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Vegan Grocery List: How To Make A Vegan Shopping List For Beginners

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Have you decided to start a vegan diet, but don’t know what to look for in the grocery store?

If that’s you, then you have come to the right place! I’ll let you in on the not-so-secret secrets about creating a shopping list for vegans in this Dietitian written comprehensive guide.

But first things first…

Disclaimer: This article is not providing personal or dietary medical advice. Always talk to your doctor before adding a supplement or making major dietary changes. See our Disclaimers for more details.

Consumer Notice: This post contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner: (affiliate link*)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

What Can I Add/Not Add to my Vegan Grocery List?

Broadly put, vegans follow these rules when it comes to grocery shopping:

Foods Vegans Can Eat

  • Whole plant foods (ie: whole broccoli, corn, apples, etc)
  • Any packaged/non packaged edible food that does not include any animal products (ie: vegan cereal, bread, frozen meals, etc.)

Foods Vegans Avoid

  • Animal Products (The most obvious being dairy, meat, fish, eggs, and poultry).
  • Any food that includes animal products (ie: eggs in cake, butter in biscuits, etc.)

In Summary: Vegan foods do not contain animal products. They avoid them for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Concerns about the environment
  3. Health

Is a Vegan Food the same as Plant Based Food?

A food labeled “Plant Based” may very well be vegan. However, it is not always a guarantee.

It is generally accepted that a plant based diet is an eating pattern centered around foods originating from plants. Plants include virtually any food that is does not come from an animal. Examples include fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

The key here is centered. In essence, a plant based food could contain mostly plants, but could include a smaller amount of animal products (ie: cheese, eggs etc).

Here are some examples of foods labeled “Plant Based” that are not vegan:

  • Vegetarian burgers that have egg or cheese ingredients
  • Cake mixes that includes egg ingredients
  • Cheddar chickpea crackers that includes cheese ingredients

In Summary: based on the definition above, a vegan diet is always  a plant based diet, however a plant based diet is not always a vegan diet.

Always check the ingredients label on foods listed as “Plant Based” to determine if they are vegan or not. But if something is listed as vegan (for example vegan cream cheese), you can be pretty certain its vegan.

Alright, now that you know what vegans avoid while shopping, how do you plan a grocery list?

Vegan Shopping List For Beginners: 3 Steps

Firstly you must answer this question:

Do you want to plan for a healthy vegan grocery list? Or perhaps you don’t care?

This is the first question because you could plan a whole vegan grocery list without considering the nutrients vegans need to pay extra attention to (although, we wouldn’t recommend that).

This section will focus on planning a vegan grocery list that helps meet nutrient needs that vegans should pay attention to, and is centered on whole foods.

Step 1: Try To Plan Ahead

While this is not always possible, planning ahead could help you from spending too much time (and money) at the grocery store.

So if possible, set aside a few minutes each week to go through your cabinets, fridge and freezer. Ask these questions:

  1. What staples am I missing?
  2. What meals ideas do I have, and what ingredients do I still need?
  3. Are there any special occasions coming up? (guests, parties, school bake sales, etc)
  4. Are we getting low on supplements?

Write down all food/supplement items in response to these questions.

Secondly, we’ll learn about the nutrition we should put in our carts.

Step 2: Plan to Shop For Nutrients

Because vegans exclude animal products, they need to know what nutrients should be on their radar, and how to find them in food.

Luckily, We’ve compiled a summary of nutrients you may need to pay more attention to as a vegan:

Our Vegan for Beginners Guide goes over these nutrients in more depth. So definitely check that out if you haven’t already!

Step 3: Shop!

Ta-da! You made it to the grocery store, now how do you start shopping at what do you buy?

1. Use the Storage Method Way of Shopping

Firstly, what does that mean?

Split your list into two categories labeled “shelf stable” and “cold” for food safety reasons. Put a number 1 by the “Shelf Stable” category, and a number 2 by the “Cold” category. This will help you remember to pick up all your shelf stable items first.

Why is that important?  Well, cold food items are perishable, while shelf stable products are just that: shelf stable! The last thing you want is de-thawed previously frozen broccoli, or warm lettuce leaves when you get home!

Picking up your shelf stable items first ensures your cold items are sitting in your cart at room temperature the least amount of time.

2. Break it Down Further By Food Groups

Next, lets further break down the two categories into groups of food. As a Dietitian, I am constantly thinking about “balance” when it comes to meals, and your grocery list food categories should be the same!

In general, your vegan grocery list could be simplified into the following categories:

Shelf Stable:

  • Starches
  • Legumes Chickpeas and Lentils
  • Healthy Fats
  • Spices, Condiments, and Supplements
  • Misc.

