What is a Plant-based Diet

Thanks to Netflix documentaries, like What the Health (2017), Cowspiracy (2014), and Forks Over Knives (2011), more and more people are joining the world-wide movement to eat more plants for the sake of the environment and their own health.

Plant-based eating means you’re choosing to eat as many healthy, whole foods and plant-based meals as possible. It means your meals focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. You put those plant-based foods in the spotlight, and let everything else take a backseat. 

Depending on the type of plant-based diet you’re following, you may allow some animal foods, like meat, cheese, and honey, or you may avoid those foods altogether. 

When it comes to plant-based eating, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Vegans follow rigid rules, but flexitarians leave more wiggle room in their diet. They eat mostly plants but allow for occasion servings of animal products. Taking small steps toward eating more plants will pay dividends in your health (and the health of the environment).

How to Transition to a Plant-based Diet

Getting started on a plant-based diet is way easier than you might expect. First, take a look at what you typically eat during the week. It’s likely you already cook some plant-focused foods or ones that can easily become plant-based. 

Here are some budget-friendly, plant-based meals to start with. They’re simple and familiar.

  • Oatmeal
  • Pancakes/waffles
  • Beans and brown rice
  • Tacos (Swap beef for Loma Linda’s taco filling or nix the meat altogether.)
  • Veggie Stir-fry (Add some tofu instead of chicken.)
  • Spaghetti/pasta (Skip the store-bought meatballs, and make your own with Neat’s Italian Mix.)
  • Peanut butter sandwich on whole whole bread
  • Salad with leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, and peppers

Once you’ve taken stock of what you like to eat, it’s time to do some meal planning for the week. Meal plans can help you stick to your whole food, plant based diet on a budget. You don’t have to buy expensive foods to eat healthy.

How to Shop for the Plant Based Diet on a Budget

Shopping for plant-based meals on a budget might take some planning, but it’s always worth it. Here are a few ways to get the most bang for your buck.

Shop at Lower-priced Grocers

Whenever my brother goes grocery shopping at Whole Foods, we always give him a hard time. “Wooooah…did you get a promotion? How do you afford those fancy foods?” 

I’m sure places like Whole Foods have deals and inexpensive items. But for the most part, places like Whole Foods and some small, boutique grocery stores are not the easiest places to save money. Foods on your shopping list are just a little more expensive there. They say it’s because the quality is better. But I’m not sure I can tell the difference.

Pro tip: if you see a frazzled mom hauling four or more kids through the aisles of a grocery store, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. Big families are always on the hunt for a deal. When in doubt, shop where big families shop. You’re guaranteed to find some money-saving treasures.

My family shops at Aldi for most of our groceries. We love it! It’s significantly cheaper than other grocery stores in our area. And their produce is fresh, delicious, and inexpensive. The store doesn’t have the selection that other stores offer, but it’s a great place to find the basics. 

I try to base our meals around what we can find at Aldi. Because otherwise, extra trips to other stores are going to add up. Before you know it, you’ve added an extra $100 worth of items that weren’t on the list to begin with. I hate when that happens. 

You can also get great deals at discounted stores like Grocery Outlet, Lidl, or Save-A-Lot. Sometimes it’s hit-or-miss, and you have to keep an eye on expiration dates. But they can be a great resource for sticking to your budget. 

Another HUGE money-saving tip is to download the FlashFood App [https://flashfood.app.link/h60KU3uRKhb]. Their mission is to decrease food waste in America. It works by showing you products at certain grocery stores in your area that are significantly discounted because they’re nearing their expiration date. The foods may expire in days, weeks, or even months. I bought some vegan cheese that wasn’t going to expire for another 5-6 months. It was delish, by the way!

Everything is at least 50% off its regular price. I’ve gotten big boxes of fresh fruits and veggies for $5, tubs of yogurt for less than $1, and multi-packs of vegan cheese for $3. 

Before going to the store, I check the ingredients posted on FlashFood. If I’m lucky, I can build my meal plans for the week solely around the foods I find. 

