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Navigating the Grocery Store as a New Plant-Based Eater: What You Should Know


Being a plant-based eater is pretty awesome – you get to eat as much plant-based food as you want, all from nature’s finest foods. You won’t be wasting your money on processed foods with nasty additives that will make you feel tired and give you mad cravings. You’ll be eating vitamins, minerals, natural sugars, filling fiber, and colorful foods that help you feel your best. While you probably already know the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, navigating the grocery store as a new veggie eater is a whole other ball game. As consumers, we’re literally bombarded at the store with way too many options than one person should have to stock up on food each week. Even items that appear healthy may not actually be, despite being vegan. For example, you may already know that technically, Oreos are vegan, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy for you or that they should appear in your grocery carts.

So what are you supposed to buy at the grocery store as a new plant-based eater? Here’s what you should know and how to be a first time success.

1. Start in the Produce Section

Even as a gal who’s eaten plant-based foods for years, I still practice this same rule. You might be tempted to head to the produce department last so your foods will last longer until you get home, but head there first because the majority of your purchases should come from this section. Put anything in your cart that looks appealing to you. Great examples are:

  • containers of spinach and mixed greens (for salads, wraps, and smoothies)
  • fruit (any variety you like –  try a few new ones too)
  • kale and other leafy greens (for salads, juices, smoothies, wraps, and entrees)
  • veggies (any that look appealing to you – you’ll be using these on salads, wraps, entrees, and even in smoothies!)
  • Nuts and Seeds (buy these in the produce bulk department section where they’re often cheaper and you can buy only what you need)

2. Avoid Most Boxed Items

Most items on the shelf aren’t worth your time or money. Nix the boxed cereals and processed breakfast bars. They often have added sodium, sugar, preservatives, and sometimes added oils, which you don’t need. It’s also a good idea to avoid the pricey vegan energy bars (since you can make your own at home) and the ones at the store usually have added sugars.

3. Buy Grains, Legumes, and Beans Next

Grains, legumes, and beans should round out the next portion of your diet outside of fruits and vegetables. These foods all help keep you fuller longer, they’re naturally low in fat, and they have more fiber than higher fat or sugary foods. Go for the following choices:

  • oats (rolled oats or steel cut)
  • oat flour (for baking)
  • quinoa (or quinoa flakes)
  • millet
  • amaranth
  • wild rice
  • brown rice
  • black rice
  • any whole grain noodles (not regular white)
  • whole grain or gluten-free flours (like brown rice, chia flour, oat flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, or almond flour)
  • kidney beans
  • endamame (you can usually buy this frozen)
  • white beans
  • garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • green peas
  • split peas
  • lentils
  • black beans
  • adzuki beans
  • pinto beans

Canned vegetables and canned beans are fine in a pinch – but do watch the sodium. Go for varieties that have no salt added. If you’re low on money, buying canned can help you stretch your budget further than buying fresh, but not always, so compare prices. Just be sure to buy from companies that don’t use BPA liners to be safe when it comes to aluminum in canned foods. Organic is also always the better option.

4. Add Some Healthy Seeds

Seeds like chia, flax, hemp, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds are all powerhouse foods. They have tons of nutrition and can help you stay full due to their filling fiber. Plus, chia and flax contain omega 3 fatty acids so they make wonderful additions to your diet.

5. Be Condiment Savvy

Vegans have it lucky when it comes to condiments because there are limitless options. The best options include:

  • mustard
  • ketchup (buy those with little to no sugar)
  • hot sauce
  • tahini (sesame seed butter)
  • coconut aminos
  • raw apple cider vinegar
  • all spices and herbs
  • vegan Worcestershire sauce (check labels to be certain)
  • barbecue sauce (most brands are vegan but check labels to be sure)
  • hummus
  • guacamole
  • salsa

You can use these in a variety of different ways. I like to use several of them to make vegan salad dressing, but you can use them anyway you like, such as a marinade, a sauce, or as an ingredient in any entree. Check out these tips for How to Take Condiments From Ordinary to Extraordinary.

6. Buy Some Nondairy Milk

Since dairy milk is off the menu, you’ll need to pick up some nondairy milk as a yummy replacement. I like unsweetened vanilla almond and unsweetened soy milk. You can choose from any of the following:

  • soy milk
  • almond milk
  • hemp milk
  • cashew milk
  • coconut milk
  • oat milk
  • flax milk
  • rice milk

These are awesome in hot cereals that you’ll cook with your grains you just bought, and they’re absolutely fantastic in smoothies and baked goods. They also have added calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and magnesium, so they’ll help support your diet on an overall basis.

7. Be Wary of Trendy Vegan Foods

Items such as: coconut butter, tempeh, coconut milk ice cream, and soy yogurt are all great options when you first go vegan and need replacement foods, but they’re very pricey, have added fats, and you truly don’t need them to be healthy. Superfoods can be great options, however I suggest basing most of your diet off whole foods first and filling in the gaps with trendy vegan foods.

One exception I would suggest is plant-based protein powder. Many brands out there produce excellent products that can help support your body on a vegan diet, especially if you love fitness and/or you’re an athlete. Choose options without added sugars and you might also consider one containing greens or using a greens powder daily. These foods can help boost nutrition in your diet and will generally last several months once you purchase them.

8. Don’t Fear Frozen

Don’t forget the frozen section, because most regular fruits and vegetables from this section will save you a ton of money. Frozen fruits and veggies, along with frozen greens are often cheaper than fresh and if you live a busy lifestyle they can help prevent items from going to waste. They’re also great to use in smoothies, entrees, or to use to pack your lunch with.

If you’re a new plant-based eater, what foods do you buy each week?

Need recipe suggestions for these foods? Check out our recipe section to give you ideas for meal planning.

Image source: Jaro Larnos/ Flickr

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0 comments on “Navigating the Grocery Store as a New Plant-Based Eater: What You Should Know”

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John Whyman
2 Years Ago

I like all this yet I got to say the fresh fruit part is a proverbial mine field. Way too often fruit in grocery stores lacks sweetness and flavor due to being picked too soon.


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