More consumers are trying to consume more fruits and vegetables, and many are adopting various types of diets, such as vegan or plant based diets, to try to regain or maintain their health and well-being. However, the perceived high cost associated with certain types of diets and foods is a concern for many.
Most consumers are aware that some types of foods, like fresh fruits, leafy green veggies, and nuts, have a high nutrient content that makes them a valuable component of any healthy diet. But with rising grocery costs a growing concern among consumers, some people are more likely to opt for processed and pre-packaged foods for both cost savings and convenience. Fortunately, it’s possible to eat a healthy plant based diet on a budget with a little pre-planning and smart shopping.
To learn more about how you can follow a plant based diet even on a budget, we reached out to a panel of dietitians, nutritionists, and plant based dieters and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s your top tip for eating plant based on a budget?”
Meet Our Panel of Nutritionists, Dietitians & Plant Based Dieters:
Read on to learn what our contributors had to say about how you can adopt a plant based diet lifestyle, even on a minimalist budget.
NOTE: The information and opinions expressed below represent the opinions of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Incredible Edibles.
Luat Duong, a vegan for over a year, worked in both supermarkets and small stores and now works at Scandinavian Biolabs focusing on vegan hair loss solutions.
“Take time to visit your local Asian/ethnic market…”
You will find that tofu, edamame, vegan spring rolls, beans and pulses, rice, noodles, jackfruit, spices, soy sauce, and other condiments are significantly cheaper compared to big stores. That’s all your vegan staples but cheaper.
You won’t find vegan chicken nuggets, vegan meat burgers, and vegan pizzas, however.
I’ve worked in both, and the main reason is that the smaller stores have a cheaper price is due to their expertise and flexibility in finding suppliers rather than just finding the easiest solution in supermarkets.
Megan runs the blog Patricia and Carolyn. She is a food blogger and fitness enthusiast with a particular focus on the diet and weight loss space.
“The best tip anyone can give you for eating plant based foods on a budget is to buy in-season foods….”
It takes a lot of mechanism and money to produce out of season foods. Sometimes they are delivered from far away areas such as other counties and regions. All these factors cost a lot, causing a hike in the price for off-season produce. So, it is better to shop for in-season plant based foods when you’re on a budget to save money. You’ll also get fresh greens this way.
Heather holds an MS in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and specializes in holistic nutrition, gut health, and chronic disease management. She believes in using food as medicine and that good health starts with a healthy gut. She enjoys creating anti-inflammatory recipes and spending time in the kitchen, learning all things about food.
“Generally, eating plant based is less expensive than…”
Eating animal protein, especially high-quality protein sources like organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised sources. However, eating an organic plant based diet can be equally as expensive because the cost of organic fruits and vegetables is quite high.
If you want to eat organic as much as possible but can’t always afford it, then I recommend going off of the dirty dozen and clean 15 lists. For example, try to buy organic foods that are commonly found on the dirty dozen list and non-organic foods on the clean 15 list, which are less likely to contain preservatives anyway.
Stephanie Seferian is the host of The Sustainable Minimalists podcast, a weekly show about eco-friendly living, minimalist parenting, and incremental lifestyle tweaks toward sustainability. She is also the author of Sustainable Minimalism, published by Mango Press.
“My number one trick to eat a plant based diet on a budget is to plan my meals for the week in advance…”
My top tip, then, is to plan meals for the week around what’s on sale around the supermarket’s periphery.
Eating a plant based diet starts by shopping the periphery of the supermarket, as the produce section, as well as meat and dairy alternatives, line the store’s outer limits. Before heading to the grocery store, peruse its circular or website and determine which periphery-related items are on sale for that week. Next, plan your dinners around what’s on sale.
If, for example, organic and local asparagus is on sale, plan to make a vegan asparagus risotto for Tuesday night’s dinner (and make sure to cook enough so that you also have leftovers for Wednesday’s lunch!).
