Where do you begin when food shopping as a new vegan? How do you survive the supermarket?
Supermarket shopping can be stressful at the best of times. I’ve done a £150, 1.5 hour (yes, I counted) shop with a toddler in tow – I feel the pain, and still have the occasional nightmare. Trolleys blocking the aisle, unhelpful staff, people scrabbling over food in the reduced section – it can feel like it’s hardly worth going! Add veganism into the mix and it may seem impossible. Honestly, it’s not though! It can even be an enjoyable experience resulting in the discovery of new, cruelty-free foods to stock your kitchen up with. There’s nothing I love more than a delicious new food item to take home. Feel the same? Allow me to walk you through a stress-free vegan shopping experience…
Do A Little Light Reading
Food shopping as a vegan can be really easy and no fuss, but to get to that happy place you need to remember something: knowledge equals power. Being familiar with key non-vegan ingredients that pop up frequently, can speed up your shop immensely. Lactose can sneak into creamy products, egg white pops up in some Quorn foods, for example. You also need to be familiar with what you CAN eat. Many supermarket chains have a special range of vegan food now so you can completely skip the label-checking for those – think Tesco with Wicked Kitchen. Check their websites, do some research and you’ll be ready to quickly spot that packaging in the aisles and snap up those goodies. If there’s a certain food you can’t live without, make sure you know which aisle it’s in and what it looks like before you visit – nobody likes returning to the same aisle 3 times. I love buying tahini to make sauces, but it took me a long time to find it hidden obscurely between the pickles.
Don’t expect to get everything right on your first shop either. If you go home with something you later realise isn’t vegan, don’t beat yourself up about it. Take it back, give it to a friend or donate it to a food bank. You’ll remember for next time!
If you need a starting point for spotting those non-vegan ingredients, check out my guide to Hidden Ingredients. You can read it, jot some down and have a mini-list with you as you browse the store.
Know Your Vegan Logos
The easiest way to know if something is vegan, is to simply spot a vegan logo on it. Many supermarkets have their own variation of this, just see our picture for details! Most of them are either green or include a V, so keep your eyes peeled when shopping. Other supermarkets are notoriously bad for labelling their own-brand food as ‘vegetarian’ even if it is vegan (Lidl, yes you!) – in all honesty, I’d avoid these stores for your first shop so you don’t get caught out. Remember that this only includes own-brand food, so you may need to check some labels on branded products such as Heinz, Kelloggs etc.
Take Shortcuts Through The Supermarket
You can speed up your shop by completing avoiding the meat aisle, fish counter, egg and dairy sections, which will shorten your shopping time. Firstly, head to the refrigerated veggie section, the freezer veggie section, and the free-from section. There’ll be a larger quantity of labelled vegan items in these parts of the supermarket, making life much easier. Then you can work off your shopping list in other aisles. Don’t be afraid to ask staff where items are either!
Take Your Phone
Be one of those annoying people in the supermarket who stops to browse on their phone. It’s worth it! You can download apps that allow you to scan a barcode, and they will tell you if the product is vegan. Just search your app store for either Is It Vegan or Vegan Pocket. If you like to be familiar with ingredients yourself, Google is your friend. Simply search ‘Is X vegan’ and somebody on the web will have already done the hard work for you. For people who just like to browse the aisles and keep up-to-date with new vegan offerings, the Facebook group Vegan Supermarket Finds is a great place to hang out. Members promptly upload new finds in supermarkets across the UK on a daily basis. Such a useful resource!
Don’t Be Tempted To Splurge
It can be easy to be sucked into the inviting packaging of different vegan cheeses, faux meat, and dairy-free alternatives. But remember, unless we get caught up in a zombie apocalypse, you will be able to visit the shop again. Choose a couple of things from each section to buy this time, and pick a different few next time. Try not to buy anything that you may not use before its Best Before date, or ingredients that don’t pair well with anything else you’ve bought. You don’t want a trolley full of random items. You’ll also leave with an empty bank account and the feeling that veganism is expensive – but it’s not true! Make sure you get a good balance between fresh fruit and veg, whole foods (such as beans/legumes/grains), and processed vegan food such as cheese, ‘meat’ and treats. If you’re torn between what to try first, pick whatever is on special offer – by the time you return to the store, something else will be reduced so you can get your money’s worth! Offers can change weekly, even with fruit and vegetables, so make the most of it.
Work Off A Vegan Meal Plan
Going to the supermarket and buying a mix of random foods that look nice but don’t go together, is pretty pointless. Try to create a simple meal plan, or at least a list of some easy breakfasts, lunches and dinners you can try in your first few weeks of veganism. Pick a few new recipes to try as well as some familiar favourites, so you’re not spending hours in the kitchen preparing meals. How about things such as roast dinner, falafel houmous wrap, breakfast porridge, chilli? I always try a new recipe from one of my cookbooks on the weekend, when I have more time to shop and prepare food.
