The real cost of plant-based diets (and how to keep your food budget to a minimum)

lifestyle nutrition Jan 29, 2021

Members of our vegan cooking classes often mention to us that before turning to a plant based diet they were under the impression that this was both an expensive lifestyle to live, and a difficult lifestyle to maintain.

There's no doubt about it, plant-based diets have a bad reputation of being expensive. 

And the high cost of veganism is often considered one of the biggest barriers to switching to a plant-based diet.

But is that true?

Today, let's answer this question once and for all!

Are plant based diets really more expensive?

The best way to find an answer is to compare the price of meat/fish-based meals with that of the plant-based alternatives. 

That’s exactly what Kantar did in a survey commissioned by Veganuary, which analysed the meal diaries from around 11,000 people in Britain for 52 weeks in 2019/2020.

The findings were released last month and indicate that on average, home-cooked vegan meals were 40% cheaper than the meat/fish-based alternatives.

According to the study, “a main meal containing meat, fish or poultry costs, on average, [GBP] £1.77 per person whereas a plant-based main meal costs 40% less at just £1.06 per person. This is a saving of 71p per person per meal. The cost savings are seen fairly equally across lunch and dinner.”

These conclusions actually make sense if you think that foods such as lentils, chickpeas or beans should be the main protein source in a balanced whole-food, plant-based diet. 

Take the example of a meal composed of chicken breast or beef burger, with potatoes and broccolis on the side.   

The price of beef burgers is around £ 7/kg while chicken breasts are slightly cheaper at £ 5-6/kg. The cost of a burger is therefore £ 0.75 (serving size: 120 g), while the cost of chicken breasts is £ 0.5-0.7 for a 120 g serve. 

Now, let’s replace meat with dried legumes, whose price is around £ 2 per kg. Dried legumes are filling and nutrient-dense, so their serving size is considerably smaller than that of meat or fish. 

For a serving size of 50 g of dried lentils or chickpeas, the price is £ 0.10 per person.

To summarize:

  • 1 serve of beef burger = £ 0.75
  • 1 serve of chicken breast = £ 0.5-0.7
  • 1 serve of chickpeas or lentils = £ 0.1


The plant-based option is the clear winner here.

Why does veganism have such a bad reputation then?


While sometimes the excessive cost of plant-based diets could turn out to be an excuse rather than a real barrier, there are some cases when vegan diets can become a bit pricey.

For example, when the diet focuses mostly on vegan substitutes such as mock meats, cheese and dairy replacements and comfort food in general such as vegan chocolate

Indeed, vegan alternatives are often more expensive than the animal product they are replacing for a number of reasons, including that: 

  • Animal agriculture is heavily subsidised while the vegan alternatives generally are not
  • Innovative products in the beginning require considerable investments in research and development, but these costs are absorbed over time and the product progressively becomes cheaper
  • Innovative foods are generally produced on a small scale in the beginning but over time successful businesses will become larger and their production more efficient. The price of the end product will then decrease

So, while it’s great to see the recent explosion of plant-based alternatives, if you’re budget (and health…) conscious, then I’d recommend that you cook at home most of your meals from whole, natural ingredients.

And from time to time you can spoil yourself with some vegan cheese ;)


What you can do to reduce the cost of your diet


If you’d like to reduce the amount of money you spend on food, here are some tips that can help you achieve your objective:


  • Eat at home and cook from scratch


Home-cooked food is generally much cheaper than restaurant and processed meals


  • Replace animal protein with plants


Protein-rich plant foods such as legumes are much cheaper than meat or fish. They’re healthier too, but we’ll talk about that another time…

It’s also good to know that dried legumes are cheaper than the canned ones.


  • Don’t overeat and avoid snacking


The more you eat, the more you spend, so it’s better not to eat more than you actually need. Also, snacks and junk food should be avoided because they cost you money without nourishing you.


  • Buy seasonal 


Fruits and vegetables are cheaper (and taste much better) when in season, so find out what the seasonal food calendar in your region is.


  • Grow your own food


You can also grow your own food on your balcony or garden. Herbs and salads are very easy to grow even if you only have a small balcony.


Do you need some more help getting started? 

Please also check our our 21 Day Plant Based Kickstarter Course, guaranteed to help you with your plant powered goals


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