While plant-based may have been only been a buzzword a few years ago, it’s safe to say plant-based diets are here to stay— and becoming more popular every day.
In 2019, 9.7 million people had adopted plant-based diets, up from 290,000 in 2004, a recent report by Ipsos Retail Performance found.
Now in the midst of the pandemic, when money is tight and people are looking to save money at the grocery store, it’s no surprise that plant-based food sales are skyrocketing.
In fact, according to new data released by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and SPINS, a wellness-focused data technology company, compared to 2019, plant-based food sales were up 90% in mid-March.
TIPS TO EAT PLANT-BASED ON A BUDGET
Although many plant-based foods are less expensive than meat and animal products, the key to eating plant-based on a budget is knowing the foods to focus on, how to shop, and what to cook.
LOOK FOR PLANT-BASED RECIPES
While following a plant-based diet can definitely save you money, a good place to start is in your pantry with food staples like beans that can take the place of meat, for example.
If you’re new to plant-based however, or you’re getting bored with your meals, you can find a ton of inspiration in cookbooks and recipe blogs.
Here are some of my favorite blogs that have healthy, plant-based recipes:
TO EAT PLANT-BASED ON A BUDGET, MEAL PLAN
Meal planning is one of the best ways to save money, prevent food waste, and eat plant-based on a budget.
In fact, a survey by Plan To Eat found that customers who used the meal planning service reduced their food costs by 23%.
When you have your recipes in one place, and a plan for what you’ll make each night, you’ll cook just the right amount and take the guesswork out of dinner.
HIT UP THE BULK SECTION FIRST
Whether you’re shopping at Whole Foods or your local grocery store, hit the bulk bins first. You can stock up on brown rice, quinoa, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, beans, lentils, peas, oats, granola, and trail mix which are usually cheaper than pre-packaged versions.
Some stores also offer a machine where you can grind peanuts and almonds and make your own nut butters.
Although this is a great way to avoid unwanted ingredients like added sugars and palm oil that many store-bought brands contain, it’s also important to compare the amount you’re getting with the jarred version to make sure you’re really saving money.
At membership clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club, you can also save money on bulk foods like berries, cooking oils, and herbs and spices.
BE CHOOSY ABOUT ORGANIC VS. CONVENTIONAL
During these uncertain times, it’s probably not realistic to buy everything organic and besides, it’s not necessary.
Be sure to grab the EWG’s 2020 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce and if your budget allows, avoid produce on the Dirty Dozen list.
Also, decide what’s really important to buy organic and what’s not. For example, you may want to buy organic berries, but conventional pasta is just fine.
BULK UP MEALS WITH BUDGET FOODS
One of the best ways to eat plant-based on a budget is to bulk up your meals with cheap, healthy foods staples like whole-wheat pasta, gluten-free pasta (rice, quinoa or bean/legume-based), brown rice, quinoa, farro, barley, millet, and potatoes.
TO EAT PLANT-BASED ON A BUDGET, EAT LIKE YOUR ANCESTORS
During the Great Depression when money was tight, people made the most of their food dollars with cheap food.
My own Italian-American family made dishes like pasta and peas, pasta e fagioli, and chickpeas and rice—which are super-delicious too.
Meals like these, as well as soups, stews, vegetarian chilis, and casseroles that can feed a crowd, or leave leftovers for lunch or dinner on another night, can make eating plant-based on a budget a no-brainer.
MAXIMIZE YOUR SAVINGS
To stretch your food dollars even more, buy produce and plant-based foods that are on sale.
Also, before you head out to the grocery store, load coupons on your store app, and be sure to use your store loyalty card where you can take advantage of member-only sale prices or get rewards for future purchases.
Cashback apps like Ibotta and Fetch Rewards can also help you eat plant-based on a budget.
BUY IN-SEASON PRODUCE
Not only is in-season produce fresher, but it’s usually cheaper too.
To find out what’s in-season where you live, check out this helpful chart from the CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture).
THINK TWICE ABOUT BUYING FROZEN
The benefit of buying frozen fruits, vegetables, and beans, is that they’re picked at their peak freshness and flash frozen so they may be healthier than fresh.
In fact, a June 2017 study in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found, in some cases, frozen produce is more nutritious than fresh that’s been stored in the refrigerator for 5 days.
However, when buying frozen produce, you’ll need to look at what you’re actually getting for the price.
I found this out recently when I opened a bag of frozen broccoli and cauliflower. The package had 4 servings, but the serving size was only 1/4 cup—not nearly enough to feed my family. Buying fresh vegetables yields so much more.
GET CREATIVE WITH PLANT-BASED MEALS
I tend to get in a food rut, making rice and beans or lentil soup and never venturing out into more creative plant-based meals.
Yet there are so many delicious ways to eat plant-based on a budget if you think about ways to transform your basics into exciting new meals.
For example, beans and lentils can be transformed into bean burgers, tempeh into meatballs, cashews into a “meat” loaf, portobello mushrooms into burgers, and chickpeas into nuggets.
MAKE IT EASY WITH SALADS
Making salads is a super-easy way to eat plant-based on a budget.
Start with salad greens (fresh or in the bag), add vegetables, plant-based proteins, and healthy fats.
I love using the EZ Hold Wooden Chopped Salad Bowl With Mezzaluna because it makes it so quick and easy to make healthy, chopped salads.
You may not think your kids will eat salad, but try having a make-your-own salad night which is one way to help them feel empowered and in control—and more likely to eat it.
Plant-based meals lend themselves so well to batch cooking, which can also help you save money.
For example, I like making large batches of grains and beans and then using them in a variety of meals throughout the week.
AVOID PROCESSED PLANT-BASED FOODS
Some of the priciest plant-based foods are those that are processed such as plant-based burgers, veggie burgers, tofu “turkey” products, and convenience meals.
Many of these products are also high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium, and have artificial ingredients, added sugars, and GMOs.
To keep plant-based healthy and stick to a budget, focus on real, whole foods.
MAKE HOMEMADE PLANT-BASED SNACKS
In recent years, there have been a ton of new brands offering plant-based snacks made with fruits, vegetables, and beans, for example.
While these may be better than traditional snack foods, many are still highly-processed and expensive.
To make healthy plant-based snacks and save money, serve up healthy snacks made with real foods like whole fruit and vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You can also make homemade versions of your kids’ favorite snacks like granola bars.
USE DRIED BEANS INSTEAD OF CANNED
Canned beans are pretty cheap as they are, but dried beans are even cheaper and I think, more robust.
You will need to soak and cook the beans, but you can also cook them in the Instant Pot or Crock-Pot to save time.
BUY GENERIC INSTEAD OF BRAND NAME
If you’re not married to a certain brand, consider buying generic versions of plant-based foods instead of brand names which can help you save money.
SHOP THE FARMERS’ MARKET OR JOIN A CSA
You may be able to find better deals on fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market, especially if you wait until the end of the day when farmers are likely to offer discounts on the produce they haven’t sold.
In fact, according to one report, you may get a better deal on organic produce at the farmers’ market than you would at the grocery store.