vegan eating

Eating Vegan: Grocery Shopping, Cooking, & Dining Options

If you want to learn about vegan foods, the best place to start is not with cooking, but with eating. Transitioning to a vegan diet is remarkably easy once you spend a little time reading about all there is to eat.

Eating Vegan is Easy

Omnivores often ask vegans, with palms upturned in wonder, “What on earth do you eat?” The implication here is that vegan diets contain only a narrow and monotonous assortment of foods. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

If you want to incorporate more vegan foods into your life, you are in for a pleasant surprise. In this guide, I’m going to introduce you to a staggering variety of delicious vegan foods.

Most food-related publishing and television is devoted to cooking. And while cooking is important, the vegan dishes you can prepare yourself are only a subset of everything you can potentially eat. This guide not only covers cooking, but also includes grocery shopping, packaged foods, and restaurant meals. If you fear that eating vegan would prove restrictive and limiting, prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise.

We’ll start by briefly covering the vegan essentials: vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, mushrooms, and nuts. Next, I will introduce you to vegan meals you can cook at home, including seven key dishes that require minimal prep time. In case you want to dive deeper into vegan cooking, I’ll toss out a few solid cookbook recommendations. I will wrap up this piece with advice for vegan grocery shopping, eating out, and travel. Along the way I’ll include tons of links for more detailed coverage of the key topics this article covers.

vegan eating
A plate of tacos loaded up with veggies. From Vegan21 Restaurante Vegano in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The Best Vegan Foods for Everyday Eating

I once regarded the idea of going vegan as absurdly difficult, but the experience proved ten times easier than I imagined. My diet today is far more diverse and delicious than it ever was when I ate meat. Once you start eating more vegan foods, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the delicious possibilities.

Vegan diets need never be expensive. Even the simplest meals can bring sensational flavors. I don’t think I’ve ever had an expensive gourmet meal surpass the flavors of a perfectly ripe avocado on an excellent sourdough baguette. If you have an eye for quality, you can eat exceptionally well on a budget. After all, freshness and perfect ripeness never cost extra money—they merely require that you pay more attention when food shopping.

Vegan foods come in practically limitless variety—you could try something new every day for the rest of your life. What’s more, new foods are coming to market all the time. As long as it’s from a plant or tree, it’s fair game. That means a vegan diet lets you eat every sort of food made from vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Let’s quickly explore each of these possibilities:


Fresh vegetables offer innumerable flavors. A handful come into season in the spring. Most vegetables are harvested during the summer. And then a few more important varieties don’t come in until autumn.

Since pea plants thrive in cool weather, peas are among the first crop harvested. They come into season by mid-spring. Spring is also when cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and most lettuces come to market.

In early summer, kale and chard become available, along with cucumbers and summer squash. They say you shouldn’t pick corn until the water’s boiling, and it’s during the hottest days of summer when corn reaches its peak.

Root vegetables are harvested when the nights turn nippy. These vegetables include carrots, potatoes, parsnips, beets, yams, and sweet potatoes. All of these foods are perfect for hearty winter stews that’ll take you through the coldest weather.

Since they are among the most nutritious foods you can eat, you’ll definitely want to read my guide to vegetables. You’ll also benefit from reading my pages on how to make a killer stir-fry, and how to roast vegetables in the oven.


Fruit comes in endless varieties. Whenever possible, buy local and in season. Tree-ripened peaches purchased  at your local orchard will be far more delicious than their counterparts grown hundreds of kilometers away. A farmer’s market, or the farm itself, is invariably the best place to buy your produce.

One revelation you’ll gain by diving deeper into good eating is that most fruit should not be available year-round. If the best you can get is a Florida grown winter tomato, you’re better off making something else and doing without tomatoes altogether. Alternately, canned tomatoes work wonderfully for many purposes and they are always picked at peak ripeness.

Frozen fruit plus vegan milk makes wonderful, nutritious, and easy-to-make smoothies. And since every grocery sells frozen fruit, you can enjoy smoothies any time of year. Check out my tips for making a fantastic smoothie.

Dried fruit offers a sensational way to enjoy the flavors of summer during the middle of winter. And drying concentrates and intensifies fruit’s best flavors.

For ideas on how to incorporate delicious fruits into your diet, see my guide to fruits.


Not only are whole grains are remarkably nutritious, they’re also among the cheapest available sources of calories. When possible, purchase only whole grains and unrefined flours, since these choices deliver better nutrition.