If location prevents you from purchasing fresh produce —or if your budget prevents you from buying the often expensive meat substitutes —know, too, that an easy and inexpensive plant based meal is good old rice and beans. I can feed my family of four a hearty rice and beans dinner for $6 total.
Jack is the founder of Duradry. He is a long-time advocate for hyperhidrosis sufferers, having experienced uncontrolled excessive sweating from his teenage years onwards. After college, he started his research into bringing an effective treatment to market. He developed and introduced Duradry, which is now one of the most widely used hyperhidrosis treatments available worldwide.
“Always try to buy in bulk…”
There is no better way to save money if you follow a plant based diet than using the economies of scale to your advantage. Supermarkets, grocery stores, and health food stores usually have a section where you can buy in bulk. Beans, rice, quinoa, oats, and just about every staple of a healthy vegan diet can be bought in bulk for a much better price. Pre-packaged and canned food is always more expensive but offers more convenience.
The same applies to seitan and tofu-based “vegan meat,” which can also be bought unflavored and in bulk. You not only save money, but you also won’t have to settle for the overpriced pre-made “vegan lunch” packaged meals, which carry a huge markup. Plant based meat should always be cheaper than real meat since it’s derived from plants and grains. When bought in bulk, you can save even more money buying seitan and other plant based meat alternatives.
In short, for most of us vegetarians and vegans, it’s much cheaper to buy in bulk to save money. It’s also much healthier and more fun to create your own “meatless” dishes with a unique vegan twist when compared to the ones at the store. Not to mention, plant based food takes a long time to spoil, so you also don’t have to worry about taking up too much freezer space!
Kelsey is a registered dietitian based in Michigan. She helps people introduce plant focused eating in a realistic and budget-friendly way through her Instagram and Food & Nutrition Blog, Graciously Nourished.
“Keep it simple…”
There are a lot of specialty foods and snacks that are advertised towards plant based eating that are great, but often expensive. You don’t need these foods, as your pantry is likely full of plant based staples that can be used to create a number of really delicious and nutritious dishes.
Use plant based staples like beans, lentils, and whole grains as the bulky base of many of your meals to help cut costs without sacrificing nutrients or flavor. Then you can garnish with more expensive items as you wish, adding flavor and nutrients without adding a ton of cost. These could be foods like pine nuts, hemp seeds, or goji berries which can be costly but nutritious and fun to use.
Jim Mumford is a cookbook author/editor at Jim Cooks Food Good.
“The best foods to buy on a budget are those which are grown locally and in season…”
These foods will not only taste the best and have higher quality, but with lower transportation overhead, they will be much cheaper. Think strawberries in summer, squash in the fall, etc. Farmer’s markets usually have things right from the grower as well, lowering the cost even more!
Also, try and look for perishable foods (mushrooms, berries, greens) grown locally; oftentimes, the cost you pay in the store is for rapid shipping, not for the food itself, saving you up to 70-80 percent.
Juli Kramer, Ph.D. is the Founder and Owner of Radiant Shenti, LLC. Juli earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, with a cognate in Counseling Psychology. She has a diploma in Chinese Medicine Nutritional Therapy and certificates in Chinese medicine from Dr. Zhang, Shanghai World Hospital, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
“The great news is that eating plant based foods is super affordable if you eat plants in their most natural state…”
When you buy plant based foods that have been processed, then you will pay much more.
When looking to save money, see if you have an Asian market in your community. You might find smaller more specialized Asian markets as well—Korean, Chinese, Indian, etc.
These stores have affordable vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Even more importantly, the variety of these foods makes western grocery stores pale in comparison. You can kick your creativity into overdrive, buying new foods you never knew existed.
Mary is a registered dietitian and a medical/nutritional consultant for Mom Loves Best.
“My top tip for eating plant based on a budget is planning and prepping ahead…”
Regular meal planning and prepping have been well-documented and researched in individuals who are low income and trying to eat healthy.
