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Vegetarian Pantry: What to Buy

Here is my almost-global and slightly South Asia-inspired pantry (non-perishables, spices, fridge, freezer and canned) list of vegetarian items to stock up on in case of any emergencies that you may encounter. It is a good list also for someone trying to set up their kitchen for the first time, or seriously attempting to go vegetarian.

Photo credit: Martin Lostak, Unsplash

So think of this as a vegetarian pantry preparedness list, not a doomsday scenario - although it is likely to help you with that as well. Note that this list is not necessarily vegan or gluten-free but there are many elements of this diet here.

I live in Los Angeles, USA. So, this list is based on my grocery shopping experience here.

If you are looking for a tabular or a list to download, I have that too!

Protein Sources

First, our vegetarian source of protein is definitely pulses and legumes. Harvard School of Public Health describes and distinguishes between pulses and legumes, should you fancy some tangent reading.

Photo by Faris Mohammed, Unsplash

Every six months, I usually buy about four pounds of each of my family favorite beans, lentils, peas. I suggest you choose the ones that are versatile in both taste and to cook. I also suggest varieties in terms of dry and canned varieties. Blogger Archana from Ministry of Curry based in New York City has a wonderful list with photos, where she talks about at least 20 varieties. Visit your local South Asian (preferably, Indian) store or find some at your local Whole Foods or Lazy Acres. Ensure that if you are buying a dry variety, you have a pressure cooker or a slow cooker to cook them in.

Tempeh, tofu and edamame are some other ideas. The latter can be frozen and tofu has an expiration date but stays well in the fridge.

We are not a soy family but we definitely enjoy natural sources of soy.

Photo by Yoav Aziz, Unsplash

My friend, Priya Joshi says tofu can be frozen and tofu-lovers could consider soy curls. She suggests buying Butler’s soy curls from Amazon or the Butler’s website.

They are shelf stable and can be reconstituted with many marinades. They are also they much less processed. Google has many recipes.


Fresh vegetables are always my go-to. From my local Indian store, I tend to buy bottle gourd (doothi/ lauki) and tindora (ivy gourd). In general, most of my fresh vegetable purchase is from the farmer's market or Whole Foods.

Fresh salad leaves, okra, cauliflower, broccoli, spring onions, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, avocados, chard, collard greens, green beans, corn, black pitted olives, English peas, peppers, asparagus, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cucumbers, celery, lemons and herbs.

And fresh fruits, of course. Hard-shelled fruits such as watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe, and perhaps even apples and pears are likely to last you a little more time than berries.

Frozen vegetables can be bought in addition to fresh vegetables but could also be stocked up when the emergency is more around staying home and self-isolating (e.g. coronavirus pandemic). Of course, its a bad idea when there is no electricity. I usually stock up on the following frozen vegetables: Okra, asparagus, corn, peppers, peas, green beans, mixed vegetable bags, peas and carrot bags, spinach, riced cauliflower, fenugreek and shredded coconut. I would also stock up on some frozen breakfast foods: Roasted potatoes & hash browns, tofu scrambles and breakfast burritos. I buy frozen fruit for my shakes as well

To be safe during a pandemic situation, I would also recommend buying canned vegetable varieties. Honestly, I don't really enjoy canned food because it tastes weird to me. That said, in an emergency, it is a good idea to stock up. I think cans of corn, peas, green beans, black olives, baby corn, tomato (paste, sauce, fire-roasted) cans are some good options.

Sun-dried tomato in olive oil, pickled vegetables, enchilada sauce, dates, date syrup, tamarind paste are also some other ideas. Always be mindful of expiration dates - keep using and replacing.

Root vegetables like potatoes, ginger, yams and sweet potatoes and also onions and garlic are easy suggestions to store. Just buy a bag each and you are good.

Some of us like our condiments, and when fresh is not available, frozen is what we buy: Cilantro and mint chutneys, for e.g.? Pickles such as Indian traditional 'Chundo' (sweet-and-spicy pickled and shredded mango) stay for ever and require no refrigeration.

Dairy and Bread and Rice

I have moved to almond milk for my shakes. Sometimes, I make almond milk at home but most times, I buy fresh or tetra pack almond milk from the store. Many places like Ralph's and Target carry family packs for almond milk. Buy 3-4 of those if you like almond milk. Or oat milk? Or macademia milk?