You’ll find the best prices and the widest selection either online or at your natural food store’s bulk department. There you can find rice, wheat, oats, corn, rye, and millet. You can also buy buckwheat and quinoa, which are classified as pseudo cereals, since they are botanically seeds rather than grains. If you don’t have a good natural foods store nearby, you can buy packaged Bob’s Red Mill grains from Their product line is extensive, reasonably priced, and mostly organic.

Rice is the most popular grain for billions of people. Be sure to buy multiple varieties, including red and purple. Also keep in mind that quinoa (pronounced: keen-wah) has far more protein and nutrients than rice, and requires much less water to grow.

Any sort of bread is commonly vegan. You may have a nearby bakery offering freshly-baked vegan loaves. Alternately, check your local natural food store for vegan breads. You can also make bread at home, and a bread machine speeds things up and eliminates nearly all the labor.

Boxed breakfast cereal another popular grain-based food. Natural food stores sell several vegan brands made from organic ingredients. Granola is super easy to make, and straight out of the oven it invariably tastes better than any commercial brand.


Beans are by far the cheapest and most nutritious food on the planet, especially when purchased in dried form. Like grains, the best place to buy beans is either from your natural foods store’s bulk department or online. If time is scarce, you can use canned beans, which taste fine but are not as tasty as dried beans you cook yourself. You can improve their flavor by sauteing chopped onions in a little oil before heating up your canned beans.

An Instant Pot or pressure cooker is the ideal way to cook beans, since otherwise your beans can take upwards of two hours to properly cook. If you’re new to cooking beans, the best entry point is an Indian-style dal made with lentils or mung beans. This is a quick and easy dish to make, and is wonderful served either as a soup or poured over rice.

There are dozens of varieties of beans. Trying every possible type is one of the easiest ways to diversify your diet. Consult my bean guide for comprehensive information on purchasing, cooking, and enjoying beans.


Mushrooms are neither a fruit nor a vegetable, and are available year-round. Asians and especially the Japanese eat an incredible assortment of mushrooms.

For my money, the tastiest mushroom of all is a Japanese mushroom called shiitake that’s grown on wood. It’s got a subtle flavor and a meaty texture that—once sautéed with garlic—makes it the ideal filling for spring rolls and dumplings. Just make sure to discard the stems of shiitakes since they’re woody and inedible.

Asian groceries offer a wider selection of mushrooms than anyplace else, so check if there’s one near you.

Nuts and Seeds

Like beans, nuts and seeds contain loads of protein and minerals. Nuts are one of the world’s most convenient snacks. There’s substantial evidence that eating a small handful of them every day is associated with better health. Unfortunately, nuts tend to be expensive, in large part because they grow on trees and must be laboriously picked and shelled.

Most varieties of nuts are available as nut butters. Every sort of nut butter is excellent on bread or toast. You can also use peanut butter or cashew butter to make a delicious sauce to serve over rice.

Though very nut-like, peanuts aren’t actually a nut, but a legume. Peanuts offer one of the best ways to cut your food costs—they’re full of nutrients yet cost next to nothing. In fact, it’s a common expression that when something is absurdly cheap, you can buy it for peanuts.

Like peanuts, seeds are also much cheaper than nuts, and absolutely delicious—your choices include pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, and sesame. Spicy roasted pumpkin seeds are among the tastiest snacks you’ll ever experience. Shelled roasted hemp seeds are an exquisite salad topping.

vegan flautas
Vegan flautas (rolled tacos) topped with spicy red pepper paste and accompanied by a healthy salad.

Vegan Pantry Staples

Let’s now go through the most important vegan staples. These foods belong in the pantries of vegans and non-vegans alike.


Oils appear in every recipe that involves frying or sautéing. They’re also the primary component of most salad dressings.

Commercially-bottled oils come from every fat-rich vegan food you can think of: seeds, olives, coconuts, and even avocados. Unrefined oils have more flavor, but scorch at lower cooking temperatures. Three oils in particular deserve permanent spots in your pantry:

  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Perfect for any sort of low-temperature cooking, and an excellent base for salad dressings. Mix unrefined olive oil with a little balsamic vinegar to make a sensational dip for sourdough french bread.
  2. High Oleic Safflower Oil. A flavorless refined oil ideal for sautéing or frying. The inclusion of “high oleic” on the label indicates the oil won’t scorch at normal cooking temperatures.
  3. Unrefined Roasted Sesame Oil. Surprisingly inexpensive considering its rich and appealing flavors. Pour a little on your next stir-fry just before serving, or squirt some into your next batch of salad dressing.