Not sure where to start? Make small steps and changes one at a time. For example, just focus on planning ahead by packing healthy lunches for the week versus trying to overhaul breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. What to include? Opt for an inexpensive plant based protein source with your lunch. Boiling your own legumes, such as navy or black beans, can cut the cost from $0.50 a serving to less than $0.10 a serving versus purchasing canned or pre-boiled legumes, which are often much more expensive.
Another way to save cents is skipping ready-made foods and individually packaged snacks. As a dietitian, one of my go-to snacks is a homemade trail mix (edamame, almonds, dried cherries, and a few chocolate chips, of course). I purchase these ingredients in bulk and then pre-measure out my own servings versus buying these items already individually packaged. This snack is a quick, healthy, and plant based treat that is also cost-effective.
Produce items can be quite expensive, and if you’re aiming to eat plant based, your diet intake needs plant based foods. Purchasing produce items that are out of season can be quite expensive, so I do recommend planning and prepping meals to include fresh produce items that are in season. In the summer, I enjoy fruit smoothies prepared with a wide variety of berries, while in the winter, I prepare an oatmeal bake for breakfast that is topped with sautéed apple slices.
Trista Best is a Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements, Environmental Health Specialist, and Adjunct Nutrition Professor. She completed her Bachelor’s of Science in Health Science from Armstrong Atlantic State University in 2009, Master’s of Public Health Nutrition from Liberty University in 2014, Bachelor’s of Science in Food and Environmental Sciences from the University of Alabama in 2018, Dietetic Internship through Iowa State University, and Dietitian Registration in 2018. Her dietetic background is in Public Health and weight maintenance private practice.
“There are many misconceptions that are made regarding following a plant based diet…”
These misconceptions circulate around two primary areas: cost and taste.
It is thought that a plant based diet is both expensive and bland, but this is not necessarily the case. Yes, a plant based diet can add up quickly in terms of cost, but so long as you are avoiding those expensive pre-packaged vegan products, the cost is relatively low.
For instance, a diet rich in legumes, potatoes, and canned or frozen vegetables is low cost and plant based. A meal of rice and beans with frozen broccoli and pico de gallo makes a nutrient-dense lunch at a very low cost.
Beans are known for their protein content, but eating them paired with rice is the best way to get in all 9 essential amino acids. There are twenty amino acids, nine of which are essential, meaning they must be obtained through the diet, which is vital to plant based dieters.
Jeff Parke is the Owner of Top Fitness Magazine, a lifestyle brand that provides information about fitness, nutrition, weight loss, motivation, and much more.
“There’s a lot of things that you can do to eat plant based when you’re on a budget…”
My best advice would be to do your research to make sure you are eating a variety of foods so you know you’re getting enough nutrients throughout the day.
When your body is given the foods it needs for fuel, you will feel fuller longer on less food. We crave food because our bodies are missing a particular nutrient. Make sure you have a protein source at every meal and a serving of vegetables and starches or beans.
Jay Cowin is ASYSTEM’s Registered Nutritionist and Director of Formulations.
“To eat plant based and stay on a budget, you have to have a plan for the week…”
If you decide to make it up as you go, you’re going to end up buying a bunch of stuff that you’ll throw out at the end of the week. So, step one is to make a meal plan.
Base your meals around whole grains and legumes. They fill you up, and you can buy them in the bulk section of the grocery store to save money. Make sure you make enough at dinner to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. She has been featured on Today, US News, Women’s Health magazine, Huffington Post, Healthline, the San Francisco Chronicle, Reader’s Digest, Lifehack, Insider, and Well+Good, among others. Through her website, she explains the benefits of a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet.
“When we first decide we want to get healthy, we immediately think about the supposed high cost of healthy food…”
Foods that are high in nutrients do not have to be expensive. Here are some easy ways to reach your fitness goals through nutrition while on a tight budget.
- Fresh isn’t always best: Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables can often be just as nutritious, if not more, than their fresh versions.
- Whole grains alternatives like pasta, bread, and rice are often just as cost-effective as the more refined versions.
