WFPB Basics: Pantry & Freezer Staples for Easy WFPB Meals
Now that you’ve read about the essential elements and amazing health benefits of a WFPB diet in our last blog, you might be excited to take the plunge (if not, don’t worry, we’ll eventually wear you down), but you also might be apprehensive: WFPB eating is WAY different than eating a traditional SAD (Standard American Diet) - how do you avoid food waste while ensuring that you have all the basics on hand to keep you eating whole plants all week and keep you away from animal products and vegan junk foods?
Whether you’re a WFPB newbie looking for transition tips or a veteran looking for a some extra support, this primer on WFPB pantry- and freezer-stocking basics is for you! Keep reading to learn about all the pantry staples you should keep on hand (and the best way to store them!), easy freezer-friendly items, and a couple of easy recipes you can make with the absolute basics to stop you from pressing that takeout order confirmation button!
WFPB Pantry Staples
Unlike the staples of an animal-based diet, which spoil quickly, many of the staples of a WFPB diet can be stored in your pantry and last for months, making it easy to make basic WFPB meals on demand! These items come in a few categories: dried, bottled/canned, and herbs and spices
Whole Grains - dried whole grains, including brown rice, quinoa, oats, and millet, are the basics of many WFPB meals, including grain bowls, oatmeal, and burritos. They keep for up to 6 months, as long as they are stored in airtight containers with tight-fitting lids (the plastic and paper bags they come in don’t tend to be airtight - try a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid).
Beans and Legumes - dried beans and legumes are very inexpensive and versatile - you can use them in soups and stews, burritos, dips (including hummus) and more! However, some require an extended soaking time, and they can take a while to cook. If you’ve never cooked beans or legumes from scratch, start with the quick-cooking ones that don’t need prior soaking, including red and brown lentils and split peas. Legumes keep for at least a year in their normal packaging, so stock up and have homemade hummus all year long!
Whole Grain or Bean Flours - while they are slightly processed during the milling process, whole grain and bean flours, including whole wheat flour, oat flour, and chickpea flour, are great alternatives to refined flours as a base in your favorite baked goods and as a thickener in sauces and gravies (bonus tip: chickpea flour makes a great base for a plant-based omelette!). However, if the flour is a grain product, you want to make sure that each component says “whole” (if not, you could be getting only a small percentage of whole grain flour and a whole lot of refined grain flour), and stay away from anything that says multigrain - just because a product has multiple grains, that doesn’t mean the grains are whole! Whole grain and bean flours generally last up to 3 months on the shelf, but if you store them in the freezer, you could double their shelf life!
Whole Grain or Bean Pastas - Once again, even pastas made from whole grains or beans, including whole grain pasta, brown rice pasta, and chickpea pasta, are somewhat processed (as they are made out of flour, which goes through a milling process), but as long as they’re made of whole grain flour or bean flour and nothing else, you’re good to go! We like whole wheat and other grain pastas for lasagna, as they are very sturdy, and we love chickpea pasta for its high fiber content!
Nutritional Yeast - This classic vegan flavor enhancer loved the world over for its cheezy flavor also fits the whole-food, plant-based bill! It’s minimally-processed, and it is often fortified with B12, a nutrient that all plant-based eaters (including WFPB eaters) must supplement, as B12 is a critical nutrient and is not found in plant foods in our food supply. Cheezy flavor and protection against B12 deficiency? Yes please! Nutritional yeast is a great addition to plant-based cheeze sauces, tofu scrambles, and anything else that needs an extra savory kick!
Ground Flaxseed - Flaxseed is another plant-based nutritional goldmine, containing an abundance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. However, the flaxseed must be ground in order to get all of its nutrient benefits. Ground flaxseed (often also called “flax meal”) will keep for up to 10 months unrefrigerated, but it is best to put it in the refrigerator for maximum freshness!
Bottled and Canned Items
Tomato Products - Canned tomatoes (in diced, whole, and sauce form), pasta sauces, and salsas are all great staples to be used in a variety of WFPB dishes, including chilis, pasta dishes, tacos, burritos, and more! However, two caveats are important here:
Make sure to buy low-sodium tomato products - many tomato products are very high in added salt. High sodium content is not recommended on a WFPB diet because of the myriad of health risks associated with high salt intake.
Choose BPA-free canned tomatoes - BPA is an industrial chemical used in the epoxy resin lining of many canned products. BPA can be transferred to food inside BPA-lined cans - it’s been found in the systems of consumers after consumption of canned products - and is linked to a number of concerns, including increased blood pressure and behavioral issues in children.
Keep in mind that while all canned goods last a while (most last at least 6 months to a year), low-sodium canned goods don’t last quite as long because added sodium acts as a preservative that makes food last longer. So, stock up, but don’t wait too long before making delicious, WFPB tomato-based creations!
Canned Beans and Legumes - Canned beans are a great, easy choice when putting together a quick meal, and you can use them anywhere you’d use dried beans! However, the same caveats apply here as apply to tomatoes: try to buy low-sodium and BPA-free!
