If you’ve ever stood in the middle of your kitchen and stared blankly at the half-empty shelves and fridge filled only with condiments, you might be familiar with the feelings of overwhelm or confusion of what to make for dinner. Particularly if you’re new to vegan eating and haven’t yet discovered the variety of interesting and versatile ingredients available, this kitchen quandry can be most perplexing.

Good news! There’s a simple solution to stocking a kitchen that’s not only lovely to look at (Mason jars full of non-perishable foods!), but one that will support your wellness adventure, especially when it comes to knowing what you’re putting in your body. Having a kitchen stocked with diverse plant-based goodies is the best way to make cooking at home easier, more economical and more delicious: after all, cooking for yourself isn’t meant to be complicated: cooking healthfully can actually be less complicated than other dishes.

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With just a few nutrient-dense basic ingredients on hand, and some ideas on how you can use them, you can craft simple, clean-eating vegan meals all week long. Dust off Grandma’s recycled jam jars and head to the bulk section of your grocery store.

Here’s what to look for to bring home with you:

Chickpeas

Chickpeas are a great source of protein and easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes, from chilis and soups to hummus, veggie burgers and homemade snacks. One cup of chickpeas provides 12g of fiber and 15g of protein; plus, you can make a whole batch plain and use them in different ways throughout the week.

Quinoa

Packed with protein, red, black or white quinoa makes a great (gluten-free) base for many meals. Use it as you would use rice or pasta, combining with fresh veggies, beans, nuts and your favorite sauces for bowls that range from light to hearty. It takes just 15 minutes to make several cups, so you can plan ahead and have a pot of it on hand in the fridge. You can also toast quinoa in a pan and grind it into a flour to use as breading or in a treat like these Quinoa Cookies.

Buckwheat

Like quinoa, buckwheat is actually a seed – a pseudo-grain – which means it’s also gluten-free. Buckwheat makes a great homemade cereal or you can pop it in a jar with some nut milk and cinnamon for an easy overnight raw oatmeal substitute. Check out these inventive ways to use buckwheat at any meal.

Brazil Nuts

These silky smooth nuts are packed with selenium, a mineral many of us tend to be short on. They can help with thyroid function and immunity, and they blend brilliantly into a no-strain nut milk. Simply combine three parts water to one part Brazil nuts and blend on high for several minutes. This will keep a couple of days in the fridge, so having a stash of nuts on hand means easy homemade (preservative-free, sugar-free) nut milk whenever you’re running low.

Cashews

Essential to making non-dairy cheeses, desserts (like this Raw Carrot Cake) and sauces, cashews keep well for extended periods in the pantry. When you’re ready to use them, soak them in hot water for at least 30 minutes, rinse, and blend. Combine with salt and nutritional yeast for a soft cheese; with dates and maple syrup for a cakey filling, or with miso, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard and mint for a smooth and creamy Mediterranean-inspired sauce.

Nut Butter

Smoothies, sandwiches, apples, your palm when no one is watching… what doesn’t nut butter go well on? Having almond or peanut butter handy means a quick brain-boosting refuel of fat and protein when you need it, as well as a great flavor-booster for sauces, soups (like this African Peanut Soup) or desserts. You’ll be glad you have it, I promise.

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Maple Syrup or Brown Rice Syrup

These low-glycemic vegan sweeteners are tremendously versatile and keep indefinitely in the pantry. Use them in baking, sauces or smoothies as you would use agave or honey. Bonus? Maple syrup is packed with B Vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc. Brown rice syrup is gentler on the body because it’s lower in fructose than other sweeteners,  and is gluten-free.

Dulse

A quick way to add a dash of minerals and a salty, briny flavor to anything you’d like to resemble the taste of seafood, dulse is a nutrient-packed dried seaweed common to Macrobiotic cooking. Sprinkle it over salads or use in these no-fish fish dishes to add some zing and some body-supporting goodness to your day.

Kombu

This thick cardstock-like seaweed is not only delicious in soup, it’s a great way to make beans more easily digested. Toss a piece of kombu in with your chickpeas (above) or any other bean to help break down the starches that can sometimes cause bloating.

Gomasio

This is a craveworthy blend of sesame seeds and sea salt: it adds flavor, crunch and nutrients to a meal (even something as simple as cucumber is made 10x more exciting with gomasio). The sesame seeds provide a whole spectrum of amino acids and calcium; sea salt provides sodium, chloride, iodine and a host of other trace minerals essential to the body’s functioning. You can even find varieties that include dried seaweed for extra nutrient goodness.

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Image Source: Julie West/Flickr