A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

Our Approach To Plant-Based Food Budgeting and Meal Planning

Some of you savvy folks have caught on to the fact that we're a plant-based family, meaning that we mostly* avoid eating meat, fish, and dairy products. We adopted this lifestyle last year when we realized that reducing the consumption of animal products is one of the most effective ways in which individuals can help cut greenhouse gas emissions. Fortysomething and I both have backgrounds in Earth Science. We've seen the reams of data indicating that atmospheric temperatures are rising and that human activity is the main culprit. Eliminating most animal products from our diet felt right for us, especially when we also considered the health benefits.

Quinoa salad: Always a winner
That said, I want to offer the disclaimer that I'm not here to convince you to go vegan. There are other blogs for that. If you're interested in giving up meat, you'll try it; let me know if you want tips or recipes. If you're not interested, a lecture from an Internet stranger isn't going to do anything other than piss you off. Sure, I'll encourage you to consume less meat and point you to this short TED talk on the benefits of being a "weekday vegetarian," but... what can I say? Changing the way you eat works only if you're really sold on making that change.

Vegan deep-dish pizza
The real purpose of this post is to share our approach to budgeting and meal planning for our plant-based diet, per a reader request. On a weekly basis, here's what that looks like:

(1) Like most of you, we set a weekly food budget. For the last couple of months, we've allocated $150/week for groceries. I know most other personal finance bloggers spend less than that, but for us, $150 is what keeps everyone fed and happy throughout the week, including The Kiddo, who never really stops eating. Our food budget allows for some treats, too, like popsicles and wine. I'll argue that treats are important: they prevent impulsive visits to Starbucks or the local brewery.

(2) I make a weekly meal plan. That plan is fairly loose for breakfast and lunch. We typically have cereal, toast, and/or fruit in the morning, depending on what each person is in the mood to eat. For lunch, Fortysomething and I enjoy leftovers from the previous night's dinner, and the Kiddo has a sandwich, apple, and crackers.

Weekend breakfast, featuring the most important food group: COFFEE
Dinners vary from week to week based on what I'm interested in making, whether I've found any new recipes to try, and how much time I'm going to have when I get home from work. I aim to come up with meals that feature real food, are fast and easy to prepare, make good leftovers, and don't require overly expensive ingredients. Risotto that requires truffle oil? Not happening.

(3) I create a detailed grocery list featuring plenty of produce. As much as possible, I focus on fresh ingredients rather than packaged foods. Obviously, fresh foods are healthier than their processed, boxed, frozen counterparts, but generally, they're also less pricey. Frozen meals, frozen pizzas, and vegan treats tend to be painfully expensive. As tasty as they are, it's usually not worth it, especially given how minuscule these products tend to be. So while we do buy some processed foods, such as vegan meatless crumbles for our nachos and crackers from The Kiddo's lunchbox, we try to limit ourselves.

In short: to be a budget-minded plant-eater, SAY YES to fruits and vegetables, SAY NO to most processed goods.

I like to divide my list into Produce, Dry Goods, and Cold Foods because
it makes grocery store navigation a little more efficient.
*PAUSE: Before someone looks at the list above and calls us out, I want to be totally upfront and acknowledge that the three of us are at various points on the vegan--meatlover spectrum. We're not true vegans, which is why I prefer to refer to our diet as "plant-based". Fortysomething eats only vegetarian/vegan foods at home, but he'll eat animal products if we go out to eat (rare these days) or if he encounters free barbecue. The Kiddo always has a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch, and he can't say no to sushi, salmon, or macaroni and cheese. As for me, I'm almost all in... Almost because if you give me a cheesy pizza straight from a wood-fired oven, I will not think twice about consuming it.

Anyway, here are our typical grocery store staples each week:
  • Produce: Apples, bananas, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, spinach, onions, broccoli (the one vegetable The Kiddo is happy to eat), corn, potatoes
Apples are a favorite snack around here.
  • Dry goods: Cereal, bread, bagels (so many bagels), pasta, rice, beans, quinoa, pretzels, crackers for school, mac n' cheese, Bob's Red Mill Pizza Mix

  • Cold: Turkey and cheese for The Kiddo, popsicles, orange juice, almond milk, firm or extra firm tofu, soy crumbles, vegan "cheese"
(4) Before going to the grocery store, we check for online coupons. We usually save $15-20 this way. I'll admit that we don't do a lot of shopping around because... well... we don't want to. Is that un-frugal of us? Fortysomething and I hate getting into the car, driving to one store, dealing with people (INTROVERT ALERT), getting back into the car, shuttling to another store... We do occasionally purchase items online, though, if we know we can get a better deal.

(5) I review our receipts to see how much we spent, what cost the most, and how much we saved through in-store coupons. If something was pricier than expected, we avoid purchasing the same product the next time around.

And that's about it! I love the simplicity of the food we eat. I love that in our own small way, we're having a positive effect on the planet that provides for us. And I love that we can do it, and make delicious food, well within our budget. 

Seared tofu and kale-cabbage salad

Disease Called Debt


  1. I think $150/wk is quite reasonable. Not sure if you have an Asian market by you, but produce is usually way cheap (even though I eat high veggie, the people in the checkout lines at the Asian grocers put me to shame with all the produce they buy). But it doesn't tend to last as long in the fridge for me. So use up quickly.

    I usually eat high plant based too (Luv me some buddha bowls or as I like to call, "throw together whatever is in the fridge"). Have you tried lentil tacos (brown/green lentils + taco seasoning). Just like the meat version. so yummy. These ones with cauliflower look good too: https://cookieandkate.com/2015/roasted-cauliflower-and-lentil-tacos/.

    1. Mmmmmm. I am totally trying the lentil tacos! Thanks for the idea. And YES, I love Buddha bowls. So hearty.

      I don't think we have an Asian market nearby, but I'll check... Fresh, inexpensive produce would be amazing.

  2. We have a similar budget and similar eaters in our house! We'll have to share some recipes. Your food looks amazing! :)

    1. I'd love to share recipe ideas! I thought about including some in the post, but... I'm not a very precise cook. It's always a little of this, a little of that. We have pizza every week, but the way I prepare it is slightly different each time.

  3. I actually became partially vegetarian during grad school just because beans and mushrooms are so much cheaper than meat and they fill you up just as well!