It can be tricky to plan simple, healthy and affordable meals around a busy schedule. Experimenting with a new diet can make things especially tricky. If you’re trying to plan plant-based meals for the first time, it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are lots of ways to keep the costs down once you’ve got the staples in your kitchen cupboards.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
There isn’t a single, widely accepted definition of a plant-based diet. In fact, the line that separates ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan’ can often become blurred.
But in a nutshell (excuse the pun), a plant-based diet is one that either reduces or eliminates all animal products. It instead has a focus on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and pulses.
Budget-Friendly, Plant-Based Staples
When transitioning to any new eating regime, having a plan in place can be your saviour. I’m not suggesting that you get the spreadsheets out (although if you’re a fan, please do). But a little research and preparation can definitely put you on the right track.
Stocking up on longlife staples is a great place to start. By ensuring you have a healthy supply of non-perishable plant-based foods, you won’t be at risk of being caught short, mid-week. You’ll always have something to create a tasty meal with.
Pulses such as lentils, chickpeas and beans are great store cupboard staples. As are whole grains like oats, quinoa, bulgur, buckwheat and brown rice. These unrefined, whole foods are brilliant sources of healthy carbohydrates. Plus, they deliver plant-based proteins in abundance too!
If you want to keep preparation time short, then pre-cooked, tinned pulses are your best bet. But if your plant-based planning means you can factor some pulse-soaking into your schedule, you could opt for dried varieties. This way, you can buy in bulk, saving you cash and reducing packaging waste while you’re at it – bingo!
Either way, basing meals around these staples is likely to save you a pretty penny compared to dishes centered around meat.
Experiment With These Easy and Modifiable Meals
Here’s some simple plant-based meal ideas to build on.
A poster child for plant-based eating, the scope for Buddha bowls is endless. They can be knocked up in minutes, need very little skill (unless you want to get fancy), and can be adapted to whatever’s in your fridge. They’re super Instagrammable too.
Base: Choose a whole grain
Sub in: Salads / avocado / leafy greens / roast veg / hummus
Sprinkle with: Toasted seeds / herbs / spices / nutritional yeast
Sauce: Tahini / zesty dressing / herb oil / soya yoghurt
Whether you’re a taco, burrito, enchilada, or fajita fan, switching to a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favourite Mexican meals. In fact, swapping the meat for a veggie alternative couldn’t be easier!
Base: Corn or whole wheat tortillas / taco shells
Filling: Brown rice / pico de gallo / sweet corn / shredded red cabbage
Meat alternative: Pinto or black beans / pulled jackfruit. (Shredded jackfruit pieces – available canned – cooked with smoked paprika, chipotle and BBQ sauce)
Topping: Guacamole / coriander / salsa / tabasco / chipotle sauce / lime juice
Perfecting your dal is the way to go if you want to make sure you’re always able to cook up a wholesome meal. Even if you don’t have much in the fridge! Dal is comforting, nutritious and really cheap to make. What more could you want?
Alternate between: Red or black lentils / yellow split peas / mung beans / split chickpeas (chana)
Sub in: Tomatoes / spinach / coconut milk
Top with: Coriander / soya yoghurt
Serve with: Brown rice / flatbread
Creamy Pasta Dishes
You might think that without dairy, creamy pasta is off the menu. But if you get creative, there are plenty of ways to re-create a comforting pasta dish.
Base: Whole wheat pasta / spiralised courgette or butternut squash
Sauce: Blended avocado with garlic and basil / bechamel made with vegan butter, unsweetened plant milk and flour / soaked cashews blended with nutritional yeast (for a cheesy sauce) / plant-based cream alternatives (e.g. Oatly cream)
Sub in: Fresh or dried mushrooms / olives / oven-roasted vine tomatoes / peas, asparagus, courgette and green beans
Top with: Rocket / basil / vegan parmesan
Asian Stir Fries
If you’re struggling without meat in your diet, Asian-inspired dishes can help curb your cravings. Meat alternatives blend so well with this style of cooking.
Base: Whole wheat, buckwheat or rice noodles / brown rice
Meat alternatives: Marinated tofu / seitan / tempeh
Sub in: Chillies / ginger / edamame (soy beans) / seasonal veggies
Top with: Peanuts / soy sauce or tamari / sriracha / chopped herbs / raw shredded cabbage, carrot or green papaya / lime juice / spring onions
I hope you can see that a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be bland, repetitive or even costly.
Start out with a few simple meal ideas, based around store-cupboard staples. Then expand on these by experimenting with different ingredients, flavours and recipe variations.
As you begin to get more creative and confident, you’ll soon realise there are lots of ways to recreate your favourite dishes!