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!

I ate like a KING on just $5 a DAY
I ate like a KING on just $5 a DAY

 

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

  1. Claudia

    I watched and enjoyed your video. Now I have a question, that you my find a little silly. Do you reheat the beans, the sweet potatoes, the tofu scrumble etc. or do you eat it “cold”?
    ALDI germany doesn’t sell black beans or brown basmati rice but Iam sure, I will find it in a turkish or asian food store. So I can try all of these wonderful recipes.

    Thank you for your videos!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Glad you enjoyed the video, Claudia! Yes, we reheat the food :) And good luck finding the ingredients!

  2. robyn iaea

    such a fantastic video! i love your content!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Robyn!

  3. Jennifer

    This might be a silly question, but do the garlicky white beans freeze well?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Jennifer, yes they do! Once the beans are cool, transfer to a few small containers (makes it quicker to defrost). It makes it easy to defrost an individual block of the beans on the stove in less than 10 minutes. It should stay good in the freezer for 4 months. Or, you can defrost the beans in the fridge.

  4. Allison Papp

    Hi Nisha! For the black beans with sofrito I was wondering if I could use canned beans in place of dried black beans, and if so how much should I use? Thanks for your time!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi there Allison, 8 oz of dried beans will roughly triple in size when cooked, so you’ll need 24oz of canned black beans- so about 1.5 cans. Sorry for the late reply!

  5. Miet

    Hi Nisha, I would like to make the white beans that you serve with the broccoli salad, but I don’t have a pressure cooker. How would you suggest preparing them in that case?

  6. Vivianne Pulido-Price

    Can you put links on your recipes? I’m trying to find your sofritra recipe and I’m having a hard time! I’ve been looking at your site for at least 30 minutes for this recipe and have had no luck.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi there Vivianne, sign up for the PDF Guide higher up on this blog post and the recipe will be delivered to your email inbox :) Enjoy!

      1. Vivianne Pulido-Price

        I downloaded it! Thank you for your help! Looking forward to making these recipes! Everything I’ve tried has been on point.

        1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

          Perfect, enjoy the recipes Vivianne!

  7. Suzanne

    Hi Nisha!
    You are such a delight to watch on youtube. So natural, real and funny and yes yummy recipes!

    Kind regards,
    Suzanne

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you so much for watching, Suzanne! :)

  8. Melissa

    Great tips! I’m a southern cook, but I love to try foods, seasonings and combinations from other cultures. Newbie here but willing to learn!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great! Enjoy, Melissa :)

  9. Mita

    Hi Nisha,
    I love your YouTube channel, not only do you cook delicious and flavorful food, but you are so funny 😆 you are a natural in front of the camera. I am a hard-core non-vegetarian but your food looks so good. Some of the ingredients may not be staples in my pantry but there’s so much to choose from. I’m glad that your channel is finally growing quickly.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you for the wonderful words, Mita! :)

  10. Karen

    Love all the recipes featured.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Karen!

  11. Gail

    Hello Nisha! I am very excited to try these recipes – I love how you have combined just a few dishes in so many different ways for an amazing menu. I’m excited for my meals next week! I have a question for you, though. Sadly, I am of the genetic disposition that cannot tolerate the taste of cilantro (it tastes like soap to me – https://blog.23andme.com/23andme-research/cilantro-love-hate-genetic-trait/). Do you have suggestions for alternative herbs that could be used in your dishes to make them equally delicious? Thank you for your blog – you are my #1 go-to for vegan recipes and I love your videos!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Gail, you can change which fresh herbs are used, depending on the recipe. Green onion, thai basil, and parsley are generally good substitutes for cilantro depending on the cuisine. Let us know if you have a specific question about a herb/recipe pairing :)

  12. Vanessa

    Hello! Can You tell me how to adapt the Sweet Potato White Bean Soup for the IP? Instead of simmering for 20-30 minutes, do I set it to high pressure for … how long?

  13. Trish

    Tried the Black bean sofrito and tofu scramble today… Sooo good and such a simple recipe!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Trish!

  14. Trish

    Tried the Black bean soffrito and tofu scramble today… Shockingly good and such a simple recipe!

    1. Trish

      PS Tried to leave a rating but dont see where to do so?

      1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

        Hi Trish, the 5 star symbols are at the bottom of the box when you’re writing a comment! So happy to hear you’re a fan of the recipes :)

  15. Aricka

    Do i HAVE to soak the black beans prior to cooking in the Instant Pot? I don’t have enough time.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Aricka, no you don’t but soaking the beans makes them easier to digest. Enjoy!

  16. Tabarak

    Hi :) I signed up above to receive the PDF but haven’t received it. I checked my spam and everything. Did you stop sending it? Please let me know as I would love to get it! thanks

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Tabarak, did you make sure to type your email in correctly? It’s working on our end. If you’re a Gmail user, check your spam as well as your Promotions folders for the email!

    2. Laurie

      Having the same problem :(

  17. Dale

    I have been watching your videos and have just purchased you Vegan instant pot cook book… soooo good!! I’m looking forward to trying more of your recipes so far all are good!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We hope you enjoy, Dale!

  18. Kendralacey calfee

    This was awesome! I can’t believe I watched the entire video! I’m having weight loss surgery in two weeks and I’m looking for a healthier way of eating without sacrificing taste! You made this enjoyable and fun! New subscriber!! And not to mention, I will be doing more shopping at ALDI!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That is awesome to hear, Kendralacey! We are so happy to have you!

  19. Stacy

    The black beans with sofrito was the best black bean dish I’ve ever made! Can’t wait to try the others.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Stacy, 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!

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