It’s hard to know where to start with a whole food plant-based diet if you aren’t even sure what to put in your shopping cart. Fruits and veggies are a no-brainer, but I’m often asked what other things I keep stocked in my kitchen. So, I thought I’d write a post about it to help out. Most of your shopping should take place in the produce section, but there are other helpful items to have in your pantry that will help turn those beautiful fruits and veggies into delicious and satisfying meals.
It’s important to note that what you stock in your kitchen should reflect how you cook. For example, if you don’t do a lot of baking, you won’t need many baking supplies. If you have certain food allergies, you’ll want to skip those foods or use suitable alternatives. This post is just a guideline to give you some ideas. Adjust it as needed to reflect your cooking style, dietary needs and favourite foods.
The plant-based plate is built around starch. Starches are the satiating part of a plant-based meal. These are the foods that will fill you up and keep you feeling full, rather than running back to the kitchen with the munchies an hour after your meal.
A good goal is to make half your plate starches, and the other half non-starchy veggies and/or fruit. If you’ve fallen prey to the low-carb craze, this is going to make you feel a little twitchy, but these whole food starches are not the villain they’ve been made out to be. The longest living populations on earth (dubbed the ‘blue zones’) all eat diets that incorporate lots of healthy starches.
Starches include things like whole grains, legumes and tubers. More on each below.
An important part of a plant-based diet, whole grains offer fibre as well as important vitamins and minerals. Some people are fearful of grains due to all of the low-carb fad diets out there. I feel like I can’t say this enough, carbs are not the enemy. As long as you’re choosing good quality carbohydrates (I’m talking intact grains and oats, not cupcakes and doughnuts) you don’t need to sweat it. So, be sure to stock some of your favourite grains in your pantry and branch out to try new ones every so often.
Consider things like:
Oats – rolled, steel cut, oat groats, etc.
Quinoa – any colour
Rice – brown, wild, black. Skip the white rice, we’re aiming for whole grain.
Whole wheat couscous
You may also want to keep some whole grain or legume pasta on hand. If you like bread, look for one that is good quality, high in fibre and made from whole grains. Same goes for wraps and other grain products.
Oh, lovely legumes. I seriously cannot say enough good things about these little gems. Full of protein, fibre and important minerals. They are amazing for you and are linked to so many positive health outcomes like lower blood pressure, better blood sugar control, lower cholesterol levels and better weight control. In terms of a plant-based diet, these should be a staple food that you eat regularly (they recommend eating a serving with every meal). So, fill your pantry with your favourites.
Try things like:
Beans – There’s a huge variety out there. White beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans and so many more! Dried beans are a budget-friendly staple. Experiment and find which ones you like best. If you have trouble with gas when you eat beans, check out this post for some great tips and tricks.
Edamame – Young soybeans, often available fresh or frozen. Nice to have a bag of frozen edamame to toss into a stir fry, rice bowls or salads.
Green peas – Often considered a vegetable, but technically a legume full of fibre and protein.
Lentils – Also available in a large variety. Brown lentils, green lentils, red lentils, split peas and more. It’s a good idea to start with lentils if you aren’t a big fan of beans. They’re smaller, so they make it easier for those just trying out legumes for the first time.
Tempeh – Made from fermented soybeans that have been pressed into a block. It has a firm, meaty texture which makes it a great substitute for meat.
Tofu – Made from soybean curd pressed into blocks. It comes in different levels of firmness for different applications. Silken works great for dressings and sauces, medium to firm for baked or sautéed tofu blocks, or you can crumble up firm or extra firm tofu for a great tofu crumble or tofu scramble.
Tubers are the underground stems of plants that work to store nutrients for the plant. We then pick the mature tubers and use them as a food source. Common tubers include potatoes, sweet potatoes and taro.
Tubers make up a large portion of the diet for certain populations on earth. These populations aren’t ravaged by the same diseases we see here in the western world, so obviously they are doing something right.
Try things like:
Now that you’re stocked with starches, let’s look at another big component of a plant-based diet, vegetables. This is where a lot of the nutrition magic is happening, so you don’t want to skimp on these. If you’re shopping on a budget, you may want to grab some of these in the frozen section. They are frozen at peak ripeness, so they maintain their nutrients and can be stored longer. For other budget-friendly shopping tips, check out this post.
Greens – These are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and should be part of your daily repertoire.
Some examples include: arugula, beet greens, bok choy, chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, rapini, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens and more.
Root vegetables – Grown underground, these vegetables tend to be hearty and filling.
Things like: beets, carrots, celeriac, daikon, fennel, kohlrabi, parsnips, radishes, rutabaga, turnips and the tubers listed above.
Alliums – This class of vegetable is known for many health benefits, include their cancer-fighting ability. They also tend to be the base of building flavours in your dish. Be sure to keep some of these flavourful components on hand.
Common alliums include: chives, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, scallions etc.
Cruciferous vegetables – you’ll find examples of cruciferous vegetables in other groups of this section, but I’ve singled them out due to their high nutrient content and cancer-fighting properties. It’s advisable to incorporate at least one serving of these powerhouses daily.
Cruciferous vegetables include: arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, daikon, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnips, watercress and more.
Other vegetables – There are tons of other vegetables I haven’t even mentioned yet. They all have different nutrient profiles. It’s a good idea to aim to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables in a day to ensure you’re getting a good variety of nutrients in your diet.
Include things like: asparagus, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, fiddleheads, green beans, mushrooms (technically fungi) peppers, rhubarb, squash, tomatoes (technically a fruit) zucchini and more.
