How to Eat Plant Based on a Budget

It’s a common misconception that switching to a plant-based diet is more expensive than a typical American diet. If you’re thinking of making the transition to a plant-based lifestyle, you may be feeling intimidated by pricey specialty ingredients and equipment, and wondering how you can make this new diet fit into your budget.

Luckily, a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be expensive - far from it! Eating plant-based meals can be just as convenient and affordable as a traditional diet. A plant-based lifestyle may even save you money in the long run, since you’ll be investing in healthy, whole foods and skipping expensive meat and dairy products.

That said, you can certainly end up spending quite a lot stocking up your cabinet with healthy, plant-based ingredients, especially if you’re just starting out. Don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy pricey, hard-to-find ingredients for your plant-based diet. Almost everything you need to adopt a plant-based lifestyle can be found in a normal grocery store. If you’re worried about breaking the bank, here are our top tips for eating plant-based on a budget:

1. Stick to the Basics

If you’re just starting to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, it can be tempting to spend a good chunk of change stocking up your pantry and fridge with exotic and expensive ingredients. You may have heard that certain ingredients are “superfoods” packed full of health benefits, or you may be intrigued by pricey premade plant-based meals.

There are definitely a lot of off-the-beaten-path ingredients worth incorporating into a plant-based lifestyle, and prepared meals can make it easy and convenient to transition into a new diet. However, adopting a plant-based lifestyle can be a lot simpler than that if you want it to be. Simple foods like vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, and whole grains are all you need to start a plant-based diet. In most cases, you probably already have ingredients like these already stocked up in your fridge or pantry. While it can be fun to explore new ingredients and recipes, if you’re on a budget it’s usually a good idea to stick to the basics: simple, affordable, delicious plant-based food.

2. Set a Budget

Whether you already have a grocery budget that you stick to this week, or you’re starting a budget from scratch, it’s a good idea to come up with a rough number of how much you’d like to spend each week on plant-based food. This can include both groceries and meals at restaurants, or you can come up with two separate budgets for each category.

Setting a budget not only helps you to save money and ensures you don’t overspend on groceries, but it also helps you to be more mindful about your consumption and reduces food waste. By sticking to a budget, only buying what you need each week, and using what you already have when possible, you’ll save money and get the best value out of your groceries!

3. Plan Your Meals

Planning your meals is another great way to reduce food waste and save money on a plant-based diet. Even if you’re not typically a big meal planner, taking a few minutes each week to decide on a few basic recipes can help you to shop with a purpose and make the most of a limited budget. In many cases, planning your meals can also help you to reincorporate leftovers from previous meals into new dishes.

If the convenience and predictability of planning meals appeal to you, you may also want to consider preparing your meals on a weekly basis. Proponents of this method generally set aside a period of time each week to prepare healthy, nutritious lunches and dinners for the entire week. This way, meals are ready to go throughout the week without much prep, and you can be sure that you’re eating the correct portions and getting a good balance of nutrients. Planning your meals for each week, and maybe even preparing them in advance, is an easy way to ensure your commitment to a plant-based lifestyle and make the most of your grocery budget.

4. Choose Healthy Plant-Based Proteins

If you’re worried about your grocery spending on a plant-based diet, it may come as a surprise to you that eating plant-based meals can actually be cheaper than eating a traditional American diet. This is largely because of the difference in cost between animal-based protein and plant-based protein. Animal-based protein, such as meat, eggs, and dairy, tends to be more expensive per pound. Since these products tend to be the centerpiece of the meal in a traditional diet, you may wind up with a larger grocery bill as a result.

In contrast, plant-based proteins tend to be much more affordable than animal products. Great sources of plant-based protein include ingredients like lentils, beans, tofu, nuts and seeds, oats, wild rice, ancient grains, and more. While some people may be concerned about getting enough protein on a plant-based diet, there are actually just as many healthy, nutritious protein sources to choose from - many of them much cheaper than traditional animal-based sources of protein.

5. Experiment With Affordable Recipes

Building an entirely new repertoire of recipes can seem intimidating when you’re first embarking on a plant-based lifestyle. Ensuring that these new dishes don’t break the bank can be an even tougher challenge. Luckily, there are a wide variety of resources that make plant-based eating a breeze. Online resources like Plant-Based on a Budget, The Minimalist Baker, Cheap and Good, and many more have a wealth of tasty, nutritious plant-based recipes to get you started. These recipes are designed for everyday people who are trying to budget and save money while living a plant-based lifestyle.

