Transitioning to a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet is not easy. I’ll be the first to admit it, but the benefits have been more than worth the effort. I’ve turned my life around, and now I can’t imagine eating any other way.
Getting started was tough — What do I stock up on? What should I have in the pantry? In the fridge? Do I need any special kitchen tools? — these were some of the questions I struggled with. I spent most of my life eating certain foods. I knew what I liked, what to look for at the grocery store, what to keep on-hand, and I had a collection of tried-and-true recipes I’d rotate through for meals. I knew this would all have to change, and I felt like I was starting from scratch.
I’d like to make this easier for you, take some of the stress and uncertainty out of it, so I put together a list of essentials. It includes foods I keep on hand, and the kitchen tools I can't live without.
This page is a work-in-progress. It will likely change over time as I learn more, and settle further into my whole food, plant-based lifestyle. Also, and in the spirit of complete transparency, some of the links to products below are affiliate links. That means I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, should you purchase any of the products I link to with affiliate links. I would never recommend products that I don’t use and love, and many of my product links are not affiliate links, but are products that I use and love.
With that said, let’s get started…
There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to have to figure some of this out on your own based on what you like. Eventually you’ll start to develop a normal rotation of recipes you like, and you’ll probably want to keep the ingredients handy. Meanwhile, here’s some of the foods I keep available in the kitchen:
I eat a lot of beans. They’re nutritious, and delicious! I keep a wide variety of dried beans on hand. Occasionally I’ll buy canned beans as well, but I only buy the ones with no added salt. At any given time I’ve got:
- Black beans (my favorite!)
- Garbanzo beans
- Pinto Beans
- Kidney Beans
- White Beans
Once or twice a week I’ll throw some dried beans into my Instant Pot (I love this thing!), cook ‘em up, and keep ‘em in the fridge. I put them in salads, soups, on a corn tortilla with hot sauce, or even eat ‘em plain. I try to eat beans every day.
Lentils are very healthy too, and they cook quicker than beans. I usually keep red lentils and green lentils in the pantry, but there’s also yellow lentils, brown lentils, French (or Puy) lentils, and black (or beluga) lentils. One of my go-to meals is Red Lentil Chili over a baked (microwaved) potato. Very easy to make, and delicious!
I try to limit my consumption of nuts to about a handful a day, but I usually fail. I snack on them (I try for moderation), or use them as the base for “cream” soups, salad dressings, and sauces. I like to add walnuts to my cereal, and almond slivers to my salad. These are the nuts I always have in my pantry:
- Raw walnuts
- Raw cashews (I use these the most)
- Raw Almonds
Raw Nut Butter
Like raw nuts, I try to limit my consumption of nut butters. I’m especially careful with nut butters though, because they make it very easy to overeat on fats. I have to admit that I have a new-found love for peanut butter. I was never a huge fan in the past, but now I can’t get enough of it! Which makes moderation even harder. It’s so delicious! Plus, I can’t make my favorite sandwich without it. Keep reading to see what that is.
I usually keep brown rice and wild rice in the pantry. I avoid white rice which is a lot like white flour in the sense that it’s pure starch stripped of its natural fiber packaging. Rice is pretty versatile, and it’s very easy to cook if you’ve got a rice cooker, or better yet, an Instant Pot (have I mentioned how much I love mine?). One of my absolute favorites is plant-based sushi. I love sushi! And it’s really easy to make. Whip up some rice in the Instant Pot, or sometimes I’ll use quinoa, slice some veggies, lay it all out on a sheet of nori, roll it up with a sushi mat (this is the one I’ve got — cheap, and it works great!), and eat it with a little Tamari and wasabi! Simple and delicious!
Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, is a grain. It’s really easy to cook (much faster than rice), and extremely versatile. Sometimes I use it as an alternative to rice when making plant-based sushi, as I mentioned already. Other times I’ll put some quinoa in a bowl, add frozen veggies (heated up of course!), and top it off with curry or hot sauce. I know… I eat some strange stuff. But that’s part of the fun: exploring new food combinations. This particular one is easy, it fills me up, and it usually hits the spot.
Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
I always have rolled oats on-hand. They’re great for breakfast, and for baking too. There’s quite a few whole food, plant based desert recipes out there that call for oat flour, so I just throw some rolled oats into a blender and voila… out flour. One of my favorite breakfast meals is oatmeal with raisins, bananas, dates, and cinnamon. So delicious! If I’ve got any berries available, I’ll throw some of those in as well. As an alternative to cooking oats, you can also soak them in water overnight in your refrigerator, and they’ll be nice and softened up for breakfast in the morning. Be sure to get old fashioned rolled oats, and not instant oats or quick cooking oats.