Cold

  • Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
  • Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
  • Calcium Rich Foods

Alright, so now that that I’ve got the outline for my list, why are these categories important, and what specifically should I choose from each one?

Shelf Stable Category
1. Starches

Why You Need it: The starch category is all about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are so important because they provide fuel for virtually every cell in our body, keeping our system running optimally so we can do our best.

What Nutrients It Contains: B vitamins (not Vitamin B12), protein, zinc (mainly from oats/fortified grains).

Tips: When going for the grain, pick whole grains (such as whole oats, breads made with whole wheat flour, etc) most of the time. These options will have more fiber that could help you feel satisfied and more regular.

Bread can be high in sodium, so look for whole grain options with lowest amount of sodium. This can be tricky with breads because salt is both a preservative and flavor enhancer, so just do your best, or consider making your own!

Examples include:

  • Whole Grain oats
  • Whole Grain Vegan Cereals
    *FYI: watch out for ingredients like honey, whey, and gelatin- these are not vegan ingredients! Additionally, Vitamin D3 may be sourced from sheep’s wool).
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Bread (preferably whole grain)
  • Tortillas (preferably 100% whole wheat)
  • Pasta
  • Legume Based Pasta (this can double as a high protein source)

FYI: Starchy veggies like corn and potatoes are also good starch options, but for purposes of grouping, we included them in the Veggies section!

2. Legumes and Lentils

Why You Need It: What can’t the mighty bean do? Legumes (another word for beans) are filled with protein and fiber resulting in a satiated you! 

What Nutrients It Contains: B vitamins (not Vitamin B12 ), protein, zinc, and iron. White beans contain some calcium.

Tips: When looking at legumes, opt for dried or low sodium pre cooked varieties . The front of the label should list “low sodium” or “no salt added”.
 
Examples include:

  • Black Beans
  • White Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Lentils (red, yellow, brown, etc)
  • Chickpeas (aka Garbanzo Beans)
  • Green Peas

FYI: Soy products (like Soybeans and tofu) also contain lots of protein, but because of its storage method (usually cold or frozen), and unique nutrient properties, we have included them in another section!

3. Healthy Fats

Why You Need It: Besides adding important and often hard to get minerals, including healthy fats in your diet adds to meal satisfaction and absorption of important nutrients such as that beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) from your carrots!

Of course, we cannot talk about healthy fats and leave out Omega 3 fats! Why are omega-3’s so important?  Find out in our article about Cutting out Fish!

What Nutrients It Could Contain: Variable: Iron and zinc (nuts and seeds), ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid), essential fatty acids that are a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in foods like walnuts and certain seeds chia seeds, hemp seeds and flax seeds).

Tips: When looking for healthy fat sources, go for options that are as close to their whole form as possible. That way you are getting the complete nutrition package.

Yes, this category can be more expensive than the other categories, but you probably won’t need to be buying them at every single shopping trip!

Take inventory of your stock before you add them to your list, and remember: a little bit of fat goes a long way with flavor and nutrition.

Examples Include:

  • Nuts
  • Nut Butters
  • Seed Butters (such as sunflower seed butter)
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Vegan Omega 3 Fat
    ALA (essential fat) Sources
    -Walnuts
    -Ground Flaxseeds
    -Chia Seeds
    -Hemp Seeds
    *DHA
    -Vegan Algae Based Supplements
Graphic showing sources of omega 3 in a vegan diet. examples include ground flax seeds, chia seeds, hmep seeds, walnuts for ALA, and algae based supplement for DHA
4. Spices, Condiments, and Supplements

Why You May Want It: What’s the point of adding the above items to your whole food plant based diet shopping list, if you find the food bland? That’s where spices and condiments come in!

Why do you need supplements? Well, some nutrients on a vegan diet are just harder to obtain through food. For example, vitamin B12 is only found in animal products naturally. You would need to use a supplement or fortified food to get adequate amounts (and some find it harder to get enough fortified foods).

What supplements will you need? Most likely, at least a vitamin B12 supplement, but always talk to your doctor first.

Another supplement vegans might want to consider is iodine (an important mineral for thyroid health). This is because vegan sources of iodine are typically limited to:

  • Iodized salt
  • Sea Vegetables (For example: seaweed salad)

There are few vegan fortified foods with iodine.
Some of us avoid added salt because of the sodium, and many do not like or have access to sea vegetables.

Always talk to your doctor before adding a new supplement! Ask about supplementing iodine if you don’t find it practical to get enough iodine through food, or you are concerned.

