Many health and environmental experts tout the benefits of plant-based eating. But embracing the movement takes preparation. What should you have in your cupboard so you can whip up nutritious dinners on Meatless Mondays (or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, or any day)? We asked three experts—registered dietician Alison Ozgur and vegan chefs Willow O'Brien and Theresa Keane of Pixie Retreat in Portland, Oregon—for their suggestions. Here are the 10 ingredients they say you should keep on hand for easy plant-based meals any day of the week.
Ancient grains—unrefined whole grains—are a great way to bulk up your meals while adding nutritional value. Many, like farro, quinoa, and amaranth, are high in protein; others like freekeh and teff, are a great source of iron. “Have an assortment of these cooked grains in your freezer to reduce meal prep time," Ozgur says, then sub them in for traditional bases like rice, pasta, and bread for filling, healthy meals.
Recipe: Try our Farro & Roasted Squash Pilaf
O’Brien and Keane recommend steaming multi-colored baby potatoes for a pretty source of vitamins C and B6, phosphorous, manganese, niacin, and pantothenic acid. Add them to your sheet tray of roasted veggies, turn them into a soup, or mix 'em into your meal in any other number of ways.
Recipe: Try our Salt & Pepper Potatoes
Newbies are sometimes skeptical of this fermented bean curd, but we promise it tastes a lot better than it sounds. “Tempeh is an excellent source of plant protein,” Ozgur says. “Plus, fermented soy is good for the gut microbiome.” It cooks up quickly and tastes great in stir fry, on sandwiches, or with pasta and tomato sauce.
Recipe: Try our Tofu (or Tempeh) & Vegetable Stir-Fry
Obviously, veggies are a backbone of a plant-based diet. The more you have, the merrier. (And if you can swing it, organic produce is worth the slight upcharge.) “Having an assortment of vegetables—fresh or frozen—on hand ensures that you're eating the nutritional rainbow and consuming a variety of disease-fighting phytonutrients,” Ozgur says. In addition to steaming, roasting and sautéing all those fresh goodies, Ozgur recommends adding them to smoothies.
Recipe: Try Oh She Glows' Tropical Glow Smoothie Bowl
Fresh herbs are a super-simple way to add flavor to any dish. O’Brien and Keane like sprinkling cilantro over veggies, soups, and more. Basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and oregano (among others) are also great with a variety of foods. Pro tip: When cutting leafy herbs, make sure you use a sharp knife or herb shears, as a dull knife bruises the tender leaves and lessens the flavor.
Recipe: Try our Butternut Squash with Ginger & Cilantro
This simple, cheap ingredient is a great way to add a hit of freshness to your meals—and give them a nice dose of vitamin C. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on "any dish that needs some brightness,” O'Brien says. It's especially tasty with tofu and roasted veggies.
Recipe: Try our Spiced Cauliflower with Quick-Preserved Meyer Lemon
Naturally sweet, dates are an excellent way to bring color and flavor to any food. Mix them in a salad, drop one in with your smoothie mixings, or turn them into a date and nut dessert plate. They'll give you that hit of sweet you're looking for without all the fake stuff.
Recipe: Try our Chicory Salad with Dates & Candied Pink Peppercorn Walnuts
If you think veggies and legumes sound dull and flavorless, maybe you just need to rethink your salt. "Seasoning with flakey sea salt can go such a long way in adding flavor," O'Brien says. Experiment with other varieties of salt, like pink Himalayan, to keep your meals feeling new and exciting.
Is chocolate plant-based? That depends on what’s been mixed with the cocoa, but dark chocolate tends to fall under the plant-based category. Studies have shown that a bit of dark chocolate every now and then can actually help lower blood pressure, heart disease, and inflammation. Keep it around for all your baking and snacking needs.
Recipe: Try our Vegan Chocolate Chip & Ancho Chile Cookies
High in fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats, flax seed is a versatile ingredient. Mix a tablespoon of flax with 2.5 tablespoons of water to create an egg substitute that will bind dry baking ingredients, or sprinkle a bit over yogurt, smoothies, or hot cereal for added texture and nutrition.
Recipe: Try our Overnight Fruit & Flax Quinoa Hot Cereal