Updated: Nov 10, 2020
Lets get down in the weeds here.
Roaming the aisles of the grocery store may be relaxing for omnivorous foodies, but for those transitioning to a vegan lifestyle – an expansive array of unvetted fridge, freezer and pantry items can be anything but.
With the nature of the plant-based diet being largely exclusive of many common household staples, I set out to clear the confusion and provide a single printable resource to help both long-time vegans and those new to the plant-based movement navigate the madness: the Ultimate Vegan Grocery List.
While the vegan diet, by definition, omits all animal products - it doesn’t imply that those looking to pursue this lifestyle for health, environmental or ethical reasons have to subside on grass clippings and rice cakes.
We know, as positioned in a statement by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, a well-planned vegan diet is healthful, nutritionally adequate, and suitable for all life-stages. That’s why I’ve decided to combine the broad selection of vegan products available on the market with my knowledge and expertise on plant-based nutrition to compile a list of plant-powered staples with your nutrient needs, satiety and satisfaction in mind.
How To Build A Vegan Grocery List
When building a comprehensive grocery list, it’s important to note that you may not need to stock up on all these items at once. But you can use this all-encompassing list to help jog your memory on what items you may be running low on, to inspire you to try new plant-based foods, remind you of foods or supplements critical to seek out on a plant-based diet, or to help you decipher which products are free of animal-based ingredients.
When filling out your list, it can be helpful to consider the main food groups of a healthy plant-based diet such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – as well as other categories that may play a part in a balanced lifestyle: cooking/baking ingredients, refined grains, snack foods, condiments, dairy replacements, meat-like products and beverages. I also chose to include some vitamin and supplement reminders that are pertinent to consider on a strict vegan lifestyle - as certain nutrients are more difficult to attain on a plant-based diet in the absence of supplementation.
I decided to refrain from mentioning specific brands here, due to the variance in availability of those products amongst my international audience.
Foods To Avoid On A Vegan Diet
But before we dive into all the delicious items to keep an eye out for, lets briefly touch on which foods you would want to avoid when pursuing a vegan grocery haul:
Meats, such as beef, pork, chicken, turkey, & lamb
Seafood, such as fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, anchovies, clams & other mollusks
Dairy, such as cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt, milk powders like whey & casein, heavy cream, butter/ghee, ice cream & other dairy-based treats
Eggs, including the yolks, whites, and related foods/condiments (quiches, mayonnaise, etc.)
Honey, gelatin, collagen, beeswax, lard & more
For a complete list of what to avoid on ingredient labels, be sure to check out PETA’s comprehensive list of animal-derived products linked here.
Nutrients To Pay Attention To
As critical as it is to understand which foods are not included on a plant-based diet, I would much rather rant about what foods are encouraged. And in the spirit of a nutrition nerd-out moment, let’s direct our focus to a few key nutrients it may be helpful to pursue more intentionally on a vegan diet, as well as the top plant-based sources of them.
1. Vitamin B-12 – Critical for red blood cell formation, protein metabolism and a healthy nervous system. Found primarily in supplements, nutritional yeast, and B-12 fortified tofu, soy milk and breakfast cereals.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids – Reduce inflammation, aid in neurological development and may reduce the risk of certain conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Found in algae and yeast-based supplements as well as in small amounts in flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds.
3. Vitamin D – Crucial for bone health, immune function, mood regulation and the absorption of other nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus. Able to be synthesized via sun exposure at certain latitudes. Also found in supplement form as well as certain types of mushrooms, fortified juices, and plant-milks.
4. Calcium – Important for bone and teeth formation, muscle function, and heart health. Found in dark leafy greens, beans, legumes, tahini, citrus fruits, and fortified plant-milks, juices, and breakfast cereals.
5. Iron – Crucial for the development of healthy blood cells and oxygen transport throughout the body. Found in beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate, dried fruit, dark leafy greens and certain fortified foods and cereals.