Learn more about iodine in our article here.

Tips For Spices and Condiments: There are so many options for spices and condiments, and everyone has different preferences.
 
Maybe you love Indian food. Try cumin, turmeric, and masala sauce! Basil oregano thyme could make nice seasonings for home made pasta sauce.

While sodium content can be very high in some condiments like soy sauce, it is important to keep in mind how much you are eating. If you are eating a high sodium condiments, consider a lower sodium option. You may also want to consider the sodium content of your diet as a whole.

Since spices and condiments last a long time, you won’t need to add things to this category every time you go to your local grocery store, and the same thing applies to supplements.

5. Misc Group

This category could also be named the “everything else” group!

What items might go in here? Items that don’t necessarily fit into the other categories, such as a store bought cake for a birthday party, or frozen burritos for days you just don’t feel like preparing lunch the night before.

Think of the “misc” category as complementing the essentials of your plant based diet grocery list.  Not necessarily foods that need to be eaten every day, but are wonderful for the experience, enjoyment, and/or convenience of the individual.

Keep balance in mind here! For example, I enjoy a few squares of dark chocolate after dinner, but I am not going to buy as many cans of beans as I would bars of dark chocolate!

Cold/Frozen Category
1. Fresh and Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Why You Need It: Need I say more? Fruits and vegetables color our plate with vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and even contribute to hydration!

Tips: What you probably won’t find in this section is high sodium content or unhealthy fats, which means providing a list of recommended items is unnecessary for most individuals.

Of note: for those who take certain drugs or who have certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease, please speak with your personal Dietitian regarding fruit and vegetable options that are best for your unique situation. A dietitian can help you determine which fruits and vegetables to eat liberally, as well as those to limit.

What’s the difference between frozen and fresh?

There’s not much of a difference in regards to nutrients, but your frozen fruits and veggies should have a longer storage life! Remember that when you consider the frozen mixed berry blends at the store.

The main thing to watch out for in this frozen aisle is for options that are already seasoned, as they may have excess salt.

My best tip? By frozen fruits and vegetables with only one ingredient (the fruit or vegetable) and add your own seasonings!

Giving you a long list of fruits and vegetables is probably, not very helpful. Its hard to go “wrong” in the produce aisle!

Still you will want to make sure you include good sources of vitamin C and Vitamin A in your cart. Why? Vitamin C rich foods help you absorb vegan sources of iron better when eaten together.

And beta carotene (precursor to vitamin A) rich fruits and veggies should not be forgotten on a vegan diet (learn more about this in our article here).

What fruits and veggies are rich in Vitamin C and Beta Carotene? Here’s a list (FYI: not a comprehensive list)!

Examples of Beta Carotene Rich Fruits and Veggies:

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Mangos
  • Cantaloupe

Examples of Vitamin C Rich Foods

  • Peppers
  • Oranges/Orange Juice
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
Graphic showing examples of Vegan Sources Of Beta Carotene and Vitamin C
Graphic showing examples of vegan sources of beta carotene and vitamin C.
2. Calcium Rich Group

Why You Need It: Calcium is important for your bones, teeth, and muscles. A lot is required every day in comparison to other minerals (the calcium RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for non pregnant/non lactating adults aged 19- 50 years)

What happens if we don’t take care to get enough calcium? We run the risk of calcium being leached from the bones, which spells trouble for fractures, repair, and growth for growing bodies.

In fact, calcium is such an important nutrient, that the famous USDA’s My Plate features “Dairy” as a food group! However, dairy products are animal based, and therefore, not vegan. This means fully plant based eaters need to ensure they are getting calcium from other sources.  

Lucky for vegans, dairy milk is not the only way to get calcium!

There are plenty of calcium rich plant based foods to choose from, that it’s really not hard to meet your calcium needs if you know your sources!  

Here are some Examples:

  • Plant Based Foods High in Calcium:
    Calcium set tofu
    -Calcium fortified plant based milk, yogurt and cheese (always check the label first, as some are not good dairy alternatives for certain nutrients, like calcium).
    -Low Oxalate Green Vegetables (examples: broccoli, kale, turnip greens, bok choy)
  • Plant Based Foods Moderate in Calcium:
    -White beans
    -Almonds
    -Tahini
    -Figs
    -Oranges

FYI: Certain greens such as spinach contain oxalic acid, which binds much of the calcium. Don’t count on them as contributing a significant amount of calcium in your diet.

Vegan Food List For Beginners

Practically, what does a 100% vegan grocery list look like? Here’s an example!

