Monday, March 14, 2011

Debunking the myth: Being vegan is too expensive!

When I first decided to eat a plant-based diet, I was really worried about the cost of food. Walking around the grocery store I would see fake meats that looked small and were really expensive. Recipes I wanted to try had all sorts of spices and ingredients that I didn’t have in stock. I try to keep myself on a $50 a week food budget and it seemed to work when all I ate was ramen noodles, Kraft dinner, and stir-fries. Even before I went vegan, meat was often just too pricey for me.
Switching to a plant-based diet successfully really takes a lot of thought. You need to re-think how to get your nutrients. Like any habit, once you get going it becomes easier and easier. The real tricky part for me was sticking to the budget.

I have been thinking about making this post for a while. A lot of people tell me that being vegan is just too expensive and I needed to go on the record that it is simply not true! Every once in a while I see shows that will feature how to shop on a plant-based diet (Oprah, I am talking about you!). Twice on her show they featured a trip to the grocery store and I was absolutely appalled at what was going into the cart. Faux meats and cheeses, soy ice cream, coconut frozen desserts, frozen meals and plethora of processed goods. Nowhere to be seen was vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes! If I were to shop like that, I would be spending easily $100 or more in a week.

So, what does the single girl on a budget buy? It is all about strategy. Integral to keeping to budget involves making a meal plan. I am not capable of eating the same thing over and over. Every week I do a meal plan and develop it from two angles:

1.    Take stock of what you have. Do you have veggies left over that need to be eaten? Have a huge bag of rice sitting around? Take an honest look at what is around. Sometimes, I am amazed at what I have sitting around.

After taking stock of what is kicking around the kitchen think about what you can make with it. If you have no idea, Google the ingredients or look them up in the index of a cookbook or two. The more you do this, the more you will be able to think of things that might work. These foods are sort of like freebies. They’re already paid for and often left over from something else, so get creative.

2.      What are you craving right now? I always try to think of a good recipe to make through the week. If nothing comes to mind, take a look at restaurant menus, cook books or blogs. I am sure something will come to mind.
Now that you have two solid recipes, you probably have a good foundation for the meal plan. Develop a chart (Excel has templates, but I always do mine on paper). Slot in your left over recipe on day 1. Most recipes make 3-4 or more servings, so you can also slot it in for lunch the next day and probably one more dinner.
Next, write in the new recipe you are going to make. Plan this one with thought. Don’t put it on a day you know you’re going to be busy. Do the same as the left over meal and slot in the leftovers too.
Remember to track what ingredients you are missing and write them down on the back of the page. Now take a look at what is on the list. What can else could you make with these ingredients? Again, do the research and now you have a third recipe to make which should take care of the end of the week.
The rest of the empty spots I tend to fill with easier things. Salads, soups, sandwiches, etc.  remember to write down ingredients you don’t have as you go. For me, breakfast I keep super simple. Green monsters, cereal, oatmeal are often on the menu. Sometimes I will get a bit creative on the weekends, but let’s be serious. I am not going to be cooking for an hour before work.
Lastly, don’t forget about snacks and dessert. I always try to make one thing in the week and then keep the rest simple. I alternate from sweet to salty and back again.

Here is a sample of my meal plan this week: Sample Meal Plan in Excel

Some tips to stick to budget:
  • Always remember to reuse the ingredients you are already buying
  • Pay attention to spices in a recipe. If money is tight, don't make recipes you do not have the seasonings for, they add up fast!
  •  Stick to the list and then stick to the plan. It’s a bit of commitment, but then food is an important part of life.
  •  Buy just one or two types of greens each week and switch them up. This way they will stay fresh and it will be cheaper for you.
  •  If you have too much left over in a recipe or plan change on you, freeze it. That way you will have frozen meals ready in case you need them.
  • Stay away from buying lots of drinks. I save so much just from not buying juice and pop. Water is really the only drink you need. The rest are treats and if you can’t afford them; don’t get them.
  • Finally – the usual rules, try to buy in season and stick to the perimeter of the grocery store as much as possible. Processed foods are expensive!

Regardless of what your diet is, this is the secret to eating on a budget.

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