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 make a vegan shopping list in our beginners guide, written by a dietitian who also happens to be vegan. 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.
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 to My List as a Vegan?
In general, vegans follow these rules when it comes to grocery shopping:
Foods Vegans Can Eat
- Whole plant foods (ie: whole broccoli, corn, apples, etc)
- Packaged/non packaged edible food that does not include any animal products (ie: vegan cereal, bread, chocolate, etc.)
Foods Vegans Avoid
- Animal products (The most obvious being dairy, meat, fish, and eggs).
- 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 Shopping List For Beginners(3 Steps)
This section will focus on planning a vegan grocery list that helps meet nutrient needs vegans should pay attention to.
Step 1: Try To Plan Ahead
While this is not always possible, planning ahead might save you time and money at the store.
So if possible, set aside a few minutes each week to go through your cabinets, fridge and freezer. Ask these questions:
- What staples am I missing?
- What meals ideas do I have, and what ingredients do I still need?
- Are there any special occasions coming up? (guests, parties, school bake sales, etc)
- 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, We’ve compiled a summary of nutrients you may need to pay more attention to as a vegan:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- 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?
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:
- Legumes Chickpeas and Lentils
- Healthy Fats
- Spices, Condiments, and Supplements
- 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
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 oats/fortified grains).
Tips: When going for the grain, try to go for 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 lowest amount of sodium. 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).
- Bread (preferably whole grain)
- Tortillas (preferably 100% whole wheat)
- 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 Them: What can’t the mighty bean do? Legumes are full of filling protein and fiber!
Examples of Nutrients They May Contain: B vitamins (not Vitamin B12 ), protein, zinc, and iron.
Tips: When looking at legumes, opt for dried or low sodium pre-cooked varieties . The front of the label might say “low sodium” or “no salt added”.
- 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 Them: Besides adding important and often hard to get minerals, 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 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!
Examples of Nutrients They May 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 like chia and ground 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! That’s because a little bit can go a long way when it comes to flavor.
Take inventory of your stock before you add them to your list.
- Nut Butters
- Seed Butters (such as sunflower seed butter)
- Vegan Omega 3 Fat
ALA (essential fat) Sources:
-Vegan Algae Based Supplements
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 in food only comes from animal foods, and foods fortified with vitamin B12.
You would need to use a supplement and/or enough fortified food consistently.
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 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.
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 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. Not necessarily foods that need to be eaten every day, but are wonderful for the experience, enjoyment, and/or convenience of the individual.
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 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? 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 (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
Examples of Vitamin C Rich Foods
- Oranges/Orange Juice
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 daily 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 (of note, dairy is notable for other nutrients as well, more about that here)!
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.
Here are some examples:
- Plant Based Foods High in Calcium:
–Calcium set tofu
-Calcium fortified plant based milk, yogurt and cheese (always check the nutrition facts).
-Low Oxalate Green Vegetables (examples: broccoli, kale, turnip greens, bok choy)
- Plant Based Foods Moderate in Calcium(2):
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, we’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 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. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
-Whole Wheat Sprouted Bread
-Whole Grain Oats
-Legume Based Pasta, here’s one example: Tolerant Foods Organic Red Lentil Rotini (affiliate link*)
- Legumes and Lentils
- Healthy Fats
– Peanut Butter
- Spices, Condiments, and Supplements
–Chosen Foods Vegan Avocado Oil Mayo (affiliate link*)
-Vegan Multivitamin with iodine and vitamin B12 (approved by doctor)
-Hilary’s Fiesta Black Bean Veggie Burgers
–Whole wheat flour (for recipes)
-Beyond Good Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate (affiliate link*) below:
- Fresh Veggies:
-Mixed Salad Greens
- Fresh Fruit:
- Frozen Vegetables:
-Mixed Stir-fry Vegetables
- Frozen Fruit:
-Mixed Berry Blends (ex: blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
- Calcium Rich:
–Calcium Set Tofu
-Silk Organic Unsweetened Soymilk (affiliate link*) below:
Frequently Asked Questions
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 (albeit, both are usually quite affordable).
No. In fact, many vegan “meats” and “cheese” do not contain the same nutrients as the animal versions.
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 in food 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.
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):
-Health Food Stores
No. If you need animal products to survive and cannot meet your nutrient needs them, then a vegan diet is not for you. Talk to your doctor and dietitian if you have any concerns.
If you feel more confident shopping as a vegan or have any questions, let me know!
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May the fork be with you…