FlashFood also drops money into your account from time to time. I got a $10 credit around New Year’s and another $5 for the 4th of July. Free money? Uh, yes, please! 

If you want to help cut down on food waste and eat plant-based on a budget, this app is for you! Seriously, check it out! You can thank me later. 

Shop in Season

If healthy eating is your goal, purchase your produce in season. It’s fresher, and it did not have to travel as far to get to your plate. Choose recipes that focus on in-season ingredients when you do your meal planning. You can cut down on the cost of your groceries when you buy your food during the growing season. Your taste buds and your wallet with thank you. 

Shop in Bulk

Buying in bulk is always a great way to save money on frequently used ingredients. Not only can you get a cheaper price, but you can also cut down on food waste and packaging. 

Some of the best, bulk ingredients for a vegetarian or vegan diet include: beans, canned tomatoes, leafy greens, whole grains, and nut butter. Open the fridge or pantry and you can quickly whip up a healthy meal with those items. 

Shop Local

Let’s hear it for the farmers! Support your local farms and communities by buying your food from local markets and roadside stands. Local foods are often less expensive because less money is wasted on transportation costs. 

I live in Lancaster, PA, and during the summer months, there are tons of roadside stands that sell the most delicious fruits and veggies for a fraction of what you’ll see in the grocery store. And the flavors are infinitely better when you buy them directly from the farm. It really does make a big difference.

Plant-Based Diet Shopping And Food List

When you build your grocery list and meal plans, stock up on some of these healthy, whole foods:

– Vegetables: carrots, leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce), broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, asparagus, squash (butternut squash, spaghetti squash, summer squash)

– Fruits: oranges, apples, bananas, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, raisins

– Whole Grains: brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, popcorn, whole-wheat bread, pasta, and crackers

– Seeds & Nuts: almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, pecans, cashews, peanut butter

– Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, peas, pinto beans, green beans

– Dips: hummus, plant-based queso

– Dairy Alternatives: plant-based milk (oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, etc.), plant-based cheese

– Cooking Spices & Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic, Italian seasoning, taco seasoning

– Sweeteners: agave syrup, maple syrup, honey (unless you’re following a vegan diet)

– Pantry Staples: cooking spray, soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, nutritional yeast, vanilla extract, vinegar, sriracha 

– Beverages: plant-based milk, water (seltzer or filtered), Kaffree Roma (a plant-based, instant coffee)

– ProteinNeat Italian MixLoma Linda Taco Filling, beans, lentils

Plant-based Recipe Ideas

Check out these healthy recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when you’re eating a whole food, plant-based diet. 


Some of the easiest breakfasts include foods like: fruit, peanut butter toast, trail mix, and overnight oats. If you’re up for trying something new, check out these plant-based recipes:

  1. Neat French Toast
  2. Neat Vegan Pancakes
  3. Perfect Avocado Toast with Kaffree Roma Vinaigrette
  4. Fruit and Nut Energy Bar 

Lunch and Dinner 

There are tons of quick and easy dinner options for a plant-based diet on a budget. You can make a meal for super cheap, especially when you stock up on the staples like rice, beans, canned tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta, and spaghetti sauce. 

If you buy dried beans, you can save even more money. I’m often tempted to do that, but I always forget to hydrate the beans ahead of time. If you’re like me, just stick to canned beans. They’re still pretty cheap, and the convenience is worth the extra pennies.

Try some of these plant-based dinner options:

  1. Loma Linda Mexican Casserole
  2. Neat Southwest Salad with Lime Dressing
  3. Loma Linda Sloppy Joe Spaghetti Bake

If you enjoyed these plant-based recipes, you can find more delicious meals to cook for breakfast, lunch, and dinner here.

If you’re looking for additional cost-effective recipe resources, purchase Toni Okamoto’s book, Plant-Based on a Budget, or Ally Lazare’s book, The Budget-Friendly Vegan Cookbook

Happy eating!