Tofu and Tempeh

Both of these foods were invented centuries ago in Asia. Tofu is made from soy milk that’s treated with a coagulant that solidifies it into a wiggly block. Don’t let appearances fool you, since tofu is the primary ingredient in a vast assortment of delicious dishes.

Tempeh is a simpler and less-processed food, made from cooked split soybeans that have been cultivated with a fungus. You can make a delicious nature burger just by frying tempeh on each side until golden brown, and then adding ketchup or barbecue sauce.

Since soy is their main ingredient, both tofu and tempeh are full of protein. They require fare less cooking and prep time than dried beans, and are also much easier to digest. On top of all these virtues, tofu made with calcium sulfate contains more than twice the calcium per calorie as whole cows’ milk.

All these qualities make tofu and tempeh fantastic additions to your next stir-fry. Please see my tofu and tempeh guides for all sorts of recipe ideas.

Nut Butters

If you like peanut butter, why stop there? Branch out and try every nut butter you can find. Try spreading cashew butter on a toasted sourdough baguette and topping it with thinly-sliced sauteed leeks. I have never eaten a more delicious simple meal.

Any nut butter can become a magnificent sauce. Just blend and gently heat with a little coconut milk, soy sauce, and minced sautéed garlic and ginger. Then squirt in a little lemon or lime juice before serving.


Do you enjoy flavorful or spicy foods? If so, vegan cooking offers unlimited possibilities to intensify flavors, since all herbs and spices come from plants.

Additionally, the overwhelming majority of sauces and condiments are also vegan. These include all or most:

  • Soy sauce, including tamari
  • Hot sauce, both gourmet and dirt-cheap
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Vinegar (including apple cider, red wine, balsamic, and rice)
  • Sriracha “rooster” sauce
  • Indian-style pickle pastes
  • Wasabi paste
  • Barbecue sauce (great on grilled tofu or tempeh)
  • Mexican fresh or jarred salsas

Most of the above products are vegan, but always confirm by reading the ingredients.

The one big no-no for vegans is Worcestershire sauce, which usually contains anchovies. But there are a couple vegan brands and you can also make your own from scratch. Also, some soy sauces—including many Japanese brands in particular—contain fish extract.

The most popular seasoning combination throughout Asia is minced garlic and ginger. It’s an especially wonderful addition to stir-fries, and will take many of your favorite dishes to the next level.

vegan eating
Vegan food offers some of the healthiest meals on the planet, but you’re also never lacking for superb junk food like this gorgeous plate of French fries.

Grocery Shopping

A good natural food store always beats a supermarket in its sheer variety of vegan foods. But even a mediocre supermarket will offer a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus a comprehensive selection of vegan pantry items.

When shopping at natural food stores, always visit the deli counter. Unlike a supermarket deli counter, you will find plenty of vegan offerings. Natural food store delis offer one of the easiest ways to discover new vegan foods without having to spend time cooking. Any foods you particularly enjoy are usually easy enough to make at home for a fraction of the price.

If you don’t have a good natural foods store nearby, the vegan groceries sold by can close the gap. We publish a helpful page listing all of Amazon’s best deals on vegan groceries.

Vegan Supermarket Staples

Supermarkets and natural food stores carry all sorts of ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat items, often at excellent prices. Many of these items are probably already in your pantry or freezer. They include:

  • Crackers and Flatbreads—Triscuits and Finn Crisp crackers are wholegrain, vegan, and sold everywhere.
  • Cereal—Many brands are vegan, whole grain, and organic. Lightly-sweetened puffed rice is especially underrated.
  • Oatmeal & Porridge Mixes—Nothing’s more satisfying on a cold morning, and this breakfast is filling, nutritious, and ridiculously cheap.
  • Cookies—Few cookies sold at supermarkets are vegan, but you’ll find many vegan brands at natural foods stores.
  • Breads and English Muffins—Oddly, whole grain breads are more likely to contain dairy products or honey.
  • Energy Bars—Clif Bar, Probar, Larabar, and NuGo are all vegan.
  • Wheat Tortillas—Delicious spread with hummus, used for vegan quesadillas, or for any sort of wrap.
  • Pasta—Dried spaghetti is always vegan. Other pasta varieties may contain egg products.
  • Asian Noodles—Asian “rice stick” noodles are cheap and always vegan, and make a superb vegan Pad Thai.
  • Frozen Dinners—There are too many varieties to mention, including pizza and vegan mac & cheese.
  • Tomato Sauce—Newman’s Own marinara sauce is widely available and vegan.
  • Canned Beans—Baked beans are cheap and delicious.
  • Pickles and Olives—Upscale markets usually have an olive bar, and every supermarket sells jarred pickles and olives.
  • Hummus—You can find tubs of hummus in the dairy case of any supermarket.
  • Frozen Vegetables—Cheap, convenient, healthful, and available year-round.
  • Chips—Many potato chips and corn chips are vegan.
  • Tater Tots—Junky but delicious.
  • Dark Chocolate—Fair-trade vegan chocolate is sold at most natural food stores and some supermarkets.
  • Coffee and Tea—You can save a lot of money buying coffee in your natural food store’s bulk department.
  • Frozen Fruit—Inexpensive and ideal for making smoothies in your blender with your favorite vegan milk.
  • Salad Dressings—Vegan brands are widely available, but you’re better off making your own.

