Plant-based diets can be expensive when they’re not planned well. Though protein is much cheaper, loading all that organic produce into your basket can be disheartening. It makes it hard to resist the temptation to grab that cheap, processed junk that comes frozen in a packet. But think of the cost to your health, and put the pizza pockets down! You’re lucky, friends – the Green Moustache has compiled a list of our top tips to keep you on track without requiring a remortgage / yard sale / loan shark. Enjoy!
I love starting my day with a giant nutrient boost, but the green smoothie holds another use for the budget conscious – it’s a great way to use up scraps like spotted bananas, broccoli stalks, slightly limp celery and pears that are a bit too juicy. Yes, the nutrient content will be lower, but it saves waste and is still much better for you than refined cereal!
EMBRACE THE BIG BATCHES
Plant-based protein sources are waaay cheaper than meat, especially dried in bulk. But they take a lot of work, right? Wrong! Pulses, beans & peas last 5-6 days in the fridge, and grains like quinoa last 6 or 7. Cook up a batch for the week, store them airtight and grab some at each meal to throw into stir fries, salads or Buddha bowls, or potato fillings. Big, one-pot meals are great for this – stews, Bolognese, chili, soups, casseroles, and hot-pots that you can throw everything into, leave till it’s done, then keep in the fridge for a week.
FARMERS MARKETS, FARM SHOPS AND UGLY VEGGIE OUTLETS
It’s true, organic food is pricey. But check your local farmers’ market or farm shop – they can often have organics cheaper than the supermarket’s regular stuff! There’s also more interest in ‘ugly produce’, where veg deemed not pretty enough for our fussy market is sold cheaply. Chain stores like Loblaw and Whole Foods are embracing the change in a bid to reduce food waste and the movement is gaining traction - take a look and see if there’s an ‘ugly produce’ retailer near you. After all, it all tastes the same!
INVEST IN A SPIRALIZER
For $20 or so, you can nab one of these nifty things and make restaurant-worthy Buddha bowls, salads, vegetable ‘noodles’ for pasta and stir fries, and so on. Plus, root vegetables or squashes keep a while in the fridge – store airtight, and grab when you need them. There’s no need to cook most veg, but make sure you check the safety of raw produce – no potatoes, please!
MAKE YOUR OWN DIPS
Dried peas and beans are super cheap – in the food processor, blend them up into any recipe you like. Hummus, bean dip and babaganoush can be packed with low-cost flavour using spices and dried herbs, and your dip should last a week or so in the fridge. Pair with celery or carrot sticks for a cheap snack that spruces up your mealtimes but won’t break the bank.
STORE PRODUCE PROPERLY
Most produce keeps longer in the cold of the fridge, but different foods need different storage methods to keep them fresh. Note which veggies and fruits you buy, and how to store them to increase their life. Buying fresh at farmers markets will extend shelf life over grocery store foods that have travelled for days! Do some homework – you might learn you’ve been storing your favourites wrong for years. Plus, certain foods release ethylene, a gas which can make nearby produce go bad faster. Here’s a good blog with a list of which fruits and veggies are ethylene-releasing or sensitive, and here’s some tips on vegetable storage:
EFFECTIVE PLANNING AND SHOPPING
For all the busy families out there, I’m telling you – a meal plan will save your life! Think of meals with similar ingredients, and save the last meal or two for something that can use up scraps, such as soup, stew or chilli.
If you live near a grocery store, or pass one coming home from work, ditch the weekly shop and grab groceries daily – this lets you minimise food waste from overbuying, unexpected dinner invites or changes of plan when you (or the kids) just don’t fancy the meal you have scheduled.
GROW, GROW, GROW!
Even a tiny balcony can host a full vegetable garden. My little balcony has tomatoes, kale, zucchini, mint, chives, scallions and cilantro – and it’s not too much work to create a bountiful garden of your own. In fact, many foods can be re-grown from kitchen scraps! From pineapples to scallions to lemongrass, your scraps can become your own little produce section and save you cash for free. This is a great activity to get the family involved in, and building that connection to how your food is produced is a wonderful thing. This article explains how.
Organic oats are a nutrient packed, cheap breakfast. Whole oats take time to digest, fuelling you for longer, and you can bulk buy and store them. For families who don’t have time to cook oats in the morning, make a batch of overnight oats before bed is as simple as mixing 1 part of liquid (nut milk, plant-based yoghurt or even a nutritious smoothie!) with 1 part oats, and bunging in the fridge till morning. Top with fresh fruit, seeds, nuts, coconut or spices – or just enjoy as is.
AVOID EXPENSIVE ‘FAKE MEAT’ PRODUCTS
Organic produce can be pricier, but this cost is easily offset by the cheapness of plant-based protein – dried beans, pulses, chickpeas and the like. Don’t fall into the trap of replacing meat with processed ‘fake’ meats – they’re yucky for you and as pricey as meat.
NO JUNK IN THE HOUSE
Full stop. None. Out of sight, out of mind! It is easy, but takes practice, to get into a habit of cooking well. If the temptation to fix up an easy Kraft mac n’ cheese is there you’ll take it. I used to say I was too ‘tired’ to cook, and fill up on junk whilst my beautiful veggies wilted. Once I committed to healthful food, that tiredness disappeared. Whole-wheat pasta and potatoes though, friends, are not junk (we will have a carb blog coming soon for all you sceptics!) – These are my go to’s now for those I’m-feeling-lazy-and-need-junk days.
What do you think? What are your favourite low-cost, low-effort tips for nutritious plant-based eating? Let us know in the comments!