How to Eat Well on a Budget + Weekly Meal Plan

A roundup of practical and fun tips for eating well on a budget! You can eat well, both from a health perspective and a taste perspective, on a plant-based diet without breaking the bank.

Keep reading for the tips and then sign up for the free PDF guide to get a printable grocery list + 7 nourishing, plant-based, budget-friendly recipes.

There’s a stereotype that eating well on a plant-based diet is always expensive (“eating well” both from a health perspective and a taste perspective). So I recently challenged myself to eat well on a very tight budget to prove that stereotype wrong. And by very tight budget, I mean $5 a day. 

I was pretty excited about this challenge to begin with, but the results honestly blew me away. I cooked and ate so many flavorful and even gourmet meals, found ways to stretch my budget more than I thought was possible, and ate a very wholesome and nourishing diet. 

Shopping at my local ALDI grocery store saved me so much money on groceries and made this budget challenge so enjoyable, so thank you to ALDI USA for sponsoring this post! And thank you to my readers for supporting the brands who help make my work possible!

6 vegan meals meals on wooden table

Where can I find…?

  • Tips for eating well on a budget? Keep on scrolling here.
  • What I ate for each meal from Monday to Friday? Watch the YouTube video.
  • The full grocery list and printable recipes of what I ate? Sign up for the PDF guide below.

Tips for eating well on a budget 

Focus on real foods

Artisanal vegan cheese might be expensive, but you know what isn’t? Vegan staples and whole foods! Think beans, lentils, grains, seeds and nuts, and seasonal produce. If you make these items the bulk of your grocery shopping, it leaves a lot more room in your wallet. 

Don’t believe me? Watch the YouTube video I filmed alongside this post and you’ll be surprised at how much food I was able to enjoy on a budget of $5 a day. 

Stock up on plant-based essentials at your local ALDI

Every time I shop at ALDI, I am amazed at their unbeatable prices, from dried beans and rice to organic veggies and plant-based milks. Even items that you’d often associate with a hefty price tag (think: organic, cold-pressed coconut oil and avocados) are always affordable. And I love that they have an always expanding selection of new plant-based products. 

You’ll also find a great selection of affordable organic products there. A few personal faves include the Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Simply Nature Organic Coconut Oil, Simply Nature Organic Chopped Kale, and Simply Nature Organic Creamy Peanut Butter.

vegan burrito bowl with avocado black beans and salsa

Get creative in the kitchen

When you don’t have that artisanal vegan cheese or trendy chipotle mayo to rely on, your cooking skills matter a lot more. So it’s time to exercise a little creativity in the kitchen! Here are just a few ideas.

Tired of eating the same quinoa every week? Try toasting it! I am not a big quinoa person, but I love toasted quinoa. It makes it crunchy and nutty. Just spread out cooked quinoa on a baking sheet and broil it in the oven until golden brown and crisp, or toast it in a frying pan with a little bit of oil until crunchy and golden. 

Heard dried beans are cheaper than canned (it’s true!), but want to make them a little more exciting? Add some aromatics (think: garlic, onion, carrots, dried or fresh herbs, spices) or a vegetable bouillon cube to the cooking water.

Finish cooked beans with a glug of extra virgin olive oil for some richness, salt & pepper, and a splash of lemon juice or your favorite vinegar. It’s simple but makes it a lot more interesting than cooking beans in plain ol’ water. 

Know broccoli is good for you but bored of steamed broccoli? Try roasting, broiling, or blanching it! Roasting broccoli in the oven (all you need is a little olive oil, salt and pepper) caramelizes it and makes it sweeter.

Charring it under the broiler (as I do in one of the recipes in the free PDF guide) lends a slight smokiness that’s often missing in plant-based foods. Blanching it (quick boiling, then dumping in ice water) keeps broccoli crisp-tender and bright green so it’s never mushy. 

bowl of brococli and brown rice with white beans

Reuse and upcycle

You can stretch your food budget a lot by reusing the same ingredients/foods in different ways or by upcycling ingredients/leftovers. 

For instance, in the week of meals I made for the YouTube video, I cooked a 1 pound batch of dried white beans. I knew I wouldn’t eat that many beans in a week (I get tired of eating the same meal after a few times), so I saved half of the beans and turned them into a soup!

