Getting your grocery budget in order is essential, but did you consider the dual impact of embracing plant-based eating and money-saving techniques? Enjoying fresh produce — and reducing or eliminating meat from your diet — doesn’t have to create added expense.
You don’t have to live on a diet of ramen noodles and over-processed, inexpensive junk to save cash. Instead, plan for a creative, plant-based diet that benefits your health, the environment and your wallet all at once. Here’s how you can save money with a plant-based meal plan.
1. Patronize your Local Farmers Market
If you haven’t made friends at your local farmers market yet, what’s holding you back? You’re robbing yourself of some of the richest flavors available. Plants start losing nutrients only three days after harvest, and with them goes some of the taste.
You’ll save money because local vendors don’t need to pay overhead costs to ship their wares over long distances. Additionally, many merchants offer bargains if you go at the end of the day. They’d rather part with their remaining tomatoes for a few pennies less than transport them back home. If you stock your fridge then, you can save a small fortune.
2. Take Inventory Before you Shop
How many times do you pick up Cheerios by force of habit, only to come home to discover you have two opened boxes going stale in the pantry? Please start making a shopping list before you go by taking an inventory of your kitchen.
If you find it too time-consuming to go through your pantry before heading out, invest in a small magnetic notepad on your fridge to keep a running list. Another option is to download an app. Some will sync across your family’s devices so everyone knows what you need.
3. Make Use of Frozen Foods
That said, if you are the kind to spend a ridiculous amount of money on midwinter strawberries only to forget about them until they rot, why not buy frozen instead? Frozen produce is frequently cheaper than fresh ingredients, perfect for plant-based eating in a pinch. Frozen berries can create healthy smoothies at a fraction of the cost, for example, and keeping frozen peas and carrots on hand lets you toss nutrition into any soup without planning ahead.
Categorize the veggies on your shopping list. If you know you plan on a salad tonight, buy fresh arugula. However, if you’re not sure when you’ll get around to making spinach enchiladas, hit the freezer aisle. Vegetables and fruits that freeze well can help you coordinate plant-based cooking without requiring frequent trips to pick up fresh produce.
4. Find Two Recipes for Each Ingredient
Don’t you love it when recipes call for things like half an onion? All too often, the other half goes to waste and ends up in the bin. That’s like throwing away your cash.
When you can’t afford to waste a penny, find two recipes for every ingredient you add to your shopping list. Otherwise, you risk getting sick of eating whatever marvelous dish it was that you quadrupled to use up the rest of that cabbage.
5. Get Into Container Gardening
If you don’t want to spend any money at the store, get into container gardening. You will need to make an initial investment in pots and plants, but you can keep an heirloom collection going for free with seeds from your crops once you begin.
Luckily, sweet peppers and tomatoes both grow well in containers and are a snap for even novices to master. Other vegetables that grow well in containers include lettuce, chard and radishes. Hello, free salads!
6. Order Vegetarian when Dining Out
If you look at nearly any restaurant menu, you’ll notice that the meat-based dishes ring in at considerably higher price points than their plant-based kin. Why not make Meatless Monday the day you treat yourself to a night on the town? Portabella mushroom sandwiches, guacamole rice bowls and other plant-based entrees pack lots of flavor without paying the sticker price for meat.
Be careful if you’re watching your health — don’t automatically assume a salad counts as a healthy meal. You’ll find that some “rabbit food” has more calories than a burger, but you’ll probably still save some money.
If your new year’s resolution is to tame your budget, your food bill is a wise place to start slashing. Now that you know how to save money with a plant-based meal plan, you can save cash and improve your health in no time.
Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated. She writes about gardening and green home improvement for homeowners and renters who want to embrace eco-friendly living.
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