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Our Go-To Plant-Based Staples

Eating less meat is good for your body, your wallet, and the planet, but how to get a hungry family on board? Making tasty, plant-powered swaps in everyday meals is easier than you might think.

Leaning into a greener, more plant-based approach to eating doesn’t have to mean a dramatic diet makeover. Focus instead on simple changes, like replacing meat with these 7 smart pantry and fridge staples.

1) Beans

If you have beans in the pantry, a budget-friendly meal rich in protein and fiber is never far away. With so many flavors and textures to choose from, the possibilities are endless. Try beans puréed in plant-powered dips and spreads, mashed chunky with spices for taco and burrito filings, or crisped in a pan as a tasty topper for salads and pasta. Beans are also a no-brainer for making hearty soups and stews more satisfying, like this fully loaded, pantry-ready chili.

Clean Out the Pantry Vegetarian Chili

2) Tofu

Think of fresh tofu, a versatile protein made from soybeans, as a blank canvass for your family’s favorite flavors. Available in five different, distinctive textures, there’s a tofu for every occasion. Extra firm and firm, the sturdiest varieties, work well diced in stir fries, and they can also be baked or fried until crispy. The looser texture of medium tofu (sometimes called “regular tofu”) makes it a great choice for breakfast scrambles. The high moisture content and delicate texture of both soft and silken, the loosest forms of tofu, add rich creaminess to smoothies and soups. Tofu acts like a sponge to absorb other flavors, so it plays exceptionally well with marinades, like in this tofu and soba salad that can be served hot or cold.

Soba Noodle Salad with Soft Tofu 

3) Ancient grains

Grains of all forms are an easy-go to for bulking up plant-powered meals, but not all grains are created equal. Ancient grains – a catch-all term for whole grains that are minimally refined and processed – pack more nutritional punch than refined grains, like white rice and white flour. Whole oats, quinoa, barley, and farro are all tasty forms of ancient grains that are loaded with protein, vitamins, and filling fiber. Microwave-ready ancient grain mixes make it easy to incorporate this heart-smart ingredient in weeknight meals, like grain bowls and salads. This tasty recipe combines the super-nutrition of ancient grains and beans with the plant-powered flavor of kale pesto.

White Bean and Grain Salad with Kale Pesto  

4) Cashews

Cashew nuts are a delectable snack straight from the package, but that’s not the only reason to keep this superfood on hand. Cashews’ protein, fiber, and mineral content makes them one of the most nutritious nuts on the planet. Just be sure to store cashews and other nuts in the freezer for the longest shelf life, as they contain oils than can spoil over time. We love the added pop of crunch and nutty flavor that cashews add to stir fries, salads, and noodle dishes, but the delicious possibilities don’t stop there. Cashews also make a smart, keto-friendly swap for dairy, like in creamy nut milk, yogurt, or the “cheese” in this family-friendly, vegan riff on classic stovetop macaroni and cheese.

Vegan Mac and “Cheese” 

5) Chia seeds

Chia seeds pack a load of nutrients in one tiny little package. Full of protein, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, these super seeds are definitely worth incorporating in your family’s diet. The flavor of chia seeds is almost undetectable – similar to a very mild poppyseed – but their texture is totally distinctive. Alone, chia seeds make a nutritious addition to baked goods or a crispy coating in lieu of breadcrumbs for meat or fish. When combined with liquid, however, versatile chia seeds take on a thick, gel-like consistency. They can absorb up to 10 times their dry weight in water, which makes them a great substitute for pectin in fruit preserves. Combined with your favorite nut milk, chia seeds take on custardy consistency, like in this fudgy, dairy-free chocolate pudding.

Chocolate chia pudding  

6) Lentils

Bite for bite, lentils provide more protein and fiber with fewer calories than most foods on the planet. They’re also a rich source of vitamins, iron, potassium, and even calcium. The three most common varieties of this versatile legume are brown, green, and red/yellow. All share a similar nutrition profile with an earthy, mildly nutty flavor. The primary difference is that brown and green lentils maintain their shape after cooked, while lighter colored varieties (sold “split,” meaning they’ve been processed into smaller pieces) break down into a mushier, more homogenous consistency.  While soups, stews, and curries are an obvious – and delicious – choice, the texture of lentils also makes a great substitute for ground meat in savory fillings. Try them stuffed in peppers, acorn squash, tomatoes, or sweet potatoes. Or put a plant-powered spin on Mexican night with this unexpected lentil-walnut taco filling that’s a snap to make in the Instant Pot.

Instant Pot Walnut-Lentil Tacos 

7) Jackfruit

A relatively new find at the grocery store, jackfruit is nutrient-dense plant with a stringy, fibrous texture similar to shredded meat. The mild flavor of this protein-rich plant (fun fact: jackfruit is harvested from the largest tree on Earth) plays well with a variety of flavors. Available canned, frozen, or refrigerated, jackfruit is often sold pre-sauced, making it a tasty fast-track ingredient for vegan-friendly meals. Try swapping jackfruit in any dish that traditionally uses shredded chicken or pork, like enchiladas, tacos, burritos, or nachos. Tex-Mex jackfruit is also the star of this lightning fast, vegan-friendly tortilla soup that comes together with just five minutes of prep.   

Vegan Tortilla Soup

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