If you're moving your diet to a vegetarian diet, or just want to include more vegetarian meals in your weekly meal planning, this is a guide to creating an essential vegetarian pantry with must-have staples.
Having a well-stocked pantry for plant-based meals and vegetarian dishes makes it so much easier when changing your diet, especially for last-minute meals.
Moving your diet to (more) vegetarian starts with a well stocked pantry. It's one of my 10 beginner's tips for going vegetarian. Because let's face it, we don't always have time to create a well-planned meal. Some dinners are more on-the-fly, because that's the kind of day we've had.
As a note, before we get started, this essential pantry is designed for vegetarian diets, but with the exception of the final category, eggs, it's also a great pantry for a plant-based diet of vegan meals.
🤷♀️ What is an essential pantry?
Think of it as a collection of key staples you want to have on hand, so that you can whip up a wide variety of vegetarian meals that you love. And when I say "staples", I mean either shelf-stable food with a long shelf life, or things that last in the refrigerator or freezer for at least 3 months.
Your own personal essential pantry of staples will naturally vary depending on your favorite foods, food allergies, and food sensitivities. But bottom line, I recommend a wide variety of foods that can be used as a main focus of a dish and flavor enhancers to keep your new diet interesting to you and your family.
This tops most lists for vegetarian and vegan pantries because they provide great protein, fiber, and keep a lot time, whether canned or dried. Additionally, there are literally hundreds of way to use them
I prefer the flavor of beans cooked from dry beans, but it's hard to beat the convenience of canned beans already cooked. Dried beans, however, are a fraction of the cost of canned.
Here are beans I always have on hand, and some uses for them:
Kidney Beans: chili
* Note: I also always have chickpea flour in my pantry, which isn't a bean, but made from chickpeas. I use it often to make farinata and socca (the French equivalent), which I fell in love with on one of my many trips to Italy.
How to Store Dried Beans
Dried beans will last in your pantry for years if stored properly, although the shorter the time they hang around the shelf, the better they are and the faster they cook. For this reason, many of the dried beans I purchase are heirloom beans. For more information on them, read this article on whether heirloom beans are better than regular dried beans.
The best way to store them is in glass jars with screw-on lids. This keeps any pests and bugs from getting into them. I label mine with masking tape and a marker so I can easily identify the jars.
How to Cook Beans
Although the below posts are written for a specific type of bean, the methods described works for any dried bean.
🌾 Grains and Seeds
Whole grains, quinoa and pasta add nutrients, texture and ways to expand dishes like soups and casseroles into a meal. And quinoa specifically adds great protein to dishes.
Grains and seeds also fit into most budgets. The below list are items I almost always have on hand.
Chia Seeds: add to yogurt, smoothies, salads, breads, pancakes, jam and whisk into salad dressings
How to Store Grains and Seeds
Just like beans, store grains in glass jars with screw-top lids. I recommend labeling them, and in the case of brown rice, add a date.
The shelf life of most grains, if stored correctly, can extend to years, but brown rice will only last 6 months to 1 year because of the natural oils in its bran layer.
How to Cook Grains and Seeds
💪 High Nutrient and Protein Boosts
These are ingredients I add to dishes for a boost of protein and nutrients. They are all very different from each other but are excellent tools in your ingredient tool chest when following a vegetarian diet.
Hemp Hearts / Hemp Seeds: salads, casseroles and veggie burgers
Nuts and Nut Butters: some combination of walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, peanuts, and pine nuts are great to have around. The nut butters that get the most use are peanut butter and almond butter.
Pumpkin Seeds: I keep a stash of roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) in the refrigerator all. the. time for snacking and topping casseroles.
Red and Yellow Miso: red miso is more intense than yellow.
Protein Powder and Whey Protein Powder: smoothies, yogurt, and soups
The bottom is a table for the best ways to store each of the above boosts. The Pantry column assumes your pantry is cool and dark.
If both Pantry and Refrigerate are checked, both ways of storing the ingredient are acceptable, but refrigerating them will extend their shelf life.
|Nuts and Nut Butters||X|
|Protein / Whey Powders||X|
😋 Canned Goods and Flavor Enhancers
I don't keep a lot of canned goods on hand, but I have several that I used in a bazillion recipes. Several of my list of flavor enhancers contribute an umami flavor to dishes.
Canned Tomatoes: I recommend having whole peeled, fire-roasted diced and puréed tomato sauce and strongly recommend San Marzano tomatoes.
Pasta Sauce: keep a couple jars of your favorite on hand for adding to sauces and casseroles, as well as making a quick pasta. My favorite is Rao, but there must be at least 50 kinds now available.