When it comes to the above products, you’ll find more vegan brands in a natural foods store than at a supermarket. That’s especially the case for cookies, chips, and frozen convenience foods.

Avoiding Animal-Based Ingredients

You can never be sure a packaged food is vegan until you read the label or spot a vegan seal.

Some animal ingredients are obvious, like milk and egg whites. But there are also a bunch of widely-used ingredients you’d never guess come from animals. To familiarize yourself with the more obscure non-vegan ingredients, check out my animal ingredients page.

Meat, Dairy, Egg Alternatives

Whichever animal-based foods you enjoy, you can find terrific replacements for them on our vegan alternatives page. Vegan food companies make delicious vegan burgers, sausages, turkey, and more.

If you love dairy products, every sort of vegan alternative is widely available, including cheese, yogurt, butter, and even sour cream. One reason milk is so easy to quit is that most people don’t particularly enjoy its flavor. Many vegan milk brands deliver more calcium and protein than cows’ milk. Loads of people—including plenty of omnivores—think vegan milks taste better, too.

Vegan egg alternatives are likewise easy to find. If you’re merely looking to replace eggs in baking (say, for pancakes or banana bread), all you need is a cheap box of egg replacer. This product provides the similar binding properties to egg whites. If you’re actually seeking the texture and flavor of real eggs to make scrambled eggs or an omelet, go with a product like Just Egg or The Vegg. Whatever your baking or cooking need, there’s a vegan egg alternative that’s perfect for the job. For complete coverage, see our guide to vegan egg replacers.


Vegan cooking throws open the doors to maximizing the pleasure you get from eating. If you’re craving a particular meal, you can always make it yourself. And every dish can be prepared and seasoned just the way you like it.

Perhaps no skill will give you as much pleasure as learning to cook vegan. And it’s so easy to learn. My guide to vegan cooking offers the perfect introduction for novice cooks.

You only need the most basic equipment to get started. If your kitchen isn’t well-equipped, check out these recommendations covering the most valuable kitchen items for vegans.

Considering the hundreds of vegan cookbooks available, where should you start? Surprisingly, the easiest way to dive into vegan cooking does not involve following recipes. Instead, just learn how to prepare these easy meals:

Of the above dishes, only stir-fried vegetables require significant practice. But stir-fries are so delicious—and you can make them so many variations—that they’re well worth taking time to master.

Vegan-Friendly Cuisines and Cookbooks

The world’s most popular cuisines offer countless classic dishes that just happen to be vegan. If you’re looking to experiment with new styles of cooking, I’ve written several guides covering the most vegan-friendly cuisines. Each guide highlights the most vegan-friendly menu items at restaurants and also provides guidance for cooking at home.

You will have no problem finding vegan recipes for the foods you enjoy most. Our vegan cookbooks guide cookbooks offers recommendations for every cuisine and cooking style you can imagine, as well as a solid assortment of basic vegan reference cookbooks.

The less complicated your meals, the more cooking you’ll do. So, when purchasing your first vegan cookbook, select a title that focuses on simple, nutritious, quickly-prepared recipes. JL Fields’ Fast & Easy Vegan Cookbook is the perfect choice for aspiring vegan cooks. You can make many of its recipes in hardly more time than it takes to heat up a frozen dinner.

Finally, if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll find no scarcity of vegan dessert possibilities. There are numerous vegan dessert cookbooks in print, including titles that specialize exclusively in vegan ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, and pie.

How to Eat Vegan at Restaurants

Wherever you go, you’ll find restaurants serving terrific vegan meals. Just type vegan into Google Maps and you’ll discover all sorts of excellent vegan offerings at both vegan and non-vegetarian restaurants.

