Updated: Aug 28, 2019
Ready to suit up and eat Plant-Based on a Budget?
Each month, I have a set amount of money that I use to spend on groceries. Some months are more, some less. Eating plant-based can be daunting because there are some beliefs around it like:
It is really expensive.
You can only buy organic.
I’ve been asked both of these questions on numerous occasions, and I always scratch my head in confusion. How or why these beliefs came to be, I will never know.
Even though both of these notions are false, it is important to know tips and tricks to buying groceries on a plant-based diet. Now, this doesn't cover everything you can buy when on a plant-based diet. Mainly because that list would be very LONG, but it does cover things that I believe to be the most essential to look for when grocery shopping.
Basics to Get:
Soybean protein is considered a "complete protein" since it provides all of the essential amino acids for human nutrition(1). Now, I’m not here to tell you about the nutrition of soy, but it is one of the least expensive ways to get in protein. If it’s prepared right it is very tasty.
TOFU: Only get organic and Non-GMO. Extremely versatile in what you can make, from desserts to mock meats.
TEMPEH: As delicious as it can be, it can be slightly more pricey and can add up quickly. If you are feeling adventurous you can even try making it at home.
Beans, my favorite protein source of all. When buying beans, the best option is to buy beans that are DRIED, why? You can get 4-6 C of cooked beans for $1-3 instead of 1.5 C of beans for $.50. That is HUGE SAVINGS.
In a hurry, buy canned beans or lentils. Lentils cook in under 20 minutes.
Here are some beans you will want to soak overnight and put in a crockpot or slow cooker for a few hours: Garbanzo Beans, Black Beans, Kidney Beans
Place them in the crockpot with water an inch above the beans and let soak overnight. Cook on HIGH for 3 hours if you are in a hurry. If you aren’t in a time crunch and forgot to soak overnight just place the beans in the water and cook on low for 5-7 Hours or until soft.
Grains and Starches you will want to have...
RICE: White rice is undeniably cheap as you can get a 5 or 10 lb bag for $5-$8. Buying this in bulk is great and lasts quite a long time. However, buying smaller bags or even boxes is also inexpensive.
QUINOA: I will say quinoa can be more expensive, but I have found bags that can be as low as $3 with some up to $10+. This is a great substitute for rice and is perfect for taco bowls, breakfasts, wraps, and more.
OATS: Oats are so versatile and inexpensive that you can make a variety of dishes including oatmeal, cookies, granola, energy bites, meatballs, etc… out of them!
POTATOES: Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates keeping you full and are quite inexpensive to buy and come in many varieties including but not limited to red potatoes, blue, and sweet potatoes.
Fats are so important for making your brain run smoothly, keeping you full, and adding to the essential nutrients you need in your body.
Healthy fats can include:
Seeds: Pumpkin, Chia, Flax, Hemp
Out of all of these options, the cheapest would be chia seeds and flax seeds. Avocados can be pricey but also very cheap ($.69 to $3 for 1). If you have the flexibility in your budget or they are ridiculously cheap you can get nuts, pumpkin seeds, or hemp seeds, but they are not necessary as long as you are implementing some form of fat into your diet every day!
Frozen veggies will be your friend. Most times they can be more affordable than fresh veggies, and you don’t have to worry about them spoiling. Vegetables like fruits fluctuate in pricing during seasons. For instance, in Late August/September you will likely see Zucchini for $.39 a pound (You can get A LOT for that price). Just watch for price differences but either way, fresh or frozen are both great options.
Fresh fruit is one of the greatest experiences of living on this planet. The cheapest fruits vary by season and by where you go. With that said there is usually fruit that is available at a low-cost year round, like bananas, apples, and oranges. Always wash your fruits in a vinegar rinse, this will remove some of the pesticides, but not all since those are also in the dirt. Frozen fruits can be cheaper than fresh fruits and work great in smoothies too!
The cheapest yet unhealthiest option is regular processed white cane sugar or brown sugar. However, if you desire to splurge a bit, a great option would be to buy coconut sugar or dates. I find that these can be low cost depending on where you buy them from and if they are on sale or not. If you would like to read more about alternatives to refined sugars, you can read my post on it here.
Important Things to NOTICE when shopping:
Look for the Cost Per Pound label. You may look at the cost of say grapes for $3, and you may think to yourself, “Ah, what a bargain!”. Think again, friend. You have been tricked. ALWAYS look for the fine print to see if it says per pound, otherwise, you will be spending $10+ on grapes. No thank you.
If your market or store has high costs for more foreign products or simply doesn’t carry those goods, you can always go to Middle Eastern, Asian, Hispanic stores. Why? You can usually get those type of specific foods, for much cheaper and there is a larger variety of products not found in a traditional grocery store. This isn’t necessary, but it is a fun experience. You can also just go the online route here too.
Set a budget and plan out meals of what you want to eat. Ask questions like, “How much do you want to spend on groceries per week?” I’d recommend staying away from heavily processed foods like mock meats because they tend to be more expensive. Also in my experience, they are lower in nutrients and you will likely be very hungry very quickly. (Take it from me, my lunches used to consist of 80% processed foods when I switched it up to eating more ‘whole foods’ I felt 100% better and wasn’t running to the snack cabinet as soon as I got home!) However, if you want to go ahead and treat yourself from time to time.
Shop by what’s in season! If you don’t know what is in season, you can find many resources online OR more likely if you go to the store it is whatever is the cheapest fruit/veggie and what is most abundant. For example, during Fall there are rows of apples at my grocery store for a very low cost and they are organic.
Sale Items! Some times they will have more pricey items like super foods for a low cost. Be on the lookout for store flyers or on the store’s app.
I hope that some of the information I provided here will help you save some time and money when at the grocery store. If you have any more tips and tricks about being plant-based on a budget, leave a comment! I’d certainly love to know.