With record inflation, it’s no secret that everyone is paying more for things across the board. However, your grocery budget has taken one of the hardest hits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the last 12 months, the price of meats, poultry, fish and eggs have jumped nearly 14%. Cereal and bakery products and fruits and vegetables are all up about 9%.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the USDA predicts that grocery store prices will increase between 5% and 6% this year.
Meat has long been one of the most expensive purchases on grocery bills. But with a pound of ground chuck going for roughly the same price as a gallon of gas these days, many Americans can be finding themselves in a bit of a pickle, especially since the average American ate roughly 220 pounds of meat in 2018 — a new record.
In the past, you may have been willing to shell out the dough in order to include meat in your diet, but if you now find yourself thinking twice while at the meat counter, you’re not alone. In fact, a shift towards vegetarianism is common during periods of recession, and many tend to make healthier lifestyle choices overall. It’s become such a common phenomenon that a term has been coined for it: recession vegetarianism.
During past recessions, those who transitioned to a mostly vegetarian diet tended to resume normal meat consumption when the economy made a comeback. However, experts are predicting that today’s recession vegetarians may stick with it even after the economy stabilizes.
In the past, a large deterrent for plant-based or vegetarian diets was the misconception that they were too expensive for the average American. But thanks to technology and innovation in the plant-based sector in recent years, these products have become more widely available and affordable as demand for them increases at the same time.
In 2020, plant-based food sales jumped 27%, topping $7 billion in sales, according to the Plant Based Foods Association. In 2021, sales grew another 6.2%.
Just a few months ago we published a post detailing the findings from a study that showed a plant-based diet can actually add years to your life — no matter when you start it up. So, there’s really no better time to opt for a more plant-based diet.
So we asked a few nutritionists to provide some insight on how to stay on budget with a plant-based diet, what to keep in mind when choosing plant-based proteins, and lastly, their favorite recipes that won’t have you asking “Where’s the beef?”
“Many of us know tips and tricks to save money at the grocery store, but now in 2022 we need to put these tips into real action,” says Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian nutritionist on the staff at Texas Health Arlington. “With planning, knowledge and a little extra effort, you can eat healthy, filling meals while staying within budget.”
In the United States, roughly 30 to 40% of food gets tossed out. With the average household spending nearly $5,000 annually on groceries, that means that about $2,000 is going right out with it. Planning out what you need before you head to the grocery store can help not only reduce food waste, but make sure you’re only spending money on things you need.
Taylor suggests setting aside some time before you do your usual weekly (or however often you shop) grocery run to plan what meals and snacks you and your family will be eating. This can help you identify what ingredients you need versus what you already have on hand.
Make sure to also do a check of your fridge or pantry for any ingredients you already have that you can use in the upcoming week. Creating meals from what you have, or not accidentally buying double, can be an easy way to lower your grocery bill. It can also be helpful to build out a series of meals that share common ingredients, so you’re not wasting anything and can possibly benefit from any buy-one-get-one deals.
Once you jot down your grocery list based on what you’ll be making throughout the week, don’t deviate. Stick the most important (and nutritious) items towards the top of your list so you’ll grab them first, such as Fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. Once you’ve secured the “must-haves,” you can move on to the “nice-to-haves” on your list.
Building Your Meal Around Plants
Eating plant-based does not mean eating only plants; it’s about prioritizing plants first and animal proteins second. Think of meat as more of a condiment of sorts instead of the main act.
For example, instead of having a big pork chop for dinner with a side salad, make a big salad with mixed greens, one cup of protein-rich chickpeas (seasoned however you prefer), and two ounces of thinly sliced pork tenderloin on top. You’ll hit the 30 grams of protein you need to build muscle while still enjoying the flavors of the pork.
“Plant proteins are a great way to still get protein and fiber in your diet without added fat. Do some research on plants that are high in protein, and you’ll be shocked to see some rival how much protein is provided in animal sources,” Taylor adds.
Some high protein plant-based sources include:
- Black beans
Speaking of plants, Taylor notes that frozen or canned veggies are just as nutritious as fresh because they’re often picked within the peak of their growing season. Buy fresh if it’s in season, a good price and you plan to use it right away, but canned and frozen veggies are often cheaper options that are “always in season” and ready to go when you are.
To make sure you’re building healthy meals, think of your meal by what’s going on the plate. Organize each plate by including a protein (plant or lean animal), carbohydrate (starchy or non-starchy will depend on your unique health needs), and plenty of veggies. It can help to mentally divide out your plate using the Plate Method: half the plate is dedicated to vegetables, while the other half gets split between a lean protein source and a carb.
Don’t Be Afraid of Generic or Coupons
Brand loyalty is a driving force for many big retailers but most stores offer generic, in-house brands of many food items. While you may think they’re lower quality, all food manufacturers have to follow standards to provide safe food. The generic brands may be the same quality as other national brands, without the name brand price tag.
While the days of physically clipping coupons are long gone, coupons still exist in digital form or through grocery store rewards programs. With your grocery list already filled out, you can easily search for coupons online ahead of time. Once more, if you can’t find a coupon for that can of corn on your list, but you find one for a can of peas your family still loves, consider making the swap.
The Good Stuff
OK, onto the good stuff. Here are some simple plant-based recipes Taylor and Jacks enjoy themselves, and the greatest part is they can be modified to fit what you have on hand (or what’s on sale.) Pairing staples with fresh fruits and vegetables will make a healthy, great-tasting meal.
Chili-topped Baked Potatoes
- 2 15 oz. cans black beans (can sub chili beans or pinto beans)
- 2 14 oz canned diced tomatoes or Ro-Tel
- 2 oz. canned green chiles – omit if using Ro-Tel, and sub a few slices of pickled jalapeños if you like it spicy
- 2 cups frozen corn kernels
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon paprika
Combine all ingredients, bring to boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, or even rice.
Chipotle Black Bean Tacos
- 2 Tablespoons canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 15 oz. black beans (or pinto beans)
- 3 Tablespoons minced cilantro (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
Combine all ingredients except lime juice and cilantro and bring to a boil. Cook until beans are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Mash roughly, and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Stuff corn or flour tortillas with filling and garnish with taco toppings. The filling is also great as a dip with chips or raw veggies. If used as a dip, you may want to mash it a bit more!