By Molly Patrick
Feb 16, 2016,
As you transition to a more Whole Food Plant Based diet, lots of things start to change.
You easily lose weight, your relationship with constipation ends, you feel happier and have more patience. With each week that goes by, new awesome changes pop up in your life that you didn’t even know were possible.
Another change that happens is in your grocery shopping routine.
Where you shop will change. How you shop will change. And what you buy will change.
Your grocery cart will go from being filled with packaged, monotone colored food to bursting with colorful, fresh produce and items from the bulk bin section.
This in itself is a confidence booster because let’s face it, the only thing sexier than buying kale and quinoa is buying crotchless panties and a Vitamix (imagine the possibilities).
Today’s fuckery is all about the where, how and what of plant based grocery shopping. It’s the fuckery that you probably didn’t even know you needed.
Let’s start with the WHERE.
The more plant based you eat, the more you will outgrow grocery stores like Albertson’s, Fry’s, Safeway, Kroger, and the rest of the traditional grocery store chains. The main reason for this is because these stores don’t have the healthy options that fill your cart when you eat a whole food plant based diet.
Some regular grocery stores have a small organic produce section and a small health food section, but they are super lame compared to the options and variety that health food focused grocery stores offer.
It used to be that the only health food stores were small food co-ops and the occasional Whole Foods. That has changed and healthy grocery stores are now as common as gluten sensitivities (I had to do it).
If you do a quick Google search and type in “healthy grocery stores” and your city or town, a list will come up to choose from. Don’t type in “health food stores” because you will get a list of vitamin stores, like GNC, Vitamin Shoppe and Fresh Vitamins.
As a side note, I’ve never hated a business name more than I hate “Fresh Vitamins”. The only fresh vitamins you will ever find are the ones in the produce section. End of story.
The two most important things to look for when choosing your healthy grocery store is that they have a bulk bin section and they have a decent sized produce section with lots of organic choices. You might end up having to shop at a couple of different stores to find everything that you need for a good price. For example, there are five healthy grocery stores that I shop at and one Farmer’s Market. I try to do my grocery shopping once a week so that it’s done all in one go and I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the week.
I shop at Sprouts Market for the majority of my groceries. They have a great produce department, a decent bulk bin section, a good health and beauty section, and the prices are awesome.
I get certain things at Trader Joe’s because they have great deals on packaged staple items, like soy milk and nut butters.
I shop at Whole Foods because they have a ton of variety, a good produce department and lots of bulk bin items.
I shop at my local co-op once in a while when I’m in the area. They have an orgasmic bulk bin section, including bulk herbs and spices, a fantastic local produce section, bulk dish soap and hand soap, and lots of local products. The co-op where I shop is more expensive than other grocery stores, but I like to support them and I know that I’m getting quality products when I shop there.
I get my water at a health food store that specializes in purified water.
I hit up my Farmer’s Market as often as I can because in my book, there is no better way to spend grocery money than by giving it directly to the farmers in exchange for vibrant, fresh and in season local produce. It’s a win-win.
I know it can be a pain in the ass to go to a few different stores to get the grocery shopping done. I get it. But I encourage you to buck up, put on your big person britches and think of it as an investment in your health. You can’t make healthy plant based meals without the right ingredients. Think of grocery shopping as part of your self-care routine and try to have fun with it.
Now let’s talk about the HOW.
My mom was one of the people involved in opening the very first food co-op in the little town in New Mexico where I grew up. This co-op was my second home growing up. Here’s a picture of me when I was two helping my mom write herb labels. This picture is framed and still hangs in that store to this day. Don’t worry, this isn’t at all embarrassing.
I got my first job at that food co-op when I was 14. I couldn’t wait to start saving money for my first car, so I begged my mom to let me get a work permit so I could legally collect a paycheck before the legal working age of 16. I worked there on and off for a decade.
Because I basically grew up in a health food store, I grew up thinking that everyone knew what nutritional yeast was, that bulk bin shopping was normal, that everyone used dates as a sweetener, and that buying produce from small local farms was the only way to do it, unless of course you grew your own food.
Turns out, not so much. Health food stores and healthy ingredients are foreign to most people until they start eating for their health.
If shopping at health food stores is a new thing for you, here’s what you need to know.
- You don’t have to grow out your armpit hair to shop there.
