Cheap or Expensive? The REAL Truth About Plant-Based Diets

Super expensive or really economical?

What’s the plain truth behind the cost of plant-based diets?

Let’s dig in and find out…

A Recipe Cost Comparison:

Did you know Dr. John McDougall has shown you can eat a starch-rich, plant-based, whole food diet for about $3 per day? Not per meal. Per DAY. (An updated estimate shows that amount is still under $4 per day). In comparison to that, animal foods look really, really expensive, calorie-for-calorie. Animal-centered meals (even home cooked ones!) can easily run you $10 or more a day.

To illustrate, let’s look at two super basic versions of an easy-to-make dish that serves 8 people: split pea soup.

Version 1: Whole-Food, Plant-Based Split Pea Soup (by Heather McDougall)

Version 2: Animal-Based Ham and Split Pea Soup (by Emeril Lagasse)

If you make your own soup, not only is it healthier, it tastes better and it’s nearly a third of the cost of the homemade or canned soup, both with meat. (Not to mention that the canned soup is packed with added sugar, salt, oil, and sometimes food stabilizers and coloring).

Quick Tips to Affordable Plant-Based Eating:

Here are some tips that can go a long way to making plant-based eating super affordable for you:

Use dry (not canned) beansM2-3

When it comes to beans, kick the cans. Canned beans are a LOT more expensive than dry. And even if they’re non-GMO and organic, they’re still processed. Also, you can cook enough beans for a whole week in just one day.

Keep it super simple

As they say over at No Meat Athlete, “the king of low-cost, healthy meals is ‘a grain, a green, and a bean’.” It’s a basic and truly delicious formula: cook up the grain, add some greens and let them wilt and then add leftover cooked beans. This combination is tasty, packed with nutrition and SO inexpensive.


Make meal plans yourself or buy them, but use them. A meal plan helps you plan not just your cooking, but your shopping. Meal plans make shopping super simple and saves tons of money. Scour the papers for coupons and sales to help you plan your week. Having a plan for everything you buy and you will reduce food wastage and stretch your shopping dollar.

Make your own vegetable brothM2-4

It’s ridiculously easy and here’s a totally yummy recipe. (Tip: Toss in your scraps from soups and salads, too. The more veggies the merrier!) You can freeze it and use it for a quick veggie soup. Vegetable stock also makes a great water substitute for deliciously rich-tasting rice and quinoa.

Think bulk

Staples like rice, beans, oats, nuts, seeds, lentils, quinoa, etc. can be stored a long, long time. So buy in bulk, buy on sale and buy LOTS of staples whenever your budget allows.

Shop online

Sites like Vine Market offer great deals on bulk foods and free shipping to your door.

Avoid faux

Imitation meats and cheeses are expensive, processed and don’t give you much nutritional bang for the buck. If you just have to have that bean burger, make your own from scratch for a fraction of the cost.

Join a local farmM2-5

Community supported agriculture operations usually deliver a box a week of whatever’s in season for a LOT less than what you’d pay at a grocery store. Plus, it’s naturally ripened and fresh-picked.

Stick to whole food

It costs a ton of money to manufacture, package, distribute, transport and market processed food. And who pays for all that? You! Why pay for a marketing campaign for organic veggie soup when you can make your own?

Invest in a membership

Wholesale warehouse memberships are cheap and can pay for themselves in just one visit. Look for store brand organic and non-GMO brands – they sometimes cost less than half of what the brand names cost.

Grow your ownM2-6

If you don’t have space for a farming operation or even a small garden, you can save a bunch of money by growing an indoor herb and/or vegetable garden. Tomatoes grow especially well in containers indoors because they’re spared the onslaught of destructive insects. Grow fresh herbs and dry what you can’t use immediately in a sunny window. Not only will you save money on seasonings, it makes the house smell delicious!

Shop different places

It is important to remember that you don’t always have to shop at the whole food stores. You can find great prices on what you need in your neighborhood supermarket, the farmer’s market, online and, yes, even discount warehouse stores.

(An Important P.S.How eating healthy saves you even MORE money)
A whole food, plant-based diet has other cost savings—particularly when it comes to your health. Did you know:

  • The potential effect of a low-fat, plant-based diet on annual medication costs for type 2 diabetes patients range from $131.99 to $3,440.16, if diet changes allow the elimination of a single generic diabetes medication (the first) or multiple drugs, including a brand diabetes medication (the latter).
  • Vegetarians have a 32 percent lower risk of being hospitalized for heart disease because of lower body mass indices, lower LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure than people who eat animal-centered diets.
  • The average cost of a one-night hospital stay in 2014 was $4,293. Far more than anything “extra” you might spend on a whole year’s worth of whole, plant-based food!

It might take some footwork, some advance preparation, some creative shopping and maybe even a little digging in the dirt, but when you consider the overwhelming cost of eating animal products on your wallet and your health, you’ll see how truly inexpensive a whole food, plant-based diet really is!