There are lots of reasons to choose a vegan diet: it’s more kind to animals, it’s healing, it’s better for our planet, and– perhaps more importantly for those on the fence of flexitarianism– it can be much cheaper than an omnivorous diet.
This simple graphic breaks down some typical meals for meat-eaters, pescatarian, vegetarians, and vegans, and shows how a vegan diet and meal plan can be less expensive than a meat-based diet.
Omnivore Diets Are More Expensive than Plant-Based Diets
Lots of evidence shows that animal-based foods are higher in cost than plant-based foods. “Not only was the meatless diet cheaper than eating meat, but it provided more of the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are generally considered to be integral to a healthy diet,” explains Willy Blackmore of TakePart.
A 2015 study from the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition suggests that a plant-based diet could lead to savings of nearly $750 a year for an average cost of a 2,000-calorie diet following the federal MyPlate nutrition guidelines. It’s important to note that MyPlate and other US Department of Health food guidelines (remember the food pyramid?) are creating these loose guidelines for your health, but because they are at the mercy of the meat and sugar lobby and industry.
And, more good news for plant-based diets: even when some of this earlier cited research came out, the cost of animal foods was rising. The COVID pandemic has continued to spell disaster for the meat industry as prices continue to rise (insert sad trombone). Of course, with supply chains and essential services behind hard hit across the planet, lots of food and commodities will be in flux, but it’s the meat and dairy industries that seem to be hurting the most, which means that more than ever, we can continue to push back on the narrative that being vegan is elitist and expensive.
Why is a Vegan Diet Less Expensive?
There are so many reasons why a vegan diet is cheaper. The staple foods of a plant-based diet include beans, grains, fruits and vegetables, all of which can be found cheaply. Beans and lentils are some of the cheapest foods in the world and give you a lot of “bang for your buck” in terms of cost per calorie. Whole grains, like oats, quinoa, rice, polenta, and wheat, offer a range of nutritional benefits, and an abundance of cheap calories, especially when purchased in bulk.
The No-Meat Athlete has a bunch of great suggestions for eating vegan on the cheap too, including building meals around a “grain, a green, a bean;” avoiding tofu because of the high cost; shopping in the frozen food section; and avoiding nuts, since they tend to be very expensive.
Yet here is the important caveat: a vegan diet can become more expensive depending on your habits. Eating fresh, whole foods is pretty cheap, as you can see the paragraphs above. However, when you add things to your diet, like the best organic coconut milk ice cream (guilty) and meat analogs (like fake chicken, Beyond Burgers, and vegan cheese), these can drain your veggie budget pretty quickly. Focusing on fresh produce, bulk grains and beans, and pantry staples will keep your belly full and your food budget under control. I am a HUGE fan of these decadent vegan items, and I try to only buy them when on sale, or in bulk (now that Costco has Beyond Burgers, Gardein products and such it’s become a lot easier!) — this helps save money for my budget and get me the vegan delights I crave.
How to Make Cheap Vegan Meals
Below I’ve shared a list of 20 of my favorite budget-friendly meals for those looking to improve their vegan diet and their cooking repertoire.
As you can probably guess, these are based on beans, grains, and veggies to keep them super affordable; some have some specialty ingredients like tamarind, tahini, or tempeh, but those are still relatively affordable (and are great items to have on hand, anyway).
- Millet Fried ‘Rice’: an easy meal using leftover grains (can also be made with quinoa)
- Quick Veggie Tacos: One of my favorite meals to make on weeknights: avocados are optional, but awesome.
- Coconut Curry Rice: A great option that full of flavor; serve with lentils, baked tofu, or just with roasted veggies.
- Easy Orzo Pasta Salad: Orzo is a pasta, and makes for a quick salad
- Southwest Baked Beans: A recipe I got from my grandma, using canned beans and some pantry staples.
- Ethiopian Chickpea Stew: Super surprise ingredient that’s probably in your pantry right now!
- White Bean Stew: White beans are my favorite to work with, and this rich tomato soup is just lovely.
- Smoky Black Bean Stew: Another easy bean stew with corn, zucchini, and spices!
- Tamarind Lentils: Tamarind is a paste that lasts forever in your fridge, so grab the little container and make this recipe dozens of times!
- Tempeh Bolognese Pasta: Tempeh is a soy protein that can be pricey, and this recipe is a way to stretch it out into multiple meals by using regular pasta sauce and some veggies.
- Broccoli Couscous Salad: Couscous is a pasta-based ‘grain’ and this easy-peasy salad requires you only to boil water, so it’s cheap and fast.
- Broccoli Slaw: Make the most of your broccoli (yes, that means you’re eating the stems) with this vibrant slaw.
- Toasted Quinoa & Carrot Salad: Toast the quinoa ahead of time for color and flavor!
- Spinach Panzanella: Use day old bread to make this salad special
- Creamy Carrot Soup: Carrots are some of the cheapest veggies you can eat- make them shine with this sweet soup.
- Greek Lemon Rice Soup: A few pantry staples mixed with brown rice make this awesome comfort food recipe come to life.
- Creamy Split Pea Soup: Peas give you some of the best ‘bang for your buck’ as they are super high in protein and fiber, and very filling.
- Barley Tomato Soup: Wholesome, nourishing barley adds a toothsome, creamy texture to this tomato broth.
- Creamy Tomato Soup: The secret ‘creamy’ ingredient is cheapo potatoes!
- Black Pepper Tofu with Vegetables: One of my favorite ways to eat tofu, and this recipe pairs it with a lot of veggies to stretch it further. You likely have the sauce ingredients in your pantry right now!