A basking shark eats anything that swims into its mouth. Much like myself when I’m hangry and want food. (fact found on @sadanimalfacts on Instagram). All images are from Liz Climo who is absolutely wonderful so check out her Instagram @lizclimo.
Isn’t it expensive to eat plant based? What do you eat for breakfast? Can you have honey? Are you getting enough nutrition? Commonly asked by my grandma. These are all questions I get asked pretty frequently about eating as a vegan and I think they’re valid questions.
So no, it isn’t expensive to eat plant based. I say plant based because technically if you’re only following a meal plan that excludes all animal by-products including honey but you’re using products that contain animal by-products or products that might be tested on animals, then technically you’re not living a vegan lifestyle. That was something I didn’t know until I looked into it. Veganism isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle but I think any step towards a kinder, more wholesome lifestyle is a great start. If you’re just following a meal plan, then you would technically be a plant-based eater.
But back to my answer. A plant-based/vegan lifestyle is only as expensive as you make it. You don’t need to buy all organic, fair trade, food or products. You can live off of a simple diet and make it affordable. That’s why I love stores like Aldi because it’s budget friendly.
So I decided to share my vegan pantry staples. The list is broken up into pantry staples (things I make sure to always have available), extras (things that I like to have available all the time but they definitely are not necessary), and some recipe suggestions that you can make from the pantry staples I listed. All items with a * are what I would consider essential essentials or foods that I always try to have available.
AKA, foods I always have on hand or else I will shrivel up and starve….not really that sounds dramatic.
- Bananas *: I used to be the kind of person who wouldn’t be able to eat all of the bananas I bought before they started to go bad and collect fruit flies. So here’s my secret. I buy a ton of bananas at once (doesn’t matter if they’re green still) and let them ripen. I’ll eat as many as I want for a snack and then peel and freeze whatever bananas are left and about to go bad. Seriously. I don’t know why I didn’t think of freezing overripe bananas before instead of throwing them out.
- Quinoa, rice, or some sort of grain *: Quinoa is a little pricier so if you’re on a budget, go with rice. White rice isn’t the best for you but it’s cheap. I think a bag of white rice at Aldi is about $1.29. Brown rice is always a great option. I currently have jasmine, brown, white, and quinoa.
- Canned beans *: Doesn’t matter if they’re black beans, pinto, kidney, or chickpeas. Beans are a great source of protein and they’re cheap. One can of black beans can be as cheap as $0.49. Of course you can buy dried beans in bulk and cook them yourself but I’m lazy and prefer canned. Just be sure to go for the no salt added ones and always rinse before you add them into whatever you’re cooking.
- Potatoes *: Ask any of my friends from high school and they’ll tell you I LOVE mashed potatoes. Seriously, the potato is underrated. You can fry, bake, mash, boil, whatever and they are a great way to bulk up a recipe and add some carbs. Russet potatoes are the cheapest at about $2.99 per 5lb bag so if you’re on a budget, I’d go with those.
- Seasonings/spices: If you cook a lot you’ll probably rack up a nice little collection of spices like I have. It just happens. My favorites and most used are cumin, salt, Mrs. Dash, garlic powder, onion powder, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Start with the basics and as you cook more your collection should grow.
- Vegetable bouillon cubes: I like to sauté my vegetables in veg stock for flavor instead of using water or oil. Right now, my favorite is the Knorr Vegetable Bouillon cubes which cost about $1.29 for a pack of 6 cubes (one cube makes 2 cups of stock so I rarely use a full cube). You can find bouillon cubes where you find the chicken or beef broth near the soups.
- Unsweetened almond milk *: I’ve been noticing that whenever I have soy milk or a lot of soy products my face breaks out so I like almond milk instead. It’s great for oatmeal, nice cream, sauces, smoothies, or just to drink instead of regular milk. Unsweetened is the way to go in my opinion because you can use it in savory dishes too. Almond milk has a longer shelf life than regular milk so it won’t go bad as fast. One container of store brand is about $2.59 for a carton. Sometimes the grocery store by me will have a 2 for $5 special. You can also buy in bulk at Costco since the shelf life is longer.
- Oats *: I eat a lot of oatmeal for breakfast or for a snack. If you’re short on time, buy a big container of quick cooking oats. I stay away from the oatmeal in packets because of the sugar and additives and instead just measure out the amount of quick cooking oats I want into a container, add some cinnamon or coconut sugar, and throw it in my lunch bag for work.
- Vegan protein powder: My favorite right now is Vega Clean Protein Powder in vanilla but the chocolate flavor Sunwarrior is also good. For me this is a pantry staple, but protein powders can be really expensive so if you’re on a tight budget it’s not necessary.
- Peanut Butter: Because it’s peanut butter.
- Lentils: Great source of protein and cheap too. Walmart has a one pound bag of red lentils (which cook faster than green or brown) for somewhere around $1.
- Vegetables*: I wasn’t sure if I should include these in the essentials list, but for me vegetables are essential. I always try to keep fresh broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers (green is the cheapest), and a container of organic spinach on hand. Since a plant based diet revolves around, you guessed it, plants–vegetables will be the bulk of your diet. Again, you don’t have to buy organic. If you’re tight on money buy regular or splurge at the beginning of the month and buy a bunch of produce and freeze what you can.
Ingredients you can get by without, but they add a little BAM! to your food.
- Garlic cloves and yellow onions: I like to add onions to anything and everything and the same with garlic. They’re definitely not necessary but they can up the flavor of your recipes.
