Eating on a budget can be tough, but we’ve all been there when we have extra expenses to take care of. Luckily, being short on cash doesn’t mean that you need to resort to a week of eating fast food or restrictive meals that will leave you hungry. While it’s not fun having to be extra mindful of what food you buy, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat in abundance. It just so happens that some of the most filling ingredients also happen to be affordable and plant-based.
As a general rule, have your meal plan for the week ready for when you plan to go grocery shopping, so you don’t pick up anything unnecessary that will end up spoiling, like fresh fruits and vegetables. Luckily, the five ingredients on this list all have a relatively long shelf life, provided that you store them correctly!
Potatoes are one of the most filling and versatile ingredients you can buy if you’re on a budget, retailing at an average price of under $1 per pound. Not only are potatoes versatile — they can act as the star of the dish in stew, curry, and stuffed potatoes or sides like fries, mashed potatoes, and more — but they’re good for you. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, copper, and vitamin C. They’re also a good source of carbs, starch, and fiber, which helps keep you full and save you money, since you won’t be tempted to spend more to feed your appetite.
For budget-friendly potato recipes, we recommend this Super Simple Potato Curry, this Tomato and Potato Stew, and these Tex Mex Baked Potato Skins. Also, read Spotlight on Potatoes! to learn more about one of our favorite starchy foods.
If you need to save on cash, you can’t go wrong with letting pasta be the star of your dish. While diets heavy that are on white pasta and other “enriched,” processed carbs such as rice, flour, and more, may lead to health issues, whole grain, gluten-free, and legume-based pasta varieties are a healthy source of affordable, plant-based carbs. Pasta has long been a staple of many Italian peasant dishes, such as pasta puttanesca, pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas), pasta alla norma (pasta with tomatoes, eggplant, basil, and grated aged ricotta), minestrone, aglio e olio (pasta with olive oil, garlic, and parsley), and pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans). Since it has a neutral flavor, it is versatile enough where it can carry a number of different sauces and be paired with almost any veggie. One of the easiest, most budget-friendly dishes you can make is to pair pasta with marinara or any frozen veggies you happen to have on hand. Keep an eye out at the grocery store for fresh, on-sale produce as well.
Need ideas? Try this Garlicky Cauliflower Lentil Pasta, which combines high-protein lentil pasta with cauliflower, red bell pepper, and garlic for a hearty meal. Cauliflower is also used to make this Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, a budget-friendly take on the typical cashew-based, dairy-free alfredo. And this Spaghetti With Black-Eye Pea Meatballs features homemade marinara (made budget-friendly with by using canned tomatoes) with homemade “meatballs” made from black-eyed peas. You can make extra of both the black-eyed pea meatballs and the sauce, then freeze them in an airtight container to make weeknight meals even easier. For even more ideas, check out 7 Variations of Vegan Pasta to Try Every Day This Week.
Rice, even brown rice, is another healthy, filling ingredient to always have in your pantry. Brown rice has double the fiber of white rice and is a good source of manganese, selenium, phosphorus, and more. It is very affordable, even when choosing organic. You can often find multiple varieties of brown rice in the bulk section of the grocery store for a good price, but some have had luck finding bags of brown rice at the dollar store. If you buy from the bulk section, store your brown rice in the pantry, in a mason jar, or an old glass jar that has been cleaned well. Just one pound of brown rice (about 2 cups) will yield seven cups of cooked rice, so for a small price, you get a lot of bases for multiple meals.
Brown rice is versatile and can pair well with both sweet and savory foods. Combine brown rice and fruit for a carb-rich breakfast porridge, like this Chocolate and Banana Mochi Rice Pudding. Brown rice is perfect for carrying meals like curry like this Potato and Peas Curry (which uses all budget-friendly ingredients), stew like this Pressure Cooker Bean Etouffe, and casseroles like this Easy Cheesy Broccoli Brown Rice Bake. For dishes centered around rice, try this Kitchari or this Jackfruit Pilaf. Protip: you can now find canned jackfruit at Trader Joe’s, making it affordable and easy to find! And of course, if you have a mish-mosh of leftover veggues, use it to clean out your fride and make fried rice.
Not only are pulses affordable, they’re also one of the healthiest foods you can buy! There are a lot of different options that fall under the category of “pulse,” such as chickpeas, beans, lentils, and peas (the dry kind, like yellow split peas) and all of their varieties. Pulses are a great source of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein, which help keep you full. They are also known to protect against cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. They are also a good source of many important nutrients such as folate, manganese, copper, and more.
Canned pulses tend to be very affordable (and convenient!), but to save even more money, go for the dried variety from either the bulk section of your grocery store or the beans and grains aisle. Many pulses require overnight soaking in order to help them cook faster and to make them more digestible but can be cooked in advance for easy meal prep. This is where knowing what you’re going to eat throughout the week comes into play, so you can efficiently portion out your beans and lentils and then freeze the remainder. When freezing cooked beans or legumes, choose the smallest airtight container possible in order to reduce the risk of freezer burn.
Pulses are highly versatile and can be used to make a number of dishes like burgers and plant-based meatballs, lentil/bean loaf, curry, soups and stews, dips/spreads, and even dessert. Add cooked pulses to salads to make them more filling. Try some of our favorite, budget-friendly meals like these BBQ Lentil Balls (which also use brown rice), this Red Lentil Coconut Curry, or one of these Ethiopian Stews. For meal ideas, check out 15 Protein-Packed Vegan Recipes That Feature Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils, and More and 20 Recipes Featuring Lentils, Beans, Peas, and Chickpeas.
Oats are one of the best ingredients you can buy when you’re trying to save money. They’re a good source of carbs, starch, and have more fiber per serving than brown rice, and contain many important nutrients such as manganese and phosphorus. Studies have shown that a diet that regularly includes a serving of oats can help protect against heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Most oats, even the organic variety, will cost you about $1.99 per pound at the bulk section of the grocery store, so they’re a better bang for your buck than breakfast cereals and instant oats (plus they don’t come with all the added sugar).
One of our favorite uses for oats is to make oatmeal (check out these 12 Vegan Oatmeal Dishes for ideas), but there are a lot of other ways you can enjoy them for breakfast. These 2-Ingredient Oatmeal Banana Blender Pancakes are perfect for weekend brunch and for baked goods, try these Savory Oatmeal Kale Muffins, these Carrot Cake Muffin Tops, and this Fruit-Sweetened Banana Bread.
Although oats are mostly a breakfast item in the United States, they can also be used like rice to make savory meals, like oats upma, an Indian dish that combines rolled oats with mixed vegetables and spices. You could also try this Savory Lentil Oatmeal Taco Bowl and this Mushroom Steelcut Oats Risotto. For even more ideas, read 5 Ways to Cook With Oats, All the Way from Breakfast to Dinner.
For more tips on eating a healthy plant-based diet on a budget, check out 10 of the Healthiest Foods to Eat that Cost Just Under $1 Per Serving, How to Eat a Healthy Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet on $50 Per Week, Money Saving Tips for Eating Vegan on a Budget, and 15 Budget-Friendly Vegan Meals That Are Delicious and Nutritious.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Super Simple Potato Curry