- Beans and legumes are inexpensive ways to get in plant based proteins along with many other essential vitamins and minerals for reaching your fitness goals.
- Planning your meals ahead of time and cooking in batches can help to save you money on eating out, which is generally not healthy, and will give you more time to exercise.
Devan Cameron is the chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed, a food-focused website with recipes, tips, and inspiration for the home cook.
“Finding cheap food to eat is easy, but finding healthy cheap food is a real challenge…”
My biggest tip for those on a plant based diet looking to save money is to visit the freezer aisle of the grocery store.
Frozen peas, beans, and fruit are usually much cheaper. Because of newer methods of flash-freezing produce, most produce can be just as nutritious as fresh produce. Buy a big bag of frozen peas and add these to salads, pasta, and rice for a cheap and healthy plant based meal.
Forest Nash is a champion vegan physique athlete and online fitness coach who specializes in burning fat and building muscle on a whole food, plant based diet. He is an NASM certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist and holds a certificate in plant based nutrition from Cornell University.
“My top tip for eating plant based on a budget is to base your diet predominantly on whole plant foods…”
Many people mistakenly believe that eating a plant based diet means you must rely on specialty products like mock meats and vegan cheeses, but the truth is that these items are not only expensive, but they also often lack the nutrient density of their whole food counterparts. Minimally processed plant foods such as whole grains, beans and legumes, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds will almost always provide the best nutritional bang for your buck, especially when purchased and prepared in bulk. These foods can be prepared in many simple and delicious ways, and there is an abundance of free recipes and resources available online to help you get started.
Andrea Woroch, nationally recognized money-saving expert, writer, speaker, and on-air contributor at AndreaWoroch.com, writing about eating a plant based diet on a budget.
“Purchase organic selectively…”
The “clean 15” refers to 15 vegetables and fruits that have tough inedible peels that pesticides won’t penetrate, making them perfectly safe and healthy to buy non-organic, which will result in considerable savings. These include produce such as bananas, avocados, and mangos.
Use cash back apps. Coupons are often limited to packaged foods, so savings opportunities on healthy groceries including produce are limited. Not to mention, clipping coupons is time-consuming and may provide just minimal savings. Alternatively, you can use a cash back app to earn money back on your plant based groceries with little effort. Just snap pictures of your grocery receipts and upload them to an app like Fetch Rewards to earn points that are good toward free gift cards to stores like Target and Walmart to offset other plant based grocery purchases.
Stock up on frozen produce. I love this tip because you don’t have to worry about fresh veggies and fruit spoiling if you don’t eat them all quickly and you don’t have to keep running out to the store every few days to have healthy foods in your home. Even better, frozen produce is flash frozen at peak ripeness, so you can rest assured you and your family are getting the same, if not better, health benefits from these foods. Plus, opt for the store brand to save more—you’re looking at saving around 30 percent on frozen veggies and fruits!
Nadia McDannels is a blogger at Berry Abundant Life, a graphic designer, and a passionate vegan.
“Here are a couple of my top tips for eating plant based on a budget…”
- Go to Aldi!
You might not find your acai and goji berries at Aldi, but it’s so important to remember that you don’t need fancy pants food to eat a healthy, vitamin- and mineral-packed plant based diet.
What you will find in this budget-friendly store is an abundance of fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, pantry essentials, and nuts and seeds, all at incredible prices.
You can even find budget-friendly organic food in this plant based paradise. In fact, on my first visit, I bagged three watermelons for $3.49 each. My regular store was selling them for $7.99! I’ve got no shame admitting that I carried my watermelons out of there like a proud new mother.
- Buy in season.
Buying in season is simply a case of supply and demand. And one that can make a huge difference to your food bill.
Take blueberries, for example. There are fewer of them in winter, so you’ll probably find that prices are hiked during the winter months. But in summer, you’re likely to see great prices and offers on large punnets.
Knowing what’s in season when you’re shopping is great for plant based eating on a budget.
