Want to stock a healthy pantry for your shelter in place? This is how you can get started.
This is a revision of an article I wrote many years ago for those just getting started on the vegan journey, yet it’s still totally relevant for those looking to improve their stock or for those that suddenly need to improve their kitchen supplies now that we’re under quarantine (shelter-in-place) rules.
I know that stocking the pantry can seem daunting under the best circumstances, and especially under these circumstances of reduced mobility and for many, reduced budgets. One way to make stocking your pantry a bit less terrifying is to try to add new things slowly, so that you don’t suddenly have all new foods in your pantry. This could be overwhelming. Instead, try to add one new ingredient each week, and after a few months, you’ll have a more diverse and wholesome pantry with less stress.
For example, maybe this week you can purchase some dried polenta, and perhaps next week you make your first batch of dried beans. Incremental changes like this make it easier to adapt new habits, and makes it so much more likely that your new foods will become new favorites – or not. Adding in one new ingredient each week to what you’re already cooking can help bridge the gap between the familiar and the new, and set you up for kitchen success. See my article about starting one new habit each week to get some inspiration about what you can start with today.
Healthy Pantry Stocking: Know your Grains
Check out your local health food store or online retailer and shop in bulk. and hit up the bulk bins. The bulk bins are often the least expensive option in the store, and it gives you the ability to try out new grains with little commitment – great for when you’re stocking up on new ingredients. You can stock up on your favorite grains so that you always have them on hand for meals. Currently, my staples are short grain brown rice, jasmine white rice, and quinoa. I also like to have black rice, polenta, oats and various types of noodles on hand.
If you are a baker, it’s also a good idea to stock up on different flours – this is especially important if you’re doing gluten-free baking. Spelt, whole wheat pastry flour, almond flour, chickpea flour, and other flour blends are fun to experiment with in the kitchen. While it is tempting to swap out regular all-purpose flour with your newest favorite, know that each flour has unique properties that work well in some recipes and not so well in others. These are good to have on hand for quick treats like the ones I’ve listed below:
- Coconut Curry Rice (can also be made with Quinoa)
- Broccoli Couscous Salad
- How to Cook with Kaniwa
- Whole Grain Salads
- Homemade Granola
- Overnight Oats and Baked Oatmeal
Bulk up on Beans
Beans, lentils, legumes: these affordable and wholesome pantry staples are a great source of plant-based protein and truly the foundation of a healthy pantry. My favorites are chickpeas (for hummus, salads and pastas), cannellini beans (white kidney beans), and a variety of lentils. With the exception of lentils, all dried beans need to be soaked for at least 8 hours. Soak your beans overnight in more water than you think (about 4 cups/1 cup beans). Drain and rinse, then cover with fresh water, then add to a stockpot or slow cooker, and simmer until soft. This is usually about 30-45 minutes for chickpeas and mung beans, and about an hour for black and other beans. Lentils cook quickly, so no need to soak them. Just rinse and cook– about 15 minutes for red lentils and 30 minutes for brown or black lentils. Below are my favorite bean and lentil recipes:
- Tamarind Red Lentils
- Ethiopian Chickpea Stew
- Adzuki Bean & Pumpkin Chili
- Vegan Baked Beans
- Homemade Black Bean Burgers
Go Bonkers with Nuts & Seeds
A good collection of nuts and seeds is key to rounding out your pantry. My number one seed of choice is chia seeds – I use these for breakfasts and smoothies. They are affordable, incredibly healthy, and versatile. I also recommend hemp seeds for salads, smoothies, and cereals, along with a collection of nuts and nut butters. My favorite is tahini (sesame seed butter), following closely by peanut butter. Nuts on hand include pecans, peanuts, raw cashews (for sauces), and macadamia nuts. Some of my favorite recipes using nuts and nut butters include the following:
- Tahini Miso Sauce for Everything
- Basic Nut Butter Sauce
- Homemade Coconut Butter
- Homemade Almond Milk
- Homemade Cashew Cheese
- Romesco Sauce made with Walnuts
Spice Up Your Pantry with Global Flavor Fusion
Look to the cuisines of Japan, China, India, and Thailand to find delicious flavors in your kitchen. Some of the most important staples in my kitchen are foods that I slowing introduced over the years. These include high-quality soy sauce (watch out for corn syrup, preservatives and MSG in the regular grocery store brands). Soy sauce alternatives include Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, or Coconut Aminos – similar flavors but slightly different. Miso, brown rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, Thai curry paste, Indian simmer sauces, tamarind paste, and toasted sesame oil all bring huge depth of flavor to your meals. Note that some of those need to be kept in the refrigerator after opening. These condiments are versatile and not too expensive, and can take any dish from middle to high quality deliciousness.
Some of the other staples that are necessary in my kitchen include canned coconut milk (for baking, soups, and curries), good organic pasta and some organic jarred sauce, and often boxed macaroni and cheese, for those can’t-get-myself-to-cook nights. Finally, maybe the most important condiment in the healthy pantry is nutritional yeast. Nooch, or nutritional yeast, is a yellow powder that you can think of as a vegan Parmesan cheese: sprinkle it on popcorn, veggies, grains, beans, and stir into sauces and dressings.
- How to Use Miso
- Build a Better Sauce (with pantry condiments)
- How to use nutritional yeast
- Amazing Marinade
- Homemade BBQ Sauce
Bring Flavor with Quality Herbs & Spices
Having a well-stocked spice selection at home is important, but don’t stress about having every single spice. A few months ago I started a spice collection for my sweetie, and it made me really think about which spices are key to starting out. I chose ground cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, curry powder, chili powder, dried basil, and dried turmeric. If you’re not sure if you like a spice (or are confused about how to use it), you can start small: at some stores you can buy them in bulk or find very small boxes. Once opened, keep your herbs and spices in airtight glass jars to keep them fresh. Please avoid the spice jars at the regular grocery stores: these are overpriced and often stale.
Find Balance with Healthy Sweet Ingredients
Natural sweeteners are the foundation of healthier baking and cooking. I highly recommended local honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or nectar, brown sugar, and a natural, unbleached raw sugar to keep your recipes and sweet treats healthier. Dates, brown rice syrup, and other dried fruits are delicious but something I’d qualify as speciality ingredients. These ingredients are fine in small amounts or in special recipes.
- Tahini Maple Cookies
- Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Cookies
- Strawberry & Macadamia Nut Scones
- Buckwheat Cereal (Buckwheat Granola)
Don’t Forget the Snacks!
Sometimes you just need some good snacks! Sometimes snack foods are given a bad reputation, but there are lots of good things you can keep on hand for movie nights, dinner parties, or mid-afternoon snack attacks. Premade popcorn, tortilla chips with salsa, pre-made hummus with rice crackers or carrot sticks, rice cakes served with natural nut butters, and even healthy boxed cereals will do in a pinch. Now there are ‘healthy’ versions of everything: granola bars, fruit snacks, and even candy bars. These are fun for treats, but be sure to read the labels and choose items with high fiber and lower sugar content to make sure it truly is healthy. Below are some recipes for homemade snacks :