Vegan Essentials Shopping
Then you start a vegan diet it can be overwhelming to figure out what exactly you need to buy. Many resources online point you to long list of items that you may not have the budget, space or time to buy. I made this guide to highlight the essentials – after posting 100+ vegan recipes I started seeing common patterns. I’m dividing the vegan shopping list in 2 categories: weekly purchases aka things that go bad and long-term purchases aka things that you can keep in your pantry or fridge for a while.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means (you are a huge community all over the world with many tastes, traditions and sensitivities) but hope it’s helpful to beginners! I’m including tips on how to repurpose some items / make your own to make this extra-budget-friendly:
These are the things that go bad and you need to replenish weekly.
Veggies & Fruits
The list is endless, so I’m not going to list everything, but this is the category where you should go wild. This (along with legumes/grains below) will be the basis of your diet so eat anything & everything. Keep it varied and buy what’s seasonal to make sure you get a variety of nutrients. Some veggies/fruits that deserve honorary mention because of how multipurpose they’ve become:
- Cauliflower – this is the year of the cauliflower! This cruciferous veggie has been used in everything from cauliflower “steak”, baked cauliflower florets, riced cauliflower, steamed & frozen for smoothies, made into cauliflower pizza, and there’s even cauliflower gnocchi in the Trader Joes frozen section. If you have leftover cauliflower either check my feed or google cauliflower recipes as the possibilities are endless.
- Zucchini – multi-purpose as well, many spiralized recipes where it serves as a pasta replacement, steamed & frozen for smoothies, zucchini boats, rolled up and stuffed etc.
- Avocado Toast (duh)
- Used in salads
- Used as dressing
- Pasta sauces
- Vegan desserts – e.g vegan chocolate mousse
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet Potato Fries (in the oven)
- Wedges / Circles / Longways “toasts” – baked in many shapes and eaten as both sweet & savory
- Steamed/baked & frozen to be used in smoothies
- Steamed/baked & pureed to be used as breakfast bowls (+peanut butter / fruits on top)
- Steamed/baked & used in baked goods
- Chips – baked thinly into chips, can be eaten with guacamole, salsa, even peanut butter
- Frozen & blended to make “nice cream”
- Spotty bananas used in baked goods (banana bread, muffins)
- Fresh bananas used on top of oatmeal, pancakes, waffles
- Sauteed on stovetop to also be used as toppings “caramelized”
- Medjool Dates: it’s hard to find a sweet recipe without medjool dates in it. It’s used as a “natural” sweetener and it’s delicious because of its caramel undertones. It can last weeks in the fridge.
- Sweetener in smoothie – many smoothies call for an extra medjool date to sweeten it up
- Energy bites – often have medjool dates as a base, deliciously chewy!
- Desserts! Many desserts from muffins to cakes have medjool dates as an ingredient
- Snack – can be eaten on their own, with peanut butter, stuffed with walnuts, dipped in chocolate etc.
- Caramel sauce – many sweet sauces have medjool dates in them
- Berries: hard to find an oatmeal bowl without berries on top! Berries are very nutritious, high in fiber and can be great on their own, on top of oats, used in smoothies, frozen and blended into nice cream, and even made into JAM!! They go bad quickly so eat them up asap.
- Lemons: Often used in dressings and squeezed in food. Freeze lemon juice in ice tray if you have too many leftover melons or drink it in your water.
- Fresh garlic & onion – most cooking recipes start with these 2 and it’s not a surprise as they really flavor the food. If you’re too busy to chop garlic, I’ve noticed Trader Joes has some minced garlic in cubes in the frozen section.
- Fresh herbs: If you have these in your garden, great, they can really add flavor to food! If you can afford to buy fresh herbs, also great! If a recipe calls for an herb you don’t have, either use ground or just skip it. Don’t buy 3-4 fresh herbs because a recipe called for them, only for them to rot.
Vegan Dairy Alternatives
- Non Dairy Milk – lots of options here (almond, cashew, coconut, oat milk) that you can purchase or even easily make yourself (see my note under nuts below)
- Non Dairy Yogurt – growing options here, coconut yogurt (e.g COYO), almond yogurt (Kite Hill) – harder to make yourself
- Vegan butter / cream cheese / cheese etc. – Most grocery stores have some options now in the specialty section. You can also make your own cheese but it’s a lot of effort. Miyoko is a great brand for vegan cheese.
Long term purchases
These are the items you can keep in your fridge or pantry for weeks if not months. They are “investment pieces”, you can slowly build them up over time.
Nuts & Vegan Nut Butters
There are so many different nuts to try! They’re expensive but if you store them in an airtight container in the fridge and they can stay fresh for months. They’re a great source of fat and because they’re dense in calories they’re very filling.