Lexi is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Certified Culinary Medicine Specialist. She received her B.S. in Coordinated Dietetics from Texas Christian University (’19). She works for To Taste, where she teaches people how to make delicious and nourishing meals to their taste.
“Eat your beans…”
Canned, dried, or even frozen, beans are one of the most economical foods you can purchase. Plus, they are loaded with nutrition: plant based protein, gut-friendly fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals! Another benefit of beans is that they are incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes and cuisines. Anyone that is looking to adopt a budget-conscious plant based diet should learn how to cook beans in a variety of ways so they can enjoy this wholesome and inexpensive food often.
Brenda is a Registered Dietitian and MS at MyNetDiary.
“Here are my top tips for eating plant based on a budget…”
- For the best bargain, buy dried beans and lentils rather than canned. Dried beans require soaking in advance, so they just need a little planning ahead. You can just rinse lentils and peas before adding them to dishes. Dried beans and lentils are excellent sources of protein, B vitamins, folate, iron, phosphorus, and zinc for a fraction of the cost of meats and other protein-rich foods.
- To be thrifty, try to shop for fruits and vegetables that are in season. Here is a handy website to see what is in season in your location. Also, look for produce that is on special. If a recipe calls for kale but spinach is on sale, swap it out in the recipe. You may decide to choose broccoli over cauliflower when learning it is a better deal. If fresh produce is not within your budget, opt for frozen veggies. Frozen veggies have very good nutrient retention because they are flash-frozen right after harvest.
Maggie and Mike are two plant based podcasters that talk about personal finance and frugal living at the Friends on FIRE podcast.
Maggie Tucker is Vice President of Marketing for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). Her professional experience includes multiple digital, marketing, and leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies. She is passionate about minimalism, simple living, and helping people on their journeys through life.
Mike O’Leary is Director of Finance for Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). His professional experience includes multiple Finance and Strategy leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies. Mike is a lifelong devotee to frugal living and financial independence, growing up with parents who retired early, and has a passion for spreadsheets, forecasting, and helping others.
“Our top tips for eating plant based on a budget are…”
Shop at discount supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl because they offer significant savings over typical grocery stores. While the shopping experience is minimal and different from other stores, most people come to love it as they experience it. Aldi has a solid selection of plant based foods and is coming out with more every day. Supplement your shopping at a store like Aldi with other stores like Trader Joe’s, Target, Kroger, or Publix that might have a larger selection of more expensive specialty plant based foods.
Eat real food, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Limit the volume of specialty plant based foods as they are typically very expensive. The good news is you’re already saving money by cutting out meat; meat is one of the most expensive food category items for most people, in addition to alcohol.
Cook and eat at home! It’s the easiest way to eat on a budget, whether you’re plant based or not.
Megan is a Wellness + Mindset Coach specializing in helping professional women have more natural energy so that they can reach their peak performance in all areas of their lives throughout their day.
“Eating plant based on a budget is such an important topic, and I’d like to address it from two standpoints…”
First off is a mindset piece. Clients often say to me, ‘But berries are so expensive, how can I eat them everyday?’ Yes, in the plant based world, superfoods and organics can be very expensive but not once you calculate what you are spending on animal products and over-the-counter medications for everyday symptoms like headaches and indigestion. Once you have food as your medicine and you don’t need medicine to help you deal with the after-effects of eating low fiber foods, eating quality fruit every day doesn’t seem so expensive. It is more a shift in spending.
Second, I suggest you start small and where you can, so if fresh fruit is too expensive, buy frozen. Buy in season and local produce the most that you can to cut costs as well. You are getting more bang for your buck because the food hasn’t been picked weeks ago and transported, so it’s more nutrient-dense. In season it is usually less expensive because there is an abundance of it at the moment. Buy lots and freeze it yourself so you have a higher quality product all year long.
