Vegan Grocery Lists 101 for Beginners (Dietitian Written Guide)

If you are standing in the grocery aisles wondering what to get as a vegan, you’ve come to the right place!

Learn how to set yourself up for success with veganizing your grocery list in our beginners guide!

It’s even written by a dietitian who also happens to be vegan (hi), so you know it’ll be on point. Lets get started!

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.

What Can I Add to My List as a Vegan?

Vegans avoid animals products.

So when it comes to grocery shopping, they generally follow these guidelines (Of course, if you have a food allergy, medical condition, etc that needs some dietary changes, your menu might look diffrent):

Foods Vegans Can Eat

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

Foods Vegans Avoid

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

Is Vegan Food the same as Plant Based Food?

A food labeled “Plant Based” may very well be vegan.

However, it doesn’t have to be.

It is generally accepted that a plant based diet is an eating pattern centered around plant foods. 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 also have a small 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

Case in point- read the ingredients!

In summary: a vegan diet is always  a plant based diet, however a plant based diet is not always vegan.

Alright, now that we know the basics, lets get shopping!

How to make a Vegan Grocery List For Beginners (The 101 in 3 Steps)

This section will focus on planning a vegan grocery list that helps meet nutrient needs vegans should especially want to keep on their radar.

Step 1: Try To Plan Ahead

While this is not always possible, planning ahead might save you time and money at the store.

So try to 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. Am getting low on the supplements my doctor approved of (of note, obviously, you may not get your supplements from a grocery store 😉 )?

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

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

Step 2: Plan to Shop For Nutrients

Cutting out animal products may come with an unexpected learning curb.

For example, calcium comes in a variety of sources, such as calcium set tofu, and kale. It is not exclusive to dairy milk!

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

My 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?

1. Use the “Storage Method” Way of Shopping

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 more perishable. The last thing you want is de-thawed previously frozen broccoli, or warm lettuce when you get home!

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

2. Break It Down Further By “Food Groups”

As a Dietitian, I am constantly thinking about “balance” when it comes to meals, and your 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
  • Miscellaneous


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

Alright, now that that I’ve got the outline for my list, why are these categories important, and what should I look for practically?

Lets talk about that by going through each category (told ya this was going to be in depth)!

Shelf Stable Category
1. Starches

Why You Need Them: The starch category is all about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are so important because they provide fuel for virtually every cell in our body.

Examples of Nutrients It May Contain: B vitamins (not Vitamin B12, unless fortified with it), protein, zinc (mainly from examples like from oats and fortified grains).

Tips: When going for the grain, try to get 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 more satisfied.

Bread can be high in sodium, so try to look for whole grain options with the lowest amount of sodium (keeping in mind to work with what you have access to).

This can be tricky with breads because salt is both a preservative and flavor enhancer, learn more in our article about plant based bread.

Examples of starches 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 awesome, but for purposes of grouping, we included them in the “Veggies” section!

2. Legumes and Lentils

Why You Need Them: What can’t the mighty bean do? Legumes are full of filling protein and fiber, and provide important amino acids! 

Examples of Nutrients They May Contain: B vitamins (not Vitamin B12 ), protein, zinc, and iron.

Tips: When looking at legumes, opt try to find low sodium varieties . The front of the label might say “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
  • Soybeans

FYI: Tofu is also made from a legume (soybean), 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 Them: Besides adding important and often hard to get nutrients, including healthy fats in your diet adds to meal satisfaction. Plus, they could increase absorption of other nutrients, like beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) from your carrots!

Of course, we can’t 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!

Examples of Nutrients They May Contain: Variable: Iron and zinc (nuts and seeds), ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid)- an essential omega-3 fatty acid that are a type of found in foods like walnuts and certain seeds like chia and ground flax seeds.

Tips: I enjoy adding processed fats like seed oils – and if you’re looking for healthy fat sources, try to include include whole food plant based foods, that are rich in fat-like avocados, nuts and seeds. That way, you’ll get more nutritional bang for your buck (ex: no fiber stripped away!)

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!

For example, a bottle of oil can last longer than a week. Take inventory of your stock before you add them to your list.

Finally, you’ll want to concider limiting your intake of trans and saturated fat – in part for heart health (learn more in this info packed podcast episode)

High sources of saturated fat in a vegan diet might include palm oil and coconut oil (learn more in this article).

Examples fat rich foods Include:

  • Nuts
  • Nut Butters
  • Seed Butters (such as sunflower seed butter)
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Vegan Omega 3 Fat
    ALA (essential fat) Sources:
    -Ground Flaxseeds
    -Chia Seeds
    -Hemp Seeds
    -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 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 enough of through food.

For example, vitamin B12 in food only comes from animal foods, and foods fortified with vitamin B12.

Vegans should pay particualr attention to getting a consistent and reliable amount.

What supplements will you need as a vegan? 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 food sources with significant amount of iodine are typically limited to:

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

Some of us avoid added salt because of the sodium, and many do not like or have access to sea vegetables (and the amount in these can be inconsistent or even too high).

