Is eating a plant-based diet expensive? I get this question or some variation of it often. How much does it cost? Is it more expensive? Where do you shop?
Is Eating a Plant-Based Diet Expensive?
If you buy seasonal fruits and veggies and whole grains and beans you may save money on a plant-based diet. If you buy faux meat, packaged foods, and produce that is flown in from half way around the world it is gonna cost you.
The Standard American Diet
Most people I know eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) consisting of lots of meat, dairy, processed foods, and let’s not forget soda. They may even have all of those at every meal. Not only do those highly processed foods cost them at the checkout, they will continue to pay the high cost to their health for years to come.
Seasonal Produce and Consistently Priced Food
Where I live, produce typically cost more during the winter. I counter that by using more whole grains and beans and using frozen veggies more often. In the summer I shift my meal plans to contain more fresh fruit and veggies. I may spend more on special occasions but for everyday meals I try to stick to the less expensive, seasonal veggies.
Here are a few examples. Blueberries are harvested in the warmer months, if you try to buy them in the winter it may cost up to $5 for a pint. If you must have them in the winter opt for frozen berries that cost the same year round. When asparagus season is underway my local Sprout’s Market has asparagus for 89 cents per pound. At other times a year I see it for $2 to $5 per pound. I never buy watermelon during the winter but in the summer when they are 10 cents per pound we buy several each week.
Here is the thing, our diet doesn’t really depend on these (sometimes) more expensive foods; we have built our dietary base around foods that are consistently priced most of the time. Beans, grains, lettuces, bananas, potatoes, carrots, etc. vary little. We eat a lot of apples all year, we eat more when they are less than $1 per pound.
I’ve written about this previously. Check out this Meal Plan where I discuss eating inexpensively on basic pantry staples and the following days discussion on eating nutritiously and shopping (note that these were written during the winter). I’ve also written about buying organic and how we weigh the research.
One of the best ways to save money/spend less is to cut down on food waste. Every time you throw food away you might as well be throwing away dollars. I am guilty of this. We will buy a giant bag of organic spinach and only use a portion of it before it gets slimy. We then throw the rest away and make a trip to the store for a new bag where we buy extra items we may or may not eat. It is a vicious cycle. You can combat food waste by crafting a meal plan based on food you already have to by only purchasing food you have a plan to use.
Our Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet is Less Expensive
For us, eating a plant-based diet is less expensive. We save money by not buying meat and dairy and we also eat less processed food. My husband is no longer on a long list of medications we had to refill monthly. Since learning my son could not tolerate gluten we began spending more on gluten-free flours. Those are not related to us being plant-based, we would need to use them regardless.
If your version of a plant-based diet is a high concentration of processed foods you will probably spend more. If you were used to purchasing hot dogs and hamburger and switch to soy dogs and veggie burger you may not see much of a difference. That doesn’t mean you can never have those things but they aren’t as healthy or as inexpensive as whole foods.