I’ve always loved food shopping. I must admit it’s actually one of my favourite things to do. I get asked all the time how and where to shop as a healthy vegan. It will obviously vary from city to city, but I’ll focus on the tips that can be applied pretty much anywhere.
Do also keep in mind that in my household, I only shop for two people. The tips shouldn’t really vary but just keep that in mind when you’re reading them.
In the last few years I’ve worked at a few different places that has helped me perfect the art of food shopping. From your local fruit and veg shop, to a health food store and cafe. As a vegan, I have it pretty much all covered with those experiences alone.
I’ll run through my tips and tricks to help and show you how to do healthy vegan food shopping like a pro.
Tip 1: Farmers Markets
If you’re not already shopping at your local farmers markets, then I strongly suggest you do. There’s nothing better than getting produce straight from the person that planted it, grew it and harvested it fresh for you to purchase – at a market that probably took them a few hours to drive to in the early hours of a morning.
I love shopping at the farmers markets. As you get to know the farmers, you can ask them questions directly about their produce and build a relationship. I find this process really important and enjoyable because you know you’re supporting the right people and you feel better eating the food. It also certainly tastes better than the stuff you buy at the supermarket!
I have about 5-7 stalls that I visit each time and get what I need. I normally go to the ones that have produce that sells quickly and work my way backwards. In the first couple of visits to the markets, I worked out who had the freshest, best (organic) and cheapest produce. Sometimes I’m happy to pay that little bit extra for something that I know has been grown with love. You normally though, end up getting some cheaper deals from them (without even having to ask!) because you’ve been a loyal customer and they value you.
Now, tell me that this type of experience isn’t better than the one that you’d get shopping in the fruit and veg section of your supermarket? Half the stuff is normally shipped from the other side of the world and who knows how long ago it was actually picked. Not to mention what it’s been sprayed with to maintain that “freshness”.
I’ve always found it quite depressing shopping at major supermarkets but that’s a whole other post!
Tip 2: Do Your Research
As mentioned above, do your research in the first couple of markets that you attend to work out where the best produce and prices are. This also applies to everything else you get outside of the markets.
It’s been so much easier to keep track of what I’m buying and to do my research since becoming vegan as you don’t need as many different ingredients in your kitchen. As I don’t buy anything but whole foods, I generally know where the best prices are for certain things. For example, I know that buying cashews at either the Co-op or the supermarket is cheaper than the health food store or that Tamari sauce I get is $4 at Coles instead of $6.95 at another supermarket.
Doing your research can save you a lot of money, however make sure you don’t have to do your shopping in 20 different stores just to get the best prices. Think about how much time and petrol it will cost you to travel for those cheap lentils if the time it takes you to get there is 20 minutes + petrol + parking. It’s just not worth it! I have about 5 stores that I go between for absolutely everything I need and that includes the markets. I like to get the best of the best (within reason) and make sure that it’s not just one item that’ll make it worthwhile making the trip to that particular shop.
What I did when I first moved to this area is I went to the shops and noted down all the prices for all the staples I use in my house. I’d compare the prices and note where the best pricing is for that item. I did that generally with keeping receipts as a note to double check in between stores. Once I had that all sorted, I knew exactly what to buy where and could relax knowing that I’m getting the best price every time.
One extra tip: Just make sure you keep an eye out for any price increases and make your shopping adjustments accordingly.
Tip 3: Buy In Bulk
Buy in bulk where possible as this can save you some serious cash. I generally find that shopping at your local food co-op or bulk buying organic shop tends to be your best bet. Most cities have co-ops and other bulk buying outlets where if you join, you get a discount on a particular day of the month or if you contribute some volunteer hours (generally the food co-op) you get a discount on your food.
The one that I go to here just recently opened and has over 500 organic bulk buying foods ranging from nuts, seeds, grains, pastas, flours, dried fruit, vegan chocolates (this can be dangerous!), oils, spices etc. They have 20% off storewide every first Monday of the month when you join up as a member – it’s free. So I go in with my jars and bags and top them up (even if the jar isn’t empty) and save a decent amount of money. I find doing this once a month, eliminates the trip down to the shops all the time and I know that this is the day when I buy all these things. You get a feel for how much of those foods you eat after a while and make sure you take an appropriate sized jar to fill up. You’re saving money, extra packaging, supporting a local business and buying organic food. What more could you want really?!?
If you don’t have much variety in your area when it comes to these foods, there are many online bulk buying places where you can apply the same principles. Sometimes it’s a good idea to ask your friends and family to chip in and get some of the produce with you to share. As lets face it, you are not going to be needing 5 kilos of sunflower seeds for yourself. Do your research and see what delivery options are available in your area. Sharing the cost with others will not send you broke and you’ll also split the delivery cost. It’s a win, win situation!
Tip 4: Shopping List
Always bring a shopping list with you. Always. If you don’t (which I have done many many MANY times), you’ll buy what you don’t necessarily need and spend three times more. My excuse is always, well I’ll eat it anyways! Stocking up on things that aren’t needed just clutters your fridge and pantry. It also makes you feel a little overwhelmed and things can easily go off if they’re stuffed at the back of the fridge or cupboard.
I’ve never had an issue with things going off because whatever I buy, generally gets eaten within that week as it’s mainly fresh produce or beans, legumes, grains, superfoods and nuts which make up the rest of it so it all disappears before it even has a chance to go off. I normally stay clear of things that have a super long shelf life.
We use a great app to write down what we’re either out of or low in. Michael and I both have it on our phones and computers so it’s super easy to add things and we never forget to take it with us. I used to do it manually and have the list on the fridge, but sometimes I’d forget it and then I’d just be guessing my way through the shops (and almost always forgot at least one thing). We have been using this app for about 2 years now and we LOVE it!
Another tip that I have actually read somewhere else was to never go to the shops hungry, you will end up buying so much more than you need and it’ll be junk in many cases, so eat before and stick to the shopping list.
Tip 5: Pick a Day
I find that picking certain days to do your shopping really helps with time management, expectations in the household on when the food shopping will be done and to help you create routine to save you mental space for more important things. For example, I know with the bulk buying that it will be the first Monday of every month. So if I don’t have something from that shop a week out, I just work around it and wait until it’s time to go.
I know that the markets are also on every Saturday morning, so that’s when I know the fruit and veg will be bought for the week. The rest is in between a health food store and supermarket and is generally done one other morning of the week or after the markets if I have time. I don’t like scattering it all over the place.
I know there will be some days where you only need that one extra thing to make dinner and you’ll duck down to the shops, but this is where tip number 6 comes in!
Tips 6: Plan Your Meals for the Week
I know that this is hard and I’m not perfect in doing this myself, but try and plan your meals for the week so that you know what to buy. You will save money, time, and energy thinking about what to cook and prevent food from going off (which always makes me upset, I hate food wastage!).
If you’re a routine person and don’t mind having a rotating meal plan, then create one that you can use every 2nd or 3rd week. I personally like a little more variety than that, but some people need to be super organised as they have a busy schedule. Having those systems in place to eat a healthy, balanced vegan diet is really important so do what works for you!
I’m all for that, in fact, I’ve created a template for you to download a free 3 week meal plan!
So to wrap it all up, the underlying theme behind this is to plan, be organised, do your research and create a schedule that works for you. You’ll save yourself time, money and a whole lot of headache if you set a system for yourself.
Are there any tips that I haven’t included that you feel will also contribute to a healthy vegan food shopping experience?