How I Shop Now That I’m Vegan

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

People like to joke that the only thing vegans can eat is lettuce, but that is far from the truth! In fact, I’ve been surprised by how little my grocery shopping has changed. The most important thing I stock up on is still fruits and vegetables, and my budget is basically the same. Of course, I’ve added a few new items to my weekly grocery list, and some things I just buy in greater quantities.

After I hit the produce section, here are the things that I look for.

My Vegan Pantry Staples

1. Nutritional Yeast

These yellow flakes give a cheesy flavor to food, so they’re used in pretty much every vegan cheese or cheese sauce recipe. Nutritional yeast is also a good source of B vitamins — hence the “nutritional” part of its title. You can find a little container of it in the baking aisle with the yeast, but I prefer to get it from the bulk section to save money.

2. Chickpeas

Chickpeas usually enter into at least one meal a week, so it’s nice to have them at the ready. We are constantly stocked on both dry and canned chickpeas. I make hummus weekly, my toddler loves to munch on chickpeas for lunch, and I can use the liquid from the can as an egg replacer in baking, so it’s like two ingredients for the price of one! We also keep black beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans, and lentils in our pantry at all times.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

3. Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream

The coconut is truly a vegan godsend. I currently have four cans of coconut milk and two of coconut cream in my pantry. We use it in everything — rice, soups, curries — and of course it’s great for baking. Coconut milk ganache is amazing, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t eaten whipped coconut cream with a spoon.

4. Coconut Oil

I used to use a lot of butter in my baking, but now I’ve replaced it primarily with coconut oil. I get the refined kind for a neutral flavor. It was much harder to find a few years ago, but now it’s pretty ubiquitous and available at a range of prices.

5. Cashew and Soy Milks

I love unsweetened cashew milk on my cereal and for baking because it’s crazy creamy. We also regularly buy flavored soy milk because my son loves it. I always check to make sure I’m getting milk that’s fortified with B12 because certain flavors don’t have it.

6. Liquid Smoke

If I’m ever missing meaty flavor, this stuff is where it’s at. We have used it in seitan, coconut bacon, and many other meals to beef up the flavor (pun intended).

7. Green Jackfruit

When I first heard of this vegetable being touted as pulled pork for vegetarians, I was skeptical, but hopeful. Now we eat it on the regular in tacos and on top of other dishes. I have to go to the international grocery store to find it, but I’m guessing it will become a little more mainstream soon, especially now that I’ve seen commercially prepared jackfruit at Whole Foods. When I can’t find the real deal in the produce section, it’s easy to find it canned in water.

8. Vegan Bread

You might be surprised to learn that many grocery-store breads contain milk. I had no idea that our favorite brand of sandwich bread was made with milk! We ended up having to switch brands and, because it can be difficult to find, I stock up whenever I’m at the store that carries it.

9. Vital Wheat Gluten

I didn’t know this flour even existed until we went vegan and found out about seitan. Pronounced say-tahn, it is a form of protein derived from wheat, and it’s a great replacement for chicken. You can buy commercially made seitan, but buying vital wheat gluten in bulk and making your own is cheaper and it’s insanely easy.

10. Nuts & Seeds

Not only are nuts a great protein and healthy fat source, but they make everything taste delicious. Soaked cashews are the basis of a ton of creamy vegan recipes — both savory and sweet. Walnuts and flax seeds are vegan sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, so I make a point to eat them regularly. I also keep pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanuts on hand for both snacking and to incorporate into meals. Because we use them a lot and they can be pricey, I have made it my mission to find the best nut prices in town.

A Note On Budgeting

I thought that going vegan would totally kill my budget, but it’s actually very comparable. I think that’s because I avoid purchasing vegan convenience foods. You won’t find frozen veggie burgers or expensive bags of veggie cheese in my cart most of the time! Instead, I choose to shop the perimeter (which includes the bulk section). Buying in-season vegetables gets me the best prices, but I also go for canned whole tomatoes and frozen fruits and vegetables when what I want isn’t in season. And do you know how cheap dried beans are? If you have an international grocery store in your area, you can find even more inexpensive ingredients.

So really, vegan grocery shopping isn’t scary or even all that different from omnivorous grocery shopping! If you’ve made the switch to a vegan diet, I’d love to know some of your favorite grocery items.