Diabetes prevention. Hypertension control. Heart health. Weight loss. Fiber intake. There are many reasons why adopting a plant-based diet is good for your health, so why not make a good thing better? Better, in this case, means more affordable.
Save money and eat healthier (and cross off a few 2013 New Year's resolutions) with tips from the experts. Below is advice on following a plant-based diet on a budget from Julieanna Hever, a plant-based dietitian and author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition;" Dreena Burton, author of five plant-based cookbooks, including "Let Them Eat Vegan;" and Cindy Silver, a registered dietitian who has worked in the retail food industry for 17 years, largely for Lowes Foods.
Save money at the store:
Buy in bulk. Remember that, typically, more packaging means more expense. So while those little single servings of oatmeal are cute and convenient, do the math, and you'll see there's more bang (well, oats) for your buck if you go for the 18-ounce canister. (Check out this Eat + Run blog post to learn about making your own flavored, single-serving oatmeal packs and other convenience foods at home.) Head to the bulk food aisle for products with long shelf lives, such as beans, lentils and granola, and keep some bulk in your wallet.
Ask for a discount. If you're regularly buying a specific product in bulk, ask the store manager for a discount on that item, especially if it's a specialty ingredient like tahini. The manager may very well grace you with, say, a 10 percent discount on that product going forward. Even if she doesn't, you might as well ask, right? Asking for a discount is also fair game at the farmers market if you become a regular.
Stick to whole food sources. The more people needed to manufacture, package, distribute, transport and market your food, the more it will cost. (It's doubtful any of those people worked for free.) Avoid processed foods, and try loading up on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and seeds. Oh, and whole foods happen to be the more nutritious choice, too.
Be mindful of food labels. Organic! Vegan! Gluten-free! These buzzwords can look promising when they're plastered on a package of flavored kale chips. But take a look at the ingredient list, and you may find it's nearly as long and unreadable as that of the sugar cereal in the next aisle. Always be a food detective and check ingredient lists, even for a product with front-of-package labeling that screams how "natural" it is. You know what food ingredients don't need guesswork? A bundle of kale from the produce aisle. Make your own kale chips at home, and you'll know exactly what's in them.
Shop at wholesale warehouses. If it's an option, head to stores such as Costco and Sam's Club for foods with longer shelf lives, such as canned foods and seasonings.
Then head to a farmers market. Get some fresh air, support local vendors and potentially save. Often, the produce at these markets was picked the day before, which means they'll last longer in your kitchen and help reduce wasted food (and money). Pro tip: Head to the market toward the end of the day, and you may snag discounts as vendors pack up their remaining goods.
Continue saving money at home:
Plan, plan, plan. Before going to the store, take inventory of your pantry, fridge and freezer. Know which foods you already have, which foods you need and which foods are quickly going south. This inventory will ensure you're only spending money on foods you actually need and not doubling up on items you already have, which will then run the risk of going bad. Make a detailed shopping list of those foods as you plan your week's worth of meals.
Use fresh foods first. Loaded up on fresh peaches, plums, Swiss chard, squash, apples and zucchini at the store? Excellent! But beware that fresh foods – especially delicate produce like leafy greens – will be the first to spoil. So plan your meals accordingly: Prepare meals with fresh produce the first few days after shopping, and as they're used up, start turning to your canned and frozen foods.
Stock your pantry. Save money by keeping your cupboards full of canned plant-based foods like tomatoes and dried foods, such as those oats and lentils you bought in bulk. Not only are these options typically more affordable, but they have longer shelf lives than fresh foods. So when you run out of fresh produce or don't want to spend time cooking, you can look to the pantry, instead of ordering an expensive veggie pizza.
Cook in big batches. Kudos if you've largely avoided those pricey convenience foods, but for busy after-work scrambles and eating-over-the-keyboard lunches, you could probably still use some convenience. Try making foods in bulk when you have time so you can enjoy them when you're swamped. For example, make a double batch of Cindy Silver's lentil soup, and you can enjoy it Sunday, and then reheat Monday and change up the sides for a super-fast dinner. Make your own individual breakfast bars with all that granola you bought in bulk, and pack one for lunch each day of the week to save money at the vending machine. Make Dreena Burton's hummus, and store it in a few airtight containers, so you have a quick and easy snack or appetizer ready to serve.