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5 Vegan Staples for Beginning Vegans

Here at PETA, we meet lots of people who need help getting started on the path to kind cuisine. While any seasoned vegan will tell you that there are plenty of delicious, fresh, and creative vegan meals out there, we’re here to help with step one: getting the basics down.

Next time you’re mulling over recipes, writing up a shopping list, or preparing for a potluck, make sure that you have these five items on hand. We’ve chosen them based on their affordability, their versatility, and their health benefits. A win-win-win situation!


This versatile meat substitute can be seasoned as many ways as meat can be and can also be baked, fried, and grilled! If you’re super new to tofu, try lightly coating cubed portions of tofu with salt and pepper and frying it in a little oil in a pan.

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Beans are a popular college staple for vegans and nonvegans alike, and for good reason: They’re cheap and have lots of protein! For an on-the-go meal, use beans from a can. But if you want to keep things extra cheap—and get DIY points to boot—buy dry beans in bulk and cook them yourself. Like tofu, they’re very versatile.

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With beans come grains—usually rice. But if you’re new to the nonmeat world, you may not realize how many varieties of rice are out there. Wild rice, basmati rice, white rice, and brown rice all make excellent sides to round out a meal or serve as a base for a stew or stir-fry.

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For a little extra nutritional boost, try other grains—quinoa in particular. Dubbed “the mother of all grains” by the Incas, quinoa is a superfood. Exceptionally high in protein and a good source of dietary fiber, magnesium, iron, and calcium, it’ll fill you up and meet your nutritional needs.

Faux Milk

Soy milk is the darling of milk substitutes, but it’s not the only delicious option. Rice milk and almond milk are great, too, and typically are available without flavoring (which is great for cooking and baking) or with vanilla flavoring to give your cereal a little sweetness. You can even make it yourself if you’re up for the challenge.

Bonus: Unlike milk from animals—which is meant for animal babies (duh!)—soy, rice, and almond milk can be stored in your cupboard at room temperature until you’re ready to open them. So stock up!

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We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: Vegan foods can be prepped a lot like meat can—but without the inherent cruelty. To ensure that your diet is cruelty-free but flavorful, jumpstart your new eating aspirations with some seasonings. There are loads to choose from, but a few good starter seasonings include basil, cayenne, cumin, curry powder dill, garlic salt, and rosemary. To make your meals really pop, buy seasonings fresh at a farmer’s market or grocery store.

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Got any other tips for affordable vegan staples for beginners? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Also, if you’re ready to get cooking, be sure to check out PETA’s recipe list for loads of vegan meal ideas!

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  • Brittany says:

    Im a vegetarian and eat all of these things 🙂 All i have to do is stop drinking milk and eating eggs! Now to convince my parents >.>

  • Dorie says:

    I have thyroid problems so I can’t have soy, most vegan protein products are made with soy,it limits choices. I find wonderful recipes and can’t use them because they call for tofu. (I actually love tofu but it really goofs up my body!)

  • Beverly J. says:

    Please don’t forget to at quinoa to your vegan arsenal. I get a full box of organic quinoa at Trader Joes and cook it in the microwave (5 min on high; stir; 12 min on high) in a LARGE BOWL.

    While the quinoa is cooking, mix the following in a separate bowl:

    1 bunch organic parsley
    3/4 c fresh organic mint
    3/4 c fresh organic dill
    2 large organic tomatoes
    3/4 c olive oil
    1-1/2 c garbanzo beans (you can use canned ones if you prefer)

    When your quinoa is fully cooked, add the veggie mixture from the separate bowl. Mix together and refrigerate. This bowl usually lasts me an entire week. This quinoa recipe goes great with lentils and minced garlic and onions seasoned, and sumac.

    Sumac is a wonderful Middle East spice that has a tangy after taste, somewhat like mild lemons. Have this spice on hand: it’s great on salads and on grains. Try seasoning red lentils and brown rice with sumac.

    If it’s not available in your local, here’s a link to Amazon, where you can find sumac and other Middle Eastern spices.

  • Paula says:

    Just a note if you are an aspiring vegan be sure and check the ingredients on all meatless burgers, etc. After becoming vegan I realized all the products I love to eat have milk and/or egg in them! I was VERY disappointed because I loved the Spicy Black Bean from Morningstar Farms AND the veggie weiners which I used for making kraut and weiners…bummer. Gardein has a burger that is pretty good and the original vegan Boca burger is “okay” if you add some spices on it. Always check ingredients for dairy/egg products….

  • Maida says:

    Some items I would recommend also for a starter vegan kitchen:

    nutritional yeast
    Braggs liquid aminos
    raw cashews

  • PJ says:

    I will also hit on the company politics part: know who you are buying from. Along that vein is Morningstar–definitely not vegan. Uses milk products in its ingredient list. Read the labels, and you’ll be alright. If you are looking for a ground beef substitute, try tempeh. It’s on my go-to list because all you have to do is heat it, it marinates, steams, grills, and bakes well.

  • Ellen says:

    I agree, Cassandra, avocado is very flexible. I use it in place of butter on lots of things. I recently went to a Mexican restaurant and spread guacamole on my corn in place of butter. It’s just as tasty and much healthier. Also, Earth Balance spread is delicious and is much better than butter and margarine.

  • chander kumar soni says:

    so nice and useful article.

  • shirley says:

    Also beware anything with Palm Oil,most of the palm produced is from “stolen” land that is the rightful habitat of the Orangatang

  • Shelby says:

    I agree with Megan. And thanks for the tip.

  • Megan says:

    I just wanted to point out that not all vegetarian and vegan product options are created equal. While they may not contain meat or animal products, they may use genetically modified soy produced by Monsanto or be made by a company with terrible human rights and environmental records. I would suggest being mindful of where any and all of your food comes from.

    A tool I have recently found helpful is “The Better World Shopping Guide” by Ellis Jones. It provides rankings for most companies (in USA and Canada), it has lists for cosmetics, dairy alternatives, meat alternatives, etc, etc, it fits easily into your purse, backpack or re-useable shopping bag, and it’s only $10.

  • Ruth says:

    I buy my spices in bulk, and reuse the old spice jars to keep them in. I also make my own spice blends like Cajun/creole, Italian, garam masala, tandoori seasoning, etc. Those I keep in Mason jelly jars because the seals have the best moisture protection. I also use Mason jars for items that absorb moisture easily like quinoa, cous-cous, wheat berries, etc.

  • Alena says:

    I’d like to mention black salt! It makes some fried up tofu taste just like egg white due to it’s salty sulfur taste. It can make any egg-less egg recipe taste much much more like real eggs… (scrambled eggs & egg salad are easy recipes to find and to make!)

  • Cassandra says:

    Another thing I like to do is make a stir fry with either Morning Star or Boca crumblers hamburger substitute and any vegetables you like. I like broccoli, onions, diced potatoes and add stewed tomatoes. It is incredibly quick & easy and satisfying.

  • Cassandra says:

    My latest addiction is avocado. It has a creamy, egg-like texture that I’m loving. I’m putting it on salads & sandwiches. I fried some in olive oil with green peppers, onions & mushrooms and made a sandwich on flatbread with ketchup–incredibly satisfying! i’ve heard it is very high in potasium & lots of other good things and can lower your cholesterol. I’ve also just got into hummus. I spread it on bread or put on baked potatoes. Lots of interesting flavors. It is high in fiber and so makes you feel full.