I loveraisins! I like to put them in my oatmeal, or cereal, for breakfast, eat them by the handful, or use them in one of my absolute favorites: peanut butter, banana, apple, raisin, and cinnamon sammiches on toasted Ezekiel 7 Sprouted Grains Cinnamon Raisin Bread. I couldn’t even finish that sentence before my mouth started watering! I buy unsulfured, organic raisins, and usually black raisins, even though golden raisins are healthier.
I love to snack on pumpkin seeds. Like nuts, I try to limit my consumption, and like nuts, I usually fail. I really like the SuperSeedz Somewhat Spicy pumpkin seeds. They’ve got them at my local grocery store, and they make a great snack. I probably go through a bag a week.
Low-Sodium or No-Sodium Vegetable Broth
I go through a lot of this stuff! It’s a base for just about every soup I make, and I make a lot of soup. I buy four to six quart-size containers of this at a time, and that usually lasts me two to three weeks.
Nori and Wakame
Nori and Wakame are both seaweed products, and that may not be for everyone. Wakame is a dried seaweed, and along with miso, is one of the key ingredients in one of my favorite soups: miso soup. Which, incidentally, is really easy to make. I’ve got my own recipe, and I make it frequently. Nori is roasted seaweed sheets… it’s the green stuff wrapped around sushi rolls, and you already know how much I love plant-based sushi.
Tahini is a middle eastern (at least that’s what I associate it with, even though it’s used in Greek, North African, and Chinese cuisines, among others) condiment made from ground sesame seeds. It’s pretty much sesame seed “butter”. I use it as the base for a number of sauces and salad dressings, as well as a spread for sandwiches, like my portobello mushroom sandwich. I’ve always got tahini in the pantry.
Green Tea and White Tea
Aside from water, the only other beverages I consume with an regularity are green tea and white tea. The health benefits from these teas abound, and they’re a much healthier alternative to coffee. I do still drink coffee occasionally, but not nearly as much as I used to. Both of these teas, besides offering powerful antioxidants, are believed to aid in weight loss.
I usually keep a variety of potatoes: russet, red, Yukon, fingerling… when I’m hungry I’ll throw one in the microwave (8 minutes for a large russet) and then smother it with my favorite plant-based chili. Forks Over Knives Red Lentil Chili is perfect for this purpose, and it’s really easy to make. There’s also a really easy recipe for whole food, plant-based potato pancakes that my whole family loves. I make them pretty frequently.
I use a lot of onions. It seems like just about every recipe calls for them. I always have yellow and white onions in the pantry, and green onions in the fridge.
I put garlic in just about everything I make. I love garlic! I always have fresh garlic on hand, and I usually have minced garlic on hand for when I’m in a hurry. I prefer fresh garlic, but sometimes convenience wins and I use minced garlic.
Chia seeds are something I’ve been eating more and more of. They’re loaded with fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein. If you soak them in a plant-based milk overnight they form a gelatinous coating and become “chia pudding”. I use a 3:1 ratio: 3 cups of plant-based milk to 1 cup of chia seeds. I’ve been eating chia pudding for breakfast a lot lately. I’ll mix it with bananas, raisins, and walnuts. Sometimes I’ll throw some fresh berries in. One of my favorites is banana, chopped dates, non-alkalized cocoa powder, and a pinch of peanut powder. Delicious! I usually add a little more milk to thin it out a bit too. Read more about chia seeds here.
I eat quite a bit of tofu. I buy firm tofu, extra firm cubed tofu, and silken firm tofu most frequently. The firm and extra firm are usually found refrigerated in the produce section. Silken tofu is usually found in the “Asian cuisine” section of the grocery store. I use the cubed extra firm tofu in my miso soup and in my “fried riced cauliflower”. The silken tofu I use in sauces or smoothies.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning, and it’s the main ingredient in miso soup… you probably would’ve never guessed. There’s a bunch of different types: red (Akamiso) miso, white (Shiromiso) miso , brown rice miso, chickpea miso, barley (Mugi) miso. Right now, I’m all out of red miso, which is my favorite for miso soup, but I’ve got white miso (two different brands), brown rice miso, and chickpea miso. Yeah… I like miso.
