The Daily Beet

15 Mar Grocery Shopping on a Budget.

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One of the questions we get the most is how to eat plant-strong on a budget.

We’re happy to say that not only can you eat this way on a budget, many people report back that they save A LOT of money this way.

Here are some tips on how to save money, eating plant-strong:

Stick to basics. Often what ends up costing a lot of money are the speciality products. Good news! Most of these are not the healthiest option for you anyway. Sticking to whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit will do a lot in the way of saving you money.

Buy in bulk: If you have a grocery store with a bulk section, it is a good idea to price out if buying in bulk will save you some cash. For instance, nutritional yeast is usually MUCH cheaper in bulk than it is if you buy a container of it. We have also found great prices on brown rice, beans, raisins, quinoa and even whole grain pasta!

*You can also buy spices in bulk which can save a lot of money, especially if you only use a little of a certain spice. So if you don’t want to buy a big jar of turmeric you can just get a little, which can cost pennies.

Buy frozen: When something is not in season it is often going to cost you a lot more. Frozen vegetables and fruits are generally a lot less costly than fresh. Don’t worry about it being frozen, it is just as good for you – in fact, sometimes frozen is more ‘fresh’ than ‘fresh produce’! Frozen foods are often picked in the field, flash frozen and then shipped. Whereas some fresh produce can be picked, then spend more than a week in transport before it gets to the store, where it might sit around for a while longer. Keep an eye out for sales on frozen vegetables, fruit and in some stores you can find frozen beans and brown rice!


Dried fruit: When a recipe calls for dried fruit – substitute and stick to raisins. Raisins are generally the least expensive of the dried fruit, and often they do not add junk to raisins (like sugar/oil). It is a great way to sweeten something with out all of the cost of some of the more expensive dried fruits, like dates.

Nuts: You can save a little fat in your diet and a little cash by using something other than nuts. If a recipe calls for nuts we have found you can often substitute with beans (for savory recipes) or oats for sweet recipes. For instance, we found a great recipe for stuffed mushrooms that used pine nuts, pine nuts are expensive, so we used chickpeas instead, they came out great!

Lentils: Lentils are a great versatile food! They can be cooked fairly quickly (unlike beans). They are very cost effective, we have found them for under $1.00 per pound! A pound of lentils goes a LONG way.

Potatoes: You can’t get much more simple than the potato. Potatoes (sweet/white/red) are a great source of plant-strong nutrition and are a great base to any meal. You can usually find a bag of potatoes for a few dollars, and you have a lunch/dinner base for a week! (we’ve also been known to have an entire meal of potatoes!)

Brown rice: There are a few quick cooking brown rice brands that are great to eat and inexpensive. You can also buy brown rice in bulk. If you don’t have a rice cooker, check out craigslist to see if you can pick one up for a good price.

Oatmeal: If you stick to oatmeal and fruit in the morning you won’t have to worry about buying plant-based milks or cereals. Oatmeal is a great way to start the day! We are hooked on having grapes in our oatmeal (thanks to Ann Esselstyn). We have even used oatmeal to make savory dishes! You can find oats for fairly cheap in the cereal aisle, or check the bulk section.

Corn tortillas: Plain corn tortillas make great wraps, tacos and you can make your own tortilla chips! Just be sure the only ingredients are corn and sometimes lime.

Collards: Skip the tortillas and head for collards! Collards make GREAT wraps and are usually less expensive than whole grain tortillas. To use collards for wraps, we suggest sticking them in boiling water for a couple of minutes to make them a little more easy to use.

Whole Foods canned beans: Probably one of the best deals out there – Whole Foods 365 no salt added beans will run you about .89 cents a can.

Skip the expensive kitchen accessories: You can do a lot with one pot, a spatula and knife. Try skipping the kitchen gadgets and see how far you can get.

Don’t waste: Before we go shopping we check to see that we’ve used every thing we already have. Come up with dishes with what you have left in your kitchen. You would be surprised what you can do with a little bit of a few left over ingredients.

Find a CSA or Farmers Market: You can find a CSA’s  all over the US as well as Farmers Markets. Often your local farmers markets will have great prices on fresh produce.

Start a co-op dinner club: Let’s say you have gone to one of our 28 day challenge meetups and you have met a few plant-strong friends in your area. Why not start a dinner club or co-op? We have seen a few of these pop up around the country. Go in with friends and make meals together. Schedule a day of the week to all get together and batch cook or make big dishes, and then divide the dishes up amongst everyone.

