Nothing makes me crazier than when people say, “I want to eat healthy but it’s too expensive”. So I asked my friend Sharon Palmer, author of the just released book, The Plant-Powered Diet, to write a guest post on just how budget friendly healthy eating is and to share her favorite tips to get you started.

by Sharon Palmer, RD, Author of The Plant-Powered Diet

“Healthy eating is expensive.” It’s a common misperception, shored up by visions of fast food dollar burger specials compared with fresh berries at $5 per tiny box.  But in reality, a plant-based diet, if done well, can be quite cost effective.  It was even proven by a recent USDA study, which found that healthy foods were less expensive than unhealthy foods.  The picture becomes crystal clear when you compare the price of animal foods with whole plant foods.  Just walk down the aisle of your supermarket and check out the price tags on high quality proteins, from meat and fish to beans and lentils—plant proteins are the clear winner.  Compare a pound of beans, lentils or dried peas (under $2/pound) with a pound of chicken breasts (at least $3/pound), lean beef (at least $5/pound), or wild fish (up to $20/pound!).  It makes sense that animal proteins are at a premium; after all, agricultural animals are fed plant foods, such as grains, in order to fatten up for slaughter.  A great deal of resources, such as water and fuel, are sucked up along the animals’ journey to your plate.  So, you could eat the plants directly from the soil, or indirectly from animals that eat them.  And that’s not all.  Whole grains, seasonal produce, and peanuts are also nutrient-rich plant foods at bargain basement prices.

Even if you don’t want to eat a 100% plant-based diet, you can save money on grocery bills—and medical bills—by eating more healthy, whole plant foods.  Here are my favorite tips for plant-based eating on a budget.

  1. Stock your pantry with a variety of beans, lentils, and dried peas.  At least once a week soak them in water overnight and then simmer them with onions, carrots, and herbs for a savory entrée.
  2. Steam whole grains such as barley, brown rice, and farro a few time a week as a nutritious, inexpensive side dish.
  3. Turn to steel cut oats for breakfast—a simple, low-cost meal of champions, without fancy labels and sports pros making a commission.
  4. Pile up on seasonal veggies.  Look for the stars of each season.  In the summer, you’ll find an abundance of tomatoes, berries, peaches, and summer squash.  In the fall and winter, focus on root vegetables like carrots and parsnips, apples and pears, and squashes.
  5. When it’s out of season, turn to preserved produce.  When fresh berries are out, buy frozen or dried; when tomatoes are out, turn to canned or sun-dried.
  6. Ditch the empty calories.  Why waste your precious food dollars—and calories—on junk foods?