How To Make Plant-Based Eating Easy & Affordable
Eating plants doesn’t have to be costly, confusing or time-consuming. Nutrition coach Stephanie Wynn discusses how to eat well with ease.
If you have recently decided to shift towards a Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) lifestyle, you have made one of the best decisions ever – for your health, the planet, and the animals. Recent research by Food Frontier shows that one in three New Zealanders and Australians are reducing or eliminating meat, so you are not alone!
This eating pattern can be seriously cheap and easy once you get into the swing of things. Consumer magazine have calculated that a plant-heavy shopping basket is $8 per week cheaper than a standard Kiwi shop, and we know that fully plant-based can be even more affordable.
But let’s get real, if you have always eaten a lot of fast food or pre-cooked and packaged meals, the reality is that in the beginning you may need to put in more effort than you are used to.
Don’t panic, it doesn’t mean you have to slave over a hot stove or chopping board for hours every day and neither does it need to cost a fortune. The suggestions below will help you transition to a healthy way of eating that is simple and cost-effective, using practical strategies anyone can adopt.
Food you buy and prepare yourself can be very tasty, super nourishing and take you to a level of health you may not have previously experienced. When you feel well and full of energy, everything is easier and this will provide more motivation to continue to feed yourself well.
Bag a bargain: Study your supermarkets (and other local food providers)
If you are not already familiar with what’s on offer in each of the places you shop, now is the time to check them out. Once you have done the research, there will be entire sections of the supermarket you can ignore! The time and effort put in now means less time spent shopping later. Make an ingredient list for your recipes before you head out and stick to it. Also, remember the golden rule to never shop on an empty stomach, you’ll overbuy!
Not everyone has the time or the desire to shop in multiple places. If that’s you, then choose a shop that has the freshest produce and get to know what is a good price for the items you regularly buy.
I have guidelines around prices and know how much I’m willing to spend. An average of $3/kg for fruit is an excellent price, especially for apples, pears, bananas and kiwifruit. I buy pineapples when I see them under $3. Even though gold or red kiwi fruit are yummy there is generally a $4/kg price difference between them and green kiwi fruit that I’m not willing to pay.
I ditch the $3/kg fruit rule when it comes to frozen blueberries because they last well in the freezer (and berries are particularly high in antioxidants) and I eat a few in my porridge and smoothie most days. You can find blueberries for $10/kg and I buy other frozen fruits from time to time if they are on special.
Potatoes at $3/kg and under and kumara (or sweet potato) at under $5/kg are a reasonable price. Cauliflower and broccoli should be maximum $3.50 and $2 respectively and carrots around $2/kg. Red and white cabbages are great buys and bulk up both cooked and salads dishes; pay around $3 for either.
If you have not yet discovered the Odd Bunch brand in the produce aisle, check them out, the prices are very competitive and the produce is really fresh. Do check out your local fruit and veg shops too, they may have a larger range of options but bemindful that they are not always cheaper or fresher.
A can of beans for $1 is great and the same goes for items like chopped tomatoes. These are my staples in canned goods but there are lots of other great buys to be had. Taste wise, I prefer my fruit fresh or frozen but tinned peaches and apricots are delicious, just look for them in fruit juice and not syrup.
Canned goods have a great shelf life and are just as healthy if they don’t have added ingredients like salt, oil or sugar. Check expiry dates and rotate them in your larder to use the oldest first. Some cans are lined with plastic that contains a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) which may be detrimental to health so aim to buy cans that are BPA-free.
I recommend shopping at Binn Inn or a refillery if you have one close by. I’ve seen a massive improvement in most of the Binn Inns in the last couple of years, some even have little cafés in them and others feature an organic fresh produce range. This is where you get flours, rice, cereals, oats, grains, dry beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and so much more. Watch out on pricing as prices are marked per 100g.
I buy really small amounts of nuts, seeds and dried fruits because it helps me not overeat them, plus nuts can be expensive and are a luxury item in my household . Ground flaxseed is a staple for omega-3 fatty acids. Where possible, grind the seeds yourself and store in the freezer as ground seeds can deteriorate quickly. Chia seeds are also a great alternative to flaxseed.
You can buy small amounts of items you want to try, such as different varieties of lentils, peas and grains, instead of a large pack that could go to waste. Supermarkets also have bulk bins but nowhere near as much choice – and they are not as competitively priced. If, like me, you are trying hard to reduce plastic, shopping at a refillery is a way to avoid buying food in packaging.
Aim for organic
I prefer organic food for health and environmental reasons but sadly these options are often significantly more expensive. When eating organic I’ll pay around the same price as in the supermarket or up to 50% more.
For spray free and organic produce, your best place is a local Farmers Market – although you have to go at the time when it’s on, rather than at your own convenience. Vendors who are popular sell out early, so arrive within the first hour to avoid disappointment. I advise a walk round first to see what’s there before you buy. This way you don’t end up paying more than you need to and it definitely helps curb impulse buying. I love Farmers markets as I get to chat to the people who grew my food, and show them appreciation for their effort.
Keep some coins handy to buy from stalls on the roadside and outside homes, these are abundant in many rural areas but can also be found in cities. I have found some of the cheapest and tastiest produce this way!
