Is Eating Plant-Based Really More Expensive? Toni Okamoto Says No—and Offers Budget-Friendly Tips
Learn how to eat plant-based on a budget with these tips.
Toni Okamoto has made a career out of proving that adopting a plant-based diet doesn't have to break the bank. The creator of Plant-Based on a Budget—and author of a cookbook of the same name—asserts that the lifestyle shift is all about sourcing affordable ingredients and creating a go-to menu that's versatile and customizable, the better to suit your life and tastes.
"What really got it started was that I am very passionate about plant-based living, and for a long time, I had no money," says Okamoto, whose dietary journey began at a young age. Myths around both the crunchy and expensive nature of plant-based diets were prevalent in Okamoto's family, so the blogger began compiling recipes that she could afford and that she knew her loved ones would enjoy.
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For the blogger, the initial shift involved making the connection between food and the planet—though it came with some cultural stumbling blocks. "Culturally we ate Mexican food, and when you reject your family's food, it also can be a sign of disrespect," she explains. "So that was problematic for my parents up front. They thought it was a phase."
Now, 17 years later, Okamoto and her plant-based lifestyle inspire fans and those closest to her to embrace change where they can, all while demonstrating that it's all much more manageable than you think.
So, Is Plant-Based Eating More Expensive?
The short answer is no—the longer answer is that any kind of diet can be affordable with a bit of extra effort and forethought.
When she started Plant-Based on a Budget, Okamoto looked up the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits to inform her recipes and meal plans.
"I decided at that time my meal plan would be $100 per month, $25 per week, $1.20 per meal," says Okamoto. "And since then I've raised this for inflation. But still, it's at $35 a week using that same original meal plan that I created, which mostly revolves around whole foods, and cooking from scratch, which is something that a lot of people don't do."
Okamoto adds that pricepoint is not the only barrier to entry—and that she has faced several of the obstacles that many Americans face.
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"I've been without a car, I've lived under the poverty line, I have had the tiniest kitchen with no proper cookware," she says. "Because I have lived a similar experience, I started taking the things that I have learned from that and applying them to Plant-Based on a Budget. And I feel like it resonated with my audience, because it wasn't something that I was just talking about. It was also something that I was living through alongside them."
Other factors like a lack of cooking skills or a lack of ingredients can make plant-based eating seem like too much of a hassle to attempt. This is where planning ahead comes in.
Plant-Based Diets and Planning
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it, I will say that it requires some planning," says Okamoto, adding that the planning doesn't have to be extensive. Cooking things like rice, beans, and pasta in batches at the top of the week, or having frozen vegetables on hand that simply need to thaw, can help prevent you from making pitstops and impulse purchases, whether from a restaurant or at the grocery store.
"Starting from a plan is going to help you make it a sustainable process that you can take on years to come," she says. Having a menu in mind—and inspo and ideas from experts like Okamoto—can help you curate your grocery list to fit your budget and center ingredients that are easy to make and enjoy a long shelf life.
Other Tips for Plant-Based Eating
To make the lifestyle even more manageable, Okamoto recommends batch cooking, swapping pre-made meals with friends and neighbors to increase variety, and scouring Craigslist for an Instant Pot. ("It has revolutionized my style of cooking.")
Simple things like bringing only your budgeted cash to the grocery store—rather than your debit or credit cards—using coupons, and ignoring paid promotions in favor of common sense help, too.
But the biggest takeaway? Plant-based eating really is for everyone.
"I hope that we continue to celebrate people making sustainable, ethical, compassionate choices that are beyond what's good for us right now," she says. "And thinking about the future generations to come."
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