Don’t eat out (or if you do, be sensible): Let’s face it, you will probably get a much healthier and tastier meal at home anyway. Eating out can really put a drain on your budget. Keep eating out to a treat every so often. If you do eat out -stick to something like a potato and steamed vegetables, we once went to a steak house and ate for 4.49 per person, and it was a huge plate of food! We think they must have felt bad for us since we didn’t have any meat.

Soup: Soup is great anytime of day! Soup is *almost* fool proof! You can throw a lot into a pot, vegetables, whole grains, beans and some spice and call it a day. You can also freeze soup fairly easily by putting it in ziplocks, the next time you don’t know what to eat, you can take one out of the freezer, throw it in a pot with a little water and heat it up!

Make your own broth: Use all of the leftover stems, leaves and ends of vegetables to make your own veggie broth! Just put what you have in a pot with water and spices if you like. Let it come to a boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes, and then use a strainer to strain out all of the vegetable pieces. You can store it in the refrigerator or you can freeze it!

Stay away from the junk: One of the reasons people save money when they go plant-strong is because they are cutting out some of the more expensive junk like oil, meat, dairy, eggs, sugary and fried junk. Remember that having these in the house is not just going to cost you financially, but it will cost you your health as well.

Remember how much you are saving in healthcare now and in the future: Even with insurance, preventable diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes will cost you a lot of money, especially as the disease progresses. The question you have to ask yourself – do you want to spend money on the best food on the planet so you do not suffer needlessly for years, or do you want to spend money on food that harms your body over and over, leading you to get a disease that could last decades? It seems like a pretty simple answer, yet so many forget what the cost REALLY involves when it comes to their health.

Online shopping: We have used Amazon to purchase groceries, and it has worked out great. You can sign up for an Amazon prime membership (which can have up to 5 people on the same membership). For 79 dollars a year you get free 2 day shipping. You can find great prices on a few things, especially when you buy them in bulk.

Grocery delivery: This might seem like it would end up wasting you money, but we have found that it often saves A LOT of money (and time). There are grocery stores all over the US that will deliver, and some for a very low price. This way, you can go online, select exactly what you want and have it delivered to your front door. This cuts down on impulse buys and helps you keep tabs on what you need. If you live in Texas, check out Greenling, it is a service that not only delivers produce but will deliver Engine 2 meals!

Check out Jeff Novick’s dvd, Fast Food: Jeff Novick has created a great dvd that shows you how to make a few meals that will take about 10 minutes to cook and cost you under 5 dollars a day. Jeff also has a great page of recipes that are also easy to make and very inexpensive.

Buy spices one or 2 at a time: Spices (not in bulk) can sometimes cost a lot upfront. Try buying a new salt-free spice every 1-2 weeks to spread the cost out a little bit more.

Balsamic vinegar: We really like using balsamic vinegar in dishes to add a little kick, or as a salad dressing.

POMI tomatoes: We love POMI and use their products often. They can be found at most grocery stores or online. We really like the diced tomatoes for making a quick salsa.

Use online sources for recipe inspiration: As much as we like supporting our plant-strong friends who have written recipe books, if you can’t afford to buy a book, you can find a lot online. First, check out our Pinterest board which currently has 200 plant-strong recipes! We also love: Fat Free Vegan, Happy Herbivore and Straight Up Food .

Come up with simple and inexpensive dishes: (these are some of our favorites)

  • Sweet potato, kale, white beans, brown rice.
  • White potato, black beans, tomatoes, corn, spinach.
  • Quinoa, mixed greens, red beans, cauliflower
  • Brown rice, chickpeas, peas, zucchini,  curry powder, turmeric
  • White beans, fingerling potatoes, brussel sprouts, garlic, kale.
  • Whole grain pasta, zucchini,  brocoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes
  • Lentils, collard greens, brown rice, artichoke
  • Potatoes, portobello mushrooms, green beans,  spinach, black beans
  • Whole grain  pasta, lentils, strained tomatoes (or tomato puree), garlic, brocoli
  • Whole grain bread with portobello mushrooms, grilled zucchini and oil free hummus.
  • Wild rice, onion, red lentils, greens
  • Brown rice, salsa, frozen southwestern veggie mix, black beans
  • Sweet potato, topped with black beans
  • Brown rice, black pepper, asian style veggie mix.
  • Cauliflower soup – cook cauliflower, blend add chickpeas.
  • Whole grain pasta cooked and chilled, cucumber, tomato, beans, balsamic vinegar
  • Mashed chickpeas, onion, garlic, chopped celery, cucumber served on whole grain bread
  • Lentils, chopped tomato, lettuce, spinach, salsa, served on lettuce or served in corn tortillas
  • Roasted vegetable mix & quinoa
  • Beans & brown rice
  • Spinach salad: strawberries, raisins, balsamic
  • Chop salad: chopped cucumber, celery, carrots, zucchini, tossed with quinoa.
  • Big salad: Whatever fresh vegetables you have on top of greens. (the whatever salad!)
  • Huge plate of steamed vegetables with spices.
  • Breakfast: oatmeal or quinoa with fruit and ground flaxseed
  • Breakfast: Rip’s big bowl (of course!)
  • Looking for an easy dressing? We use low sodium salsa, oil free hummus or balsamic vinegar.

