butter to mix things up!
Rolled oats are a versatile pantry staple. You can grind rolled oats in a food processor or blender to make gluten-free flour for baking, and they’re ideal for balancing moisture content and adding texture in homemade veggie burgers. Rolled oats don’t always need to be paired with maple syrup, vanilla, fruit, or nut butters. Try a savory oatmeal by adding veggie broth, shredded carrots, pumpkin seeds and avocado.
Use soaked steel cut oats as the base for a salad. Load them up with your favorite veggies and add shredded kale and a creamy dressing for a filling lunch! Substitute steel cut oats in an overnight oat recipe for more crunch and a little variety.
Quinoa or Rice
Quinoa and rice are a core ingredient in batch cooking, which makes mealtime so easy. Keep a few different grains on hand and get into the practice of cooking enough for a few days so you can quickly build a power bowl, add some to salad, or dress it up sweet for breakfast! Any leftovers will be ready to go for stir frys and veggie soups when it’s time to clean out the produce drawer.
Curry dishes and stews are super easy to make and a great way to use fresh or frozen veggies. Keep a few cans of coconut milk on hand at all times so you can quickly create a savory bowl of your favorite coconut curry anytime you get the craving.
Coconut cream from the top portion of a chilled can is a substitute for sugar-laden desserts. Whip some up with a little vanilla and maple syrup, top with fresh or frozen berries and cacao nibs, and you’re in for a treat.
If you enjoy cheese or creamy sauces and dressings, cashews are your best friend. You can soak them in hot water for ten minutes, or boil them to soften, then blend them with liquid for a creamy base. If you have a high-powered blender, you can skip the soaking altogether.
Cashew cream is a great way to thicken soups and sauces and make dressings creamy when that’s what you need. Cashews also deliver healthy fats and extra protein, which is always a plus.
Nutritional yeast, or “nooch,” is a great source of B12 and adds a cheesy parmesan flavor to your food. Sprinkle on popcorn or over pasta once or twice, and you’ll never want to be without it. Add it to soups, creamy dressings, and pasta dishes for flavor and cheesy tang; it’s that delicious!
You can usually find nooch in the spice aisle, but make sure you buy the right kind because nutritional yeast is different from the type of yeast that makes bread rise.
Pasta is an everyday staple, but you can level up this popular comfort food by experimenting with plant-based noodles made from chickpeas, beans, lentils, or veggies!
Use them in a quick and easy one-pot pasta when you’re craving a creamy dish on a chilly day or at any time you’re short on time and want to prepare a healthy dinner quickly.
Use your plant-based noodles to make a fresh, light pasta salad by cooking according to package directions and tossing in leftover veggies, herbs, and olive oil or fresh avocado to keep the pasta soft.
Taco Shells or Tortillas
Enjoy tacos anytime, filled with whatever you have on hand – beans, jackfruit, hummus, veggies. Plant-based tacos are another awesome way to use up odds and ends. Think of the shell or tortilla as the vessel to get a ton of flavor and nutrients into your body. No need for extra planning, unless you’re into that! Make sure always to have salsa, avocados, cumin, and greens on hand. Then when you feel like it’s taco night, all that’s left to do is assemble and enjoy!