As I approach my one year vegan anniversary, I can definitely say that I’ve eaten a lot of food. But that’s not really any different than before I was vegan. I ate a lot of food then too. The difference is, I ate a lot of bad food. Even if we eliminate the definition of “bad food” by way of what most vegans might say (so removing animal meat, dairy and eggs from the picture), I also ate a lot of junk food, processed stuff and just had an overall unhealthy relationship with food; I ate horrible portions, never really ate intuitively, and didn’t listen to the signs my body would give me regarding the nutrients it both wanted and needed.
After going vegan, a lot of that changed. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat my share of processed foods and junk food. But now, I eat them more in moderation— they aren’t staples in my diet. I also eat them as part of an overall balanced diet, filled with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And my relationship with food has and continues to improve.
When I first went vegan, I was riding that fine line of trying to figure out what type of vegan I was going to be. Having eliminated so much of what I had been eating previously, the very act of eating was new to me. I started out trying to revamp the salad as we know it, making so many variations of it because it was my safety zone. Then, I made my way into discovering vegan fast food — all thanks to living in one of the major cities of the world that offers practically limitless vegan options. I also found frozen options like Gardein products, and it blew my mind. These things were not new to most vegans, I know, but I was shocked to see things like burgers, mozzarella sticks, chick’n tenders, “beef” tips, and meatballs. I thought to myself that this vegan thing wasn’t gonna be so hard after all. And then all the other realizations set in about foods I had previously been eating that were also vegan: pasta, rice, most bagels, and snack foods like pretzels.
You might be able to see where this is going.
I knew I would keep salads on board so I could get my veggies in, but all of this new information in such a short period of time was overwhelming. It took all the strength I had inside along with the powers of the universe and God himself to help me get a grip (I can get kind of anxious when I’m overwhelmed) and figure everything out so that I didn’t start to go down the forbidden vegan path of “unhealthy veganism”. In the beginning, this journey was only about health for me, so I thought to myself that I’d be damned if I let the former unhealthy me continue to be just as unhealthy but in vegan form— and although that sounds like an oxymoron, it’s not. It is possible to be an unhealthy vegan.
Now, I’ve slowly started to find my balance. I don’t buy as much food as I used to several months ago, because I’m learning to use and produce at a more sustainable and realistic level. No need to have an overstock of food if I’m not cooking for a lot of people— after all, I’m not stocking up for the apocalypse. So with these new revelations, I do have several staple foods that I keep in the fridge (or cabinet!) and on hand, no matter what. That means that if you were to come over at any given moment, it is highly unlikely that you would not see most or all of these foods. Here’s my go-to list of vegan goodies:
Tofu is a classic vegan food. I always have at least one to two packs of it in the fridge. It’s versatile, cheap and can be used with any meal — salads, as a standalone protein in a main meal, tofu scramble, and of course, as the base for so many vegan “remakes” like egg salad and certain cheeses such as vegan ricotta. It’s also a flavor sponge. Tofu has often gotten a bad rap because people say it has “no flavor”. I was one of those people. There are also gripes with the texture. But what folks don’t realize is that tofu comes in a variety of textures, from silken to extra firm. And as for flavor, the soybean based protein takes on the flavor of whatever you want it to, savory or sweet! When it comes to tofu, with the right seasoning and cooking techniques, you end up with a completely different food than what you started out with. There’s also the health benefits. Tofu is one of the greatest comebacks within the vegan community when people ask the infamous question: “where do vegans get their protein from?” Not only is it low in calories, coming in at about 100 calories for 1/4 of an average size block of tofu, but there are about 10 grams of protein for every 1/2 cup serving. Not too shabby. That means a whole block of tofu would come in at around 400 calories and between 30-40 grams of protein. That’s AMAZING. Just make sure to get organic tofu to avoid any GMO clash; it’s usually the same price or very close in price to non-organic tofu.