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 for vegans 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, and 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 as well as your diet as a whole.

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

5. Miscellaneous 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 “miscellaneous ” category as complementing the essentials of your grocery list.  Foods that are wonderful for the experience, enjoyment, and/or convenience of the individual. FYI-These can be shelf stable or cold/frozen-but you already knew that didn’t you?

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!

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

Of note: for those who take certain drugs or who have specific medical conditions, such as kidney disease, please speak with your personal health care provider and Dietitian regarding fruit and vegetable options that are best for you.

A dietitian can help you determine which fruits and vegetables to eat more liberally, as well as those to limit.

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.

Still you will want to make sure you include good sources of vitamin C and beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) in your cart.

Why? For one, vitamin C rich foods help you absorb vegan sources of iron better when eaten together.

And, it can be easy to forget about vitamin A (several animal products have preformed vitamin A-learn more in our article about vegan Vitamin A).

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 (such as carrots, pumpkin, mango, spinach, and sweet potatoes) and Vitamin C (such as pepper, kiwi, mango, strawberry, orange, and broccoli).
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 several other minerals (the calcium RDA (recommended dietary allowance) is 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for adults aged 19-50 years (1).

In fact, calcium is such an important nutrient, 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 containing plant based foods to choose from. 

Here are some examples:

  • Plant Based Foods that are good sources of Calcium:
    Calcium set tofu
    -Calcium fortified plant based milk, yogurt and cheese (always check the nutrition facts).
  • Plant Based Foods Moderate in Calcium(2):
    -Low Oxalate Green Vegetables (examples: broccoli, kale, turnip greens, bok choy)
    -White beans

FYI: Certain greens such as spinach contain oxalic acid, which binds much of the calcium(2). Don’t count on them as contributing a significant amount of calcium in your diet.

Sample Vegan Grocery List

Practically, what does a 100% vegan grocery list look like?

I’m so glad you asked, I’ve got a sample one below!

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 health care provider about dietary questions and before starting a supplement.

Shelf Stable

  1. Starches
    -Whole Wheat Sprouted Bread
    -Whole Grain Oats
    -Legume Based Pasta
  2. Legumes and Lentils
    -Black Beans
    -White Beans
  3. Healthy Fats
    -Ground Flaxseeds
    Peanut Butter
    -Mixed Nuts-Unsalted
  4. Spices, Condiments, and Supplements
    -Onion Powder
    -Asian Seasoning
    -Vegan Avocado Oil Mayo
    -Vegan Multivitamin with iodine and vitamin B12 (approved by doctor)
  5. Misc.
    -Hilary’s Fiesta Black Bean Veggie Burgers
    -Pasta Sauce
    Whole wheat flour (for recipes)
    -Vegan Chocolate (like Beyond Good Chocolate 😋)


  1. Fresh Veggies:
    -Baby Carrots
    -Sweet Potatoes
    -Mixed Salad Greens
  2. Fresh Fruit:
  3. Frozen Vegetables:
    -Mixed Stir-fry Vegetables
    -Squash Mix
  4. Frozen Fruit:
    -Mixed Berry Blends (ex: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
  5. Calcium Rich:
    Calcium Set Tofu
    Calcium Fortified Unsweetened Soymilk

Frequently Asked Questions

Aren’t vegan groceries more expensive?

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 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 (albeit, both are usually quite affordable).

Do I need alternative meat, cheese, etc?

No. In fact, many vegan “meats” and “cheese” do not contain the same nutrients as the animal versions. (that’s ok- just something to be aware of so you know where to get that nutrition elsewhere!)
While some people may find these products convenient (and lets be honest, tasty too) its generally less expensive and generally healthy to get most of your nutrients from less processed foods. However, it’s not necessary to shy away from all processed foods! In fact, many can be very helpful, such as plant based milks fortified with nutrients.
I personally include a mixture of both!

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 have several options.
Examples include (not a comprehensive list):
-Whole Foods
-Health Food Stores
-Farmers Markets

Is a vegan diet for everyone?

No. If you need animal products to survive and cannot meet your nutrient needs without them, then a vegan diet is not for you. Talk to your doctor and dietitian if you have any concerns.

Can I get enough protein as a vegan?

Yep- vegans can get enough protein! It’s important to eat a healthy variety of foods (plus not restricting food groups!), and find legumes that you love! If you want some tips on meal prep with high protein in mind, check out this guide.

I need some recipes!

If you have internet access you’ve already got an unlimited amount of recipes available (just google it)! I like to google vegan recipes with the ingredients I’m trying to use and browse through ones I might like.
You can also check out our recipes and round up posts here for inspiration!

Did this post make you feel more confident about balanced and healthy vegan grocery shopping? Feel free to comments below!
If you enjoy what you are reading, check out these other posts from Plant Powered You:
Plant based diet books
Types of Vegans
Vegan Quotes

Ready to start a vegan lifestyle? I’ve got a journal that can help!

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