Theoretically, you can live on vegan frozen food meals, or if you're lucky enough to live in a progressive town, vegan takeout, but that gets old really fast. On top of that, frozen vegan foods and takeout are more costly, usually more processed and typically not as nutritious as homemade vegan food.
If your goal for the long-term is a healthy vegan diet and lifestyle you can stick with, then there's almost no way around it - you need to create a workable kitchen environment, stock your pantry with vegan food and learn to cook some basic meals.
Your Basic Goal
The key when stocking your vegan pantry is to choose food items and ingredients that allow you to whip up lots of healthy, tasty dishes whenever you like. If you've got the gear and ingredients on hand to make a meal, you'll be less likely to reach for an unhealthy alternative. Quick frozen or less healthy vegan meals are fine once in a while, but if you eat processed, unhealthy foods all the time, you simply won't feel as healthy or good about your diet as someone who is eating lots of fresh, well-cooked meals.
The First Step - Get Organized and Gear Up
Make sure you have some essential vegan cooking gear on hand. It's hard to cook without the right tools. See the link below for ideas about what vegan kitchen gear you'll need.
Keep your kitchen area clean and well-organized, so you can find what you need when you need it. Always try to label perishables so you know when to use up food and follow proper food handling rules. Food safety doesn't just apply to people who eat meat or eggs. Lots of food safety problems can arise if you don't wash produce well or store food safely.
- Summer food safety tips for vegans
Vegetarian guide to food hygiene (tips suitable for vegans are included)
Creating Your Personal Vegan Pantry List
Your grocery list will of course vary based on the size of your household, time of year, personal tastes and finances, but in general aim to stock a combination of fresh produce, cooking and baking essential ingredients and flavor enhancing items (such as herbs and spices). You'll also likely want to keep a few quick and healthy foods on hand for when you're too tired to make a fully homemade meal.
- Top 10 vegan foods you always have in your kitchen
- Get the low-down on vegan nutrition basics
- Stocking your pantry once you've removed animal flesh - great advice from the VeggieBoards community
Vegan Cooking Essentials
- Olive oil or other cooking oil.
- Nutritional yeast allows you to add a slightly cheesy flavor to recipes or make a nut-based ricotta. Nutritional yeast is inactive and some brands are a decent source of vitamin. You can top popcorn with it too.
- Vegetable stock for homemade soup, mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies and so much more.
- Salsa - this may not seem like a staple, but you can add salsa to seriously anything (tortillas, beans, rice, crackers, pasta dishes) when you need flavor in a pinch, so I consider it a really decent item to keep around all the time.
- Garlic and onions.
Herbs, Spices and Other Flavoring Options
Food flavoring is really personal, but some ideas about what you can use to flavor vegan dishes are below. Try some, see what you think, then adjust your pantry.
- Garlic powder.
- Black pepper.
- Onion powder.
- Soy sauce and/or a variety of stir fry sauces.
- Rice vinegar or other vinegar such as balsamic, red wine, white wine or apple cider.
- Flavored cooking oils like coconut or sesame.
- There are fancy salts that allow you to make tofu scrambles that taste like egg scrambles. Look for black salt (kala namak).
- Liquid smoke.
- Hoisin (awesome in stir fry)
- Miso paste.
- Tahini or sesame paste.
Extracts: Extracts are nice to have around if you like to flavor baked goods or frosting, but they can also be used for smoothies, sauces and other recipes. I usually keep pure vanilla, almond and orange extract on hand, but there are lots to choose from.
Herbs: You can buy fresh or dried herbs or even grow some yourself. Good herbs to keep on hand include basil, bay leaves, tarragon, oregano, mint, dill, marjoram, thyme, cilantro and rosemary.
Spices: Some spices I keep on hand include cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, turmeric, chili powder, cumin, paprika and crushed red pepper, but there are many others to choose from.
Dried goods are inexpensive, mostly healthy and are a major staple of most healthy vegan recipes.
Beans: Dried beans take a little practice to get used to, if you've always used canned, but once you get the hang of it, you'll see that dried beans aren't that tough to cook with and save you money over canned. I almost always have black beans and pinto on hand, but you can also stock up on black-eyed peas, chickpeas (garbanzos), cannellini, red or kidney beans.
Cooking grains and rice: Brown rice is awesome and goes with everything. You can use it for stir fry, soups, stuff it in a tortilla or add veggies and seasoning and eat a big bowl as your main dish. You can even eat it for breakfast with soy milk and cinnamon. I always keep brown rice around. You can try other rices too such as wild rice. Other nice pantry items include couscous, lentils, millet and quinoa.
Nuts and nut butters: I'm not a huge nut person, but nuts are healthy and make a decent snack. Plus, if you are a nut fan you can add nuts to dishes like rice or salad or grind them to add body to a veggie burger or pasta dish. Nut butters come in tons of varieties and are great to have on hand for a quick sandwich or cracker plate.
Bread: Always read bread labels. Some breads are vegan by accident but many contain eggs or milk. You can make homemade if you like or buy it, but it's a must have pantry item for fast sandwiches, toast in the morning or vegan garlic bread. Also consider keeping tortillas on hand.
Pasta: Pasta is another food labels you should always read, just to be sure you haven't picked up an egg-based pasta. Good pasta types to keep on hand for quick meals include angel hair or thin spaghetti, spirals, fettuccine and some sort of small noodle you can add to homemade soup.