Or, in another meal, I made good use of those broccoli stems (which are often tossed) by simply shaving them and turning them into a salad. You can also slice the stalks into coins and add to your next stir-fry. 

sweet potato white bean soup with flatbread

I also cooked a half pound of black beans and made saucy black beans with sofrito (which is amazing!). It made quite a lot of food, but I combined it in so many different ways throughout the week that I never got bored of it.

I served the black beans alongside tofu scramble and roasted sweet potatoes for breakfast, used it to build a burrito bowl, and even loaded it on top of a Mexican-inspired flatbread pizza with avocado.

PS: the flatbread recipe was so easy and is from the blog WellVegan.com

Here are a few more ideas for reusing and upcycling food

Bought a bunch of carrots or beets with greens attached? Use the carrot greens to whip up a batch of pesto or chimichurri (find my carrot top pesto recipe here). Sauté the beet greens in a little olive oil, or use them as you would Swiss chard. 

Got butternut squash peels that are about to be discarded? Coat in a little oil and your favorite spice blend, transfer to a baking sheet and roast at 325ºF for 25 minutes until browned and crispy. Snack on them or use them as a crunchy topper for salads and soups.

Got some fresh fruit that’s on its way out? Cook it, juice it, or puree it. Strawberries have a relatively short shelf life, and by day 6 of my YouTube challenge, they were a little sad.

But, once I cooked them down on the stove (with a little lemon zest for flavor), they turned into a jammy compote that made the perfect breakfast topping. 

brown rice pudding with strawberry compote

Do you love cooking with fresh herbs but don’t know what to do with the stems? The stems of herbs like cilantro and parsley (as well as kale) are totally edible! The tender stems are great in condiments, or you can add them to morning green juices. 

If you have extra potatoes on hand that will go bad soon, don’t toss! Peel, cube, and toss them into virtually any soup as a natural thickener. 

Got a loaf of bread that’s gone stale? Tear or cube it up and make homemade croutons (toss with olive oil and bake in the oven) or French toast. 

Freeze those bananas. I bought 6 bananas on my ALDI grocery trip for the YouTube video, but I only ate a few during the week before they got very spotty. So I just peeled them, sliced into big chunks, and popped them in a freezer bag. Now, I have enough frozen bananas for 4 to 8 smoothies! 

Bought a few too many mushrooms? Turn the leftovers into walnut-mushroom “meat.” It sounds crazy, but the combination of just these two ingredients and a some spices makes an incredible meat substitute. It was even approved by my omnivore partner.

You can find my walnut-mushroom meat recipe in the free PDF guide :)  

walnut mushroom meat with sweet potatoes, avocado and brown rice

Watch! I ate like a king on just $5 a day 

For a look at how I made these recipes and what I ate each day, check out the YouTube video!

 

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @rainbowplantlife and hashtag it #rainbowplantlife

Leave a Comment & Rating

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37 comments on How to Eat Well on a Budget + Weekly Meal Plan

  1. Angela

    Love this article!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So glad it’s helpful!

  2. Lisa Judge

    This is perfect for our family; to see how to use all the shopping list for a week. 👍

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Glad to be of help!

  3. Dolores Meaney

    Just bought an instant pot! So excited to try your recipes. Going to start with the black beans and sofrito and tofu egg scramble! Got the flatbread recipe too! We’re going to have a vegan 4th! Thank you so much. I saw you first on YouTube looking for lentil salad. So good. I’m hooked! Probably can’t give up eggs tho. We’ll see

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great to hear you had a vegan Fourth of July! I hope our recipes helped it easier to make delicious plant based food for you and your loved ones :)

      1. Dolores

        They did for sure. The 4th of july strawberry cake was divine and easy. Everyone ate 2 servings. The fresh berries. Yummmmmm! Also herbed potato salad. Really good. Taking it camping this wkend. Love love love the coconut yogurt. Tastes like sour cream. Thank you! ❤️ 💗 💗 💕

        1. Dolores

          Beans the best they’ve ever had everyone said. Also roasted sweet potatoes. Heavenly!

