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Can I eat plant-based diet on a budget?

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Diets typically focus on restricting calories based on daily output in order to lose weight, however plant based diets might be preferable because they don’t require lots of costly foods like high priced meats. Meat tends to be expensive and are also quickly perishable, so spoilage can increase the overall costs. 

It is easy to stock up on bulk dry grains, seeds, and nuts to enjoy healthy and calorie rich foods for a long time. Load up a pantry staples when items are on sale, and store for the long-term.

Can I eat a plant-based diet on a budget? Absolutely, a plant based diet includes lots of affordable plant foods including vegetables, fruits, grains, lentils, and beans. Many of these items can be purchased dry in bulk and can be stored for a long time.

Maintaining any diet while sticking to a budget can be tricky, but we actually think a plant based diet might be easier to afford than other diets types centered around high fat intake like keto diet.

This article explores the costs of eating a plant based diet. Answered below are frequently asked questions about eating a plant based diet on a budget, and how to buy plant foods cheaper.

Is A Plant-Based Diet Cheaper?

A plant based diet is more affordable than other diets, but it depends on many factors such as your cooking habits, taste preferences, and stores around you. 

Like any diet, it can be expensive to transition as you are learning new food combinations, new preferences, and new tastes. After getting the hang of a plant based diet, you are likely going to find that you are saving money compared to previous expenses. 

Meats tend to be expensive and have shorter shelf life than most plant based items. This means you many need to go to the grocery store more often than you would on a plant based diet. 

If you frequently eat out, most restaurants tend to price meats dishes or options higher than the vegetarian or plant based alternatives. There are definitely exceptions, but this is usually the case.

It is also possible to make plant based items at home from more affordable ingredients than non-plant based alternatives. 

For instance, you can save money by doing the following:

  • Make your own hummus out of chickpeas and tahini instead of purchasing a store packed one.
  • Purchase dry beans, seeds, and nuts in large quantities and store them in a clean, dark, dry and well ventilated storage area.
  • Make your own plant-based milk alternatives such as almond milk and oat milk out of dry bulk purchases. It is cheaper, fresher and lacks the unnecessary preservatives.
  • Make 1 for 1 switches to cheaper versions of foods you like, such as buying bulk oats instead of expensive cereals.

Initially, this may sound boring, but as you build interest in cooking, you will realize there are a lot of creativity in plant based meals. You might also find them to be tastier than dishes you were eating before! 

Here are some tips to make a plant-based diet cheaper:

Plan the Grocery Trip

If you do choose a plant based diet and would like to keep a budget, it would be good to make a plan before heading to the grocery store. Certain plant based items can be expensive, especially if you are looking for dairy free alternative like soy milk, coconut milk, or almond milk. 

Other expensive plant based items are imitation meats, which try to replicate the taste and texture of animal proteins. We’d recommend avoiding these as they are often priced similarly to regular meats, highly processed and typically not as healthy as we are led on to believe. 

Creating a plan before you head to the grocery store can also help you avoid impulse items. One of our biggest culprits is impulse beverages like coconut water or vegetable juices, which tend to be more expensive by quantity and can quickly add up!

Buy Seasonally

Purchasing vegetables and fruits in season is one of the best ways to save money at the grocery store. There are often surplus fruits and vegetables in season and are priced accordingly. 

We enjoy shopping at local grocery stores instead of the bigger chains. Although the big stores may feel nicer, they are often much more expensive for the same quality items. 

Farmer’s markets, on the other hand, can be a different story depending on where you live. Some farmer’s markets are very trendy and often the vendors need to pay a premium to setup a booth. 

We love walking around, visiting booths, and supporting our local merchants, but we try to limit ourselves to only a single or few items if the prices are high. Yes, we agree that this can be tough!

Make a Kitchen Garden

Better still, if you’re able, you can grow some veggies in a home garden. There are a few vegetables you can try growing like herbs, kale, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. 

There are many guides online and some of these are very resilient. It will definitely help reduce overall costs and will also be a lot of fun for your family too! 