How sweet it is! Fruit really is nature’s candy. Colourful, sweet and full of vitamins and minerals to support our bodies. Fruit has come under fire recently for its sugar content, but we must not forget that natural sugar is very different than the processed white stuff made in a factory. You don’t need to fear fruit, in fact, fruit consumption is linked with lower rates of disease. So, be sure to include some fruit in your diet, whether as part of breakfast, a healthy snack, or dessert.
As with vegetables, you can purchase frozen fruit for a budget-friendly option, especially in colder months when some varieties are not available fresh.
Apples – lots of variety to choose from in varying degrees of sweet to tart.
Avocado – A great source of healthy fats
Berries – blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries and more.
Citrus fruit – like grapefruit, lemons, limes and varieties of oranges.
Dates – a great alternative to refined sugars.
Melons – cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon etc.
Pears – available in many varieties.
Stone fruits – apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums,
Tropical fruits – bananas, coconuts, mangoes, papaya, pineapples, etc.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are both versatile and nutritious. They are rich in protein, healthy fats and are linked to lots of health benefits. You can use them to replace a lot of dairy-based foods like milk, cheese and creamy sauces. Try incorporating a small palm-sized serving (about ¼ cup) of nuts and seeds or 2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter into your daily diet.
Walnuts – A nutritional powerhouse full of anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Cashews – commonly used to make creamy nut-based cheeses and sauces.
Brazil nuts – Studies show these can reduce cholesterol levels with just one serving of 4 nuts per month.
Sunflower seeds – great on their own or as a sub for other nuts if you have nut allergies
Pumpkin seeds – high in protein and iron
Flax seeds – Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and cancer-fighting lignans. Have also been shown to help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugars and relieve constipation.
Hemp seeds – High in protein and a great source of omega-3 and 6
Chia seeds – High in fibre, calcium and a great source of omega-3 fatty acids
You’ll also want to have some nut and seed butters on hand. Nut butters make a great condiment and can be used as a substitute for butter in baking. Seed butters like tahini (sesame seed paste) also make a great base for dressings and sauces. When looking at nut and seed butters, look for varieties that contain just the nut or seed without a bunch of additives.
Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavour to your meals. They are also high in antioxidants and some have specific health benefits associated with them. A healthy plant-based kitchen is not complete without some flavourful herbs and spices, so be sure to keep some of your favourites on hand.
Paprika – many different types including sweet, smoked, hot etc.
Salt – unless you are salt-free
This list just scratches the surface of what is available. Experiment to find the ones you like best and make your own spice blends to bring some creative flavour to your cooking.
Other Kitchen Staples
If you like to bake, you’ll want to have some supplies on hand. You can still enjoy baked goods made from WFPB ingredients, you just need to make some simple swaps for things like eggs, butter and refined sugars. For a guide to substitutions, check out this post.
Apple sauce – a great sub for oil in baking. Look for varieties with no added sugar.
Baking soda/powder – aluminum free if you can find it.
Cacao or cocoa powder
Dairy-free chocolate chips – some brands now sell these made without refined sugars.
Unrefined sweeteners – blackstrap molasses, dates, date sugar, date syrup, coconut sugar, maple syrup etc.
Whole grain flours – Ditch the white flour and check out the many whole grain versions available. Buckwheat, oat, spelt, whole wheat and more.
These are totally optional but can be handy in putting a meal on the table in a hurry. When it comes to canned and prepared items, be sure to check the ingredients and nutrition label as some may contain lots of salt, sugar, oil or other additives.
Canned beans – A little more expensive than dried, but handy to have when time is short.
Canned vegetables – with no salt added.
Diced tomatoes – great for making homemade sauces or soups and stews.
Non-dairy milk – lots to choose from, try some out and choose your favourites. Aim for unsweetened varieties.
Non-dairy yogurt – totally optional, but available in a number of varieties. Aim for unsweetened varieties.
Pasta sauces – look for options that are oil-free, refined sugar-free and low in sodium.
Soups/stews/chilis – look for options that are oil-free and low in sodium.
Vegetable broth – look for varieties that are oil-free and low in sodium.
Condiments add an extra layer of flavour to a dish. In general, you want to look for items without added oil or refined sugars. You can be a little more lenient with the sodium content as you’ll only be using small amounts.
Bragg’s liquid aminos – a lower sodium soy sauce substitute
Coconut aminos – another soy sauce substitute made from fermented coconut sap. Has a milder, sweeter flavour.
Fruit jam – made from real fruit, or make your own
Hummus – look for oil-free or make your own
Ketchup – traditional brands contain a lot of sugar, there are varieties available now that are sweetened with dates instead.
Miso – made from fermented soybeans, this adds rich flavour to soups and sauces.
Nutritional yeast – a deactivated yeast that has a cheesy flavour.
Salsa – a great condiment for a variety of meals.
Tamari – has a richer flavour than soy sauce with less sodium
Vinegar – apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, ume plum vinegar, red wine vinegar and more. There’s a huge variety of vinegars on the market to help flavour your meals.
The Bottom Line
Stocking your plant-based kitchen doesn’t have to be hard. As you probably noticed, there are lots of food items listed that you probably already eat and enjoy. This is not a complete list by any stretch, it’s just meant to give you an idea of the types of foods you can keep on hand to support your plant-based eating journey. It really comes down to including a variety of plants in their whole or minimally processed forms. You don’t have to rely on faux meats and highly processed foods to eat this way.
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