Ben is a food lover and a keen cook who has gone vegan. He combines teachings from his mother—who worked as a chef for many years—with his background in chemistry to create plant based recipes for his blog, VeganRecipeBowl.com.
“My top tip for eating plant based on a budget is…”
I always start my shopping trip with a quick sweep over the fruits and vegetables to look for reduced items. It’s healthy, fresh produce, and the savings can be significant. Some trips yield more discounted items than others but look regularly, and the savings will add up. Just keep in mind that it’s short-dated and leave anything you won’t be able to use in time for another bargain hunter.
Shay Magditch is a co-founder and head coach at Wild Roots Fitness.
“Buy dry goods in bulk…”
Beans, rice, nuts, and seeds can be much cheaper at a bulk retailer and will store very easily. I like to use large mason jars to keep them fresh in my pantry. Whole Foods, Costco, and Amazon are a few of my go-to stores.
Grow your own veggies. Even a small garden will yield delicious, fresh produce. Seeds cost a fraction of the price of grown ready-to-eat produce. Plus, it’s fun to garden and watch your plants come to life!
Plant an herb garden. One of the most common complaints about plant based foods is a lack of flavor. Fresh herbs are a simple remedy, and growing your own will save lots of money. Try basil, sage, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. To take it one step further, try drying your own herbs in an easy way to preserve the abundance to enjoy year-round.
Shop farmer’s markets at the end of the day. Farmer’s markets can be expensive, but swooping in at the end of the market may mean deals for you. Farmers may be reluctant about loading up unsold foods and may be willing to sell at a discounted price so they don’t have to bring it home.
Cook at home. Cooking at home will ALWAYS be cheaper than buying premade foods from a store or restaurant. Start to get comfortable with basic food prep, including cooking batches of rice and beans and sautéing vegetables.
Erin Hendrickson is a Nashville, TN-based Registered Dietitian and a food waste advocate at No Waste Nutrition. Her mission is to help others waste less food, save money, and normalize composting for a greener Earth.
“Did you know plant based eaters already save more money than people that consume meat?…”
According to the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, vegetarians spend $750 less per year on groceries.
Opt for buying plant based proteins and grains in bulk versus pre-cooked canned and boxed versions to make your dollar go even further.
Dried black beans and garbanzo beans, quinoa, lentils, and barley cost just pennies per ounce when bought in bulk and cooked from scratch. As an added bonus, dried beans and grains yield triple the amount after cooking.
Andrea Paul is the Medical Advisor to Illuminate Labs.
“Use rice and beans as the base for most meals…”
Rice and beans are some of the healthiest plant foods available, and the great thing is they’re super cheap. Look for unprocessed rice and dried (rather than canned) beans. Both rice and beans are high in fiber, which helps maintain a healthy digestive system. There are many ways you can make a rice and beans dish taste fresh by adding new spices and produce.
Another benefit to using rice and beans as the base for a budget-friendly plant based diet is that there are so many variations of both products. You can try yellow rice, white rice, brown rice, and wild rice. There are pinto beans, navy beans, black beans, and many more types. By changing the type of rice and beans every time you cook the dish, you can have a nearly endless variety that benefits your health at a low price.
Stacy and Markus live a thriving vegan lifestyle with their two young boys. They write articles and offer courses to inspire you about plant based cooking and teach you how to stay healthy and stay vegan for the long haul. Eat. Thrive. Make a difference.
“Without a doubt, preparing meals at home with pulses (dried beans, peas, and lentils) is our number one recommendation for eating plant based on a budget…”
They are high in protein, fiber, iron, folate, and magnesium and cost, on average, less than $0.50 per cup. Fifty cents for 19 grams of protein!
Once you start looking around, you’ll find that there are many kinds of beans, dried peas, and lentils; each with different flavors and textures. They complement any vegetables you have on hand and are quite versatile. From soups and Indian dal, to refried black beans, to homemade veggie burgers, to marinated additions to salad, and even to vegan brownies, the lowly pulse humbly nourishes you and won’t make a significant dent in your wallet.