Plant-Based on a Budget
Eating healthy gets a bad rap when it comes to cost sometimes – there’s a common belief that eating healthy is expensive, out of reach for average folks and that it’s basically a luxury that few can afford. But if we sidestep the hype and take a closer look, we’ll find that there are lots of ways to eat plant-based on a budget – even on a shoestring!
All it takes is some planning, resourcefulness, and creativity. In fact, if you follow the tips offered below you may find that eating healthy is more cost-effective, overall, than relying on eating out, take-out, highly-processed convenience foods, and other less-than-healthy options.
Of course, there are certain reasons why plant-based eating has gotten a reputation for being expensive, one being that organic foods tend to cost more than their conventional counterparts. Out of season produce also tends to be on the pricier side. And there are definitely some high-quality plant-based ingredients that are indeed costly. Almond butter (especially organic), kale chips, chia seeds, pre-packaged raw foods, fresh juices and any number of other specialty items come to mind.
But as you’ll hopefully see, the savvy plant-based cook and eater knows how to cut costs without sacrificing quality or taste. In this article, you’ll find tips and suggestions for making a plant-based diet work well for you no matter what your budget.
Produce is a good place to start when it comes to cutting costs because it’s an essential component of healthy plant-based eating. The good news is that there’s lots of ways to save money here if you’re just even a little bit strategic in your purchases.
- SALE ITEMS: This may sound obvious, but buy what’s on sale! That’s often surplus in-season produce, which can be a win-win in terms of freshness. Also be sure to check the freezer section for frozen fruits and veggies on sale, you can find some great bargains there, too, and frozen is the next best thing to fresh. Frozen produce also keeps much longer so you don’t have to fret about eating it before it goes south, lessening the risk of waste.
- QUANTITY DISCOUNTS: Pre-packaged multi-pound bags of apples, potatoes, and carrots, for instance, tend to offer good value over their loose counterparts, with no sacrifice in quality. But of course don’t buy more than your household can consume, or the added value will be lost and it may end up costing you more in the long run.
- GENERALLY LOW-COST ITEMS: Bananas are typically a very good value, asparagus or bok choy not so much. Make a habit of sticking with produce that tends to be on the more affordable side even when not on sale.
- BE AN INFORMED CONSUMER OF CONVENTIONAL PRODUCE: According to the Environmental Working Group’s online Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, the amount of pesticide residue on produce varies tremendously. You can see for yourself by downloading a free abridged PDF of the guide featuring the Dirty Dozen™ and the Clean Fifteen™. Use this information to strategically cut costs –
Go conventional for fruits and veggies with the lowest amounts of residue, while relying on organics only for the worst offenders. You can save a great deal of money this way. Strawberries, spinach, and nectarines topped the “dirty” list, while sweet corn, avocados and pineapple top the “clean” list. (Please note that conventional sweet corn may be genetically modified, however.)
- FARMERS MARKETS: Check out the prices at your local farmer’s markets and be sure to look for stands that have special last-minute “giveaway” prices as closing time approaches. I know at my local farmers market there’s a farm that lets shoppers stuff a large bag full of produce at a fixed price just before they close up shop. You get a ton of stuff for a few bucks if you show up at the right time –
it’s as simple as that. To locate local farmers markets near you visit Local Farm Markets or the USDA National Farmers Markets Directory. Ask around at your market to learn about specials and discounts that may be offered.
- COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE: Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA shares, are a great way to support local farming while getting fresh, local produce typically at a better-than-retail price. The way it works is that you sign up in advance of the harvest during winter or early spring. You pay the chosen farm a set amount for the season in exchange for a set amount of produce each week. Some farms offer low-income discounts or subsidies, or alternatively, you can always “share a share” with other people to keep costs down. Delivery is usually at convenient central pick-up sites on certain days of the week. You may have some choice about what kinds of shares you get, such as fruit versus produce or both. Some farms also offer prepared items, such as homemade jams, breads, and fermented foods. To learn more about CSA shares or locate options near you, visit Local Harvest.
- Many grocers these days, and not just the natural markets where this trend started, have bulk bins where you can bag your own dried beans, nuts, whole grains, flours and more. The prices tend to be lower than the same pre-packaged items, and you can get the exact amount that you need. (If storing, you’ll want to take the items out of the plastic bags that you filled at the store and seal them in airtight jars or other durable containers.)
- Warehouse club stores such as Costco often sell plant-based foods, such as tofu, in bulk at reduced prices. Your local Target store, if it has a grocery, likely has some plant-based foods at great prices as well.
- The internet also offers significant savings on nonperishable items. Check out online retailers such as Amazon and Vitacost for discounts on nut butters, herbal teas, dried fruits, whole grains, beans, flour, soy products and much more. And if you want to do some more comparing, check out “The Best Organic Food Stores Online.”
TRADER JOE’s and SPROUTS
If you’re lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s or a Sprouts Farmers Market (actually a grocery), take advantage of your good fortune. Sprouts Markets tends to have great prices on fresh produce, especially their sale items. Trader Joe’s has good prices on nonperishables such as organic quinoa and organic canned beans, as well as on frozen fruits and vegetables, both organic and conventional.
KEEPING COSTS DOWN AT HOME
Finally, there’s a lot that you can do at home to minimize waste and maximize value.
- Save time and money by cooking in bulk and freezing the leftovers. Large crock pots are great for volume cooking, by the way.
- Keep your refrigerator as cold as possible, without freezing anything, to maximize the lifespan of perishables.
- Store produce in the crisper drawer with humidity level set to high.
- Keep produce properly wrapped. For instance, fresh mushrooms are best kept in paper bags, not plastic. Check out this article from The Kitchen for how to best store any fruit or vegetable.
- Clearly date-stamp perishable items and keep a list on your fridge of when they need to be consumed.
START SAVING NOW
So there you have it. While every suggestion may not apply to every person, I sure hope that you found some useful tips saving money in your own plant-based life and start saving lots of money now!
Plant-based dining should be a delight, not a stressor!