Ahhh, my food bae. I live and breathe for this fatty green fruit. Avocados are a staple in my fridge for sure — in fact, my fridge might as well be an avocado tree because it’s never without this fruit in there. Avocados are another versatile food (versatility is definitely a common thread on this list), coming in handy for literally any and every meal you can think of– you can chop it up on top of tofu scram, salads, and tacos, or as a side for pretty much any meal in practically any type of cuisine. You can also mash it up and slather it on bread, creating avocado toast, or mash it up and throw some tomato, onion and spices in it and make some guac — the possibilities are endless. Not to mention that when it comes to avo, you don’t even need all the pomp and circumstance — you can totally have it as is with a little salt or some EBTB seasoning, or completely plain if that’s your jam. And of course, there are health benefits. Avocados are full of vitamins and minerals. Just to name a few, they are packed with: lutein, potassium, and are a great source of vitamin B. And unlike most fruits, they are low in sugar, and they’re also a great source of fiber. Then there’s all that healthy fat– avos are one of the best sources of monounsaturated fat, which is the good fat that our bodies need to help lower bad cholesterol. But avos are high in calories, so be careful not to overdo it or you might counteract the good stuff.
Beans (lots of ’em)
I keep a variety of beans on hand for quick and easy meals. The three main types I always have on hand are black beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans (or chickpeas). You can throw kidney beans in there too. Whole Foods Market sells organic versions of all these varieties for only 99 cents per can which is amazing. I usually have no less than three cans of each and I replace them as I use them. I use beans for any and all meals — pinto and kidney beans go great with tofu scram, and you can use them in stews, chilis, over rice, in cold salads, or have them on their own. So that means that yes, they are versatile — there, I said it and I’m not ashamed because foods that are versatile are kind of important when you’re thinking economically and efficiently. You can also mash them up and have them refried or use them as a bean dip. And beans and legumes are another heavy hitter when it comes to health benefits. They are filled with protein and fiber, both of which are important for reducing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as (re)building muscle. Chickpeas have approximately 14 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber per one cup serving, while kidney beans have approximately 13 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per one cup serving. That’s a lot of protein and fiber, not to mention they taste yummy.
This is a broad category I know, but I usually have at least one of the following on hand: bananas, apples, grapes. In that order. Sometimes I have all three; sometimes I have several different types of fruits going on at once, and once in awhile I spring for berries which are a little pricier but worth it because I not only get my antioxidant kick but I can jazz up my smoothies and chia pudding for about a week with just one container of strawberries or blueberries. I often eat bananas alone, but also have them with peanut butter as a snack. And 9 times out of 10 I’ll throw them in a smoothie. Maybe 10 times out of 10. I eat apples alone as a quick snack and often carry them with me when I’m out as one of my recharge snacks (along with snack bars). I buy them in bulk when I plan on making juice. Grapes are a great snack for grazing, which I often do– that is eating food in the form of small meals and snacks throughout the day. Personally, I like green grapes more than the red variety but I’ll eat either. All fruits are full of a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants depending on which ones you’re noshing on, and they’re at the top of the (vegan) food chain of foods we should be consuming in abundance. They are truly nature’s medicine and I try to consume them daily but if not daily at least several times a week.
This is a big one. It’s almost up there with avo for me. I will literally eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon. Yes, I’m an adult and I said it. Furthermore, I will also take a giant spoonful of peanut butter and top it off with some sort of jelly or fruit preserve and have that in spoonfuls. Come at me if you dare. I have no shame, and why should I when peanut butter is not only delicious, but also high in good fats. Like avocado, peanut butter is also high in calories– there are about 200 calories in just 2 tablespoons; meaning I should probably lay off the spoonfuls, but don’t judge me. I rarely make a smoothie without peanut butter because, in my opinion, it’s one of the best flavors in the world. As I mentioned, I often snack on it alone, but it taste great on apples, bananas and celery. It can also be used to create yummy peanut sauces which you can slather on all different types of noodles or veggies. And of course, there’s the classic PB&J — no, it’s not just for kids. I’ve been known to have a PB&J sandwich for lunch — or breakfast, or dinner, on more than one occasion.