- They all smell the same.
- Bob Dylan will probably be playing in the background.
- People shopping there will smell like Patchouli, they’ll be wearing some type of makeshift rope sandals, and there’s a 98% chance that they’ll be wearing a dream catcher around their neck. These people aren’t homeless, but they may live in their van.
- People who shop in healthy grocery stores look happier and healthier than people who shop in regular grocery stores. This is because they eat so much better.
- How we look and how we feel has everything to do with what we feed ourselves.
Here are some other things to be aware of.
One of the main things that sets healthy grocery stores apart from regular grocery stores is their bulk bin section. This is where you’ll find lots of different foods in big bins. You can help yourself and buy as much or as little of something as you’d like.
You can find things like dried beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, nutritional yeast, flour, and a shit ton of other things. There are usually herbs and spices available in bulk as well that you’ll find in their own section. Some stores carry vinegar, peanut butter, almond butter, tahini, dish soap, hand soap, and even shampoo in bulk.
It’s worth mentioning that just because something is in the bulk bin section doesn’t make it automatically healthy.
Some stores offer a huge assortment of candy, salty snacks, chocolate covered nuts and sugary cereals in bulk. So don’t be fooled – sugary processed food in bulk bins is still sugary processed food, just without a package.
Stay away from the sugary and processed snacks and you’ll be as golden as a flax seed.
Buying ingredients by the pound is awesome for lots of reasons. It’s usually cheaper than buying packaged food, you control how much you buy, and it cuts down on packaging.
Here’s how to master the bulk bin section and look just as confident scooping your brown rice into a bag as those patchouli smelling bulk bin professionals.
There will be two numbers on each of the bins. A price and a PLU number. The price is how much per pound the item costs and the PLU number is the code that your cashier will use to ring up each item.
You’ll find the following items near the bulk bins:
- Plastic Bags // There might be one size or various sizes. This is what you’ll use to put each of your ingredients in.
- Twist Ties // These are to secure your bags shut and to write down the PLU number and what each item is.
- Pens or Pencils// If you don’t know what pens and pencils are used for, I can’t help you.
Here’s how to put everything together:
- Choose an ingredient that you want to buy, take one of the bags and put as much of that ingredient into that bag as you’d like.
- Take a twist tie and write down the PLU number and what the item is. After you have that info jotted down, secure the bag with the tie. Repeat with as many items as you like.
The most important step is writing down the PLU number so the cashier knows how to ring it up and writing down what the item is so you don’t have to guess when you get home from the store.
I have 6 different mystery bags of flour hanging out in my kitchen because I forgot to write down what type they are. Is it rice flour? Is it whole wheat flour? Is it spelt flour? No one will ever know. Write down what you buy so this doesn’t happen to you.
If you’re curious about how much something will cost before you checkout, there are usually scales by the bulk bins where you can weigh your items to get a rough idea of how much they’ll cost. Start with a little, see how much it weighs and then add more if you want.
Now let’s talk about the WHAT.
When you switch to a Whole Food Plant Based diet, the focus of your food is on the following foods:
- Veggies (produce section)
- Fruits (produce section)
- Beans and legumes (bulk bin section)
- Whole Grains (bulk bin section)
- Nuts and seeds (bulk bin section)
- Minimally processed foods (middle of the store)
The majority of your groceries will be from the produce section because veggies and fruit make up the bulk of plant based eating. Beans and legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds also play a major role and you can get these items from the bulk bin section.
Minimally processed foods are ingredients that have been slightly modified from their original state, but still contain important nutrients, so they are A-okay to add into the Whole Food Plant Based diet.
Here is a list of the minimally processed foods that I most frequently purchase and the brands that I usually buy:
- Sprouted bread // Silver Hills or Food for Life (in the freezer section)
- Sprouted corn tortillas // Food for Life (in the freezer section)
- Sprouted grain tortillas // Food for Life (in the freezer section)
- Non-dairy Milk // If I don’t make my own almond milk, I buy Organic Unsweetened Plain soy milk by Westsoy. The only ingredients are organic soy beans and filtered water.
- Tofu // I don’t have a standard brand that buy – it all depends on which store I’m at. Whatever the brand, I always buy organic tofu that has been Non-GMO verified by the Non-GMO Project. Look for this Non-GMO seal of approval. I always buy extra firm tofu.