If you don’t have a vegan establishment nearby, your best bet is a Lebanese or Israeli restaurant. Falafel, hummus, pita, and tabbouleh are delicious and reliably vegan. Ethiopian restaurants are likewise remarkably vegan-friendly if you stick to injera bread and vegetarian stews. If you want something more mainstream, most pizzerias are vegan-friendly if you request veggie toppings and leave off the cheese. Oddly, though, some large pizza chains put dairy in their dough—but this flies in the face of traditional pizza-making. Very few independently-owned pizzerias adulterate their dough with milk products.

Although Chinese restaurant food often contains non-vegetarian ingredients, the PF Chang’s chain offers a separate vegetarian menu. Everything on that menu is vegan, although tiny amounts of sugar processed with bone char appear in many of these dishes.

Vegan Fast Food

For decades, fast food chains did practically nothing accommodate vegans. But now, the top companies are racing one another to add vegan items. Most notably, in 2019 Burger King launched its “Impossible Whopper” to great success (vegans should order it without mayonnaise). Most of the big Mexican chains, including Chipotle, Qdoba, Taco Del Mar, and Taco Bell offer solid vegan options.

For extensive coverage of this topic, see my fast food guide and my vegan dining guide.

falafel salad
A beautiful salad topped with some falafel balls for crunch and extra protein.

Eating Vegan While Traveling

Traveling as a vegan admittedly poses some inconvenience, since you ought to explore your destination’s dining and grocery options in advance. But you’ll inevitably discover new foods that will rank among your favorites.

In Japan I discovered umeboshi plums and a popular dessert called mochi. Mexico inspired me to branch out beyond burritos to discover enfrijoladas and tortilla soup. In India I fell in love with idlis served on banana leaves and drenched in spicy dal. And in Vietnam, I dined on a vast assortment of meaty vegan dishes developed for Ho Chi Minh’s Buddhist monks. In all cases, the bigger the city you visit, the more impressive its vegan options.

Use Google Maps and Happy Cow to research your destination beforehand. With just a little effort, you’re bound to discover spectacular vegan restaurant food. For more advice, see my vegan travel guide.

Vegan Foods that Fill You Up

Meat, dairy products, and eggs deserve strong criticism for a multitude of reasons. Their one virtue that nobody can dispute is that any of these foods will fill you up for hours. By contrast, new vegans may not feel adequately full after eating, and they sometimes feel ravenously hungry in just an hour or two. Luckily, this is easy to prevent!

The ten dollar word describing a food’s ability to quell your hunger is satiety. Foods with good satiety will satisfy your hunger for hours. Some vegan foods, in particular vegetables and greens, lack sufficient calories, protein, or fat to properly quell your hunger.

But there’s nothing special about animal products when it comes to satiety. The only thing a food requires to gain this quality is appreciable amounts of fat or protein.

That’s why chopped nuts, peas, seeds, or fried tofu contribute so much as a salad topping. Same goes for accompanying vegetable soup with a hunk of crusty whole-grain bread smeared with vegan butter. When eating vegan, here are some delicious items that will boost the protein or fat content of your meal:

Part of being a good cook involves preparing meals that won’t leave your guests famished an hour later. The items listed above will reliably deliver many hours of sustenance.

Keep Trying New Foods!

No article can begin to adequately explore the multitude of vegan snacks and meals. To go further, check out my vegan foods page. There you’ll find links to detailed coverage covering every imaginable vegan food.

My vegan cooking guide offers the quickest way to get comfortable in the kitchen. And if you are seeking a good first cookbook, look no further than our vegan cookbooks page. Also be sure to read Ginny Messina’s excellent vegan nutrition guide, to improve your odds that nothing falls through the cracks when it comes to eating properly.

This essay offered a mere introduction to vegan eating. But you can doubtless already see that you’ll never face any shortage of delicious vegan meals. Making a point of trying new vegan foods at every opportunity will yield extraordinary results. Not a month will go by without your discovering wonderful new things to eat, and your diet will become increasingly fulfilling.

Eating a vegan diet inspires me to choose higher quality foods more often. Raised my standards has in turn enormously increased the pleasure I take from eating. The information I’ve shared here will enable you to enjoy the same experience. You’ll find it’s unimaginably easy and satisfying to incorporate delicious new vegan foods into your diet.

For further reading: please see our Why Go Vegan? essay and our Vegan Nutrition Guide.
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