How to Grocery Shop for Packing Healthy Lunches To Go (Part 1 of My Guide to Packing Easy Vegan Lunches)

With the back-to-school season in full swing I’ve received a number of requests asking for a guide to grocery shopping for packed lunches. This guide is going to be split up into 2 parts – Part 1 focuses on the planning process, from designing your grocery list to planning a menu for the week. Part 2 is meant to make it as easy as possible to pack a lunch every single day. I’ll show you how I meal prep and my favourite accessories for taking food on the go.

Today I’m going to show you step-by-step as I put together a grocery list as if I were planning to take 1 lunch + 2 snacks on the go for 5 days of the week. I’ll walk you through each step as I plan the ingredients I’m going to buy and the meals that I going to eat and take on the go. You can follow this guide exactly as is, or simply use it for inspiration for your own snacks and meals.

So, for all of you that have just returned to school, or perhaps just vowing to start packing your lunch more (ahem, like me for example) this post is for you!


Planning My Shopping List

The first thing I do when I’m planning a grocery trip is take an inventory of what I currently have in my kitchen. This really helps me prevent waste because I can buy fresh ingredients that compliment the ingredients that I’m trying to get rid of. I’ve taken a look into my pantry, freezer, and fridge and these are some of the ingredients I’ll be keeping in mind when writing this week’s shopping list.

Ingredients on hand:

Pantry/dry: tri-colour quinoa, pumpkin seeds, cashews, dates, and raisins

Freezer: sprouted grain bread, frozen berries

Fresh/Refrigerated: bananas

Next, I want to focus on coming up with some lunches and snacks that:

  1. are easy to take on the go
  2. require minimal preparation and time
  3. use mostly staple ingredients that I usually have on hand
  4. and use lots of the same ingredients to minimize my shopping list
  5. are healthy and satisfying
  6. provide enough variation to keep my food interesting

I’ve assumed that the average person attends school or work 5 days a week and needs 1 lunch + 1-2 snacks per day.


Meal Planning – Lunches

For each lunch I’ve included a couple of links to examples of similar meals that I’ve posted on Garden of Vegan in the past. These are just meant to give you an idea of how you have customize any one of these ideas to your preferences and the ingredients you have on hand.

spicy baked tofu salad – baby spinach, baked sriracha & soy sauce tofu, brown rice or quinoa, chickpeas (optional), pumpkin seeds or hemp hearts (optional), avocado, and hummus or balsamic vinaigrette for dressing.

  1. Food on the go: sriracha & soy sauce tofu, pumpkin seeds, spinach, brown rice, avocado, grape tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette.
  2. Recipe: Baked tofu, baby spinach, brown rice, and avocado salad.

crunchy rice wraps – rice paper wraps filled with thinly sliced red bell pepper, carrot, cucumber and green onion + strips of baked sriracha & soy sauce tofu and sesame seeds with a spicy peanut sauce for dipping.

  1. Crunchy veggie + tofu rice wrap preparation photoset
  2. Crunchy veggie + smoked tofu rice wraps with spicy peanut sauce

vegan power bowl – base of quinoa or brown rice, sriracha & soy sauce tofu, chickpeas, and leftover steamed or sautéed veggies + toppings like guacamole, fresh avocado, sriracha, hummus, etc.

  1. Vegan power bowl (pictured above) – quinoa,  carrot, zucchini, sriracha and soy sauce tofu, avocado, hummus and tomatoes.
  2. Vegan power bowl – tri-colour quinoa, baked sriracha and soy sauce tofu, zucchini noodles, carrot, and avocado.

PB & apple sandwich – peanut butter, apple slices, cinnamon and hemp hearts on whole grain bread or English muffin.

  1. Almond butter + apples slices on an English muffin
  2. Toast with peanut butter + apple slices

leftovers – pretty self explanatory, I think it’s safe to say that you would have leftovers from the previous nights dinner at least once a week. A quick note on lunches and leftovers: You could totally have leftovers for lunch 5 days a week, this is probably the easiest way to pack a lunch. All you have to do is begin purposefully cooking an extra serving or two of dinner each night!