Planning Out Your Meals

A lot of planning is required when switching to a plant-based diet, especially if you are not used to eating vegetarian meals. It can be tough to create tasty meals that you don’t grow tired of, so we suggest writing down a few recipes that reuse some key ingredients. 

For example you can buy tofu and prepare it a number of different ways. You can also substitute tofu for other proteins to cut down on the total number of items you need to buy. 

Create a menu and build a shopping list off of that before you head to the store. 

Buy in Bulk

There are a lot of staple items you can buy dry or in bulk. These tend to have a long shelf life and can be very affordable when you calculate the per meal cost. 

Items such as beans, oats, nuts, and rice are all plant based foods that last a long time when properly stored in the pantry. Keep in handy resealable airtight containers that can be easily emptied, cleaned and refilled.

Are Plant-Based Diets Affordable

Yes, a plant-based diet can be very affordable. Many plant based items are cheaper than the animal product alternatives and can often be purchased in bulk. 

Plant based foods also follow seasonal schedules and there are often “deals” to be had on in-season produce. Plant based alternatives can even be easily made at home to save money on store packaged items, which also reduces the need for overly processed additives and flavorings.. 

Here are a few additional tips if you are looking to save money while maintaining a healthy plant based diet:

Prepare Food at Home

Eating out can quickly get expensive whether you are on a plant-based diet or not. Consider preparing food and eating at home to save on total food expenditures. 

As a former chef, I can tell you that roughly 30% of the menu price is food cost. The rest of the costs are associated to labor, rent and overhead, not to mention tax and tip you pay on top of that.

There are a lot of plant based recipes that are very easy to make at home, and many people find them easier to make than preparing meats.

Monitor Spending

Create a budget and meal plan for the week. Ok, we agree, that’s tough! 

Instead of all that work, create a few key meals that you love eating, then try to use the same ingredients to make other new recipes. This will help you avoid food waste and also help cut down on impulse spending at the grocery store.

Shop in Season Items

Grocery prices vary depending on the season, especially when you buy produce. Items that are in season are likely to be cheaper than those out of season.

Buy in bulk when possible and avoid items that are out of season or shipped from far away regions.

Why Is Plant-Based Food More Expensive?

Certain items can be more expensive, but in general plant based foods are usually cheaper than their non-plant based alternatives. For example, many cuts of meat are more expensive than tofu, seitan, whole grains and legumes. 

However, it is true that certain restaurants and stores are charging premiums for plant based foods, which we think is riding the healthy trend. 

The great news about some plant based foods is that there can also be much cheaper options available. If you are willing to take charge in your kitchen, it is easy to find a number of places for increased savings.

For example, alternative milks like soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk are very trendy and expensive. But purchasing bulk almonds or oats is very affordable and you can easily blend your own tasty almond or oat milk at home in a matter of minutes!

How Do People Afford Plant-Based Diet?

Certain plant based items can be expensive, but there are many strategies you can use to afford a plant based diet. 

Here is a breakdown of how we recommend budgeting for each type of food, it might not be perfect for you, but it has been a helpful guideline for us in the past:

  • Spend 50% on fruits and vegetables. Make sure to purchase an assortment of each including colorful, in season fruits and dark green, nutrient rich vegetables. 
  • Spend 10% on plant based proteins including tofu, tempeh, and plant-based milks.
  • Spend 20% on staple items such as beans, grains, and canned tomatoes. These are things that will last longer in the pantry and will not have to spend the same amount each week if you plan meals and shopping accordingly.
  • Use the remaining 20% on discretionary items such as spices, seeds, dried fruits, nuts, and other items you prefer.
Plant based diet on a budget

Plant Based Diet on Budget: Conclusion

A plant based diet can be very affordable since many of the items can be purchased in bulk and stored, in season produce may be cheaper, and it is possible to make a lot of your favorite items at home. 

There are a number of strategies to maintaining a budget while eating a plant based diet, and you can be very creative with it. For example growing your own tomatoes or herb garden is a great way to save some money and learn a new skill. 

The cost of meat is rising exorbitantly, so eating a plant based diet on a budget is becoming much easier. If you plan and prepare accordingly, you might find a plant based diet much more affordable than your previous one!

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