Cilantro is probably my favorite herb ever. I have yet to meet anyone that doesn’t like cilantro, but I’m sure they exist as silly as they may be 😀 Basil is a close second here, as I also love that herb, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the champ cilantro because I don’t think it’s as versatile. I think it’s important to keep at least 1 or 2 herbs in the fridge. I can add cilantro to anything. And I usually do. I don’t care if it’s a fruit salad, I will add cilantro to it. I don’t know what it is about the flavor of it that is so intoxicating to me, but I’m obsessed. I buy it in bunches and can go through about three bunches in two weeks or less. Yep, I’m a fan. Health-wise, cilantro (also known as coriander) is a great source of antioxidants and also has vitamin A which helps many of our organs work properly, and also assists in healthy vision and a healthy immune system.
Almond milk is hand-down my favorite plant-milk. I usually go for the unsweetened variety whether I get plain or vanilla. Whatever your poison, the point is that it’s always good to have milk on hand, and I usually have about 2 to 3 containers of it in the fridge at any given time. Plant-milk is good for all the same stuff dairy milk was good for: cereal, soups and sauces, as a smoothie base and for baking all sorts of goodies. Not to mention chocolate milk, duh. The health benefits will vary depending on your plant-milk of choice. So if you favor oat, soy, hemp or rice milk over almond, the calories, vitamins and minerals will all depend upon your choice. As far as almond milk goes, like dairy milk, it is often enriched with additional vitamins and minerals. However, almond milk specifically is naturally higher in vitamin E, providing approximately 49% of the recommended daily amount, whereas dairy milk provides no vitamin E at all. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping to protect cells from free radicals. So drink up!
This can really be called “grains”, but I’m talking about my kitchen so I’m being very specific because within the gamut of grains, I kinda like rice a lot. But broadly speaking, rice could easily be replaced with quinoa or farro, so don’t limit yourself. And each grain has their own set of health benefits (farro for example, is higher in fiber than both brown rice and quinoa). I always have rice on hand because it’s a basic grain that is both filling and tasty and goes with just about any meal but also tastes great on it’s own. It’s an amazing base for foods from many different cuisine types as well. I won’t lie, I’m somewhat partial to white rice over brown rice. Both white and brown rice have vitamins and minerals — but it’s no secret that brown rice is more nutritious overall, particularly in the fiber department. The main problem with white rice is it’s high glycemic index, which can have an affect on blood sugar. So it may be better to go with brown rice, especially if you know you have problems with sugar in you body or diet.
I debated adding this to the list, but if you have read or made any of my recipes, it’s no secret that I use olive oil a lot. I use it to saute everything and anything. I actually rarely use it as a dip for breads although I do that as well (especially if there’s a flavored olive oil on hand!) but I mainly use it to cook with because of it’s high heat point and mild but rich flavor. I also love that it has health benefits. It’s another food that is high in monounsaturated fats, and it also contains polyphenols which act as a form of antioxidants. I am less cautious about using small amounts of olive oil than I am with avo and peanut butter. Maybe it’s a mental thing since olive oil is in liquid form so I feel as though it’s not as bad? Either way, it should also be consumed in moderation due to it’s high fat and calorie content, but I still say use it to saute every and anything!
So that’s my list. These foods are always in my kitchen no matter what. They are all super nutritious and taste great, and most of them are like the transformers of foods, able to change forms to become many different things making them extremely versatile for cooking. Using many of these base foods, I can simply add other goodies to make amazing meals. But if I don’t feel like doing that, I can just mix and match some of these base foods to make an exceptional meal as well. I didn’t even factor in all the amazing spices, vinegars and sauces I also like to keep around, but that’s a whole other list for a whole other blog post.