- Nutritional yeast (Nooch): Any vegan will tell you that they love Nooch. It kind of looks like fish food flakes, but it adds a great cheesy taste to food and can be used to make macaroni and cheese or added on top of pasta in place of regular Parmesan. It’s also a great source of B12 and non-vegans seem to be super concerned about vegans or vegetarians getting enough B12.
- Nuts: I buy almonds or cashews in bulk and then store them in the freezer for freshness. Nuts are a perfect snack option. I just grab a small handful and put them in a container to take to work when I get the munchies.
- Dairy-free dark chocolate: Definitely not necessary. My favorite brand is the Endangered Species Fair Trade chocolate. I used to love Dove dark chocolate but they add milk which is lame.
- Chia seeds, hemp hearts, or ground flax: Great to add to smoothies or oatmeal. Two tablespoons of ground flax has 3 grams of protein and two tablespoons of hemp hearts has around 9 or 10 grams of protein. How’s that for plant power? Hemp hearts are pricey but worth the splurge if you can afford it. Hot for Food has an amazing herb hemp dressing that I love.
- Olive oil: Some vegans prefer to cook without oils but I like to keep some on hand because some recipes require oil like Hot for Foods herb hemp dressing.
- Canned, full-fat coconut milk: Not the stuff in the carton next to the almond milk. I’m talking the canned coconut milk that you find in the Asian foods section. I like to have at least two cans on hand for curries or as coffee creamer. It’s a surprisingly versatile food.
All of these, with a few minor exceptions, are some recipes that you can make from the list of ingredients above. They’re also meals that I make on the regular.
- Nice cream (AKA banana ice cream): This stuff is my absolute favorite. Sometimes I’ll eat it for dinner. Add two or three frozen bananas to a blender with a splash of almond milk or coconut milk. Blend until it becomes the consistency of soft serve. You might have to add a few more splashes of almond milk and scrape down the sides of the blender. Sometimes I like to blend in a little cinnamon too. Transfer to a bowl and place in the freezer for a little bit to firm up and then top with whatever toppings you prefer. My favorite is a little peanut butter and some chopped up dark chocolate. It tastes almost like Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. Nice cream is seriously the best vegan hack ever.
- Beans and rice: Super self-explanatory but here is a recipe I found on Pinterest to get you started. Just sub the chicken stock for vegetable stock using your bouillon cubes.
- Vegetable stir fry: Sautee some onions, garlic cloves, and whatever vegetables you have on hand with some vegetable stock and serve over rice or whatever grain you prefer. You can also add a can of beans to up the protein and make it more filling. I like to make this on the regular and then divvy up whatever is left over for lunch the next few days.
- Oatmeal: Measure out the amount of quick oats you want. Add it to a container and add your spices of choice. I like cinnamon, vanilla extract, a little coconut sugar, and ground flax or chia seeds. When you get to work or school just add the right amount of liquids and microwave for about one minute. Or if you have time use regular steel cut or old fashioned oats and cook on a stove.
- Protein smoothie: Super simple, super convenient, and quick. I blend a large handful of spinach with some almond milk or water until smooth and then add Vega protein powder and one frozen banana. You could also do protein powder, one frozen banana, and some coffee for more of a Frappuccino-style protein smoothie.
- Potato hash: Great for breakfast or dinner. Simply cook up potatoes with a small amount of oil, onions, bell peppers, and spices until crispy.
- Dahl: Here’s a link to my favorite dahl recipe but this really depends on what spices you have on hand. I happen to have curry powder and curry paste because I cook a lot. It’s super filling and great over jasmine rice.
- Thai coconut curry: Again, this depends on what spices you have. Really the only extra things you might have to get at the store are a nub of fresh ginger and curry paste. The curry paste can be found in the Asian foods section of a grocery store and is about $3 for a small jar. Thai curry is great for lunch or dinner. Here’s a link to my favorite Thai curry recipe that I’ve been making lately.
- Chia pudding: Chia seeds have a weird texture but they’re a convenient breakfast option full of protein and since you usually have to make them the night before you can grab them and go. Here’s a link to a simple chia pudding recipe. If you don’t have maple syrup, just add whatever liquid sweetener you do have.
- Vegan lentil quinoa chili: Depending on what vegetables you have on hand and if you have quinoa, this vegan chili recipe I found on Pinterest is a really filling dinner and lunch option. It also makes a big serving so you can portion out the leftovers and freeze for later.
- Any combination of grains, vegetables, and protein: Most nights I look and see what vegetables I have on hand and what protein options I have on hand and make dinner with that. I’ve found that rice with sautéed vegetables and either beans or “mock meats” like Beyond Meat is a quick and easy dinner option and something I go back to when I’m not feeling fancy.
That’s it! Eating plant-based doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t need a bunch of food items. As long as you have a few pantry staples on hand you really can make a variety of recipes to keep things interesting. The list of recipes above are all possible from the list of pantry staples and extras that I provided.
Any step towards a more sustainable and humane lifestyle is a step in the right direction. You don’t have to be full vegan or even vegetarian. Maybe you start by trying out one of the meal ideas above or finding a vegan recipe on Pinterest and cook that one night a week. Or maybe you switch from dairy milk to almond or soy milk. I love vegan cooking because it’s exciting and fun.
If you want some vegan or vegetarian recipe ideas, check out my Going Veg board on Pinterest. It currently has 428 recipe pins with vegan recipes or recipes that can easily be made vegan or vegetarian with a few ingredient substitutions. Also, 428 is a lot of pins so I might have a small Pinterest addiction….
What are some of your pantry staples or recipes that you keep going back to? Comment below and let me know. I hope this list helps inspire you to try something new with food.
Love and peace,