In My Bag Week 3: Favorite Non-Essentials

Last week, I went over most of the produce I buy on a regular basis and how I prepare it. Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, it’s time to start exploring the stuff you’ll use all the time that isn’t technically essential to your survival. These can be a littler pricer than your basics, but you’ll want a number of them for recipes and it’s nice to have extra things to improve the taste and nutritional quality of what we eat. Go ahead and splurge a little bit.

Nutritional yeast flakes. Nooch. This had to be first. The beautiful secret to flawless vegan mac ‘n’ cheese. What I sprinkle on top of my avocado toast and what I use in my tofu scrambles. Grown on purified cane and beet molasses, Nooch is a cheesy, flaky, flavor enhancer that will change your life. Bonus- Nutritional yeast is high in vitamin B12, a nutrient most claim to be absent from a vegan diet.

Raw almond butter. YES it’s expensive. NO you don’t need it. However, it’s really great to have around in case you want to make your smoothie more substantial, your soup creamier, or your cookies nuttier. I even use it in my favorite burger recipe. Not to mention it’s exceedingly high in protein, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium and phosphorus.

Dates. The sweetest stuff you can find in nature. Dates literally taste like candy and can be used to sweeten everything you could ever imagine. Dates can be made into a caramel dip, syrup, or paste and are especially helpful in sweetening homemade nut or seed milk. You can also eat them on their own. Tip- stuffing dates with almond butter is one of the greatest discoveries I’ve ever made.

BRAGG Liquid Aminos. Helpful for marinating and creating flavor in savory dishes, liquid aminos is a raw, gluten free, certified non GMO ‘liquid protein concentrate’ aka soy sauce. Containing 16 naturally occurring amino acids, liquid aminos is a far healthier alternative to tamari or soy sauce and still has a great flavor. (Look for BRAGG brand.)

Miso. A traditional Japanese fermented soybean paste that is rich in beneficial enzymes and probiotics, miso can be used in a wide range of dishes to enhance flavor and nutritive value. Miso is excellent in a variety of soups, salad dressings, dips, and marinades. Also, miso is another good source for vitamin B12 HAAAYY.

Nondairy milk. Go with whatever you like the taste of most. Soy, almond, hemp, cashew, oat, flax, hazelnut, and coconut milk are pretty much all the same in theory. Although a few kinds have been found to be better at getting specific results, they are interchangeable in almost all recipes. I like almond milk, myself.

Salad dressing.  I know I can make my own salad dressing, but sometimes it’s just more convenient to have a bottle ready to go when you don’t have a ton of time. Also, there are some really great vegan-friendly brands on the supermarket shelves right now. (Still make sure to check the labels! Not all of these companies are entirely plant based.)

My current favorites:

Annie’s Naturals
Follow Your Heart

Chickpea flour. My favorite gluten free flour. Chickpea flour is a bit more thick and substantial than white flour, which should be taken into account when substituting. However, sometimes the stiffness of it ends up being really helpful. It’s the anchor ingredient for my favorite french toast recipe because it holds everything together so well. It’s helpful to have a bag of it in the house especially if you’re gluten intolerant and you ever feel like whipping up a batch of GF brownies on the fly.

Flax seeds. 1 tbsp Flax seeds, when ground can be whisked with 3 tbsp of warm water to create a ‘flax egg’ this will work as an egg substitute in some recipes but not all. The properties that make eggs ideal for baking are binding and leavening. Flax eggs will help bind ingredients together, but it will not help leaven. There are a few alternatives to achieve leavening without eggs, all depending on the individual recipes you’re adapting. But tofu will often work and sometimes active yeast will work as well.

Chia seeds. Chia seeds are most often used in raw food preparation. When you mix chia seeds with a bit of water or nondairy milk and let it sit, it will congeal and create a pudding-like substance. I sometimes like to blend in fruit with my chia pudding and put it in my oatmeal to make it less boring, but you can put them in smoothies or even water and drink them. Chia seeds are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and dietary fiber.

Hemp seeds. Hemp seeds are high in protein, contain 20 amino acids (including the 9 ‘essential’ amino acids), they strengthen immunity, and contain the most essential fatty acids out of every botanical source. Blend them in smoothies, sprinkle them in salads, or anything else you can think to use them for. Not surprisingly, hemp seeds can be fairly expensive. I generally grab them when they’re on sale, or just buy them when I know I’ll be using them.

