Vegan Beginners’ Guide – Shopping Essentials

Whether you are about to become vegan, or have just made the leap into this amazing, compassionate way of living – but are honestly a bit freaked out about what your replacement products are going to be, from your fridge to your bathroom – this post is for you.

From milk to toothpaste we have the essentials covered.

First off, don’t panic – you can eat more that you might ever have imagined, but it does take a little time and practice to adjust old shopping habits. If you need to, just stock up on baked beans and bread, spaghetti and vegetable sauce and (don’t worry) you will learn to eat more and more delicious food each mealtime that you can enjoy and thrive from. Focus on the animals that you are doing this for rather than yourself. Social media is a great tool too – there are thousands of vegan accounts that will give you endless inspiration, new product alerts and tips for all budgets, tastes and cooking abilities. And it’s not just the food that will inspire you, vegan accounts love to share everything from new product finds to brilliant days out at sanctuaries, as well as activism and social events.

Here are my basic vegan everyday buys that are available from all major UK supermarkets and have made my shopping choices easier and kinder.

Milks –including the search for a perfect frothy milk 

IMG_0082I love a good strong coffee with a thick frothy milk as much as the next person and that hasn’t changed just because I’ve ditched dairy. At first I was freaked out with soya milk curdling in my hot drinks, which sometimes happens depending on the brand and the temperature of the water (not-quite boiled water is best to prevent curdling). It’s as unappetising as it sounds and my heart did sink a little at first thinking is this is it now – lumpy coffee. Great. Enter Oatly Barista to the rescue! This milk foams perfectly, just like full-fat bovine milk, and gives you a perfect froth minus the cruel realities of dairy farming. You can pour it straight up warm or cold in an instant coffee too if you don’t have a frothing tool or fancy coffee machine and it’s just as delicious. As with all Oatly milks (excluding the organic) it has calcium and also B12 added but none of the junk.

Other milks we love for everyday use (including in tea and coffee) are Rice Dream cashew or almond milk and Good Hemp – my daughter loves these straight out the fridge. Coconut milks are great in smoothies and on cereal, as are almond milks. There are so many that I’m still trying them out and seeing what goes best with what. Plant-based milks are often on offer in the bigger shops, so stock up when you can as they have a long shelf life and don’t need to be stored in the fridge until opened.

Vegan cheese (aka Gary) 

IMG_0143Cheese is a hot topic in the vegan community and often the one product people really struggle to give up. Having gone vegan with no transition period, my first trip as a vegan to Tesco was in search of dairy-free cheese. I tried Violife and it ended up going to the dog. I also tried Bute Island soft cheese (think Philadelphia) with no luck, so I just gave up on vegan cheese. Then about a month later having totally cleansed my body from bovine fluids and animal flesh I tried Violife again. My taste buds had changed so much and the once loved memories of dairy were now utterly repulsive, I didn’t want a like-for-like cheese, and trying non-dairy cheeses again was a totally different sensation. The dog was not so lucky this time.

IMG_0141Like all cheeses, different people prefer different strengths, consistencies and flavours. My only advice here is don’t give up – now I can’t get enough of Violife or Bute Island! Sainsbury’s have recently launched a whole vegan range – nicknamed Gary – from cheddar to feta and Wensleydale. The Greek goat-style feta melts to perfection on toast or on pizzas and the caramelised cheddar style is really good too for a simple cheese sandwich. You’ll find your match, just keep searching. The supermarkets are expanding their ranges all the time and are often promoting at vegan events and festivals alongside more artisan cheese makers so you can taste before you buy. Keep the faith and remember dairy milk is breast milk for baby cows – and you are not a baby cow.

IMG_0142Oatly have just launched an oat-based creme fraiche and I just can’t get enough of it. Stirred into pasta sauce, mixed in with smashed avocado or on the side of a curry to cool the spices – everything you use dairy creme fraiche or yoghurt for, you can use this instead and I much prefer the taste. All the non-vegans I know who have tasted this have also raved about it. Their custard and single cream is also fantastic. At the time of writing the only major supermarket to stock it is Tesco (in the free-from section) but I’m sure this will change in time.


Flesh replacers 

IMG_0144I know too much about the industry now to ever want to eat animal body parts every again – I don’t miss it at all. As for using different ingredients where I would have used meat, there is a huge amount of choice. Use a can of chickpeas in any pasta dish instead of a chicken body parts– its easy, quicker to cook and much healthier. Chickpeas, butter beans and lentils are also a good source of protein and you can grab a can for as little as 40p. It’s a great substitute while you are figuring everything out. Marinated tofu chunks (from Cauldron) also do the job nicely and are super-easy to cook with. Finely chopped field mushrooms replace minced cow flesh and lambs very well in pies and spaghetti bolognaise – a much cheaper option and avoids mincing up babies. Fry’s Family Food, available from Holland and Barrett, Morrisons and Ocado, as well as independents, has a brilliant range of plant-based ready-made pies, nuggets – I have a 100% success rate in passing these off as with my daughter’s friends and of course love to tell them after “it’s vegan” – burgers, mince, sausages and much more. Linda McCartney has more and more vegan options and although I personally don’t like Quorn, I hear they are veganising more of their range too by ditching the eggs and milk that tarnish so many of their products.

UnknownI’ve tried some of the faux meat slices – it’s just not my cup of tea but do give them a go. My daughter loves Cheatin’ bacon slices – they crisp up nicely, giving you that bacon crunch, so drizzle a bit of maple syrup on and I guess she has a good point after all. All the major supermarkets are bringing out more and more of their own Free From ranges – so keep checking for new products. Ocado has the best vegan search filter I know of for food, booze, household and beauty products.


