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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 vegan grocery shopping in this Dietitian written comprehensive guide.

But first things first…

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: Vegans shop for food that does not contain any animal products.
They avoid them for a variety of reasons. Some reasons include:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Concerns about the environment
  3. Health
Graphic Showing what foods are and aren't included in a vegan diet.

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.

There is no official dictionary definition for “Plant Based.” Still, 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 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

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.

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 your list with health in mind? 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.

This section will focus on planning a vegan grocery list that helps to meet vegan specific nutrient needs, 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 grocer 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:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids

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

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    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 most of the time. These options will have more fiber to help keep you full and 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 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: Soybeans are also an excellent protein choice, 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 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! But in summary, Omega 3 fats are healthy essential fats (one’s our bodies can not produce).

    What Nutrients It Contains: Variable: Iron and zinc (nuts and seeds), Omega 3 Fatty Acids (flax, chia, walnuts, hemp).

    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 really don’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
    • 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 vegan omega 3 fats.
    4. Spices, Condiments, and Supplements

    Why You Need 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.

    So if you don’t find it practical to get enough iodine through iodized salt or sea vegetables, talk to your doctor about supplementing with iodine or taking a multivitamin with iodine in it.

    If you both decide supplementing is right for you, be wary of high doses or kelp supplements. Several kelp supplements have been found to contain more than the listed amount of iodine, meaning you may get too much iodine. Too much iodine can cause hyperthyroidism (an over active thyroid).

    Tips For Spices and Condiments: The sky is really the limit, and recommendations are almost impossible because everyone has different tastes.
     
    Maybe you love Indian food. Try cumin, turmeric, and masala sauce! Perhaps you love Mexican food, try chili pepper flakes, and siracha!

    While sodium content can be very high in some condiments, it is important to keep in mind how much you are eating. If you are eating a lot of ketchup, go for a lower sodium option! If you are just having a bit with fries every now and then, the conventional kind is probably ok.

    Since spices and condiments last a long time, you won’t need to add things to this category every time you go to the 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 love 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?

    Really, the main difference between fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables is that the frozen varieties will keep longer! That’s right, the frozen stuff still has retains the same nutritive value as fresh, and in fact, frozen fruits and vegetables may retain more nutrition because they are picked at their peak.

    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. Some of us may not be able to convert the beta carotene (vitamin A precursor in veggies) to vitamin A in veggies as well as non vegan sources.

    What fruits and veggies are rich in Vitamin C and Beta Carotene? Here’s a 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 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 (Calcium RDA: 1,000 mg 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 us, 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 though).
      -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

    *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.

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

    Disclaimer: This is JUST an example and is not telling you exactly what you should always buy at the store.

    Shelf Stable

    1. Starches
      -Whole Wheat Sprouted Bread
      -Quinoa
      -Whole Grain Oats
      -Pasta
      -Tolerant Organic Chickpea Rotini Pasta (affiliate link*)
    2. Legumes and Lentils
      -Black Beans
      -White Beans
      -Lentils
      -Chickpeas
      -Hummus
    3. Healthy Fats
      -Avocados
      -Ground Flaxseeds
      Peanut Butter (affiliate link*)
      -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*)
      -Pasta Sauce

    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 Veggies:
      -Spinach
      -Mixed Stir-fry Vegetables
      -Squash Mix
    4. Frozen Fruit:
      -Mixed Berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
    5. Calcium Rich:
      -Calcium Set Tofu
      Silk Organic Unsweetened Soymilk (affiliate link*)
      -Tahini

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      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 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.

      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:

      • 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 these:

      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 my Resources Page here. Find a Dietitian written summary of nutrients you should pay attention to on a vegan diet here.

      While not always free, a finding a vegan Registered Dietitian who can help you on your journey is the most compressive option.

      Did this inspire you to start a vegan grocery list? Do you have any other 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!

      Follow Christine, Plant Powered You’s vegan Dietitian on Instagram and Facebook. I am in this with you! Let me know how I can continue to support you on your vegan journey!
      May the fork be with you…


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