Plant-Based on a Budget: Strategies for Affordable Cooking and Eating

The following is an excerpt from A Plant-Based Life: Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body.

Many people mistakenly believe that plant-based eating is more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. What can get expensive quickly is buying lots of “faux” meats and cheeses (real meat and cheese is already costly), packaged and prepared food, and takeout. A diet composed of simple, wholesome ingredients can actually cost less than one that includes meat. Here are some strategies you can use to keep costs low:

  1. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program.
  2. Buy foods from the bulk section of a store.
  3. Place wholesale orders together with other people.
  4. Prioritize whole, plant-based food over organic.
  5. Shop at big box stores for staples (their inventory is expanding).
  6. Start a garden or container garden; you can get free seeds from your local Cooperative Extension.

Given all the sources of affordable plant-based foods, it really is possible not to spend more. This table compares the cost of two plant-based dinners using groceries purchased at Walmart in Pennsylvania in 2015 to the epitome of cheap food—McDonald’s—for a family of four. These meals assume you have a few spices and vinegars at home in the kitchen, but the cost of these is factored into the comparison.

Dinner for Four, Four Different Ways

food costs table

*Additional research by Kathy Pollard.

Excerpt from A Plant-Based Life: Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body by Micaela Cook Karlsen. © 2016 Micaela Cook Karlsen

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about the author

Micaela Karlsen, MSPH

Micaela Karlsen is a PhD candidate in Nutritional Epidemiology at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Micaela received her master’s degree in human nutrition and public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and has a BA in psychology from Cornell University. She is the author of A Plant-Based Life and is a contributor to the NYT bestseller Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health. She formerly served as executive director of the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. Micaela founded the site Learn more about her at

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