Life is not worth living without Ezekiel 7 Sprouted Grains Cinnamon Raisin Bread. Seriously. I’m not joking. You may know it as the platform for my favorite sandwich, mentioned above, but it’s also delicious by itself. Aside from the cinnamon raisin variety, I always keep a loaf of the Ezekiel 4:9 Low Sodium Sprouted Whole Grain Bread, or the Ezekiel 7 Sprouted Grains Bread on hand as well. I keep these in the fridge. There’s no preservatives in them, and it usually takes me a couple weeks to go through a loaf.
Ok, pickles aren’t all that healthy, but I’ve got a weakness for them. Occasionally I’ll make pickle and tahini sandwiches: Ezekiel bread, tahini, sliced tomato, romaine lettuce, pickles, and fresh ground pepper. Very tasty. I consider this a “cheat food”, on account of the pickles.
I keep a variety of fresh produce in the fridge. I usually have:
- Green Onion
- Bagged Salad
- Romaine Lettuce
- Red Pepper
It’s not uncommon for me to have any of a large variety of other produce in the fridge, but only if I’ve got a recipe that specifically calls for it. Produce doesn’t last long, and I hate letting food go to waste.
I buy Medjool dates by the box, about 12 pounds at a time. It takes me a while to go through 12 pounds of dates, so I keep them in the fridge in ziplock bags. I really like dates! I blend them into dressings and sauces, chop them up into my cereal or oatmeal, eat them plain, or stuff them with peanut butter. Dates are nature’s candy.
I usually have at least two varieties of plant-based milk in the fridge at any given time. I use it for cereal, recipes, and sometimes I’ll even drink a glass. I always buy the plain, unsweetened varieties. My favorites are cashew, almond, and flax. I also buy almond milk coffee creamer. It is sweetened, so I use it sparingly.
I can’t live without hot sauce. I don’t use quite as much as I used to, but I still use it pretty frequently. My favorites are Frank’s Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce and Marie Sharps Habanero Pepper Sauce. I’m also a big fan of Tabasco sauce in soups.
Plant-Based Kitchen Gadgets
I’m extremely lucky to have “inherited” a Vitamix from my father-in-law. He wasn’t using it, so he sent it to my wife and I. Very generous of him! I use it just about every day. It’s a blender with a 2-Peak HP motor! You could puree rocks with this thing! (That’s a joke, please don’t put rocks in your Vitamix!) I use it for salad dressings, sauces, smoothies, soups… you name it. It’s a fairly substantial investment, but it’s well-made and can puree things that other blenders just can’t.
I may have mentioned it before, but I love my instant pot! It’s my second favorite appliance, right behind my Vitamix. This is the one I’ve got. I use it most often for beans and rice. It makes cooking both so much easier! My first pressure cooker was a standard, cast aluminum, stove-top model that I bought at Target on clearance for $16. It got the job done, but required constant monitoring. If you’re on a tight budget, the stove top type work just fine and you should pick one up. If you can afford an Instant Pot though… buy it!
Bamboo Sushi Mat
Maybe you don’t like sushi… if that’s the case, you can skip this one. Personally, I love plant-based sushi! Really, I can’t get enough of the stuff. I really love the fact that you can get creative with it. All you need is Nori, short grain brown rice (although I also use long grain brown rice, or Quinoa), filling of your choice (there’s a lot of plant-based recipes out there, or this is the perfect opportunity to get creative!), and a sushi mat(this is the one I’ve got). For my most recent foray into plant-based sushi, really Maki would be the more appropriate term I believe, I used sliced Jalapeño, sliced red pepper, sliced avocado, sliced carrots (lengthwise), raw kale, my spice green sauce, and green onion for the filling. So good! And good for you!
I use a food processor fairly regularly, mainly for shredding. One of my favorite recipes, and one that my whole family likes, is the Forks Over Knives potato pancakes recipe. I just made it this evening, as a matter of fact, at my wife’s request. I get excited anytime my family requests a whole food, plant-based meal (it doesn’t happen very often), so of course I complied. It’s a very simple recipe, and my food processor makes quick work of the shredding portion of this recipe. Seriously… it probably takes me less than 2 minutes. If I had to manually shred the veggies, this recipe probably wouldn’t be one of my favorites. This is the food processor I’ve got. Probably not the best money can buy, but it gets the job done, and I love the fact that it comes with an accessory storage case.