I find the easiest way to make sure vegetables are at the center of my plate is to have a handful of quick convenience foods on hand to reach for at any time, which makes cooking a meatless meal as easy as possible. Here are 10 items to keep in your kitchen to ensure eating your vegetables is as simple as it can be.
1. Your Favorite Hummus
Open my refrigerator at any time and it’s a guarantee you’ll find a tub of hummus tucked inside. While I love making it from scratch when I have the time, nothing beats the convenience of the store-bought stuff. I’ve pretty much tried every brand out there to determine that my very favorite is Cedar’s. Beyond reaching for it for a healthy snack with raw veggies or whole grain crackers, I often use it as a base for a meal. I’ll spread a few generous spoonfuls in the bottom of a bowl then top it with roasted vegetables and maybe a soft-boiled egg and eat the whole thing with whole wheat pita bread alongside.
2. Boxed Salad Greens You Know You’ll Eat
Specifically, I think having a box of baby spinach, kale, or arugula on hand is best — skip the mesclun which wilts too quickly. The heartier boxed greens can be transformed into an instant salad by tossing then with olive oil and lemon juice or sautéed for a quick side dish. They’re also an easy way to add green to a dish: Fold them into scrambled eggs, stir them into soup, or whirl them into smoothies.
3. Canned Beans of All Varieties
I am pretty sure it’s impossible for a vegetarian to survive without beans and so there’s no greater convenience than the canned ones. While cooking dried beans tends to result in the best flavor and texture, it does take time and so I’ll never not have canned beans in the pantry. My go-tos are chickpeas, cannellini beans, and black beans, but pick a few of your favorites. They can be tossed into soups and pastas, mashed for sandwiches, sprinkled on salads, and so much more.
4. A Stash of Frozen Brown Rice
Brown rice is a hearty, wholesome foundation for so many meals but it does take awhile to cook on the stove. Keeping a bag of frozen brown rice on hand means you’ll save significant minutes off your time in the kitchen, which is a saving grace on busy weeknights. It’s also a way to turn simple dishes like a vegetable stir-fry or warm lentils into dinner.
5. Boxed Vegetable Broth (You Really Like)
Vegetable broth is a key ingredient in vegetarian soups and stews but you can also simmer grains in it to make them even more flavorful. There are a whole lot of brands out there and I find their flavor varies greatly so try a few to settle on your favorite. (If you’re curious, mine is Imagine Foods.) Also, opt for a low-sodium variety because the regular is typically loaded with salt, which isn’t the healthiest choice and it’s also nice to be able to control the seasoning yourself.
6. Sliced Whole Grain Bread (That You Keep in the Freezer)
Tuck a loaf in your freezer and you’ve got endless possibilities always within reach. Beyond just a simple sandwich, I love to make vegetarians toasts for lunch or a light dinner. Maybe I’ll swipe a toasted piece of bread with some hummus or mash an avocado on top. Then I’ll top it with roasted or raw veggies or a handful of arugula. I’ll drizzle olive oil on top, finish it with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and dig in.
7. Frozen Cheese Tortellini for those Really Busy Nights
Yes, I have at least a box of two of dried pasta on hand but I think frozen cheese tortellini is even more worth keeping around at all times. It automatically feels more special than spaghetti and can be transformed into so many meals. Tossing it with marinara sauce is a start but look beyond the usual: It can be stir-fried with vegetables, dropped into soup, turned into a pasta salad, and more.
8. Nuts and Seeds for Snacking and Beyond
Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are great to have in the pantry for a healthy snack but they’re also a useful way to add protein, healthy fat, and fiber to vegetarian meals. Sprinkle toasted pumpkin seeds on salads, plenty toasted walnuts into a garlicky pesto, or top your avocado toast with toasted pistachios.
9. A Stockpile of Frozen Vegetables
To save yourself the hassle of making frequent trips to the grocery store, keep at least a few bags of frozen vegetables stocked. Since these vegetables are flash frozen at the peak of freshness, they’re just as nutrient-dense as fresh vegetables. They also tend to be a whole lot cheaper than fresh vegetables, which is a definite perk when your diet is so heavily made up of vegetables.
10. A Few Big Cans of Canned Tomatoes
Like vegetable broth, canned tomatoes are a helpful ingredient in vegetarian soups and stews but they can also be transformed into satisfying sauces for pasta. My preference is to stock only whole canned tomatoes, because I find they have better flavor and it’s easy enough to crush, dice, or purée them yourself as needed. However, pick up whichever variety of canned tomatoes you find yourself cooking with the most.