- Packaged cereal (crucial for when I’m PMSing) // Steel cut oats are a more nutrient dense choice, but sometimes I crave cold cereal in a bad way. Engine 2 cereal is my answer. It’s definitely not Rice Krispies, but it works in a pinch.
- Miso // Miso Master organic Barley Miso, aged for at least two years.
- Almond Butter // Trader Joe’s house brand. I buy the type with only one ingredient – almonds.
- Tahini // Whole Foods house brand – 365
- Coconut aminos // Coconut Secret
- Soy sauce // San-J organic Shoyu
- Sauerkraut // Bubbies (in the refrigerator section)
- Rice wine vinegar // Sprouts organic house brand
- Tempeh // Just like tofu, I don’t have a specific go to brand. It depends on where I’m shopping. My main priority is that it’s organic and Non-GMO verified by the Non-GMO Project.
- Tomato Paste // Muir Glen organic
- Coconut oil (I only use this for oil pulling and washing my face) // Trader Joe’s house brand
Okay – that should be plenty of info to get you started with your new grocery shopping ways, but just in case, here are a few more tips to launch you into dream catcher healthy shopper status.
1: Store your reusable bags in your car so that you don’t forget them.
When you’re done putting your groceries away, put your bags right back in your car so they’re ready to go for next time.
2: Make a shopping list.
If you plan your batch cooking and weekly meals in advance and then scan your kitchen for anything else you need for the week, you’ll have a solid list and everything you buy will have a purpose, instead of buying random ingredients and never doing anything with them except tossing them out when they go bad.
3: Make grocery shopping part of your weekly routine and enjoy the process.
Grocery shopping is the crucial first step in eating a plant rich diet. It’s as important as drinking your green smoothies, so think of it as self-care and embrace it. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time at the store and don’t bring your kids if you can help it.
When you’re rushed and distracted, you’ll forget things and get annoyed.
Going grocery shopping every week is non-negotiable. Being stressed and annoyed by it is totally optional.
4: Wash and hang your plastic produce and bulk bags out to dry and reuse them again and again.
This takes a little extra time and effort, but it’s worth it.
If you get annoyed at the thought of this, just think of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and know that you aren’t contributing to it by throwing out your plastic bags after one use. Here’s my bag laundering in action.
5: Hit the grocery store early in the morning.
Try to be there right when they open and you’ll have the whole place to yourself.
This makes shopping quicker and way less annoying.
Okay – you are officially ready to hit the grocery store, stock up on whole plant foods and start cooking! I have the perfect recipe for you to try out below. But first!
If you’ve been toying with the idea of trying out a plant based diet but don’t know where to start, check out our Plant Fueled Meal Plans.
- Makes 5 - 6 small crusts
- 1/4 cup walnuts 30g
- 1 cup polenta 170g
- 1/4 cup flaxseed meal 25g
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and left whole
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 cups raw cauliflower 265g
Ridiculously Easy Red Sauce
- 1/2 an onion cut into quarters
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and left whole
- 2 large tomatoes cut into quarters
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste 35g
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Additional Topping Ideas
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Cashew Cheese
- Red pepper
- Red onion
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Place the walnuts, polenta, flaxseed meal, garlic cloves, basil and sea salt in the food processor and process until everything is combined and the walnuts are fine, about a minute. Take this mixture out of the food processor and place it in a bowl.
- Add the cauliflower to the food processor and process until it is finely ground.
- Add the walnut / polenta mixture back into the food processor with the cauliflower and process until everything is combined.
- Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl.
- Shape the mixture into 5 or 6 individual pizza crusts and bake on a parchment covered baking sheet for 20 minutes.
- Take them out of the oven, flip each one over and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- Add whatever toppings you like, bring the oven up to 400°F (205°C) and bake for 5 additional minutes.
- You can add whatever toppings you like. Here’s a simple yummy red sauce to whip up if you want something tomato based.
Ridiculasouly Easy Red Sauce
- Place the onion and the garlic in the food processor and pulse until chopped up.
- Add the tomato, tomato paste, basil and salt to the food processor and pulse until the tomato is totally chopped up.
- Pour the mixture into a small pot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
I hope that you have a happy week. May it be filled with adding new things to your routine that will nourish your gorgeous bod.