Grocery shopping is one of those tasks you either view as a chore or a welcomed escape from the house.
But shopping for groceries on a plant-based diet can also be an opportunity to explore new foods and inspire creative dishes.
I actually love grocery shopping, and pre-pandemic, I would often go multiple times per week just to get the freshest ingredients for a recipe I was cooking that night. Was it a good use of time? Maybe not. But it brought me joy.
Still, I probably wouldn’t recommend that type of grocery shopping, especially if you’re just beginning to think about going vegan. Wandering the aisles for a few items can be both frustrating and lead to poor food choices.
Instead, I recommend going in with a list and a plan.
Below are two approaches to grocery shopping and a list of basic pantry staples to get you started. It’s by no means a complete list of every item you might need, but if you have these items in your pantry or fridge, the cooking options are nearly endless.
2 Unique Approaches to Grocery Shopping
In a recent conversation on No Meat Athlete Radio, we realized we have two unique approaches to tackling the grocery store:
- The Engineer: Go into the store with a complete list and stick to it. Don’t get tempted by random foods you see, even if they sound good in the moment.
- The Artist: Shop with a rough list in mind — the essentials you know you’re going to need — then take inspiration from other food items that stand out (sauces, noodles, veggies, etc.).
The first approach requires a bit more planning and often means you’re following specific vegan recipes, but it also means you rarely waste food or get tempted by less-than-healthy items that stand out.
The second reflects a different approach to cooking, one that’s less about recipes and more about using what’s in the fridge or pantry. It follows more of the loose guidelines laid out in our posts like the Sauce System or the Chipotle Method.
Both can work really well depending on your preference when it comes to cooking (recipes vs. loose cooking).
But regardless of how you choose to shop, it really helps to have the basics on hand.
The Vegan Grocery List
Here’s a basic vegan grocery list. With it, I’ve tried to cover all the general foods a plant-based athlete would need.
If you’re new to the plant-based diet, don’t freak out. There’s a lot of green here and maybe a few other ingredients you don’t typically purchase, and that’s totally fine. Maybe leave some of them off for now and try out just a few new items at a time.
(Note: A few items you obviously don’t buy every trip to the store, but they’re good to keep around for cooking.)
- Fruit: Apples, Oranges, Bananas, Pineapples, Fresh Berries, Mixed Frozen Berries (for smoothies), Lemons, Limes, Tomatoes, Avocados, Medjool Dates (for real fruit workout fuel, check out Plant Bites)
- Fresh Vegetables: Romaine Lettuce, Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Celery, Cucumbers, Bell Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Onions, Carrots, Garlic, Basil, Parsley, Cilantro
- Starchy Vegetables: Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes
- Canned or Dried Fruits/Vegetables: Diced Tomatoes, Raisins,
- Legumes: Lentils, Chickpeas, Black Beans (preferably dry, but sometimes canned)
- Non-Wheat Grains: Brown Rice, Quinoa (not technically a grain), Granola, Steel-Cut Oats
- Wheat Products (limited): Whole-Wheat Bread, Pasta, Pitas, Bagels, and Wraps, Low-Sugar Breakfast Cereals
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Flaxseeds, Chia Seeds
- Spreads and Pastes: Hummus, Nut Butters (almond is great but expensive), Tahini (sesame seed paste)
- Oils: Olive Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Toasted Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil (solid at room temperature, often in the health food aisle)
- Vinegars: Apple Cider Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar
- Protein powder: If you’re going to get one, be sure it’s low in heavy metals (like Complement Protein)
- Plant Milks: Almond is my favorite
- Tea and Coffee
- Soy Products: Tofu, Tempeh, Tamari or Soy Sauce
- Other Snacks (limited): Tortilla Chips, Salsa, Popcorn
- Plant-Based Meat (optional and limited): Amy’s Frozen Veggie Burgers, Veggie Meat Slices, Beyond Burgers
- Miscellaneous: Maple Syrup, Dark Chocolate, Miyoko’s butter
- A Supplement: Ideally just the essentials.
What about the junk food?
I’ll leave that up to you. There’s no shame in treating yourself to something special, but I don’t think it belongs on an essentials list like this.
With this list, the options are endless…
If you follow the list above, you can categories everything into one of four categories:
- Fruits, veggies, and greens
- Proteins (nuts, seeds, soy products, and legumes)
- Miscellaneous (oils, vinegar, etc.)
As an athlete, focused mostly on my carbohydrate-to-protein ratios, those first three categories are pretty much where I live.
And with these basics, you can whip up endless plant-based recipes your whole family will love.