Some brands like Califa are better than others, so do your research for any nut milk. Oak milk tastes great in coffee but it is also higher in calories because of the oil content in the milk.

Get some dry whole milk powder so you are not denied of milk, should you run out or are just back from longer travels. Remember, you may need milk with your tea or coffee.

Also - buy a gallon of fresh milk (which tastes better with breakfast cereals), the unopened ones stay for at least some weeks. Same with yogurt - and buy more milk if you plan to make yogurt at home. Tetra pack chocolate milk is good too, although I am not big on chocolate milk (not the best quality of milk and has too much sugar) - but hey, kids love a treat sometimes!

My family loves paneer (Indian cottage cheese) so I always stock up. I leave a couple packages in the fridge and freeze the rest. They taste absolutely fine when they are defrosted.

Although I am lazy to shred cheese sometimes, I am not the biggest fan of shredded cheese - I prefer to buy the slabs and shred as I go. I suggest buying a few different cheese: Low-fat mozzarella, sharp cheddar, Monterey jack, colby jack, etc - and freezing them. Some cheese such as manchego and parmesan do not freeze well, so keep that in mind as you stock up.

Regular sliced bread can be frozen. So, buy some fresh bread and in case of emergencies, freeze a couple loaves. Also buy a couple ready-to-bake breads - they stay in the fridge for at least a week before you decide to consume it. And if you make your own breads, don't forget to buy yeast.

Soft tortilla rounds are also a good idea for quesadillas and enchiladas. You can buy them at any grocery store. I often stock the fried shells variety as well.

For those who like their Indian bread more than rice, I would say stock up on frozen rotis and naans. Most store-bought naan breads, even the ones from Trader Joe's freeze well. Some of us make our own rotis / bhakris / theplas/ paranthas, so make sure you have enough flour in stock. Half-baked rotis are available in Indian stores. Once in the fridge, they will last at least 10 days.

My family loves rice-based dishes, so I always have frozen idli-dosa-uttapam batter in stock. Sometimes, I make dishes with rice vermicilli or noodles or fresh idli so I tend to have flour at hand.

Frozen Meals

Frozen pizza is definitely a thing now - I buy cheese pizza w/ cauliflower crust (ready-to-bake) from Trader Joe's - but I dress it up with veggies and some more cheese when I bake it, so it feels SO much more than a cheese pizza. Sometimes, I even throw some pesto and sun-dried tomatoes on it.

There are many vegetarian frozen ready-to-heat items available - burritos, burger patties, samosas, patra, dumplings, etc. Check your local South Asian store or shop at your local grocery store. Trader Joe's has so many affordable options!

Soups - Pasta - Noodles - Flour - Grains

My family loves a variety of cuisines - from Thai, Italian and Middle-Eastern to Indian, Mexican and Ethiopian. So, I do need to stock up on different things.

I should but I do not make my own broths and stocks - so I often stock up on vegetarian broths and stocks (every grocery store from Target and Ralphs to Wal-Mart and Whole Foods carries them). One idea during emergencies is to buy a bottle of vegetarian bouillon or mini cubes instead which are more concentrated. I love the flavor that stock and broths bring to the food and to soups, I really recommend using them.

I make my own soups most of the time, but buying some tetrapack soups for emergencies (or for lazy days!) is a very good idea. I like the carrot-ginger, creamy tomato, and tomato-red pepper soups that are readily available everywhere in the grocery stores. I know they are slightly more expensive than canned Campbell soups but I promise you that they taste way better too.

Like soups, in normal circumstances, I make my own pasta sauce. But what if I run out of tomatoes? I have to admit that I like store-made pasta sauces way better than using tomato-paste cans to make a pasta sauce. So, if you are like me, buy 3-4 bottles of pasta sauce that can be stored for a little bit. I usually buy a variety. Some options are marinara, basil pesto, spicy pasta sauce, pasta sauce with garlic and mushrooms, creamy pasta sauce.