- Cashews: the star of vegan nuts because of how often they’re used as:
- Cheese alternative: many sauces and “vegan cheeses” call for cashews because it creates a cheese-like consistency
- Sweets: many if not most vegan desserts also call for cashews
- All other nuts: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashew nuts
- Sprinkled on salads / used in cooking
- Nut-milk! So easy to make on your own by just soaking the nuts in water, and then blending them finely with water and straining them
- Nut butters – so multipurpose and so many different kinds:
- On oatmeal, smoothie bowls, yogurt bowls, sweet potato toasts, medjool dates, baked goods / desserts.
- When you purchase beware and read the ingredients: only pick nut butters that have NUTS ONLY as the ingredient and no added oils / chemicals.
- They can get quite expensive so if you have a high powered blender / food processor you can easily make your own nut butter by just blending the nut itself finely!
Legumes, Grains, Vegan Pastas & Flours
Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas are the foundation of plantbased protein, containing the highest amount of protein in non-animal products, ~15g per 200 calories. They’re also super healthy, an absolute must and because they can last months (if not longer) in your pantry, you can build up your collection over time:
Vegan protein per cooked cup:
- Black Beans – 15g per cooked cup
- Lentils – 18g per cooked cup
- Chickpeas – 12g per cooked cup
- Edemame – 30g per cooked cup (Trader joes has some in the refrigerated section but it lasts ~1 week)
- Split peas – 16g per cooked cup
- Tofu – 20g per cup
- Tempeh – 30g per cup
Other varieties of beans and lentils are similar, some a bit higher than others but generally similarly high.
- Oats – The most popular vegan grain! Great for breakfast oatmeal bowls, great to blend into oat flour and used as a flour alternative in baking, overnight oats, made into granola, energy bites etc. Steelcut oats are also delicious and can even be made savory.
- Rice (white, brown, wild etc)
All pure flours are vegan but some flours that come up in recipes more than others are:
- All purpose flour
- Almond Flour – my favorite is this one from Wellbee’s because it’s super fine.
- Coconut Flour
- Oat Flour (you can make this yourself by blending oats in a blender)
- Rice flour
Most pastas (other than the ones that have egg added) are vegan. Pasta alternatives (made from chickpeas / lentils) are making an appearance in grocery stores and they’re great because they are more nutritious / high in plantbased protein.
Other Vegan Pantry Items
- Oils – oils are vegan, so use what you prefer, but:
- Avocado oil is great for high temperature cooking as it has the highest smoke point.
- Coconut oil – often used in baking because it chemically acts more like butter
- Sesame oil – asian flavors
- Nutritional yeast – often used as a cheese replacement, super healthy (despite the name)
- Tomato sauces (check ingredients!) can come in handy for pasta or recipe basics
- Canned tomato / tomato paste
- Soy sauce / coconut aminos
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Canned beans / chickpeas / corn etc – come in handy! Just look at the ingredients and make sure they’re plain with not a lot of other added salt, oils etc and cans are BPA-free.
- Spices – Anything and everything! Spices really well, spice up your meals. As long as you have salt & pepper you can begin, everything else you can buy over time.
Vegan Frozen Section
- Don’t neglect the frozen section – frozen produce can sometimes be as if not more nutritious than fresh (as it’s often frozen after it’s ripened), just check the bag to make sure there’s no preservatives. Great for berries or veggies you won’t use often (e.g peas).
- Frozen fruit makes amazing nice cream – just blend that on its own in a blender and you’ll have creamy delicious ice cream alternative.
- You can freeze many of the dishes you make to use later!
- Have extra lemons? Squeeze the juice in ice trays and make lemon juice cubes to use later. You can use this trick also for coconut milk/cream and even for freezing herbs (add a little bit of oil)
- Vegan ice cream – there are vegan ice cream alternatives – Talenti just released a new line, Ben & Jerry’s has had delicious vegan ice cream for a while.
This is the most overpriced category in my opinion, often 2x the price of the non-vegan alternatives, mostly because a lot of the vegan snack brands are small companies that have recently started and don’t have the economies of scale to make these affordable. You can save a ton if you focus on just eating real foods and real meals.
Most vegan baking will call for:
- Baking Soda
- Baking Powder
- Flax Seeds
- egg replacement, mixing 1tbsp flax seed + 3 tbsp water creates a “flax egg”
- Also an amazing source of Omega-3, 1tbsp is recommended daily.
- Chia Seeds – often used in baking (and chia pudding)
- Hemp Seeds – can be sprinkled on top of oats, baked goods etc. nutritious and 3g protein per tbsp!
- Sweetener – maple syrup, agave syrup, coconut sugar, refined sugar
- Coconut products: coconut milk, cream, flakes. Coconut cream is often used in icings.
- Cacao powder
- Cacao butter – if you want to make your own vegan chocolate
- Chocolate chips – very few brands have vegan ones, I found one at Trader Joes recently
- Vanilla extract
- Yeast – if you want to make your own bread
- Corn Starch / Arrowroot Powder (corn starch substitute) – used as thickener
- Agar Agar – vegan gelatin, you won’t need to use this unless you’re making gelatin products
- Jams – you can make your own by just cooking some berries on the stove top for a few minutes and then adding some chia!