The Best Way to Make a Grocery List

make a perfect vegan grocery list

It's been about 3 years since I decided to adopt a vegan diet... and the road hasn't always been very pretty. 

Back in the dark days of me buying frozen veggie patties and blocks of tofu like my life depended on it, I obviously hadn't developed a good system for tackling the grocery store. I felt like I ate the same shitty ad-libbed meal rotation every week, and spent tons of money on fresh "organic" produce that ended up dying in my crisper drawers before I even got brave enough to try cooking it.

It was super frustrating, and I always wished I had been given some sort of blueprint for this whole "adults-cook-for-themselves" notion that I still can't fully accept. How, do you ask, did I get past this phase?

After having a conversation recently with a super cool young couple over lunch, I realized that most people aren't opposed to changing a few little habits here and there. 

When looking at the habits my husband and I have adopted over time, the one that definitely has the biggest impact on our budget and "flow" in the kitchen throughout the week is our dedication to a meal plan. (Click the link to get a free PDF of our example chart). 

Now, I know what used to come to (my) mind when I heard that phrase: something tedious, lacking inspiration, time-consuming, and unlikely to survive a new year's resolution. 

But in all honesty, the process that we began using to bring our grocery lists into fruition actually bubbled out of our quest for new and exciting dishes!

AND... I'm also in a ton of debt from graduate school student loans. So we're budgeting like crazy. Which means no more looking at the beautiful produce and throwing everything into the basket at will.

Must. Have. Self. Control.

Here's the process:

Click on the link above (or HERE if you're too lazy to scroll back up)  to get the chart that we use for our meal planning process. On average, it takes my husband and I about 1 hour on a weekend to get all of our meals and their ingredients written down/sorted for the week. Sprawl out your favorite cookbooks and grab a laptop for inspiration! In case you missed it, here is a great breakdown of our household vegan cookbooks by difficulty. 

Once we have our meals planned, we organize a list in this fashion:

This is a mock list!

This is a mock list!

1) Divide and Conquer: Produce vs Misc Items

Basically we know from experience that the produce section is where we end up getting most of our items. So, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to grocery shop when you aren't running from one end of the store to the other because you forgot to grab a bunch of bananas halfway down your list. Sorting the list into these two groups helps with sticking to the perimeter of the store as well.

Perishable items are typically refrigerated or kept fresh near the outer rim of most grocery chains, and the processed perishable items are usually concentrated near the center. 

If you're into mobile apps, I've found that Anylist always worked pretty well for me as far as seamless sorting. But I didn't like having to type everything into my phone and having to deal with all of the autocorrect typos, and I also like being able to easily look back at previous weeks in a notebook. Whatever floats your boat.

2) Know your Meals: How many servings should each meal make, and where did you find the recipe?

Nothing is worse than getting home after work only to discover that you can't find the recipe you bought a bunch of ingredients for.

Ok... a lot of things are actually worse, but HANGRY is real. And terrifying.

Moral of this story: write down the website author and/or page number source for each meal so that you don't waste a bunch of time later on. 

3) The Everyday Essentials: Breakfast and Dessert

My husband and I eat the same things for breakfast every morning. I usually pick out a smoothie of the week, and he will make a chia-seed overnight oats concoction. We write down the ingredients for these meals in the list, but don't include them in the meal serving count at the top.

Desserts are also pretty important, and we like to shake it up based on the season. It's fall now in Houston, which apparently means we're in a coconut-flour brownie mood. I'll typically write out what dessert we've picked out (and yes, we have dessert every night) and where we found the recipe in the top portion of the list.

Everyone also asks us HOW MUCH money we spend on groceries every week.

This has changed a lot over the years, and depends on what kinds of meals we're in the mood for. Since we're in full debt-destroying mode, we've cut back our weekly food budget to $100 (in cash, Dave Ramsey-style) per week, which includes our bi-weekly trip to get a $20 growler of locally brewed kombucha from the farmer's market.

Full disclosure: my work now gives me free breakfast and lunch, which reduced our grocery bill by roughly $20/week. All throughout grad school, we spent $120/week on food without fail.

I realize that this number seems high to a lot of people, and acknowledge that we benefit from a pretty low cost of living here in Houston. 

However, whatever circumstances you come from, I guarantee that your budget can benefit from eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and tracking where your money goes when you go to buy food from the store.

A few quick side notes to prevent moldy vegetables from overpopulating the crisper drawers:

We use cloth towels to line the bottoms of the drawers. After throwing away tons of paper towels every week, we switched to cheap cloth towels and found that they're much more absorbent and stay clean much longer (the ones I use are from the OR at work). 

Turn up the humidity setting on the drawers, and unwrap all of the twisty-ties and rubber bands holding the produce in place. Make sure to dry off any moisture before placing the food in the drawer.

Don't wash or chop any of your leafy produce until the day you are going to use it. I've found that items like cilantro, parsley, and butter lettuce are especially prone to mold if washed a few days prior to eating.

We like to store these items outside the fridge, and find that they last longer/taste better:

  • Tomatoes 

  • Lemons 

  • Limes

  • Potatoes 

  • Onions 

  • Garlic

  • Shallots

  • Bananas

  • Oranges

  • Apples

  • Pears

I truly hope this post was helpful and informative. Share, comment, and let me know what you think on social media! 


With love,