Dry pasta is a must because you may not have eggs or egg-substitutes to make your own pasta all the time (I am crazy enough to make mine fresh frequently, sorry!). Pasta made from lentils, brown rice, black bean, chickpeas, corn, vegetables and buckwheat are getting increasingly common and are healthier options so if you can find them on a deal, those are the ones to buy! If not, you can always buy the whole wheat or regular pasta varieties such as penne, spaghetti, rotini, orzo, linguine, elbow, and bow.

My daughter loves her noodles. We try not to feed her instant Maggi noodles, given how terrible they are for her little body! The noodles we always have in stock are: Ramen, soba and udon. Once in a while, we treat ourselves to lo-mein and hakka as well. Of late, millet and brown rice noodles from Rice Ramen have been our go-to. I also buy miso paste and sea weed to make a noodle soup!

Quinoa, oats, couscous, farro, kamut, bulgar, tapioca - These are some of the things that I cook with on a daily basis. If you are like me, ensure you have a decent quantity so you always have them when you need them. Remember, these last for a long time so you will always be able to use them up at a later stage.

Kodiak Cakes has a protein pancake and waffle flour which I have started to use for my kiddo's breakfast in the morning. It needs only water or milk and it is quite delightful when I sprinkle some chocolate chips on the batter while cooking. I know I would stock up on that...and also some breakfast cereals too.

Whole-wheat flour is a staple in my home and so are millet flour (raagi), teff (Ethiopian flour for pancakes), semolina flour (rava/sooji) for pasta and upma and chickpea flour (channa atta) for Indian crepes.

Our family has Aloo Pohe (potato and flattened rice dish) every other Sunday so flattened rice is a good idea to store as well. Bhel Puri (puffed rice with fried vermicilli) is another idea of a savory dish that you can also snack on.

Also, ensure you have white or brown rice at home. I always make sure I also have sushi rice and arborio at home because my family is always asking for veggie sushi rolled with avocado and risotto with olives. There are many other rice varieties if you wish to explore.

Oils & Spices

Ensure you have oil and salt at home. You should buy butter but there is always a chance you may run out, esp if it is perishable. And sometimes a variety of oils make cooking fun: Light or dark sesame, ghee, vegetable oil, flavored olive oil, EVOO)

Simple spices such as turmeric, cumin, red chilli powder, paprika, cilantro powder, bay or curry leaves, mango (amchur) powder (use if you run out of lemon), cumin and mustard seeds, onion powder, sugar, honey, and garlic powder help flavor and season food quite easily.

Check - do you have enough?

To make anything super creamy, I use coconut milk. You can buy either cans of coconut milk or coconut milk powder. With coconut milk, you can easily make a Thai-inspired curry or two. And don't forget the peanut butter!

If you cook ethnic food, you need some ethnic spices. I usually ensure that I have tamari/ soy sauce, tahini, vegetarian Thai red or green curry paste, black bean paste, hoisin sauce, taco seasoning, berebere powder, sumac or zaatar, tikka masala, Worcestershire sauce, mushroom flavored Asian brown sauce, channa masala - This list is exhaustive, but basically whatever you cook with.

Super food and juice powders

I obviously would not be focused on powders and protein shakes during an emergency, but most days, I crave a good almond shake or green juice. My recommended brand is Vega which is plant-based. I also suggest beet powder, maca powder, moringa powder, hemp and chia seeds for your daily juices.

Water, Drinks and Snacks

Keep things interesting - Get a few bottles of beer, seltzers, organic wine, some spirits, sparkling water, some fresh OJ, POM juice, herbal teas etc.

Munchies matter. We always have some cookies, South Asian biscuits, chips, bottled salsa, avocados for guacamole, wasabi peas, peanuts and Indian snacks such as Gujarati khakhra (home-state pride!), moong dal, chana dal, chavanu, Parle, khari, etc. And we like our nuts and seeds - almonds, cashews, dried fruit, pistachios and walnuts.

While you may likely not need to worry about water in a coronavirus kind of situation but it may be useful during an earthquake, the CDC recommends a gallon of water per person, per day for two weeks. No harm storing it if you have the room, eh?

Hope this list was exhaustive and inclusive enough for those of you wanting to ensure you had a full vegetarian pantry and for others trying to seriously consider a vegetarian diet. Please share with those who you think will benefit from this list.


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