When you’re just beginning with a plant-based diet, it’s a good idea to get a couple of tasty, familiar staple dishes under your belt. These can vary wildly depending on your preference and ability in the kitchen. The key is to find a few easy meals that you love eating and can whip up without too much fuss. This will help ensure that you always have a healthy, plant-based option ready to hand to combat the temptation to break down and hit the drive-thru or order takeout. 

After you master a few of these recipes, feel free to branch out and experiment with other dishes. Pretty much all regional cuisines - Indian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, you name it - have plant-based dishes full of flavor and packed with nutrients. Don’t be afraid to switch it up and try new cuisines you might not have cooked at home before!

5. Spice it Up

Spices will be one of the key ingredients in your plant-based repertoire. Even if you’re not a huge fan of “spicy” foods or are used to mild, familiar dishes, spices are one of the easiest ways to up your at-home cooking game and turn out restaurant-quality meals that satisfy your appetite and leave you wanting more. While spices are a bit more of an up-front investment than some other ingredients, a little goes a long way, and spending some money up-front to beef up your spice cabinet will pay amazing dividends in the long run.

Not sure what spices to stock up on? One great way to research what spices you may be likely to need is to look up some favorite recipes and see what spices they require. Common spices that are pretty much always good to have on hand include salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, paprika, chili powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. There are also a wide variety of spice blends available from the grocery store or your local spice shop, many of which make it easy to create tasty, nutritious recipes from scratch.

6. Consider Buying in Bulk

One of the best ways to stretch your food budget on a plant-based diet is to buy in bulk. This means that you’ll score lower prices while stocking up on necessary staples that will last you for quite some time. Even if you’re only shopping for yourself, it may be a good idea to get a membership to a store like Costco or Sam’s Club to gain access to the lowest prices for bulk goods. You may also want to investigate specialty Asian or Mexican grocery stores in your area.

So what should you stock up on? One of the easiest things to purchase in bulk is dry, non-perishable goods that you can easily store in your pantry and that will last for months. Big bags of beans, rice, and lentils will last forever and provide simple, nutritious bases for a wide variety of meals. You can also stock up on whole grains and flours, nuts and seeds, tea and coffee, and more. While you can buy perishable items in bulk, you should be careful not to buy more than you can eat or freeze before it goes bad. Perishable items to consider buying in bulk include leafy greens and root vegetables. If you’re worried about consuming fresh produce before it spoils, you can also feel free to stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables - these are often just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, and are easy to store in the freezer until you need them.

7. Look for Sales

Sales are another great way to stretch your dollar on a plant-based diet. Buying things when they’re on sale and stocking up when you can is a great way to save money and plan your weekly meals around a few simple, affordable ingredients. If you’re organized, you can research sales in flyers and use coupons. But even if you prefer a more casual approach to shopping and meal planning, be sure to keep an eye out for potential sales and discounts when you’re in the grocery store - they can definitely add up over time and make your grocery budget stretch even further than usual!

8. Waste Not, Want Not

Another great way to get your money’s worth on a plant-based diet is to try to minimize food waste and to make the most out of everything in your fridge. Especially when just starting a plant-based diet, it can be easy to buy too much at once. Some things may go bad in the fridge before you even realize that they’re past their prime. In order to combat this, you should try to limit your purchase of perishable items to foods that you think you’ll be able to eat in a week. If things are on the edge of going bad, it’s always a good idea to cook and freeze them for later. If you have soft root vegetables, wilted greens, or other produce slightly past its prime, you can include them in dishes where they’ll be cooked down and added to other ingredients anyway, such as soups or stir-fries.

Another great way to reduce waste is to embrace leftovers and use components of past dishes to fashion new ones. Try to throw out as few ingredients as possible, and always be looking for ways you can incorporate leftovers and other items into the next day’s meals. You can even go so far as to save vegetable scraps to make your own stock! If you do end up having to throw away certain ingredients that you forgot in the back of the fridge, see if it’s possible to compost them. This is another way to get the most out of your groceries, and you can use compost to grow your own vegetables in the future.

Switching to a Plant-Based Lifestyle

Plant-based eating doesn’t have to be scary - in fact, in most cases you can switch to a plant-based diet with ingredients you already have in your fridge and pantry. Adopting a plant-based diet can reduce your grocery spending, save you money, and make you more mindful of the food you put into your body. Plant-based eating is also good for the environment, and can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through reduced demand for animal products. Not sure what you’ll need to get started? Our ultimate plant-based diet grocery list is a great starting point for stocking up on staples and other tasty, nutritious plant-based foods.