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It’s a myth that eating a vegan diet has to be expensive. Many of the typical vegan diet staples – grains, beans, seeds and legumes – can be purchased in bulk and are very inexpensive. There are many ways to keep costs down while eating healthy, delicious meals every day. In this three-part series, we’re going to look at ways to plan, shop and prepare a low-calorie vegan diet that won’t break the bank.
The single best way to keep food costs down is to cook at home. You can not only save money, but also easily prepare foods that will keep you within your calorie budget. So let’s make a plan that will have you preparing all your meals for a week. I don’t know if you are a stay-at-home parent who already does all the cooking for yourself and your family, or a person who works long hours and needs to keep things as simple as you can. Taking the time to plan ahead will work well for you either way. So let’s get cracking and take a look at making a budget-friendly meal plan.
Set up a weekly planning routine
This will be a little like tracking your calories except in reverse. You will be actually planning ahead, which will make your diet and tracking SO much easier. If you stick to the plan you make, there’ll be no thinking and deciding each day. Your plan will be your blueprint for each day. Just prep and go!
Begin planning on the day that makes the most sense for your life. Many people shop on the weekend and have their menus begin on Mondays. For me, it makes more sense to get through our busy weekends with meals already planned and shop on Monday mornings when the kids are in school.
But we’re talking about planning, not shopping. I plan our menu over the weekend. It gives me a chance to ask my family if they have a favorite meal they want me to prepare, and lets the boys add in specific requests for snacks and food to my kitchen white board. I like to vary our meals, so giving myself 2 days to edit the plan means we’re all happy with the choices by the time I’m ready to make my shopping list.
Take inventory of what you have on hand
Before I even start my menu, I do a quick inventory of the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what I have and to note what basics need to be restocked. Just as fashion experts will tell you to “shop your closet” and get creative before buying new clothes, “shopping” your pantry (and fridge and freezer) will save you money.
Did you forget about that big tub of frozen soup? Wouldn’t it be perfect on Thursday when you have no time for real cooking? Need black beans for Monday’s recipe? If you have dried beans in the pantry, there’s no need to buy canned. Just put them in a bowl and cover with water the night before and they’ll be ready when you are.
I can’t tell you how many duplicate items populated my shelves before I started checking every week.
Are there some vegetables that are still good but looking a little wilted? Make your first day’s menu a soup or stir fry and use them up! Did you forget about yesterday’s leftovers? Can they be repurposed into another dish or boxed up for lunch?
Make a one week menu
This menu needs to include breakfast, lunches to take to work, dinners, and snacks. It also needs to fit into your calorie budget and include prep-ahead ingredients to use throughout the week.
One very simple way to save is to actually plan on eating your leftovers! How many times have you thrown away forgotten food from the back of your refrigerator? If you want to save money, leftovers either need to be a meal the next day, or to become part of a new dish. Think outside the box.
Leftover baked potatoes can be mashed, seasoned and become part of a delicious mash, mushroom and vegan cheese grilled sandwich! To save calories, substitute a pita bread to hold the messy, delicious filling!
Or how about taking your leftover spinach, adding in some ground walnuts and your favorite chutney salsa? Spoon it onto lettuce leaves and enjoy. Don’t laugh. I had a version of this in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Hawaii that rocked my world. One of the best things I ate on that trip.
Leftover teriyaki baked tofu? Slice it up and toss it into a salad. You’ll get a protein and flavor boost.
Steamed carrots and celery? Make a lunch or dinner bowl by adding a warm scoop of your (batch-cooked earlier in the week) favorite grain, some tofu or tempeh strips, some leftover kale cut into thin strips, a tablespoon of leftover guacamole. Top it with a bit of balsamic vinegar and you’ve got a gorgeous vegan bowl!
The point is that if you plan for your leftovers, you’ll never waste them.
Make your menu plant-based and avoid processed and pre-made foods
Processed vegan foods, like their non-vegan counterparts, tend to be high in fat and sodium and contain chemicals and preservatives. Also, they’re not cheap!
Some packaged foods can add variety to your meals when used as an ingredient instead of the main course, but you really do have to watch the cost per serving, as well as the calories. Vegan cheeses, especially the really good ones like Kite Hill, can be expensive. I’ve bought their ricotta ($9.99 for an 8 oz tub) and used it in place of goat cheese in salads. Really, really good. And …
- A little goes a long way.
- It’s about 80 calories per serving (1 oz) so it fits my calorie budget
- It’s made without artificial ingredients and it was created by some acclaimed vegan chefs.
Some of the processed meals can be relatively easy on the budget but you end up paying the price in calorie count and the ridiculous amount of chemicals you’ll be ingesting.
Sticking to fresh plant-based ingredients that you can easily prepare at home is your best bet.
Think overall nutrition
People who eat the Standard American Diet rarely plan their food intake based on nutrients. The health conscious may follow the typical healthy plate nutritional guide put out by the USDA. One serving each of protein, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy. But most people eat way more protein than they need and neglect the other important nutrients.
The Harvard School of Public Health put out a revised version which improves the overall picture because it limits dairy and encourages more vegetable and fruit consumption.
This vegan food plate, by comparison, is overflowing with all kinds of fresh ingredients MINUS the references to meat, eggs and dairy.
And, it’s a lot easier to make sure you have a balanced diet. Use the serving guide when making your meal plan, have as much variety as you possibly can (eat from the rainbow – lots of different colors in your fruit and vegetables). You do not need to count your protein count! Just try to plan meals that include all the of the elements on the vegan plate and you’ll be fine. Having a simple green salad for lunch? No problem, just have more beans or legumes at dinner. If one day is sparse on the grains, add a bit more the next day.
It’s all about an overall balance, not one balanced meal.It’s a myth that eating a vegan diet has to be expensive.There are many ways to keep costs down while eating healthy, delicious meals every day. Click To Tweet
Having some reliable recipes is important in meal planning and you can start here in my recipe section. Additional resources for good, low-calorie vegan recipes will be below to add to your file.
Articles like the one below abound on the internet. Google low calorie vegan recipes and you’re sure to find some new favorites!
Invest in a few good quality vegan cookbooks!
Check out my Pinterest boards where I’ve curated some great selections for every meal.
Try some out or just go simple. You don’t have to follow an actual recipe every day. It’s perfectly ok to stop at the store on the way home after an exhausting workday, pick up a loaf of bread and greens at the salad bar, put it in a bowl with a can of beans over it, toss with a little lemon juice, salt & pepper and call it dinner!
Now that you have your menu plan in place, make your shopping list from the meals you have planned, plus things you need to restock on.
Time to go to Vegan on a Budget – Part 2. Shopping!
P.S. Buying your produce when it is in season saves you money, boosts your nutrition, and helps the environment. Get your password to my Resource Library below and check out my Seasonal Produce Chart – Print it and put it on your fridge for a quick reference when planning your shopping!