Several years ago, I posted how much I LOVE Whole Foods Market Salad Bar (that blog post can be found here). I find Whole Foods Salad bar so appealing because of the vast array of vegan options and fresh ingredients, but this is not the case for all salad bars. I’ve been to some sad salad bars where the only vegan options are wilted lettuce and stale carrots. I still love going to Whole Foods salad/hot food bar over any other salad bar, but I also really love saving money (who doesn’t)? Thus, my twice daily Whole Foods habit became more of a bi-weekly treat.
When I decided that I needed to start a food budget, I had to figure out which foods I really enjoy eating and which foods often go to waste in my fridge. As a dietitian, I also knew which foods were the most nutrient-dense. Today I’m sharing a few tips to help you get started with planning, preparing, and creating delicious, affordable meals that will give you energy, and save you money. I’ve decided to make this a series because I have SO many tips to share.
1. Have a budget
Before you go food shopping, have a budget so that you can plan what you’ll be making and how much to spend. It can be a flexible budget (by $5-10) or you can keep it strict–but remember, the stricter your budget, the more planning you’ll have to do. Once you figure out how much you want to spend, think about where you want to go shopping. I’ve found that Trader Joe’s has the best prices for frozen food and some packaged vegetables. Other times, I’ve lucked out at Whole Foods Market (especially the 365 Brand products). Sometimes your best bet is to stick with independently-owned grocery stores or conventional stores that offer cheaper produce. If it’s spring/summer/fall and there are farmers markets near you, definitely check them out because local produce is usually much cheaper than produce that’s been packaged and shipped. Remember, do what is easiest and most cost-effective for you.
2. Plan on including colorful fruits and veggies
The focus of your grocery shopping list (and meal prep/plan) should be fruits and veggies. The more deeply-colored a vegetable (or fruit) is, the more nutrients it packs. Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, dark leafy greens (like kale, swiss chard, arugula), purple cabbage, berries, tomatoes, and squash are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and they’re so tasty! But, you’ll definitely need to do some planning before you make your shopping cart look like a rainbow, which leads me to tip #2.
3. Find some inspiration
Instead of packing your shopping cart with a bunch of colorful produce that you don’t know what to do with, have a plan. Before I go food shopping I pick 2 different colorful veggies that I haven’t been eating and find recipes that are appealing to me using Pinterest or Instagram. For example, on Pinterest, I’ll search “vegan beet recipes”. You can also use blogs to find delicious recipes (I’ve posted a ton of recipes over the years so use the “search” button/tab on this blog). I also love using delicious meals that I’ve had at restaurants for inspiration. Some of my favorite meals to recreate at home are vegan pizza (using whole wheat dough, cauliflower crust, or tortillas as the base), vegan sushi, and any kind of mexican food (mmm just thinking about bean burritos).
4. Keep it simple when it comes to protein
I used to LOVE trying all new kinds of mock-meat and vegan protein sources like “chik’n”, soy nuggets, marinated tofu, etc. But these items can be costly, and they don’t necessarily taste good in a variety of meals. I like to create different flavors with my meal prep (for instance, italian seasoned tofu at one meal, mexican-flavored beans and rice for the next), so opting for pre-seasoned, expensive vegan “meats” stopped making as much sense to me. Instead, now I buy plain tofu and canned beans which saves a ton of money and allows me to use these items in a variety of meals throughout the week. Keeping it simple when it comes to protein also limits the amount of added salt, sugar, and preservatives in the food you’re eating.
5. Pick 1-2 grains to work with for the week
If you’re doing a weekly food prep/plan, choose 1 or two whole grain products to include in you meal prep. What I love about grains is how diverse they are and how they can take the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. Typically, I’ll buy 1 bread product (like sprouted grain bread or tortillas) and 1 pasta-type product (lately it’s been Trader Joe’s brown-rice lentil spaghetti).
In my next post, I’ll share more tips about planning your meals and making them super flavorful and creative. Check back soon, and be sure to follow my instagram account (your.vegan.nutritionist) for more tips on being the healthiest vegan you can be!