Ice cream and sweet treats

image1-3This is the easiest part of being vegan and you’ll not struggle to satisfy your sweet-tooth cravings. So many branded sweets are vegan, such as Skittles, Starburst, sherbert dips, and flying saucers – vegan but not necessarily good for you! There are lots of websites that provide lists of accidentally vegan sweets. Tesco do great Cornettos, chocolate buttons and this year even a Christmas selection box. Alpro have just launched a new range of ice creams (the hazelnut one is really nice), and Frills is healthier and just as delicious – my favourite as it’s not too sweet. Just check out the dairy-free ice cream section in your local supermarket – larger ones have a far wider selection or Ocado have a dazzling selection.

For better quality chocolates, look for dark. Many of a brand’s dark chocolate offerings are vegan, and much more tasty I think than milk chocolates. If I am in need of an extra-special chocolate fix, I treat myself to Booja Booja truffles – these also make great gifts. The entire range of Moo Free and Ombar is vegan – Moo Free is also my little one’s first choice, as is Ombar. Both use responsibly and ethically sourced ingredients, which is an important part of being vegan.

IMG_0083Household cleaning and hygiene products.

If you think you need to start spending a fiver on some fancy organic made-by-angels toothpaste, think again. Just head down to the Co-op. They label their own branded beauty and household products including laundry liquids very clearly, stating if they are cruelty-free and if they contain animal ingredients – it’s cheap too. Astonish are also a great brand that don’t test on animals, are labelled clearly as vegan, are value for money and are often available from pound shops. Note that Ecover – although stamped cruelty-free – test on water fleas and are therefore not vegan – however I hear that they are looking into changing this to become vegan-friendly so keep an eye out.

Beauty Products

I’m a scrub-and-go kinda gal – so these are simple, basic beauty products on a budget that suit the whole family and save you some time checking the back of bottles in the shops. I remember popping into Boots trying to quickly buy shampoo and was there for 20 mins trying to find one that was cruelty-free – I left empty-handed and used washing-up liquid until I found one at Lush the next day! Not my finest moment, but a learning curve nonetheless.

IMG_0153The whole range of Original Source’s handwash and shower gels/milks and scrubs are certified vegan. They are frequently on offer at chemists and supermarkets at £1 each. Lush label their vegan products very clearly and the bath bombs are a real treat for my daughter and me – they sell everything from make-up to shampoo. Unless someone has treated me to a lovely moisturiser, such as Urtekram, I just use 100% coconut oil straight out of the tub. You can pick it up from all supermarkets (the kind you can cook with too), smells gorgeous and has no chemicals.

A note on companies that trick and take advantage of their customers’ goodwill: brands such as Dove say they do not test on animals; however, they do use ingredients that are tested on animals – disgusting. Peta have a great search tool on their website that allows you to get to the truth – click here to use. By rule of thumb, any company that sells in China will also test on animals – more information on this can be found here.

Supplements: Vitamins – B12 & D

After six months of my daughter (then five-years-old) being on a vegan diet, I consulted a registered dietician, to make sure I was getting it right and our food was meeting her and also my own needs. Thankfully, we were told everything is fine and my daughter is sitting perfectly on the percentile chart. We are both eating a very healthy and balanced plant-based diet and getting sufficient (if not a bit too much) B12 from a vitamin spray. I found the vitamin B12 topic quite confusing from online talkboards and Google searches and just wanted a firm professional and educated opinion from a dietician rather than Dr Google or a nutritionist. I was aware that vegans – and non-vegans – can be deficient in B12 – but how much B12 does an adult woman or a child need? Do we need it every day or a few times a week?

I was advised by her that all children in the UK, vegan or not, should be taking a multivitamin and all adults (in the  UK) should also be taking a vitamin D supplement. She kindly looked into which daily multivitamins were vegan-friendly and provided the following advice: “An example of a suitable vegetarian/vegan vitamin and mineral supplement containing adequate Vitamin B12 for children aged 4-12yrs is: Vitabiotics Wellkid 4-12 years multi-vitamin liquidI found many of the chewable vitamins for children contain bovine which is not suitable for vegans, so look out for this on the labels.”

For me, a 37-year-old, the advice given was: “An example of a suitable multivitamin containing adequate B12 for yourself is Boots own brand: Multivitamin capsules containing probiotics. It only contains 5mcg of Vitamin D, so you may want to consider taking an additional Vitamin D supplement containing 5mcg. The World Health Organisation now recommends all adults should be taking a Vitamin D supplement of 10mcg a day. Also, just so you know, supplements containing Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) which is lichen-derived is suitable for vegetarians/vegans. Unfortunately, labels do not always make this clear, so I would suggest only opting for the ones which clearly state suitable for vegetarians or vegans.” I would always recommend that if anyone has any health concerns to consult with their GP or a registered dietician.

I hope this post has been helpful and that you enjoy your new lifestyle of kindness, compassion and amazing delicious animal-free food. I have never looked back and my only regret about becoming vegan is that I didn’t do it sooner!  To read about what triggered my switch to a vegan life, including the issues I first faced being vegan click here.

For a chance to win some gorgeous vegan-friendly Lush Cosmetics products to celebrate Veganuary, click here


10 thoughts on “Vegan Beginners’ Guide – Shopping Essentials

  1. Brilliant post! I’m saving it and I’ll send it to all the vegan wannabes that I know. Thanks!

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