Disclaimer: This list of vegan foods is JUST an example and is not telling you exactly what you should always buy at the store. Talk to your doctor before starting a supplement.

*Consumer Notice: This section contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner: (affiliate link*)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you.

Shelf Stable

  1. Starches
    -Whole Wheat Sprouted Bread
    -Quinoa
    -Whole Grain Oats
    -Pasta
    -Legume Based Pasta, here’s one example (affiliate link*): Tolerant Organic Red Lentil Rotini
  2. Legumes and Lentils
    -Black Beans
    -White Beans
    -Lentils
    -Chickpeas
    -Hummus
  3. Healthy Fats
    -Avocados
    -Ground Flaxseeds
    – Peanut Butter
    -Cashews-Unsalted
    -Mixed Nuts-Unsalted
  4. Spices, Condiments, and Supplements
    -Garlic
    -Onion Powder
    -Asian Seasoning
    -Chosen Foods Vegan Avocado Oil Mayo (affiliate link*)
    Vegan Multivitamin with iodine and vitamin B12 (approved by doctor)
  5. Misc.
    -Hilary’s Fiesta Black Bean Veggie Burgers
    Beyond Good Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate (affiliate link*). Learn more about vegan chocolate in our ultimate guide here!
    -Pasta Sauce
    -Whole wheat flour (for recipes)

Cold

  1. Fresh Veggies:
    -Celery
    -Broccoli
    -Baby Carrots
    -Radishes
    -Sweet Potatoes
    -Potatoes
    -Mixed Salad Greens
    -Kale
    -Tomato
  2. Fresh Fruit:
    -Oranges
    -Bananas
    -Apples
    -Kiwi
    -Mango
  3. Frozen Vegetables:
    -Spinach
    -Mixed Stir-fry Vegetables
    -Squash Mix
  4. Frozen Fruit:
    -Mixed Berry Blends (ex: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
  5. Calcium Rich:
    Calcium Set Tofu
    Silk Organic Unsweetened Soymilk (affiliate link*). Learn more about Plant Based Milks here!
    -Tahini

Frequently Asked Questions

Vegan Grocery Lists More Expensive, Right?

Here’s the scoop: A vegan diet can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be.
What are some factors that make a vegan diet more expensive?

  1. Convince. In general, the more convince items you buy, the larger the price tag.
    Example: If you always buy premade plant based burgers rather than make them yourself.
  2. Processing. Typically less processed items are cheaper than more processed items.
    Example: Dry beans cost less than canned beans.

Want to learn more? Check out our post Vegan for Beginners for more details

Do I Need Alternative Meat, Cheese, Etc. Food Items?

No. In fact, many vegan “meats” and “cheese” do not contain the same nutrients.

While some people may find these products convenient (and lets be honest, tasty too) its generally healthier to get your nutrients form whole, unprocessed foods.

That being said, if you are having a difficult time getting enough calcium on a vegan diet, calcium fortified plant based “milks” can be helpful for some folks! Try to aim for unsweetened ones, as they contain less added sugar.

Where Can I Find Vegan Food?

Pretty much anywhere! Unless you are living in a location that has a hard time importing vegan food, you should be able to shop just about anywhere.

Examples include (not a comprehensive list):

  • Whole Foods
  • Walmart
  • Costco
  • Health Food Stores
  • Farmers Markets

Is This Diet For Everyone?

Unfortunately, no. Certain individuals may want to avoid vegan diets if they fall into certain categories, such as (Disclaimer: not a comprehensive list!):

  1. Lack of Access

    As mentioned before, some individuals may live in an environment where it is nearly impossible to obtain enough calories and nutrients from vegan food.
  2. Lack of Funds and Education

    Sadly, animal products are subsidized in some parts of the world. This means they might be cheaper than vegan food. Without education on nutrients animal products provide and vegan alternatives, those struggling to make ends meet may have a harder time following a vegan diet.

How Can I Get Free Information About Nutrition on Vegan Diet?

Your in luck! There are plenty of free resources so that education does not have to be a barrier to a vegan diet.

Check out our Resources Page here.

And if you want to take a Dietitian written summary of nutrients you should pay attention to on a vegan diet check out our article here.

While not always free, a finding a vegan Registered Dietitian to personally work with you on your vegan journey may help you feel more confident.

Did this inspire you to start a plant based shopping? Do you have any questions? Let me know below!

And by the way, I am no stranger to the feeling of “missing out” when everyone else is eating the (dairy based) ice cream!

Sign up for my e-mail subscribers list where I get real about the struggles and share tips about keeping it vegan.
May the fork be with you…


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