Check out the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen for foods to aim to buy organic.
Load up your larder
When you see good cans of tomatoes for under $1 per can, buy a few even if you don’t need them for that week. The same goes with legumes and other goods you like to eat regularly. I bulk buy dry lentils from Binn Inn as they last for ages. If I want to cook beans from scratch, I’ll boil 0.5-1kg at a time and freeze in smaller quantities ready to use in a recipe.
Invest in some good storage containers and keep different flours, grains and other dry goods on hand. I use masking tape and a pen to label so you can find what you need quickly.
Stay well away from packaged pre-made meals like burger mixes or granola as they are scarily expensive (and they aren’t whole foods!). Oats are cheap and there are plenty of recipes out there for homemade granola if you want it, the same goes for burger recipes. You can also make luxury goods like coconut yoghurt easily with a ‘starter’ (this can be a cup of pre made coconut yoghurt) and a thermos flask.
If you love bread then invest in a bread maker – op shops or Trademe are great places to source them. You can’t beat waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread that you know is a whole food and good for you.
Fill up your freezer
There are some staple frozen foods that I recommend keeping on hand. I always have garden peas, sweet corn and edamame beans in my freezer, all cost around $3 a pack.
Sometimes frozen is better than fresh, as produce is harvested and frozen very quickly. If you have a food processor, freeze sliced bananas that are ripe in preparation for making nice-cream, an easy way to impress guests! Blueberries and other frozen fruit also have a place in my freezer, alongside a range of batch-cooked meals such as curries and stir-frys.
Making several meals at once is one of the quickest ways to save time – I have no idea why I didn’t cotton on to it earlier! Firstly, search for websites online like The Better Base that have recipes that you can make in bulk and are good to freeze. Try and find meals you would like to batch cook every week and create a shopping list to repeat time and again.
This is where good planning comes in, as there’s nothing is more frustrating as putting a couple of hours aside for cooking and realising you have to go back to the shops! Along with the prepared meals, I usually have a large container of brown rice (or other whole grain) that can be heated up to go with a dish or made into a pudding. This saves so much time and keeps healthy eating on track. Salads kept in a glass jar will also last several days.
My favorites right now are cauliflower and chickpea curry and chilli con veggie. The curry works out at about $3.75 a serve before adding rice or $2.50 a serve if you grow your own greens. The chilli con veggie is approximately $2 a serve before rice.
Both of these meals are very easy to make and store well in the fridge or freezer. I generally freeze portion sizes to feed two. For most of these dishes I find steaming them to reheat (after defrosting) works well. The options for batch cooking are endless, and a couple of hours preparation will free up many more hours in the days ahead.
Grow those greens!
If you are lucky enough to have some soil and sun then seriously consider growing your own greens all year round. Kale, chard, silver beet and others are some of the best foods on the planet and support the body in so many ways. Once you have mastered the greens, why not grow some herbs too?
Coriander, basil, parsley and other herbs can make a huge difference in the flavour profile of most lunches and dinners, as well as provide garnishing for a professional look. There is nothing as rewarding as cooking with produce from your own back garden. You’ll save a substantial amount on your shopping bill, add nutrients and flavour to your meals and top up your vitamin D at the same time.
Keeping produce fresh
You want to make what you buy stay fresh for as long as possible. When I buy celery I cut and wash it and pop it in a container. It seems to last really well this way and is always on hand for dipping into some hummus or peanut butter. Leafy greens really like to be stored in water out of the fridge. As soon as you see the water going cloudy it needs to be changed.
Greens are great for our health but are usually more expensive than other vegetables, so making them last until you want to use them means you get maximum nutrition and no waste. I refrigerate fruits and veg (apart from bananas) including potatoes and onions if there is room.
I have a bowl on the counter with fruit and tomatoes in to use and I replenish from the fridge as I use. Fruit and tomatoes are so much tastier and nutritious at room temperature. I also keep my fridge temperature on the mid setting to avoid any ‘burning’ of produce. Keep all the more delicate produce in the salad drawer and line with paper towels to absorb moisture. Store fruits, potatoes, kumera, onions etc on the next shelf up. It’s best to buy only what you need and even better to have it all stay fresh for as long as possible.
A word about tools
Your kitchen tools can make a big difference to how quickly you can whip up tasty plant-based dish. Sharp knives, a decent chopping board, big pans, a blender and food processor are a great starting point. Op shops and online trading websites are great resources for these. My medium size food processor was $20 and my 9 piece Nutribullet was $80.
Good things take time
The transition to eating plant-based can be a huge learning curve, so allow yourself time to get into the rhythm. The Plantrician Project have pulled together further resources on eating plant-based on a budget. Over time you’ll learn to research, plan ahead, shop smart, batch cook, avoid expensive pre packaged foods, know good produce prices. Take things one step at a time. Have some good basic equipment and think about growing your own greens.
Every ounce of effort you put in now to learn how to shop and prepare whole food plant-based meals will pay huge dividends for your wellbeing and vitality. And it will eventually become easy, give it a shot and see for yourself. Here’s to great health!