How to Eat a Plant-Based Diet on a Budget

by Roki Prunali

In this time of uncertainty, there’s no end to the questions we’re asking ourselves:hen will the ‘stay at home’ measure be over? Are we going to receive our next paycheck? When can we have a drink with our loved ones IRL? One thing that has allowed me to persevere through life in lockdown is experimental cooking. Being strict with nutritional goals can seem daunting in a time when we have given up a lot both for the good of our neighbors as well as our own health. These days, I am more conscious of grocery spending and have sought the help of local farmers to source fresh produce for my family and me. This is one way to stick with my plant-based diet on a budget. 

How to Eat a Plant-Based on a Budget

There is a misconception that eating this diet can be expensive, but I can tell you there are plenty of ways to eat plant-based on a budget. In all reality, meat and fish products can be rather expensive and dairy products, even eggs, are starting to raise their prices. So, if you are thinking of going plant-based and are not sure how you will be able to feasibly commit to your budget, read on and do your own research to fit your needs. 

Just a little refresher on the plant-based diet – this is a diet that focuses on whole foods that are derived from plants. The foods are unrefined and minimally processed, so, for the most part, they are in their original form such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. This diet may reduce or even eliminate animal products, but processed vegan and vegetarian alternatives (such as vegan cheeses) are not included in the diet because they are normally very processed. Reduction of sugary foods, refined white carbohydrates, excess salt, and fatty, greasy, or deep-fried foods can also be part of the diet. 


Here are some tips on trying to follow a plant-based diet on a budget:


Pick Cheap, Basic Ingredients 

The staples of a plant-based diet, such as beans and grains, luckily have a long shelf life and are cheap. If you base your meals around a starch or bean your meals can be rather economical but still not leave you feeling hungry. Think potatoes, brown rice, black beans, oatmeal, or bananas. 

If you are planning on stocking your pantry with inexpensive basics try sticking to these:

Whole Grains: Brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, corn tortillas, rolled oats, barley, buckwheat, quinoa

Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, split peas, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans

Starchy Vegetables: potatoes, sweet peas, corn, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. 

Nuts: Walnuts, cashews, almonds

You may even choose to buy these products in bulk, as it can be so much cheaper and will not go bad for an extended period. Try shopping at places like Winco or Costco. Even Walmart offers an entire section of plant-based foods. Another tip for buying vegetables with a longer shelf life is buying frozen. It may seem like this is not the freshest option, but really most frozen vegetables and fruit are frozen soon after being harvested.


Eat Seasonally

Buying fruits and vegetables when they are in season not only offers you the best flavor, but also the fairest prices. Certain crops and harvest dates also depend on the climate of the region. 

These are products that you will likely find in the market this time of year: 

Apples, apricots, artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocado, bananas, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, chard, cherries, collard greens, dandelion greens, fava beans, fennel, garlic, grapefruit, kale, kiwis, kumquats, leeks, lemons, lettuce, limes, morels, mushrooms, nettles, new potatoes, onions, parsley, pea greens, peas, pineapples, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, spring onions, strawberries, swiss chard, turnips.

If you have a local farmer’s market, the seasonal vegetables are not only locally grown and freshly harvested but can offer you great deals. Consider joining a community-supported agriculture group (CSA) to receive fresh locally grown vegetables and fruits. When farmer’s markets are not available, conventional supermarkets and small mom and pop markets will more than likely offer this produce at an inexpensive price

While we are on the topic of eating seasonally, I wanted to share with you, Pretty Birds, the Dirty Dozen list for 2020. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental organization, compiles this list every year to reveal which produce contains the most pesticides. Buying organic can help avoid large amounts of pesticides, but let’s be honest buying organic can often break the bank. In order to help us through our grocery shopping, knowing what is on the dirty dozen list prepares us for what we must pay special attention to when we wash fruits and vegetables. Or if you want to splurge on organic, you know which produce would be better for buying organic. 


The 2020 Dirty Dozen List of Foods

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes


Thankfully on the other side of the spectrum, we have the Clean Fifteen, a list of fruits and vegetables that show very little trace of pesticides in commercial farming. 


The Clean Fifteen Food List for 2020

  1. Avocado
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet Peas Frozen
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew Melon
  15. Kiwi


Not much has changed from last year’s list for both the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, but knowing what is cleaner in commercial farming we can make better decisions when planning plant-based recipes. 


Make Enough for Leftovers

When I make a conscious effort to eat plant based, I make a big batch of quinoa or rice to add to different veggies I put in the mix. The trick to not get tired of eating such similar meals, spices, and sauces can make all the difference. My big go-to’s are curry and tamari. 

I also tend to make excess food at dinner so I can have it for lunch the next day. When you see that your veggies may be turning a corner and starting to wither, throw them all in a soup which can be kept in your fridge for days or even frozen for a later date. 

Eating plant-based on a budget is possible, it just requires more planning and organizing on your part. So, don’t let that deter you from getting the nutrition that you want for yourself and your loved ones. 


This content and any linked material are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. Consult with a licensed healthcare professional before altering or discontinuing any current medications, treatment or care, or starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, or if you have or suspect you might have a health condition that requires medical attention. 


Image Credit: Gab Bois


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