  4. Emily Miller

    Can I have recipes please? Thanks!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Emily! There’s a box in the beginning of the blog post titled “Get the PDF Guide!” that allows you to input your name and email. Once you do that, you’ll get the recipes delivered to your inbox! Happy cooking!

  5. Richie

    i would like to get the above pdf receipes

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Richie, all you need to do is input your information in the box above and the PDF recipes will be emailed to you! Hope that helped!

  6. OperaGirlRach

    I love your recipes Nisha!!! My family especially loves the vegan lentil curry.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you! So happy you love them :)

  7. Sarah Slivinski

    I made the black bean and sofreta and the eggy scramble and they are very good. I used them in a breakfast burrito. I really liked the building block recipes concept so I can pair the dishes differently throughout the week without getting bored. And these were both So tasty.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So glad this blog post helped you, Sarah! Thank you for the nice review :)

  8. Debbie

    All of your ideas are great and the recipes look very tasty. I hope to try several of them. The one thing that bothers me about your post is the claim that you ate like a king for a WEEK for $5/day. The last time I checked, a week was seven days. What happened to the weekend? I think might also be helpful for you to specify in your video how many people/servings you’re making. First-time viewers like me don’t know whether or not your recipes are for you and your spouse or you alone.
    Thanks for the great ideas!

    1. Mariana

      Hey Debbie, indeed you’re right, a week has 7 days! In the intro of this post though Nisha writes that this is a weekly food plan which includes Monday to Friday meals so… 5 days!

      Since Nisha specifies that this is what she eats during her working week, I’d say it’s safe to assume that the meals are made for one.

      Also, in the pdf guide, it states how many servings each dish makes. I tried 3 so far and each was awesome! Highly recommend giving them a try =)

  9. Bettsi

    It’s obvious that you put a lot of time and care into this video, blog post and booklet- thank you so much! I can’t wait to try out the recipes. You made everything look easy and amazing!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the kind words, Bettsi :)

  10. Ralph Smith

    Made the black bean sofrita recipe, loved it and my wife said it’s her new favorite! Thanks for all your recipes, I always enjoy seeing your emails in my inbox to see what new recipes I can try.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Ralph, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!

  11. Darlene

    I will use your flavoring ingredients to spice up my bean, rice and veggie diet.
    THANK you for the inspiration for my own challenge to keep cost of meals down.
    I always enjoy a challenge and the food you eat is similar to my diet.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great! We are so glad to be of help, Darlene!

  12. Sherida

    I love the way you think about food. It is a joy to watch you prepare simple food and boost it into sophisticated meals. Thank you!

  13. Dörthe

    Thank you, tried your Red lentils, so delicious🤤

  14. Susan Waterworth

    The black bean sofrito is so good I ate it twice today, and that’s even with no fresh garlic (that never happens in my kitchen, but both my bulbs were completely dried out) thus having to substitute garlic powder, and using canned tomatoes that expired in May 2020! I made it oil-free and it is delicious! Thank you, Nisha.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Susan, thanks for the wonderful review! We are so happy you loved the sofrito recipe :)

      1. Susan Waterworth

        I replenished my garlic supply today and sauteed some to add to my final serving of the sofrito. So good (5 stars). I can tell this will be in regular rotation. Thanks for your recipes and lovely videos, and I can’t wait for your second cookbook!

        Take care,

        Susan

  15. LaBrashia Malone

    All the food looks delicious! Will be trying theses recipes out! Thanks for doing these videos!

  16. Susan Nichols

    love your IP cookbook! thanks for sharing your budget recipes and suggestions!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you for your kind words Susan! We are glad to be of help :)

  17. Sherry Considine

    I’m headed to Aldo!! These recipes are quick and look delicious!!! Please do more of these budget videos!!!

    Thank you

    1. Sherry Considine

      Aldi 💁🏻‍♀️

  18. Brenda Standard

    I love the budget plans . Thanks

  19. Tabitha Miller

    I loved this video! Thank you!

  20. Ramya

    Will be making the mushrooms meat soon i love mushrooms soooooooooooo much just signed up for the pdf guide i dont have aldi in Singapore perfect for my office snacks will dm you if i made the mushroom meat and let you know how it goes Thanks Ramya

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