- Knock-Your-Socks-Off Green Lasagna
- Pasta with Garlic, Sundried Tomatoes, and Broccoli
I don't keep many canned goods around, but one really good canned items to always stock are tomatoes. You can make fresh pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce and soups with fresh tomatoes, but not year round. Plus, canned tomatoes are fast and often less expensive than fresh. Consider keeping canned diced, whole, pureed and paste tomatoes in your pantry.
I also tend to keep canned pineapple on hand because it's great if you're making stir fry sauces, works as a pizza topping and can be added to rice too.
If you're not a fan of cooking dried beans, you can also stock up on almost any bean you love in a can.
As a vegan it's great if you try as many fruits and veggies as possible. Try them raw, try them steamed or try them sauteed until you find out how you like them. Add different seasoning and sauces and experiment. I try to buy fresh produce over frozen, but in the winter when totally fresh veggies and fruits are harder to come by, frozen organic produce is great.
Vegetables: The best pantry minded veggies to always have around in my opinion include potatoes, yams, fresh carrots, frozen corn, frozen peas, garlic, onions, frozen broccoli and tomatoes when in season. You can do a lot if those are the only veggie you have on hand, but of course, buy more when possible.
- Mojo Root Veggies
- Simple Organic Salad Supreme
- Roasted Veggie Salad
Fruits: We almost always keep apples, pears, bananas and frozen berries on hand (the frozen berries are great for popsicles and smoothies). However, we also eat a ton of grapes, oranges, melon and other fruits when they're in season.
Perishable Protein Sources (or meat alternatives)
Tempeh: This is a really good vegan staple source of protein. It keeps for a long time in the freezer and a week or two in the fridge. Tempeh is made with cooked and slightly fermented soybeans but it's much firmer than tofu. So, if you're not a tofu fan, you might like tempeh.
Seitan: This is made from wheat and it's a great meat-free protein sources. It has an awesome texture and can be prepared in tons of ways. Some people like how you can really make seitan resemble the flavor of meat but other people love it because it adds bulk and texture to dishes like burritos or stir fry.
Tofu: You don't have to eat plain ol' chunks of tofu. You can saute, bake or fry firm tofu and whip or blend silken tofu into smoothies, dips, puddings and more. Experiment with flavoring, but remember, tofu takes on the taste of what you add in a major way, so be careful. Case in point, once I added regular, not sodium free soy sauce to tofu, and left it to marinate. It was basically a salt lick (ugh).
Texture vegetable protein (TVP): TVP is a high-fiber, high-protein meat substitute that's really good to keep around if you live with meat eaters,because it highly resembles ground meat - i.e. you can make a "meat" sauce or chili that even non-vegans will like. It's made with soy flour and you can find it flavored and unflavored and use it in vegan lasagna, casseroles, pasta sauces and more. Keep in mid that TVP, like tofu, really absorbs spices and flavorings, which makes it versatile, but you should be careful when seasoning.
Alternative Dairy Items
- Vegan butter.
- Vegan mayonnaise.
- Vegan sour cream - helpful when making dips.
- Soy or other alternative yogurt.
- Alternative milk - almond, hemp, soy or other.
- Vegan cheese.
Baking staples allow you to bake of course, but many of these items are necessary for other dishes as well, such as stir fry sauces, pasta sauces and more.
- All purpose flour - regular and wheat.
- Various bulk grains (if you like to bake whole grain bread, muffins and rolls) such as barley, spelt berries, cracked whole wheat, amaranth flakes, buckwheat and so on.
- Oats - also a dried food staple.
- Agave nectar in place of honey (for bread, tea, etc.)
- Granulated sugar.
- Brown sugar.
- Regular yeast for baking.
- Salt - regular or sea salt or both.
- Baking powder.
- Baking soda.
- Cornstarch, arrowroot, ground flax or other thickening agent.
- Egg replacer - the thickening agents above can be used in place of egg replacer or you can buy an egg replacer like Bob's Red Mill Egg Replacement or Ener-G Foods Egg Replacer. I usually just use ground flax seed though because flax goes in everything and it's really good for you (whisk 1 tablespoon ground flax seed with 2 or 3 tablespoons water).
If you're really into baking sweets also consider stocking up on vegan baking cocoa, powdered sugar, dark chocolate chips and various nuts, all of which allows you to whip up cookies, muffins or cake in a flash.
Snacks, Quick Meal Items and Treats
Even the most dedicated cooks need a break or get tired or don't feel well and need a quick meal alternative. For times like this, it's wise to keep some basic snacks and quick meal items on hand. As for treats, you deserve a treat or two, especially if you're spending all this time cooking.
Quick Meal Items
- Jarred vegan pasta sauce.
- Canned vegan soups.
- A couple of frozen vegan entrees.
- Vegetarian deli slices for a quick sandwich.
- Frozen veggie burgers.
Tasty Vegan Snacks
- Dried fruits.
- Pre-cut veggies.
- Hummus and crackers.
- Vegan energy or granola bars - read your labels, because these are sometimes not vegan items.
- Vegan yogurt with granola.
- Dairy-free ice creams.
- Cookies or muffins.
- A dark chocolate bar.
Unless otherwise indicated, all images from sxc.
By Jennifer C