10 Plant-Based Ingredients You Should Be Buying, Not Making
Sometimes you just don't have the time to whip something up at home—no matter how easy and simple it may be or how few ingredients it uses. Really, sometimes you need something that you can rip open and eat without even dirtying a dish. When made convenient, healthy plant-based proteins can compete with the other stuff that's not quite as healthy but easy to grab.
"Here's the thing about eating healthy: it has to be doable," says Amy Gorin, M.S., RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, Connecticut. She's all for creating things in the kitchen but, she says, "Honestly, if you told me I had to make my own peanut butter and hummus not on occasion—but forever—I might cry." These minimally processed protein-packed foods can fit into your diet and they make for a great complement to the scratch-made food you might make in your own kitchen. These options are all tasty, nutritious—and make life easier:
1. Roasted Chickpeas
Roasted chickpeas are really easy to DIY at home, as you just toss canned chickpeas with olive oil and herbs and spices before popping them in the oven. But sometimes you don't have the time to get these ready, and that's where the amazing convenience of bagged crispy chickpeas comes in. "These pouches use real, whole chickpeas to start with," says Sharon Palmer, M.S., RDN, the Plant-Powered Dietitian and author of California Vegan. She likes them on top of salads, in grain bowls and in snack mixes. A 1/4-cup serving may contain 6 grams of protein. Read the label to find the amount of sodium a particular brand contains to make sure it's in line with your sodium goals.
Oh, all the things you can do with chickpeas. Hummus can be simple to whir up on your own if you have a food processor. "I think it's really fun to make my own hummus, and I do it on occasion, but day-to-day, I buy tubs of hummus to use as dippers for veggies and as spreads for sandwiches and toast," says Gorin. What's more, store-bought hummus has really elevated the game with fun flavor options, and these still keep the ingredient list minimal, she says.
3. Plant-Based Milks
Don't feel guilty if you're not making your own plant milk every week, says Palmer. As a special treat, she might make it at home, but for everyday use, she buys it from the store. One plus about buying plant-based milks from the store—almond, cashew, hemp, oat, soy—is that these are fortified with vitamins and minerals, something that you're not going to do at home.
"I trust my plant-based milk to provide me with calcium, protein and vitamin D," she says. What's more, with the exception of soy, many plant-based milks are very low in protein. However, depending on the type you buy, some plant milks, like almond, may also contain additional protein in the mix in the form of ingredients like pea protein.
4. Marinated Tofu
Pictured Recipe: Citrus Lime Tofu Salad
The benefit of making your own tofu marinade at home is that you can control the ingredients and play around with flavor profiles to keep things interesting, says Palmer. "But it's OK to buy prepackaged ones if you like it—it's still plant-based and healthy," she says. Lunch is made even more convenient now with the addition of ready-to-eat (aka already baked) marinated tofu. One serving of this tofu can give you 14 grams of protein. Simply chop it up right out of the package and toss into a salad or atop leftovers of that veggie stir-fry. Like many of these packaged products, watch the sodium levels of the brand you choose.
5. Nut/Seed Butters
Just like hummus, you can make nut butters really easily if you have a food processor. But that does take time (and cleanup), and there's nothing wrong with grabbing pre-made almond, cashew or peanut butter. "I like to opt for a natural nut or seed butter, and definitely not one that's advertised as low-fat," Gorin says. (When the fat is removed, sugar is often used as a replacement to enhance the flavor.) For instance, if you're looking for peanut butter, it should say just roasted peanuts or roasted peanuts, salt and/or oil, she advises.
7. Dal Pouches
There are these really amazing Indian cuisine-inspired lentil and bean dal pouches out now. They're shelf-stable—so you can take them anywhere—and then all you need to do is vent the side of the pouch and microwave it. The entire package makes for a filling meal with 6 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein. They may be convenience foods, but they don't take short-cuts with whole, plant-based ingredients. "These can be delicious, easy options for those nights when you're too busy," Palmer says. Compare labels, she advises, and choose the varieties that keep saturated fat and sodium on the lower side.
6. Bean and Vegetable-Based Burgers
You can find a variety of burgers that are made with beans and veggies in the frozen section of the grocery store. "These are great to have on hand, and they're so versatile. I always tell people to find a brand that they really love," says Palmer. She suggests checking the label for whole ingredients, minimal added sodium and saturated fat, and a good source of protein (like beans or lentils). When you're in a pinch for a meal, pop one into the microwave, then toss it onto leftover quinoa and veggies and you're good to go.
One of the things you didn't know you needed in life: A pre-made smoothie. There's something about being able to open up a container to consume immediately or combine in a blender with your liquid of choice that makes it seamless to get more fruits (and sometimes veggies) into your day. Plus, they typically also deliver at least a serving or two of protein to help you feel energized until your next meal or snack. Smoothies in general can contain a lot of added sugar, so whatever smoothie you choose, go for one that does not have sugar in the first three ingredients, Palmer advises.
9. Baked Beans
Baked beans can be tricky, but you don't have to spend time over the stove making them. The thing is, you can't assume canned baked beans are all completely made from plant-based ingredients. Many canned versions contain bacon, so they're not going to be vegetarian. "There are vegan baked beans out there, you just have to look for them," says Gorin. You'll also want to find one with little added sugar—compare labels and go for the brand that has the least amount per serving.
10. Frozen Burritos
Get the Recipe: Freezer Bean & Cheese Burritos
Sometimes you need something that's grab-and-go—and not from a drive-thru. While there are some great recipes out there for batch-making burritos to keep in the freezer, there's no shame in buying frozen varieties from the store that feature beans as a plant-based protein. One snag is that frozen burritos and sandwiches are often light (or nonexistent) in vegetables. For that reason, Gorin will pair it with a side salad to round out the meal.