Vegetable Broth - you can make your own vegetable broth using leftover veggie scraps, garlic and your favorite herbs and seasonings, but boxed vegetable broth is great for when you want to put together a quick soup or stew or need to saute vegetables (check out our blog post about cooking without oil here)! As with all other items, choose a vegetable broth that is low-sodium and oil-free!
Dried Herbs and Spices
Herbs and Spices are one of the best ways to flavor your WFPB meals, as they are incredibly nutrient-dense and packed with antioxidants, which can protect against the free radicals that contribute to heart disease, cancer, and other common diseases. A well-stocked spice cabinet can provide the flavor you need to forego oil and excess salt. Our favorites for different types of cuisines include:
Indian cuisine - Garam Masala, Curry Powder, Ground Coriander, Ground Turmeric, Ground Cardamom, Fenugreek, Ground Ginger, Cumin Seeds
Italian cuisine - Basil, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Sage, Bay Leaves, and Low-Sodium Italian Seasoning
Mexican cuisine - Chili Powder (both Ancho Chili and Blend), Cumin, Cayenne Pepper, Mexican Oregano, Ground Chipotle, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Cloves
These pantry staples are a great start on the road to WFPB meals, but you might notice a stark omission from this list...fruits and vegetables, which are the cornerstones of a WFPB diet! Unfortunately, fresh fruits and veggies don’t keep well in the pantry for long (even unrefrigerated fruits, like apples and bananas, go bad after too long). So, what’s the solution? Are you out of luck if you don’t have fresh fruit and vegetables on hand? Fear not - that’s what the freezer is for!
WFPB Freezer Staples
While fruits and vegetables won’t stay good on the counter for too long, and canned vegetables are often very high in sodium, you can buy many of your produce staples in the frozen section! Don’t worry about them being less nutritious - frozen fruits and vegetables have similar and sometimes greater levels of nutrients as compared to their fresh counterparts; further, fresh fruits and vegetables often have to travel long distances before they arrive at your supermarket, so they may not be truly be fresh once they get to your plate. And, no more throwing out bags of old produce - frozen veggies keep up to 8 months, while frozen fruit keeps up to a year.
So, what can you buy in the frozen section to add a nutrient punch to your pantry staples?
When you look for frozen vegetables, make sure that you look for salt-free varieties, including:
Leafy greens, including kale and spinach
Individually-packed corn, carrots, and green beans, or mixed veggie bundles that combine all three
Hearty choices, including lima beans, peas and edamame (these are technically legumes, but you’ll find them in the frozen veggie section!)
Pre-cut onions - no need for tears here! These often come in blends, such as pepper and onion blends
Frozen fruit rarely contains added salt, but it sometimes contains added sugar. If the ingredient list contains anything except for fruit, skip it! Great frozen fruit options include:
Frozen berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries and more (bonus if you can find frozen huckleberries in your local grocery store)
Naturally sweet fruits, such as mangoes, peaches, and bananas (bananas aren’t usually sold frozen, but you can peel and freeze your own - they’ll last for months!)
Fruit blends, including mixed berry blends and tropical fruit blends (these are great for smoothies)
What Easy Recipes Can I Make with my WFPB Staples?
With these pantry and freezer items always on hand, you’ll be fully fortified to fend off those takeout cravings! Here are a couple of delicious, nutritious recipes using only these staple items!
Easy Green Berry Smoothie (1 serving)
1 cup frozen spinach
1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen strawberries, blueberries, or cherries
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 cup water (more or less to taste, depending on how thick you like your smoothie)
Blend all ingredients on high until smooth; remove from blender (well, you COULD drink it straight out of the blender) and enjoy!
Spicy Burrito Bowl (4 servings)
2 cups dry brown rice
1 15 oz. can beans of choice (we like black beans, but you could use pintos or kidney beans)
1 ½ cups frozen corn
1 frozen 8 oz. package pepper and onion blend
1 cup WFPB medium-hot or hot salsa (make sure you find one that’s low-sodium and oil-free)
Salt, black pepper, and seasonings to taste
Boil water and cook rice according to package directions.
Drain and rinse beans - even with low-sodium beans, this further reduces the sodium content.
Thaw corn by rinsing it in a colander with cold water until it is defrosted.
Sautee pepper and onion blend in vegetable broth or water (read about how to do this here) on medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until veggies are browned (about 10 minutes - feel free to cook more if you’d like to caramelize!), then add in the thawed corn and drained beans and cook for about 2 minutes, until heated through.
Serve black bean, corn, pepper and onion mixture over brown rice and top with salsa to taste. You can also add salt, pepper, and your favorite seasonings (chili powder, cumin, and chipotle would all work well here), but make sure to watch the salt!
So there you have it! As long as you have these pantry and freezer staples, you’ll always have a healthy, WFPB meal at your fingertips!
But...What if “Season to Taste” Isn’t My Jam?
Kitchen Verde has you covered! If you want to just combine your ingredients and eat, without having to worry about seasoning to taste, check out our weekly online menu, and let us do the seasoning for you! Each week, we provide tasty WFPB recipes and all the core ingredients, including proteins and sauces, to make them - just follow the directions and enjoy gourmet meals for the whole family!
Please write in with any questions you have about WFPB pantry stocking or general WFPB living, we love to hear from you!