Pumpkin seeds (Pepitas). One-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains almost half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, and are also a rich source of zinc, healthy fats, protein and fiber. Use on top of smoothies or oats, or just lightly salt them and eat them on their own.

Grapeseed oil. Safflower oil will work as well. Sometimes you have to cook things over a very high flame, and not all oils can take the heat. Grapeseed oil is a great replacement for olive or coconut oil when using high heat.

Coconut spray oil. It’s convenient to have and you’ll end up using it all the time. I prefer the coconut oil spray over the standard stuff. If you can’t find this specific brand, you can get a regular nonstick spray, just make sure it doesn’t have any butter in it.

Textured vegetable protein. (TVP) Ground, dried, reduced fat soy beans for use as a ground meat substitute in things like chili, casseroles, some soups/stews. High in protein, iron and calcium.

Nondairy cheese. Obviously not essential, but damn, can a good nondairy cheese amp up a meal. My personal favorite brands are Daiya wedges for things like grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas or cheeseburgers, Teese cheese for nachos or cheesy dips, and Follow Your Heart shreds for sprinkling on top of soups and salads. All three of these brands are flavorful and melt-able and make excellent cheese substitutes when you’re in the mood for one.

Ener-G Egg Replacer. This isn’t the only option you have for replacing eggs in recipes, but it is one option. Ener-G Egg Replacer is a powdered tapioca and potato starch mixture that can be combined with water to simulate egg binding, similar to a ‘flax egg’, however, this product is touted to leaven as well as bind, and some recipes even call for this stuff specifically. It’s generally only used in baking, and in breakfast dishes like pancakes and waffles. (Which I make allllll the time.)

Coconut cream. Canned magic. Coconut cream can be made into the best whipped cream you’ll ever have in your life, or it can be used in baking recipes as a thicker/creamier version of nondairy milk. I often use it with curry paste to make Indian and Thai style dishes which are so easy and oh-so delicious.

Spirulina. This little bottle of green powder holds some pretty amazing nutrients. A rich source of chlorophyll, spirulina has the ability to remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system. It is also incredibly high in iron, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, C, D, E, and A. With four times the antioxidant level of blueberries, twenty-six times the calcium in milk, and 65% protein, spirulina is a real, no joke superfood. Blend in to smoothies or mix in with juices. The pigment is a very strong and vivid green, so be careful to only use a small amount and not to spill it anywhere.

Protein powder. Obviously, if you’re eating enough of the right foods, fruits/vegetables/grains/legumes etc, you’ll have no problem getting the necessary amount of protein in your diet. However, if you’re new to this way of eating, it can be helpful to supplement semi regularly with a scoop of protein powder in your shake, smoothie, oatmeal, or homemade protein bars. Vega is a great brand because it provides so much more than just protein, which is relatively easy to get no matter what you eat. One serving of Vega protein powder will supply you with 15 grams of protein, 2 servings of vegetables, and is a great source of iron and calcium. If Vega is too pricey for you (about $50 for a big tub), check out Sun Warrior and Garden of Life ‘Raw’ brands. Both have equally beneficial ingredients and are a little more cost effective.

And there you have it! You’ve just seen about 80% of the contents of my kitchen and pantry. Obviously, I pick up extra things for recipes from time to time as well. I like to switch things up a bit and sometimes I waste money on packaged junk food like everyone else on Earth, but this is the most of what you’d find me buying if we were shopping buddies.

When someone asks me what they should buy when they go grocery shopping, I usually always say keep it simple. Get lots of fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts/seeds and dried beans. Anything else is luxury food. It’s not as complicated as it seems; learn to read labels and don’t make the easy mistake of spending too much money. You don’t have to be privileged to eat plant-based, whole foods. You don’t even need to shop at Whole Foods. Find your local farmer’s market and stock up!



  1. benevolentvegan · · Reply

    I really like the idea of storing some of your items in jars. I’m definitely going to look into that. I also buy Bragg’s herb sprinkles, which are great for jazzing up flavour readily, when you don’t want to mess around with lots of extra ingredients.

    1. Oh yeah Bragg seasonings are the best! I usually store my bulk buy items in jars since they’re easier to organize, and they seal everything air tight so nuts and seeds won’t go bad as quickly.

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