Meal Planning – Snacks

veggies + hummus – your choice of fresh veggies, this week I’d use carrots sticks, celery sticks, sliced cucumber, and broccoli florets with hummus (add 1-2 tbsp of hemp hearts to hummus for a protein boost.)

vegan berry yogurt parfait –  layer vegan yogurt with fresh or frozen berries, pack the granola separately to prevent sogginess.

homemade trail mix – your choice of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and other add ins like chocolate chips or banana chips.

chopped apples + PB – apple slices with peanut butter (or almond butter), add some cinnamon, dark chocolate chunks, or walnuts for a twist.

fresh chopped fruit – your choice of fresh fruit, this week I’d use orange slices, chopped apples, and green grapes.

crackers with pickles and smoked tofu – or sub smoked tofu for soy sauce and sriracha tofu.

quick and easy healthy sweets – Banana Chocolate Chip Superfood Cookies or PB & Chocolate Superfood Bites

ants on a log – celery sticks spread with peanut butter and a sprinkle of raisins


My Shopping List

Ingredients that are not for food on the go are marked with an asterisk (*). These items may inevitably end up in the lunches and snacks I take on the go but that was not their intended purpose. These items are for mainly purchased for breakfast, dinner, or snacks for home.

Fruits & Vegetables

  1. oranges (2) – $1.00
  2. green grapes (2 lbs) – $5.26
  3. kiwi (1) – $0.67
  4. spinach (1 kg) – $5.98
  5. broccoli (2 bunches) – $3.14
  6. mini cucumbers (10)  – $3.98
  7. *green bell pepper (1) – $0.59
  8. red bell pepper (1) – $0.82
  9. ambrosia apples (7) – $3.15
  10. green onions (1) – $0.57
  11. carrots (2 lb) – $0.98
  12. celery (5 ribs) – $0.57
  13. *kale (1 bunch) – $0.97
  14. *white mushrooms (1 lb) – $0.48
  15. avocado (1) $1.48
  16. *corn (4 cobs) – $1.56

Refrigerated & Non-perishables

  1. *Hemp Hearts (800 g) – $14.50 (approx. 2 month supply)
  2. Love Grown Raisin Almond Coconut Crunch granola (340 g) – $3.50
  3. *vanilla almond milk (1.89 l) – $2.85
  4. Triscuits (225 g) – $1.44
  5. canned chickpeas (540 ml) – $0.99
  6. firm tofu (350 g) – $1.99
  7. smoked tofu (210 g) – $2.49
  8. rice wraps (40 wraps/400 g) – $2.49
  9. peanut butter w/ coconut oil (750 g) – $3.50
  10. roasted garlic hummus (454 g) – $3.00
  11. tofu dessert [coconut and original flavour] (2 x 150 g) – $1.27 (a good sub for vegan yogurts)
  12. vanilla almond-cashew yogurt (440 g) – $2.50

TOTAL – $71.72


Stay tuned for Part 2 – Meal Prepping & 5-Day Food on the Go Menu

In the next part of this post I’m going to

  1. show you how I do some quick meal prepping to make packing a lunch each day as easy as possible
  2. create a 5-Day meal plan consisting of 1 lunch + 2 snacks per day (using my examples above)
  3. share my favourite accessories for food on the go: from food storage containers, to lunch bags, water bottles and more!
  4. curate some of my favourite food on the go posts from Garden of Vegan to provide even more ideas and inspiration for packed lunches


Vegan Grocery Resources

If you have any questions about planning your own grocery list, be sure to check out my grocery related resources:

  1. Building a Healthy Vegan Grocery List
  2. Vegan Lifestyle on a Budget
  3. Garden of Vegan’s Essential Grocery List

Previous grocery posts:

  1. Groceries 04/23/14 – Includes prices + My flexible menu for the week + Shopping FAQ
  2. Groceries {Week 2} With Prices + What I Ate Last Week + Featured Products
  3. Groceries {Week 3} – Grocery resources + Prices and total cost


Zoos: the great education and conservation myth

“We shouldn’t be looking for the right way to do the wrong thing,” says vegan activist James Aspey