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7 Myths About Plant-Based Eating on a Budget—and Tips to Make It Work

Real Simple logo Real Simple 7/29/2021 Toni Okamoto
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According to the National Institutes of Health, poverty is considered a major risk factor for heart disease—the number-one killer of Americans—and a leading factor in the risk of type 2 diabetes. So it's easy to believe the myth that you have to be wealthy to be healthy. If a whole-foods, plant-based diet is healthy, then how are we to afford it? Vegan food is expensive, right? 

It certainly can be, but don't fret: You can absolutely be plant-based on a budget. Whether you have limited income or are just trying to save more and spend less, there's no reason to break the bank to afford truly nutritious—and delicious—food. You just have to follow a few expert tips—and stop believing the predominant money myths (and other myths, too) about eating vegan.


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Myth 1: Plant-based means organic, and organic means expensive.

There are so many healthy products that are not organic. And there are organic items that are not healthy, too! Buying organic chips, cookies, soda, and ice cream doesn't make those things good for you; organic junk food is still junk food. And items such as fresh produce, beans, and grains have non-organic options and are very affordable (and still very nutritious).

And while you don't need to buy organic to eat healthy, there are also frequent sales on organic items if you do wish to fit some into your budget. In fact, I've found cans of organic store-brand beans for under a dollar on more than one occasion.

Myth 2: Eating plant-based means I have to shop at an inconvenient (and pricey) natural foods store.

Everything you need for a healthy, affordable diet can be found at your local grocery store, Walmart, or Target. There's definitely no need to go outside of where you currently do your grocery shopping. Fruits, veggies, and whole grains are just as nutritious whether you buy them at the local natural foods store or at the big-box hub.

Myth 3: Plant-based food just isn't as yummy.

Sure, if you want to sit down to a plate of grass and air (isn't that the myth?). In reality, vegan food options are vast and delicious. Do you like tacos? Then swap the red meat and cheese for beans and avocado. Do you like pizza? Chuck the $10 frozen pizza and opt to make your own crust using flour, oil, and yeast, and load up with veggies and a simple marinara sauce or homemade pesto. The sky's the limit; there are delicious plant-based recipes for anything from pancakes to frittatas to scrambles to wraps to casseroles. 

Much of what flavors traditional meals actually comes from plants, anyway; we season our dishes with herbs, spices, sauces, and salt. Creamy and cheesy items can be easily made from nuts, and swaps are readily available for milks and butters. When you start cooking with healthier foods, you'll find that it's really fun to explore cooking with all the amazing flavors that plants provide us.

Myth 4: Plant-based food is more processed.

This may be true for Tofurkey, but that's far from the only option out there. The world's healthiest unprocessed whole foods happen to come from plants—and also happen to be incredibly affordable. From apples and bananas, to rice and beans, to oats, greens, and potatoes, you've got options. It's actually the pricier specialty items that tend to be more processed and full of sugar—like vegan ice cream, cupcakes, and burgers.

Myth 5: You'll have to "give up" your favorite foods.

I hear you. I thought this myself before I embraced a plant-based lifestyle. What about green bean casserole and stuffing for Thanksgiving? Or my mom's home-cooked meals? What about birthday cake, bacon, and fast food burgers? Trust me, you can still have these, and you'll even feel better after eating the plant-based versions.

There are simple swaps for anything from milk to butter to eggs and, yes, even bacon—so you can still enjoy your favorite foods (have you ever tried tempeh bacon? It's wildly delicious). The Friendly Vegan Cookbook was created with this dilemma in mind; in it, you will find 100 essential recipes (with photos) to share with vegans and omnivores alike. 

Myth 6: Eating fast food is cheaper than cooking.

Let's do the math. For $3, you can get three items from the dollar menu, which is what it would take to fill me up. If I did that, and ate fast food for every meal, $25 would only feed me for less than three days. And let's be honest; most people aren't shopping from the dollar menu. In my book, Plant-Based on a Budget, you can find a wide variety of delicious vegan recipes that cost under $30 a week—that's for all 21 of your meals. Oh, and they all require less than 30 minutes per meal. And speaking of saving time...

Myth 7: Plant-based eating requires too much time and kitchen equipment.

As much as I love saving money, and boy do I ever, I truly believe that time is our most valuable asset. So wanting to save time is a very real aspect to budgeting. When you plan ahead, you can save yourself time in stores and at home.

Try buying minced garlic instead of spending time (and patience) trying to peel and mince yourself. Opt for canned beans rather than soaking them at home. Take a pause on peeling carrots and potatoes and instead eat the nutrient-rich outer layers and save yourself time in the process. Plan your meals ahead and have breakfast ready to go in the morning. Involve family and friends to make them a part of the cooking process.

And if I could offer only one time-saving tip, it would be to plan your meals, period. This free meal plan can get you started on the right foot—and it doesn't get much cheaper than free.

calendar: There's no reason to break the bank to afford truly nutritious (and delicious) food. Follow these expert tips from the author of Plant-Based on a Budget, and stop believing the myths that plant-based eating has to be expensive. © Getty Images There's no reason to break the bank to afford truly nutritious (and delicious) food. Follow these expert tips from the author of Plant-Based on a Budget, and stop believing the myths that plant-based eating has to be expensive.

Now that we've busted the predominant myths about eating plant-based on a budget (and now that you know you can), here are some tips to get started.

Stop overthinking it.

You're already used to making pretty simple meals, aren't you? Then keep on going! Think pasta with marinara sauce, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal with (almond) milk, and veggie stir fry with tempeh or tofu.

Make simple recipe swaps.

Sub quinoa for brown rice for a more affordable base, and use frozen veggies instead of fresh so you can stock up ahead of time for cheap. So your recipe calls for zucchini, but broccoli is on sale? Swap it out!

Share the load.

Have a potluck or cook with friends, and assign an ingredient or dish per person.

Save leftovers—and jars.

Use those containers for storing said leftovers, so you can stretch the meal all week. Every bit adds up!

Shop deals.

Use coupons! Look for the discount and clearance sections of grocery stores, Walmart, and Target. And as for kitchen supplies and equipment, buy the basics at IKEA or the Dollar Tree, or even Goodwill.

Negotiate prices.

This is a great tactic whether you're getting to the farmers' market at closing time (when vendors would rather sell items for a discount than haul it back home) or at the grocery checkout line with some slightly bruised (but still tasty) produce.

Freeze produce.

If food is approaching expiration, freeze it so you can buy yourself time and it won't go to waste.

Buy store brands.

They're like the generic version of prescription medication—just as good at half the price.

Repurpose food items.

Get creative to make use of every last bit. Save carrot, onion, and potato peelings to make vegetable stock. Don't care for bread-loaf heels? Make croutons!

Buy only what you need.

This avoids both food waste and money waste.

Bake your own bread.

Seriously, it's so easy. Here's how.

Watch the screen.

As the grocery cashier is ringing you up, a little vigilance can ensure you're getting the right sale prices, etc.

Last but not least: Grow your own food.

It seems so obvious, but this is a fantastic way to save money and eat plant-based. You can start a flourishing garden in your backyard or even a container garden on your terrace/roof/deck/porch. It's so rewarding—health-wise and financially—to reap the literal fruits of your labor.

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