Once you have your meal plan, you can break it down into a list of ingredients. For example, breakfast: bag of porridge oats, box of shreddies, 2 x almond milk, 2 x oat milk, berries to top. Spaghetti bolognese: spaghetti, veggie mince, passata, onion mushrooms, sweetcorn. To make your supermarket shop even easier, you can group the ingredients together into fridge, freezer, bakery etc, so that when you’re at the store, you can get like-items at the same time without scanning down your list over and over. Apps like Google Keep and Evernote are perfect for keeping a rolling shopping list. Now that’s being super-organised!
Nobody wants their children running down the aisles, or their partner checking their watch, when you’re browsing and reading labels. I personally have a better shopping experience when I have plenty of time, and nobody with me. Sorry, family! I can go at my own pace, browse the reduced section, and have a calmer experience. There’s nothing worse than being rushed or frazzled! Try going before work, when the kids are at school, or whenever your more relaxed parts of the day are. You’re less likely to pick up the wrong item or forget something. Plus, you won’t overspend as your companions can’t sneak things into the trolley. You may also live with people who still eat meat/dairy, or are new to veganism but have less willpower than you, so would be tempted to buy non-vegan food at the store. By leaving them behind, they are more likely to fully commit to veganism or try new foods once they’re in the house.
Ask For Input
This seems like it contradicts my last point, but hear me out. While you may want to do your food shopping alone, unless you actually live alone you need some kind of buy-in from the people you live with. Are they going vegan too? If not, will they be buying their own meat
and dairy from now on? Set expectations early on and come to an agreement. If you’re happy buying their meat still, that’s fine. If not, you need to have an open and honest conversation with them so it’s clear they will need to buy those things separately. I used to buy/cook meat and dairy for my husband, but as I dived deeper into veganism, it made me more uncomfortable. Honesty and understanding are so important.
Also, what vegan ingredients will you all like? Ensure all tastes are catered for so that the whole family can get involved in creating some delicious vegan dishes. Make sure you know their favourite foods well. If you only buy vegan food that YOU like, you’re likely to alienate the rest of the family from the vegan culinary experience.
Go When The Supermarket Is Quiet
Picking the right time to shop can be a game-changer. What you need is a time when you feel relaxed but not too tired, and when the stores aren’t too busy either. To address the first point, food shopping after a stressful day at work is a no-no, unless you’re just dashing for a few quick dinner items. Self-awareness is good – are you hungry, tired, stressed, angry? Buy food in the best state of mind possible – you’re less likely to make errors.
The second point being, spot when the supermarkets are busy. Supermarkets tend to be quiet between 7pm and 8am, and I usually find there is a lull between 2-3pm too, just before school finishes. Mid-morning is pretty busy, as is right after school and work. Do get to know your local supermarkets though. It can vary a little depending on whether there are offices / a school etc nearby.
Reasons for shopping at quiet times? It reduces stress as you feel less crowded and rushed, plus it gives you breathing time to browse and read labels without somebody breathing down your neck. You’re also more likely to find newly stacked shelves, and fresh goodies in the reduced sections at these times too (this is from experience – stores vary). Relax, don’t rush…
If In Doubt, Cheat
If going to the supermarket just isn’t your jam, the internet is your friend. Online shopping, here we come! There’s no need to rub shoulders with Boris in the bakery aisle, or make small talk with Cashier Number 3. Unlike a few years ago, most major supermarkets now allow you to filter vegan food, so you don’t have to scroll through pages of Cathedral City to get to the Violife. I particularly like Tesco and Ocado’s search and filter function for vegan food and other dietary requirements. Plus, both of these stores have an amazing range of vegan products to try out too! The other great things about online shopping are that you don’t have to leave the house, can pick a specific time slot, and can see what you’re spending as you go along. The only downside I find is that packaging size can be hard to judge on a screen, and you can’t pick the best-looking fresh fruit and veg for yourself. If you decide to go ahead, do remember the golden rules of food shopping – make sure you have a full stomach and are completely sober before you sit down to place an order! Hungry or tipsy online shopping is never a good idea, as you’ll overspend or make pointless purchases.
I hope these survival tips were useful!
If in doubt about any item, just don’t buy it. Do some research into it once home, and buy it next time if it does turn out to be vegan. The best thing is, once you’ve done a few food shops, they’ll get much quicker and easier. Like most tasks, it simply takes practice and repetition. You’ll wonder what all the fuss was about!
I really hope this was helpful in surviving your first supermarket shop as a new vegan! Let’s get you enjoying some simple vegan meals. Do let us know how you get on.