I’ve really kept quiet about this within my circle of friends and family, mostly because I wasn’t sure I would stick with it, but almost two months ago, I switched to a vegan diet for health reasons. I’ll write more about that later, but I wanted to talk about what grocery shopping looks like for my family now, because when people find out that I’ve changed my diet, one of the common reactions I receive is, “Wow, I wish I could do that, but I just can’t afford all that produce!”
I get it. I used to say the exact same thing. I’ve whined for years about how it seems like it’s so expensive to eat healthy. Being gluten-free, I feel like we spent so much on food! But when I started really adding things up, I realized it wasn’t exactly the case. Since I’ve been so surprised by how much we have been saving on groceries eating a plant-based diet, I wanted to break down my grocery shopping to show that it is really more doable than you may think! Whether you are trying to transition to vegan or just want to add more fruits and veggies into your diet, or even if you think it can’t be done, maybe this will help you.
Just a little context: we are a family of five, and even though we all eat gluten-free, I am the only one in our family adhering to a completely vegan diet (of course, every now and then I deviate a little; I’m a work in progress!). I have stopped buying meat for the purpose of saving money and being healthier, but we still have some venison and fish in our freezer, so my husband and kids are eating that up. Also, my goal is to follow the low-fat, raw vegan diet (You can read more about this in The 80/10/10 Diet by Douglas N. Graham) eventually, but for now, I’m still eating some cooked meals. Third, we are really trying to tackle our student loan debt so we can be completely debt-free, so I have self-imposed a super strict budget. Our weekly grocery budget is $125.
My grocery list looks a little something like this:
- Dry black beans
- Dry brown rice or brown rice pasta
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Canned garbanzo beans (no salt added)
- Quaker gluten-free quick oats
- Uncooked quinoa
- Sunflower kernels
- Spring salad mix
- Bell peppers
- Whatever else is in season or on sale
- Bagged frozen fruit (or I will buy fresh if it’s cheaper and freeze it myself)
- Steam-in-bag frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot blend vegetables
- Steam-in-bag corn
- Unsweetened vanilla almond milk
- Eggs (for the Mr. and kids)
A few tips for buying produce on the cheap:
- Buy from Aldi. If you aren’t familiar with this store, Aldi is a grocer that keeps its operating costs down to keep food prices low. There are no fancy displays or marketing, minimal staff, lesser-known but quality brands, and you have to rent your own buggy (for a quarter that you get back when you return your cart) and bring your own bags. Ours is across town, but it’s worth it for the amount of money I save on produce, which is usually about 40-50%. Uncooked quinoa is half the price at Aldi than it is at Walmart. Even the eggs I purchased this morning were 25 cents for a dozen! Sure, they aren’t grass-fed or free-range, but for now, it’s what’s affordable for our family. Progress over perfection.
- Buy smaller quantities more often. I used to try to make only one grocery store trip per two-week pay period, but now I go every Friday and buy enough to last the week. It makes grocery store visits shorter (a plus when you have three kids), and I don’t have to worry about storing so much food in our tiny little rental house. It also keeps our food from going bad.
- Buy what’s in season and on sale! I have my staples I buy every trip—bananas, apples, grapes, potatoes, salad, etc.—but any other fruits, I stick to what’s in season or on special so it’s a good price.
- Prepare your own. So, I realized I could either buy a huge bag of baby carrots from Sam’s for $6, or I could buy a bunch of whole carrots for about $1.20, and then wash, peel, and cut them up myself. About the same amount of carrots, but definitely cheaper. And my oldest son loves to peel and wash carrots, so it’s minimally extra work for me. I also stock up on strawberries when Aldi has them for $1/pound, and I wash and freeze them myself, saving half the cost of the bagged, already frozen strawberries. Again, a little more work, but the savings add up.
- Make use of economical produce. Like, potatoes and bananas. These are super cheap and have tons of health benefits. Sometimes, I eat a monomeal of 4-5 bananas, which turns out to be about 40 cents for my meal. Or I cube Yukon gold potatoes and bake them on parchment paper, adding in some squash and zucchini, or tomatoes and bell peppers. They are filling, easy on the digestive system, and really make our other, pricier veggies go a long way.
- Eat fresh before frozen. We eat fresh fruit first, and then towards the end of the week I make smoothies with the frozen fruit and ripe bananas. Likewise, I save the frozen veggies for stir fry near the end of the week, when the fresh veggies have been eaten. This keeps the fresh stuff from going bad before you get around to eating it.
- Keep meals simple. I don’t make a ton of variety during the week. I pick only a handful of simple meals and make larger batches of cooked meals that will last us a few days. Then I add in simply prepared veggies and raw fruits. I may try one or two new recipes per month, but I don’t have time for complicated, so meals with as few ingredients as possible work best for us.
Today, I spent $73 on produce, and that will more than adequately feed our family of five for the week. As you can see, my pantry items are pretty economical. A bag of dried beans or rice is usually about $1 a pound and will feed our family for several meals. They are versatile and can be seasoned so many different ways.
A few meals you can make with these pantry items:
- Quinoa pilaf: quinoa and steamed veggies sautéed in a little water or avocado oil.
- Cuban black beans and rice.
- Taco bowls: Prepare black beans and brown rice (or white, if that’s your thing). Roast some corn, chop some tomatoes, bell peppers, and avocado, and make a taco bar.
- Vegetable soup with added quinoa and avocado.
- Baked oatmeal. I will be posting my favorite recipe for this soon!
- Hot oatmeal with fresh fruit and cinnamon.
- Homemade hummus for all the veggies.
The biggest secret to making a vegan diet affordable for us has been to STOP EATING PROCESSED. Even vegan or specialty gluten-free packaged foods are still processed, and they are expensive! We cannot stick within our grocery budget if we buy all of this produce PLUS our previous processed, boxed stuff. Even fats like avocados, nuts, and oils are expensive, so I keep those to a minimum (according to the LFRV diet). A bag of frozen chicken from Sam’s that would last my family a week costs $20; a carton of milk was almost $5, and a bag of shredded cheese was $8. Those three items cost about half of what I spent today that filled up my cart. Store-brand gluten-free waffles cost about $3 a box and would only be one meal for our family; a carton of gluten-free oats costs less than that and provides about 3 breakfasts for us. This was such an eye-opener for me! When pretty much all you’re buying is fruits and veggies and whole foods that you prepare yourself, the savings can be significant.
Another thing I noticed was that, since I used to have ZERO energy and could barely peel myself out of bed in the morning, my (well, our) coffee habit was costing us upwards of $50-60 PER MONTH! When you factor in the expensive K-cup pods, the ground coffee for days we used our French press or pour-over, the half-and-half for him and the expensive dairy-free almond milk creamer for me, and the fact that I was drinking about three cups a day just to function…yeah, even making my own coffee was expensive. But I have noticed that if I eat exclusively fruit for breakfast, either a platter or in a smoothie, it gives me the lasting energy I need without caffeine. And did I mention it saves us a bunch of money? Like, close to a week’s worth of produce for a family of five kind of savings.
Going vegan has been such a process for me, and I’m not one to be super comfortable with processes. I like instant change, checking things off my self-improvement list like I would my shopping list. But this has taken some time, and I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m figuring out ways to make it work while at the same time preparing meals for my growing kids and husband who isn’t vegan…yet.
Wow, so this was a really long post, but hopefully you found these tips helpful! I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, or I’d love to hear if you have any tips of your own for eating vegan on a budget!
Happy Friday, friends!