Going vegan, either temporarily or permanently, is becoming a popular New Year's resolution. More than a quarter of a million people signed up for "Veganuary" in 2019, pledging to cut out all animal products for the month of January. The trend is poised to attract even more participants in 2020.
While most Veganuary participants cite a desire to improve their health or to benefit animals, going vegan is also a money-saver.
Cutting out meat alone offers significant savings: Vegetarians saved at least $750 more a year than meat-eaters, according to a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. By adopting a vegan diet for six months, one family saved $2,800 — enough to fund a two-week vacation to Greece.
Making a drastic lifestyle change can seem daunting, or even inaccessible, but it doesn't have to be. As vegan actress Mayim Bialik and author of the cookbook "Mayim's Vegan Table" puts it, "being vegan is not an elite act."
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"When we hear people like Gwyneth Paltrow talk about food and eating, it can feel really impossible, but I like to point out that vegans for the most part can eat very simply," Bialik says. "Rice and beans, and things like that, that are staples of a vegan diet, do not have to be expensive."
Dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of "The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today," also offers tips on adopting a vegan lifestyle for the month of January — or beyond. Here's how to get started.
Start by stocking your pantry, Palmer says. She suggests a shopping list that includes a variety of whole grains such as farro, brown rice, and quinoa, in addition to pulses, which are seeds from legumes, such as dried and canned beans, nuts, and peas. Other staples of a vegan diet include olives, nuts, and seeds and butters. Whole grain or pulse pasta made from chickpeas or lentils round out the basics.
"These are your foundations for meals," says Palmer. "By having a variety of these foods, you can create healthy, easy meals without panicking."
Many of these staples are inexpensive. Pulses run around $1 to $1.50 per can. Nuts, except peanut butter, are a bit more pricey, but a serving is just 1 ounce, so you get a lot of servings from a package.
To help you save, you can buy many of these staples in bulk at your local grocery store, or even online. Jackie Gebel, the creator of the the No Leftovers Instagram account and blog, told Grow earlier this year that she cuts costs by buying long-shelf-life pantry ingredients like nuts, dried fruits, and grains in bulk on Amazon.
Going vegan doesn't mean you need to make everything you eat from scratch. "It's OK to try a few prepared products too, such as veggie burgers, faux meat crumbles, [and] plant-based cheese," says Palmer. "Even though I recommend focusing on whole plant foods, these can help you make easy meals on busy days."
And if they don't fit into your budget, don't feel you need to buy "the trendy new meat alternatives," adds Palmer. "You can buy the old-fashioned veggie and bean burgers with a lower price tag." A pack of two 4-ounce alternative meat Beyond Burgers sells for $5.99 at Target, while a pack of eight Morningstar Farms Original Veggie Burgers gives you four times as many burgers for just under a dollar more, at $6.89.
Just make sure that the variety you choose has at least 7 grams of protein, she adds.
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Whether you're purchasing your produce from the supermarket or a farmers market, "try to follow the seasons to save money," Palmer says. "Frozen or canned produce is good, too."
"When you purchase seasonally, that can help keep the price down," she says. "I may spend more on produce than the average omnivore, but I'm making it up by not spending money on animal proteins, such as beef, fish, chicken — which can be the most expensive thing in your supermarket cart."
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