One thing that people all over say is that they could never eat healthy or they could never eat a plant based diet because it’s so expensive. It’s true, eating plant foods can be expensive, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. It can actually be one of the most cost effective ways to eat, especially if you look at the big picture. We will get to the big picture in a minute. Here are my top 12 ways to make the most of your plant based budget.
1. Skip the canned beans and cook them at home yourself. This is one of the easiest ways you help cut your food budget. Canned beans, especially organic bpa free ones are expensive. If you cook your own, you can make them from around 25cents to 50cents for the same amount that comes in a can. Since beans will no doubt be a primary protein source in your plant-based diet, this can be a significant savings with cans ranging from about $1.00 to $2.50. Plus, if you make your own, you won’t have to worry about bpa in the cans or added salt. It really doesn’t require much effort either. You can either make them in a crock pot or a pressure cooker. An Instant Pot is awesome for this!
2. Pay attention to the dirty dozen list. It would be so awesome if we could all afford to buy only organic locally grown produce, but that isn’t reality for many of us. In order to stretch our produce dollar, we might need to be selective about which produce we buy organic and which produce we don’t. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list every year. The dirty dozen is the top produce containing the very most pesticides and is best to buy organic if at all possible. The Clean Fifteen, are the 15 fruits/veggies that are grown with the lowest pesticides and a bit safer to buy conventionally grown if needed. For your convenience, you can even get an app on your smart phone so you can always have it with you at the grocery store. Just search “dirty dozen” in your app store. (available for both iphone and android!)
3. Shop produce in season. When an item is “in season”, it’s usually much cheaper than other times of the year and generally doesn’t have to travel so far to get to your grocery store. That means it gets to you in better shape and with more nutrients. Watch per pound. prices. If something is $4 or $5/lb, you may want to rethink the purchase, unless it’s a particularly light food. I still don’t have a firm grasp on what foods are in season at what times of year, but I try to look for items that are less than $1 or $2/lb at the grocery store. I’m even able to find many organic foods inexpensively by making sure to watch the prices like this.
4. Check to see if your grocery store has a discount produce bin. My grocery store has a table they put the “less than ideal” produce on for a greatly reduced cost. This might be produce that doesn’t look as pretty as the others, or maybe it is produce that needs to be used up that day. While the produce may not be as attractive, it is still full of vital nutrients and would be awesome in a stew for dinner a smoothie the next morning.
5. Store foods properly. Did you know that nuts and flours should really be stored in the fridge or freezer? This helps them to last longer and by keeping the oils from going rancid. Also learning which produce needs to be stored in the fridge and which should be stored on the counter, can be a great help in getting the most life out of them and therefore, getting the most out of the money you spent on them since they won’t be spoiling before you get a chance to use them.
6. Waste nothing. This goes along with #6. If you find some of your produce is looking a little tired… figure out a way to use it. Throw it in a casserole, smoothie, stew or cook it up and freeze it for later use. If produce gets past the point of being able to use it, not only have you lost the money you spent on it, you have wasted valuable nutrients that your body desperately needs. Many people find it helpful to go through the fridge once a week and make a stew called “clean out the fridge stew”. I’ve never done this personally, but I’ve heard people rave about how delicious these stews often are.
7. Remember to look in the freezer section for produce deals. Frozen fruits/veggies often have more nutrients than fresh because they are almost immediately frozen after harvesting. Berries are an especially good bargain. You can always have them when you want, and not have to worry they will be going bad overnight like the fresh ones. Berries pack a nutritional power punch and should be included in a healthy diet. They can also help you feel more satisfied on your plant based diet!
8. Use expensive ingredients sparingly. Nuts, for example can cost a small fortune but they can also be a very important part of a well rounded plant based diet and help you feel satisfied and not deprived. If you use them sparingly and view them as an ingredient and not a snack, they can last quite a while and help you feel like you are still getting to indulge.
9. Shop bulk bins. There are several store chains now that have bulk bins which sell grains and legumes for a fraction of what they might cost already bagged up. Do take note of prices though, there are times that per pound, you might actually find a better deal in the already bagged items, especially if the store is having a sale on that item. It really does pay to take the time to look around the store, see what’s available and compare prices. It might be a bit time consuming and tedious in the beginning, but it can really help save you a ton of money in the long run.
10. Steer clear of the processed items. There are oodles of processed plant-based items out there now. A small few even seem semi-healthy, but they can sure rack up the grocery bill in a hurry for the “convenience” they offer. Just say no, or at least save them for those occasions you really truly do need the convenience and stick to cooking at home most of the time. Besides, many of those processed foods have ingredients you’ve probably never heard of. If you don’t know what they are, your body probably doesn’t either and won’t know what to do with them. It’s best for health to not be consuming too many processed foods.
11. Use dried herbs instead of fresh. Herbs can add a whole ton of flavor to dishes and nothing can really beat the flavor of fresh herbs in a dish. However, they can cost a small fortune, especially if a recipe calls for 3 or 4 of them. Remember to use 1 teaspoon dried in place of 1 tablespoon fresh. Alternatively, if you are able to grow a garden, you can plant herbs there or you can even grow them on a sunny window sill if you have one of those in your home. If you have no way to grow your own, you can still use dried and get good flavor without breaking the bank.
12. Remember the big picture. One of the biggest cost savings in a well rounded plant based diet is health. In general, the better you eat, the healthier you will be. You won’t miss as much work (maybe even none!) which will help your paycheck be larger. Plus you will likely be able to reduce if not eliminate any medications you might be on as you get healthier. (Talk about cost savings!) Not to mention… the healthier you are, the happier you will be and your quality of life will be so much better. You will have the energy to keep up with the kids (or maybe even grandkids, depending on the situation!). You will have more energy to enjoy your friends and family and other hobbies and interests you may have and you really can’t put a price tag on that, can you?
Well there’s 12 of my favorite plant-based budget tips. What tips have you found helpful in getting the most out of your food budget?