When we think of eating on a budget, images of sad stacks of ramen noodles and cans of low-quality, typically unhealthy food, come to the fore. But what if we told you that you can actually eat incredibly healthy, pack your meals with taste, nutrients AND still stick to a budget that is entirely reasonable? Sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it? Well, yes it is.
A recent study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition found that eating a whole food, plant-based diet, is in fact, more economical than one that relies on cheap meat and dairy products. Opting to buy more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed meats and cheeses can not only make your wallet happy, but it is much better for your own health and the health of the planet.
All around, it seems that eating plant-based just seems to make sense, so if you’re looking to give this a try, here are a few ways make the most of a healthy plant-based diet on a budget.
1. Cook at Home
One of the best, and perhaps most obvious, ways to save money while eating plant-based is to cook for yourself at home. By using nutrient-dense staples like whole grains, legumes, and fresh produce, you can easily stick to a budget and ensure that all the ingredients you use are wholesome and healthy.
Even better, it can be incredibly easy to cook plant-based meals at home rather than eating out. Just check out these 10 Plant-Based Meals You Can Make for Under $10, 7 Plant-Based Dishes Everyone Should Know How to Make, and 15 of Our Easiest Recipes to Help You Cook Meat-Free. Also, be sure to check out existing and new recipes added to One Green Planet’s #5under5 collection of original plant-based recipes that use less than 5 ingredients and cost less than $5.
2. Fill Up on Whole Foods
While some people see this as the more expensive option, and there is some truth to that, eating whole foods is much more than buying quinoa and shopping at often overpriced health food stores.
Check out this list: dried beans, dried peas, dried lentils, brown rice, millet, oats, barley, fresh fruit, frozen fruit, fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds. All of these whole foods are stomach stuffers, full of the nutrients we need and are inexpensive options available at any supermarket, not just gourmet health food stores.
In other words, buy cheap whole foods, take twenty minutes or an hour to cook a meal or prepare a snack, and save a bundle. This option is also much better than opting for highly-processed meat and dairy alternatives. It can be tempting to pick up a pack of pre-made soy sausages, but you’ll quickly find that doing so will take a toll not only on your wallet, but depending on the ingredients in that processed product, your health as well. Just because it is plant-based doesn’t mean that it is the best thing for you. The safest way to go is choosing foods straight from the earth and getting a little creative with how you cook them.
3. Shop Seasonally, Buy Locally
Some folks like to point out that produce can often be quite costly. The price of asparagus, maybe, or the cherries imported over from Chile, will make the till go a tad higher, but more costly items needn’t be a part of the weekly shop. It’s sort of the equivalent of a meat-eater buying imported Kobe beef every week.
Well, when shopping for produce, we can buy locally and seasonally, which by virtue of not requiring importation and thousands of food miles, will equate to both savings and health. This sometimes means doing without avocado for months (or learning to preserve stuff), but it also increases our appreciate for them in season, as well as opens us up to new options, just as eating better quality, more expensive, locally produced meat only occasionally would do for meat-eaters.
4. DIY Everything Else
For all of the other specialty items, you would buy, consider DIYing them! We can cook measured rice/oats instead of from instant packages, make our own spaghetti sauce, and a can of beans versus a bag of dried at home. Expensive healthfood items like kombucha or ginger beer are easy to make at home. It’s even possible to make your own delicious meat and cheese substitutes if that’s what on the menu or being missed.
All it takes is a little effort and some creative thinking, but eating delicious plant-based food while keeping your food costs low is easy. Just give it a try!
Lead image source: Raw Pizza With Spinach, Pesto, and Marinated Vegetables