As a chef and nutritionist with multiple specialties including vegan diets, I thought it might be helpful to share some great basics about a healthy vegan diet.
Transitioning to a vegan diet often proves to be the obstacle that keeps people from deciding to do it, or from succeeding when they do try.
That got me thinking about how we do better adapting to lifestyle changes by getting our tools in order. Having a properly stocked kitchen and pantry helps remove barriers to change.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables complement so many meals and snacks that can be made next-level nutrutional and delicious if you’ve got a pantry stocked with what you need for trying new things and finding what you love.
Let’s talk about what should be at the ready in a vegan pantry.
Beans and Legumes
While being a great source of a plant-based diet protein, they’re also flexible and affordable. Whether you prefer dried or canned, keep a variety handy. Note that canned beans may be brined with all kinds of things including excessive sodium, so do check the labels. Next time you’re out at the market, grab a variety including chickpeas, white beans, kidney beans, black beans, red beans, and lentils. Even if you don’t have a plan for them, after being in your pantry for a while, you’ll start seeing recipes here and there that call for them. And when you do, you’ll be that much closer to deciding to try that recipe out. Most likely you’ll think of using beans in soup, stew, side dishes or chili but think about seasoning them for a puree like hummus. Hummus like dips can be made with any kind of bean, and can also be used as a spread on bagels or sandwiches. Such a healthy and versatile way to use something that at first might not thrill you.
Grains and Flours
Grains and grain flours offer flavor, texture, body, and a wealth of nutrition to a plant-based diet. Also on the affordable end, you can stock a variety of grains such as farro, barley, brown rice, quinoa, bulgar, buckwheat, oats, and even whole grain pasta. Experiment with the different flours available at your local market, and learn what works best for using them to add nutritional value to your cooking and baking. Try these vegan flour tortillas with a variety of flours to see what works best, and take notes on what you like.
These products made from soybeans make a great meat replacement. I don’t have to tell you that there are hundreds of products flooding the market for people who are seeking a meat replacement, so go ahead and experiment and see what you like. My husband is an omnivore but he has discovered that he likes non-meat breakfast sausages. Even if you’re not seeking an all plant-based diet, these things are worth trying if not only for the environmental factors.
Any regular followers of this blog will note that I heavily rely on stock to add flavor and nutritional value to almost everything I make. It also provides an opportunity to use every part of most vegetables. If you think that sounds high maintenance, just collect the ends and scraps from your week’s veggies in a bowl in your fridge. Then add it all to a pot or slow cooker for a few hours with some herbs and let it simmer. Strain out the solids and refrigerate or freeze. Use it in place of water when cooking grains or cook it down and use it in place of processed bouillon. Make it part of your routine and you’ll enrich the flavors and nutritional value of your food with very little effort.
If you’ve not yet stumbled upon the magic of nutritional yeast, now is the time. Whether or not you’re vegan it is a revelation. It has a cheese-like quality in flavor, but is mild enough yet to be used as a thickener for sauces and soups, and packs a punch nutritionally.
Seeds and Nuts
One cannot overstate the value of nuts and seeds in a plant-based diet. Not only do they provide a wealth and variety of earthy flavors to your dishes, but they are rich in protein, and flax and chia seeds help to get the necessary Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber into your system. They’re available in a wide range of flavor profiles and can be used in raw or cooked dishes including smoothies, sauces, and salads. Try using a variety of seeds in this easy everything bagel seasoning and then use it on EVERYTHING! Including these cool grissini (breadsticks).
This is one of the most compelling reasons to purchase a dehydrator. Delicious for snacks, salads, and a lovely addition to grain dishes too, dried fruits provide that sweet touch to a plant-based diet when fresh fruit is out of season.