6. Zinc – Important for immunity and metabolic health. Found in oats, chickpeas, lentils, pumpkin seeds, tofu, and almonds.
7. Iodine – Necessary for a healthy thyroid and metabolism. Found in sea vegetables like dulse, nori, and other edible seaweeds as well as iodized salt.
With all that in mind, lets dive into the list, shall we?
Click below to download, save, or print it off for all your grocery shopping, meal-prepping, and nutrient-seeking needs!
How to Shop Vegan On A Budget
With all that talk about fresh produce and vegan specialty products – it’s easy to understand why some people are intimidated by the thought of eating plant-based on a budget. Keep in mind that animal products like beef, seafood and poultry are some of the most expensive foods one can buy. And just because you’re not buying those foods anymore, doesn’t mean you have to splurge on fancy faux meats and cashew cheeses to make up for it.
The truth is the staples of a whole-foods plant-based diet are some of the cheapest foods on the planet. Rice, potatoes, lentils, beans – these foods are available in bulk at low prices all across the world.
Additionally, focusing on local, seasonal, frozen, or canned produce can help rack up the savings as well. If you do prefer exclusively fresh produce, herbs, and condiments – freezing extra servings of these foods can help reduce food waste so they’re there for you when you need them.
Similarly, nut butters tend to be slightly cheaper than whole nuts and trail mixes, so considering the form of various foods may help you stay within budget too.
As with any cuisine, restaurant-purchased meals are much more expensive than any home-cooked, batch-prepped alternative. While certain foods like non-dairy yogurts, sandwich breads, and granolas are most convenient when purchased – making other staples like salad dressings, veggie patties, and vegan pastries at home can save a chunk of change in the long run.
Choosing recipes that freeze and thaw well like soups, stews, enchiladas, taquitos, veggie patties, and casseroles can help incentivize batch-cooking as well. If a meal tastes fresh, flavorful and intact after freezing and thawing out on a busy weeknight, you’re much more likely to avoid that late-night Postmates temptation.
Best Online Stores For Vegan Shopping
If you are looking to spice up your meals with the latest plant-based specialty foods, certain online grocers can offer lower prices than your local supermarket, with convenient door-to-door delivery services as an added bonus.
Thrive Market is an online grocer that offers customers a huge selection of the latest vegan goodies at wholesale prices. It also allows consumers to filter their searches to strictly view products that are “vegan”, “gluten-free”, “organic”, etc. – making shopping for special diets a breeze.
Imperfect Foods is another fantastic brand looking to fight food waste and reduce carbon emissions as a company. The homepage of their website shares startling food waste numbers in an effort to educate consumers on why their brand’s hand-selected produce is not only great for you, but for farmers, producers, and the planet too.
Other grocery delivery services like Costo delivery, Amazon Fresh and Instacart offer competitive prices for vegan specialty products as well – and may ship to a broader range of locations. While not all of these stores are primarily vegan, more and more mainstream grocers are carrying new and delicious varieties of plant-based staples like tempeh, coconut yogurts and plant-milks.
Where To Start
All that to say, going plant-based in an omnivorous world has never been easier. While it may seem overwhelming to dive into a vegan lifestyle cold-turkey, there have never been more resources, more delivery services, or more delicious plant-based products than now. And with a few educational articles, drool-worthy recipes and a comprehensive grocery lists at your fingertips – you’ll be off the ground running in no time.
For more helpful tips and information on pursuing a plant-based lifestyle, be sure to check out this video, where I break down all things veganism and the plant-based diet for beginners.
I hope this article leaves you feeling more informed, confident and equipped to dabble in a plant-centric lifestyle if it’s something you’ve been curious to pursue. Rest assured there is no flavor, nutrient, or cuisine you have to miss out on if eating more plants is a part of your health goals this year.
Just a little bit of creativity, intentionality, and a hearty appetite can make all the difference.
This post was written & medically reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
Grace Pascale, MS, RDN. Grace Pascale Nutrition.