Use this vegan beginner shopping list to prepare for your trip to the grocery store!
As someone who wants to help new vegans get started with their journey, it’s no wonder I’ve had this vegan beginner grocery list on my mind for a while. Because really, after figuring out what you can eat as a vegan, the next big question is: where do I find all this stuff?
It must be complicated to find the items on a basic vegan grocery list
People new to veganism often think that it must be really complicated to shop for food. The answer to that is: it really depends. Two variables factor in to whether shopping for food can become complicated when you start a vegan diet:
- Do you cook?
- Do you live in a big city?
If your answer to these two questions is “no” then yes, shopping for vegan food will be more complicated, but not impossible.
As the answer to question #2 is not something you’re likely to change overnight, investing a bit of time to learn how to cook and money to equip yourself with the necessary kitchen tools will make your vegan life easier going forward. And help keep the grocery bill in check!
Vegan beginner shopping list: what you can find at a regular grocery store
I’m going on three years of eating a 100% plant-based diet and I buy the majority of the items on my basic vegan grocery list at my regular, brand-name grocery store. Unless you refuse to learn a few simple recipes and want to buy only processed vegan food, most of your staples are easy to find at the grocery store you are already familiar with. Even the discount stores such as Walmart will carry the items listed below.
Sometimes, it’s just a question of knowing where to find things. Therefore, this part of the list is organized by isle or section.
Fruits & vegetables
Obviously, this section is where you’ll find the fruits and vegetables for your recipes of the week, but also where merchants usually keep the following:
- Nuts (cashews, almonds) and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax) – buy them raw and unsalted, as this is how they’ll be used in recipes. You’ll sometimes find them in bulk bins, or already packaged by weight.
- Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots, dates)
- Hummus (usually kept in an open fridge)
- Tofu (firm tofu is always kept in a refrigerated section, often close to the hummus… if you are looking for silken tofu, it does not require refrigeration, is sold in a Tetra pack, and will be kept elsewhere on a shelf)
Note: If a recipe simply calls for tofu, it’s going to require firm tofu, which can be extra firm, firm, medium, or soft (soft is mostly used for desserts). When silken tofu is called for, the recipe will specify it. Resist the temptation to switch one for the other, the results will not be the same. I buy my tofu blocks at Cotco, they have the cheapest price and since packaged tofu lasts for several weeks in the refrigerator, buying several blocks at once is not an issue.
This is the section where you will have to be the most careful, as most baked goods will use eggs or milk-based ingredients.
A helpful tip: when checking the ingredients, look at the list of allergens at the very end. When it says “contains” milk, eggs, etc. then the item is not vegan. Do not worry about the “may contain” mention, this is a precaution in case of cross-contamination. People with severe allergies need this information.
- Bread (check ingredients)
- Tortillas (check ingredients) for wraps
- Pita (more often than not, pita bread is vegan, but always check the ingredients)
These are your staples for everyday vegan dishes.
- Canned or dried beans (chickpeas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans are a good selection to start with) – buying dry will save you money, but cans are practical when you are in a rush to make a meal
- Canned tomatoes (usually diced, as they are more versatile), canned corn and plain tomato sauce are always practical to have on hand
- Dried pasta (avoid fresh pasta, it’s always made with eggs)
- Grains (rice, barley, chia, and quinoa are easy to find in a regular grocery store; oats will usually be kept in the cereal section; other grains such as millet and spelt may need to be purchased at a specialty store or online)
- Baking supplies (flour, baking powder, baking soda, corn starch, egg replacer)
- Coffee, tea
Note that most of the cookie and cracker isle is off limits, as the majority will contain eggs or milk-based ingredients.
Plant-based milk (soy, almond, rice, hemp, coconut) is kept in different places: it can be found in the refrigerators in cartons similar to those used for milk (larger formats), or on shelves in Tetra packs (1 L format).
These items are always practical to have on hand, but do not need to be purchased every week.
- Maple syrup (to replace honey, other alternatives to honey and sugar might require heading to a specialty store)
- Molasses (a great source of iron for vegans!)
- Peanut or other nut butters
- Dried herbs and spices
- Condiments such as Sriracha, salsa, mustard, ketchup, vegetable broth, soy sauce, oil and vinegar, salad dressing (avoid creamy and any dressing with cheese – check ingredients)
In the winter, when fresh vegetables are more expensive and don’t look as tasty, I often turn to frozen veggies. The nutritional value of frozen vegetables, picked at their peak of ripeness, is very comparable to that of fresh vegetables.
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen fruits (always good to have on hand for smoothies)
- Pizza dough (check ingredients)
Who said vegans ate only twigs and leaves?
- Basic chips (potatoes and oil – forget about most of the other flavors)
- Popcorn (check ingredients, some are not made with real butter)
Unfortunately, the majority of candies contain some form of gelatin and are made with sugar that might not be vegan. The majority of chocolate bars will contain milk ingredients.
Vegan beginner shopping list: specialty items
Grocery stores are taking notice and slowly adding some of these vegan specialty items to their shelves. However, these items might require going to a specialty store (usually a natural foods store). If you don’t have such a store near by, here’s a great list of sites where you can buy vegan products online.
Always practical to have on hand, these products allow you to prepare yourself quick vegan meals. Many new vegans also find that these close replicas of their meat alternatives, make the transition to veganism easier.
- Gardein products (vegan fish sticks, chicken fingers, meat balls) – frozen foods section
- Veggie burgers and veggie sausages – refrigerator or frozen foods section
- Tofurki deli slices – refrigerator
Beyond the plant-based milk, you’ll want to look into getting yourself some of the following dairy substitutes:
- Earth balance butter or vegan margarine
- Daiya cheese (not all of them are good, but the mozzarella style shreds, in moderation, are great on a homemade pizza and the cheddar style cheese slices make awesome grilled-cheese sandwiches)
- Daiya yogurts (pretty amazing!)
- Other vegan “cheese”
Egg replacers for baking have been around for ages and can be found in most grocery stores, but the Follow Your Heart VeganEgg are good to make a scramble.
Pantry items and condiments
- Vegan mayonnaise (what are some good vegan mayonnaise brands?)
- Nutritional yeast
- Vital wheat gluten (to make the best homemade seitan)
- Vegan salad dressing (usually for creamy dressings)
- Hemp hearts
- Agave nectar (another honey replacement)
- Coconut sugar
Hopefully this vegan beginner shopping list and the explanations that come with it will make your first grocery shopping experience as a vegan easier. One last tip: get some of the staples, and then buy the rest as needed for recipes you make every week.