Food & Drink Magazine

Beginner’s Guide to Plant-Based Shopping

By Chuck Underwood @brandnewvegan

plant-based shopping

Grocery shopping isn’t exactly at the top of many people’s “things I love to do” lists.

Especially us guys!

But going Plant-Based Shopping?  It’s actually easier than you think.

In this Beginner’s Guide to Plant-Based Shopping I’ll show you the aisles you need to concentrate on, and which aisles you can avoid altogether.

You’ll be surprised at how many recipes you can make with just a handful of staples!

You’ll also be surprised with how much of the grocery store you no longer need.  Just a few aisles and before you know it, you’ll be maneuvering your grocery store like a pro.

The Produce Section

plant based diet

USDA Market Potatoes by MrTinDC courtesy of Flickr

Picking a grocery store with the best Produce Section is your first step to plant-based shopping.

You’ll be spending a lot of time in this section so it might as well be a good one.  Look for freshness, variety, and a good mix of local, organic, and non-organic.

Yes, organic will cost you more – but depending on what you are buying you may be able to pick and choose.  Not all fruits and veggies need to be organic – like those with a skin, rind, or peel that will be removed.

Here’s a handy little guide called The Dirty Dozen to help you with those choices.

What if you simply can’t afford organic?  When it’s all said and done, I would rather buy non-organic and wash it really well compared to not having my veggies at all.

Here’s what typically goes into my cart from this section:

  • Onions, Leeks, & Garlic
  • Potatoes!  Russets, Yukon Golds, and Sweet.  Lots and lots of potatoes!
  • Spinach, Kale, Salad Mixes
  • Bananas, Apples, & Oranges (love the little Cuties)
  • Celery, Carrots, Cabbage, & Mushrooms for soups and stir fries.
  • Broccoli, Cauliflower
  • And lots and lots of Sweet Bell Peppers (green and red)
  • Plus whatever else may be in season and looks good (corn on the cob, tomatoes, avocados, etc)

Bulk Food Section

Bulk foods can save you a lot of money if you shop carefully.

Compare a pound of beans here to a 1 lb bag in the bean aisle and see which one saves you more.

You can find oatmeal here as well as rice, dried beans, and nuts and seeds.

I  always have a good stock of unsalted, unroasted Cashews for making creamy sauces.

Don’t forget your Nooch (Nutritional Yeast).  Here is where you’ll find it.

Baking Aisle

vegan biscuits

Fluffy Vegan Buttermilk Biscuits

We love our bread so the Bakery Aisle is a must stop but be careful.  Many of the cheap, sale brands of bread are nothing but white flour, fat, and sugar and have absolutely no nutritional value at all.

Also be leery of the ‘multigrain’ labels you see plastered on everything.  This usually means “it’s still cheap, nutritionally empty, white flour with a sprinkling of healthy grains”.

Look at the label and the very first ingredient should be “100% Whole Wheat”.

Although pretty pricey, the Ezekiel brand and Dave’s Killer Breads are both good.

While I’m here I also make sure I have a stock of tortillas.  I usually keep both corn and a good multigrain.   Gotta have these for burritos and wraps.

I also keep several kinds of baking goods on hand.

  • Bread flour
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Corn Meal
  • Masa
  • Baking Powder, etc.
  • Parchment Paper

Homemade breads, biscuits, cornbread, pizza dough, etc taste SO much better when YOU control the ingredients and take the time to make them yourself.

As far as buns, bagels, doughnuts, and other pastries………leave ’em where they sit.

They’re just empty calories full of SOS.  (Salt, Oil, and Sugar)

Canned & Bagged Food

This is where you should watch for sales as you can get some killer deals.


I always keep a good stock of tomato products like  tomato paste, tomato sauce, and canned chopped tomatoes.  (I like Rotel with the spicy chiles too).

Be careful with the sodium content.  Look for 50% Reduced Sodium or No Salt Added if you can find them.


This is where you need to be honest with yourself.  Bulk dried beans will be cheaper than canned.  but will you take the time to soak them overnight and cook them for several hours?  If not then canned beans will be your answer.

Again look for “50% Reduced Sodium” or “No Salt Added”.  If you cannot find low-sodium varieties – then make sure to rinse them well in a strainer before cooking.

As far as variety…. what do you like?

I usually keep at least a few cans of Pinto, Great Northern, Kidney, and Black Beans.  If you like Hummus, then you will definitely need a few cans of Garbonzo Beans (chickpeas) as well.


We always have 2 big canisters full of brown and white rice.  I also like the Boil in Bag Rice for convenience.  So easy and quick to make.

Brown rice will naturally be healthier than white – so stock up on this if you can.  but – if you see a good deal on large bags of Jasmine Rice – get it.

This stuff will keep forever.


Avoid the white flour pasta.  Stick with whole wheat when you can.

There’s also spinach pasta, buckwheat pasta, spelt pasta.

Experiment!  See what you like!  This is a carb heavy diet remember?

Frozen Food Aisle

stir fry veggies

Not every fruit or veggie will be in season – so might as well stock up here.

Are they as good as their fresh counterparts?  Close enough.  They are picked and packaged when ripe and frozen immediately so in some cases they may be better.

Fruits & Veggies

My wife and daughter love frozen blueberries for their oatmeal, and frozen fruit packages for the occasional smoothie.    

I also stock up on frozen veggie blends.  I am more of a Corn, Peas, and Carrots kinda guy, and the wife is a Cauliflower / Broccoli girl.  Mix and match.  

The Asian blends for stir fries are pretty good.  Just be careful you are getting JUST VEGGIES.  Some of the blends now have “In a Light Seasoning”….. which usually means oil, butter, and salt.  

Buy the plain and season them yourselves.

Pre-packaged Meals

I know they are so tempting.  And they say “Vegan” or “Low Fat” on them – right?  But come on folks – it’s still “processed food”.  Might as well say “fancy fast food” in a box.

Look at the labels and see how much fat and sodium is packed into these things.

Would your grandmother recognize it? Then don’t buy it.

Health Food Section

miso paste
Ahhh the Vegan Junk Food Aisle.

Other than Unsweetened Almond Milk, Tofu, and the occasional tub of Miso – there’s really not a lot to see here.

This is where you’ll find your imitation vegan cheese, tofu, miso, tempeh, veggie burgers, fake meats etc.

Just remember, even though they’re labeled ‘healthy’ – many of these foods are highly processed and usually have a high fat content.  They are great for transitional foods – but I wouldn’t eat these for every meal.

Especially if weight loss is your goal.

Aisles To Avoid

Other than the occasional condiment, and of course the all important paper products (TP!) there’s not a whole lot left to buy.

Which means we’re done!

See how many of these aisles are just no longer needed?

  • Chips & Candy – salt, fat, and sugar?
  • Pop – high fructose corn syrup – yummy
  • Crackers – more salt and fat
  • Canned chili?  Canned meats?  Beef a Roni?  Seriously?
  • Canned tuna – definitely not Vegan.
  • Oils – no way.  They’re all 100% fat and SO not healthy, even olive oil.  Move along.
  • Soups are mmm mmmm sodium.  Lots and lots of salt.  Make your own – it’ll taste so much better.
  • Cereals – oatmeal maybe.  That’s it.  Maybe the occasional jar of peanut butter.
  • Meat Dept – gotta laugh.  I call this Death Row now.
  • Processed Meats & Cheese – definitely nope.  Nitrates anyone?  How about Cancer?

Plant-Based shopping doesn’t have to be a chore. I think I eliminated 3-4 different aisles at my grocery store!

How about you?  I’d love to hear about it.  And happy shopping!


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