Let’s hear from you! How do you save money on your grocery bill?

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Natala Constantine
  • Dawn
    Posted at 09:33h, 15 March

    You guys need another book, STAT! I have been printing out your blog posts every day so I can take them to work and read, because I don’t have internet, I feel like I’ve got a whole new look on stuff since going plant-strong. Thank you so much.


  • Rob
    Posted at 09:35h, 15 March

    I’m new to all of this, but you guys make this cake.
    I really liked the list of simple meals.
    Keep up the great work.

    I don’t know how I save money yet, I’m just starting, but now I’ve got some ideas.

  • Marcia
    Posted at 10:00h, 15 March

    I really enjoyed this post, as well as all of them.
    I shop on Amazon for alot of my bulk things like spices, dried herbs, etc. I also recently discovered Azure Standard, an online bulk food store. They have wonderful prices for bulk dried beans, whole grain pasta, nuts, baking cocoa, to name a few. Check them out at http://www.azurestandard.com . I just received my first order from them and was well pleased with everything. The shipping time is fantastic as well.

  • Christy
    Posted at 11:50h, 15 March

    We grow our own vegetables and herbs. I dry the herbs for use later and I also can excess veggies.

  • Lynnette
    Posted at 16:31h, 15 March

    This is a wonderful post with lots of details and great suggestions. I’ve managed to figure out which stores have the best items and shuffle the grocery shopping accordingly.
    And when we ‘re in Ann Arbor (3hrs away) to see our daughter in college, we always swing by Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to splurge a little.

  • Grace_Isabella
    Posted at 23:23h, 16 March

    I would appreciate guidance on what to buy when you’re prone to gout. Been reading that lentils, dried beans (the type varies – chickpeas, navy come up,) cauliflower, asparagus, and soy are all bad for you. Guess what I love? Help!

  • Kate
    Posted at 12:25h, 17 March

    Even before we stopped eating animal products for good, I shopped and cooked this way. ‘Learn to eat lentils and you will never have to be subservient to the king.’ Diogenes Even cheaper than beans in a can are dry beans. Just get into a rhythm of soaking and slow cooking every day. It’s as easy as can be to put a cup (will be three cups) beans in a bowl with water then drain, rinse, and put yesterdays soakers in the crock pot. Dinner is ready in a couple minutes, after you throw in some veggies and seasonings. Meanwhile warm up the brown rice, toss a salad, and put some apples or pears in the oven for dessert. When everyone is done eating, the baked fruit should be ready. Put the slow cooker outside in hot weather.

  • Nikki
    Posted at 09:53h, 18 March

    Love this post. I’ve been blogging about how to save money in the kitchen… how to cook dried beans, make-your-own stock, and sprouting my own sprouts are just a few of the recommendations I’ve blogged recently (they’re my favorites)… but I’m sharing this post as it covers so much!

  • Pam
    Posted at 08:57h, 20 March

    We are trying to adopt this plant diet, but it is not as doable financially as this blog makes it appear. In your films, you visited families of means. With our budget, we are running out of food 5 days into a 2 week stretch.

    • Adam
      Posted at 19:20h, 14 July

      Noticed the same thing with the films. Those families he visited were 6-figure income families!

  • Marie
    Posted at 21:14h, 23 March

    We are using our local library to read all of the suggested books and even have a few cookbooks on the way using ILL (interlibrary loan). We r looking forward to becoming plant-strong!

  • Frost
    Posted at 22:02h, 09 February

    A great article Learning how to cook on a budget should be the first chapter in any second book.

  • Frost
    Posted at 22:02h, 09 February

    A great article Learning how to cook on a budget should be the first chapter in any second book.

  • Steven Z
    Posted at 19:55h, 03 March

    We just did our first Engine 2 diet shopping trip to whole foods and it cost us $330 dollars for 1 weeks worth of food! Outrageous! Please can anyone give some insight into how we can expect to do this for 2 people and under $100/week! Thanks!

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