In October, due to some medical results and the encouragement of a dietitian, I made the choice to switch to a vegan diet (with the minor exception of occasional fish consumption) for the time being. A vegan diet simply means that I avoid meat and all animal products, which would include milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and so forth. In fact, this dietary change (and the subsequent questions from readers) led to my ongoing Friday afternoon series on what to have for a frugal and healthy dinner.
The big question that I often get from readers (besides the inevitable “what do you eat, then?”) is whether or not my diet is inexpensive. There seems to be a perception out there that eating such a diet would be quite pricy.
So, let’s address these questions.
What do I eat?
The best way to do this is to just summarize what types of things I consume at each meal.
Breakfast items include: fruit, oatmeal, cold cereal (with almond milk), a fruit smoothie, a breakfast burrito (made with beans and really finely diced tofu), toast, and bagels.
Lunch items usually include: leftovers, bean and rice burritos, salads of all kinds, sandwiches, and lots of different kinds of soups. Honestly, it’s usually just leftovers.
Supper items usually include: a starter salad, pasta with various tomato-based sauces, stir fry, curry, ratatouille, grilled portobello mushrooms, chilis or other thick and heavy soups and stews (one of which I’ll post this afternoon), and usually some sort of vegetable on the side and fruit on the side.
Snacks include nuts (lots of nuts, actually), pieces of fruit, date bars, fruit smoothies, pita chips, hummus, and salsa.
These items just scratch the surface. There’s a ton of variety out there once you start exploring what kinds of vegan foods are available.
I should note that I often eat four smaller meals a day now rather than three, and I snack a bit in between them. I usually eat a mid-afternoon meal at about three or four (often with a cup of tea… perhaps I’m secretly British).
At first, this diet was very hard to adjust to. Rather than focusing on what I could have, I kept thinking about what I couldn’t have. I thought about cheese. I thought about steak. I thought about milk.
Over time, though, I moved to thinking about all of the stuff I could have and sought out things within that group that I enjoyed. Salsa. Beans. Grilled mushrooms. Fruit smoothies.
That mental shift made this entire diet easier. I grew to really appreciate the things that I enjoyed and could eat freely.
What does it cost?
One of the biggest knocks against this type of diet is the perception that it’s expensive. Doesn’t it cost a lot more than a “typical” American diet?
After having eaten this diet for four months, I can say from experience that the financial cost of my current diet is the same as, if not a bit lower than, my normal diet in the past. Our family food budget has dropped about 15% since I started this diet, on average.
At the same time, though, the time invested in food preparation has gone up significantly. Why? This diet has made it much harder to go out to eat, so we go out to eat much less often. This diet has made it much harder to rely on prepackaged foods, so we make things from scratch much more often.
The end result is that we eat more meals at home than before, plus our meals at home are more likely made from raw ingredients instead of premade items. Because of that, our financial costs for the meals has gone down, but the time investment has gone up.
We’ve counteracted this, to some degree, by essentially making our own “premade” items. For example, I’ll make large batches of cooked beans at once, using them for recipes over the next day or two. I’ll make large piles of burritos, freezing the remainder for future use. We’ll save all vegetable scraps, then I’ll toss them in a slow cooker and turn them into vegetable stock for use in soups and stews.
What does this mean?
My conclusion throughout all of this is that eating a diet that’s both healthy and flavorful doesn’t have to be expensive, but you’re going to have to invest time into it.
I think there are really four key factors to any person’s diet. Is it healthy? Is it tasty? Is it cheap? Is it time consuming?
Over a period of time, you can hit at most three of those four things. You can have a diet that’s healthy, tasty, and cheap, but you’re going to have to invest time in it.
The problem is that many people do not wish to consider the “time consuming” part of the equation. That means that they’re left with choosing two out of three with the healthy, tasty, and cheap options. Healthy and cheap means eating raw fruits and vegetables all the time – it’ll lose the “tasty” factor quickly. Healthy and tasty (while still being fast, remember) is going to be very expensive. Tasty and cheap can easily be done – there are countless options for this, and that’s what many people go for.
Healthy, tasty, cheap, and quick – choose three out of four. For a lasting diet, that’s basically the choice you’re going to have to make. Today, a lot of people choose tasty, cheap, and quick and leave the healthy out to dry. Right now, I’m trying to choose the healthy, tasty, and cheap, and just hope that quick comes along for the ride sometimes.