Curry Paste: both green and red
Sun-Dried Tomatoes and my Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes
Better Than Bouillon: there are several vegetarian versions available now. I use the mushroom flavored one when I make my mushroom soup and mushroom risotto, and use the general roasted vegetable base for most everything else.
Vegetable broth: for when you don't want to use the above bouillon product.
Soy Sauce, Tamari, Hoisin Sauce, Enchilada Sauce, Pasta Sauce, Marmite or Vegemite: as a note, if you're new to Marmite and Vegemite, try a just a little start with so you don't overwhelm a dish. Marmite is milder than vegemite.
Olives: both green and kalamata olives (pitted!)
Herbs and Spices: these will depend on your preferences and the type of food you normally cook. But my personal list includes basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, paprika (both hot, sweet and smoked), cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, cayenne, chili powder, and red pepper flakes are always on hand and fresh.
Oils and Vinegars: extra virgin olive oil is a primary oil for me, and avocado oil for air frying or other high-heat applications. I always have coconut oil on hand too. White wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, sherry wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar are must-haves at all times IMO.
Dried Fruits: raisins, apricots, cranberries and dates
Capers: these carry a lot of umami, and are great for adding to pasta, egg salad, and chickpea salads.
Maple Syrup: it's not just for pancakes and waffles. Maple syrup is a great general sweetener to add to sweet potatoes and baked beans. Or simmer carrots in a mixture of butter and maple syrup. It's amazing.
🌱 Plant-Based "Meats"
This category includes meat substitutes and faux meat. These are typically processed foods, and IMO, should be used sparingly. But certainly some are more processed than others (see the below section that describes levels of processed foods.)
I prefer whole foods, but each of these has their place in the kitchen, and I always have some in the freezer to add to dishes. I make "meatballs", and use these products in casseroles, pasta sauce, tamale pies, sloppy joes, chili, and stuffed veggies.
These should always be refrigerated.
Tofu: soy-based and available in various densities.
Seitan: high-protein meat substitute made from vital wheat gluten.
Tempeh: made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans.
Bio-mimics: plant-based meats that have the appearance of traditional, familiar animal based meats. Morningstar Farms, Quorn, Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, BOCA, and Field Roast are just a few that are popular.
Processed Plant-Based Foods
If you're wondering what defines processed food, technically it means when ingredients such as oil, sugar, or salt are added to foods and they are packaged.
Minimal processed foods are mostly limited to these additions and include cheese, tofu, and canned beans. These foods have been altered, but not in a way that's detrimental to health. Tofu and tempeh are considered minimally processed.
But some plant-based meat substitutes include other ingredients that you may not want in your diet. Or at least not on a regular basis. For example, seitan contains preservatives such as sulfites. I consider seitan as moderately processed.
The bio-mimic foods are most highly processed of the group, and are considered to be ultra or highly processed foods. This means that even though the manufacturers have added vitamins to their products, these foods have added artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives to promote shelf stability, preserve texture, and increase palatability.
🥦 Fresh Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables aren't traditionally considered pantry items. But there are a few that I recommend always having on hand. The below foods can be used in a bazillion ways, and last a long time if properly store. This is particularly true for root vegetables.
Use the search function on this blog to find the abundance of recipes using these simple vegetables.
Sweet potatoes and white potatoes
Onions and Garlic
Red Bell Peppers and Poblano Peppers
Butternut Squash (when in season)
I buy exclusively eggs that are organic from pasture-raised chickens to maximize the nutritional content of the eggs. Pasture-raised means the chickens roam on pastures, feeding naturally on seeds, bugs, and grasses.
Eggs are packed with protein and offer a way to turn vegetables into a meal. But making quiche, egg bakes, huevos rancheros, or a quick egg salad are also great ways to incorporate eggs into a vegetarian diet. (The huevos rancheros recipe won first prize in a nationwide recipe development contest!)
Do Vegetarian Diets Include Eggs?
The short answer is yes, eggs are included in a vegetarian diet but never included in a vegan diet, which eliminates all animal products.
The longer answer is that there are different types of vegetarian diets. Some people who follow a vegetarian diet do not allow eggs. Here are the primary vegetarian diets:
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eliminate all meat, poultry, seafood, and any by-products that require animal slaughter. They consider it acceptable to eat animal by-products like dairy and eggs as long as the animals producing them are well-treated.
Lacto-vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from their diet but include dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter.
Ovo-vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy from their diet but include eggs and egg-containing foods.