Featured recipe: Quinoa, Avocado & Chickpea Salad over Mixed Greens
Plant-based diets have skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years, as more research shows cutting back on meat—and upping our plant intake—is vital for our health and the environment. Ringing endorsements from fit celebrities like Beyonce, the Williams sisters, Carrie Underwood and Meghan Markle don't hurt, either!
In the five years since I've been vegan, I have seen the number of vegan proteins, cheeses and yogurts at my local grocery store expand immensely. While this is definitely exciting, these options can be expensive and mislead consumers into thinking that eating plant-based means spending more. In reality, plant-based eating can save you a ton of money (even if you only make a few plant-based meals each week)!
After several years of shopping and cooking for myself—and now adding a partner to the mix—I've learned how to spend less than I did when eating meat and dairy. Here are my top tips to keep my grocery bill down and still enjoy delicious, satisfying meals.
Shop for in-season produce.
Produce is a huge part of a vegan grocery list—it makes up around 70 percent of mine each week. It's important to shop for in-season produce to keep your grocery bill down, as it'll cost less to grow and won't have to travel so far to get to your local grocery store.
Shopping in-season will not only save you money, but will help make for more delicious, satisfying meals. We all know those local berries in June taste ten times better than the ones from Mexico in December. Shopping and eating in-season is great for your wallet, your taste buds, and the environment—you'll wonder why you didn't start sooner! Check out EatTheSeasons.com to find out which foods are in-season at the moment.
Related: Eating in Season: A Recipe for Life
Don't fear the middle aisles.
Whoever said to only shop the perimeter aisles didn't know what they were talking about—and probably had an unlimited grocery budget—because some of the most nutritious (and wallet-friendly) foods are located in the center of the grocery store! Healthy vegan staples like whole-grain pasta, rice, nuts, seeds, beans, and bread are all found in those "unhealthy" middle aisles.
Put on your blinders as you walk past the Oreos (even though they're *oddly* vegan) so you can focus on some amazing fiber-, protein-, vitamin-, and mineral-packed ingredients. These foods are cheap, versatile, and last a long time, which helps prevent food waste. I typically stock up on several cans of beans during the week to bulk up salads, grain bowls, and soups, since they only cost about a quarter per serving!
Buy in bulk.
Whether you're a loyal Costco member or a Whole Foods junkie, you'll seriously benefit by buying in bulk when you can. Some vegan staples—like almond butter and chia seeds—can get pretty pricey, but they don't have to be if you shop right.
As convenient as those microwavable pouches of organic quinoa and brown rice blends are, they can cost $5-7 for two servings, when you can get a giant bag for half the price. It'll take a little longer to cook, but it will be worth the money saved each and every week.
Costco usually always has some pretty stellar deals, but even more expensive retailers like Whole Foods have bulk bins that are great for stocking up on pantry staples. I love shopping for nut butter, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. (Pro tip: Bring your own containers to save money and reduce single-use plastic!)
Plan out your meals.
Meal planning is an easy way to save time and money—and it only takes about 15 minutes to do! I pull out my favorite cookbooks, scroll through my recent Pinterest pins, and think through my schedule for the week to decide what a realistic menu looks like.
Meal planning is essential for keeping my grocery bill down; it not only helps me stay on task, but also keeps me from buying more than I actually need. My carton of spinach is also a lot less likely to go untouched all week if I *actually* have a plan to use it. Meal planning also helps me eat healthier and ensures I'm getting the proper nutrition my vegan body needs!
Related: Vegan Meal Plans
Ditch the processed junk.
Plant-based diets often get a bad rap for being expensive, but that doesn't have to be the case. Vegan specialty foods are exciting and fun to try, but they can be pretty pricey. They are also often no healthier than their "non-vegan" original versions. For example, Impossible Burgers actually contain more saturated fat and sodium than a standard beef burger. Yikes.
Ditch the Beyond Burgers and pints of Ben and Jerry's Non-Dairy and opt for less expensive, healthier options like homemade bean burgers and strawberry nice cream. Your wallet and your body will thank you.
Fill up your freezer.
The frozen section is a goldmine for vegans on a budget. You'll find great prices on organic fruits and veggies that were picked at peak season, so they'll likely taste much better than the more expensive out-of-season produce. Buying some of your produce from the freezer section also saves money because you don't have to use it all within the week—you now have several months to get through a bag of peas or pineapple!
The freezer section is also home to rice, quinoa, breads, and other whole-grain staples at great prices. You can finally ditch those expensive, sodium-packed microwavable packets for these pre-cooked frozen options.