The new year is typically full of resolutions; we have the best intentions when it comes to creating new habits, accomplishing goals, or simply taking better care of ourselves. I am the first to admit that I do really well for about the first seventeen days and then? I lose momentum. The fleeting feeling of accomplishment turns to disdain and I give up.
One of the most popular New Year resolutions is to become a vegan, to participate in the Veganuary challenge for the month of January, or at the very least, implement meat-reducing meals in our everyday.
There’s list after list, idea after idea, on how to accomplish this. Honestly? They rely on more expensive swaps and fail to consider a more budget-friendly approach.
Have no fear, mama. We have this.
Here are thirteen ways to reduce your meat or animal by-product intake while also not breaking your budget:
- Embrace one meatless meal a week. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Spaghetti with marinara totally counts, as does a good ol’ peanut butter and jelly. Many of our favorite meals can be made vegetarian or vegan with a few simple changes; some already are vegetarian and require no effort on your part!
- Build a grain bowl. This is one of my favorite meals, especially during winter. Take your favorite bowl and load it with rice/quinoa/riced cauliflower, veggies, black beans, and a delicious sauce. Yum.
- Try a plant-based milk. There are a bunch of options when it comes to exploring plant-based milks. Some of my favorite budget-friendly options are almond (and they even sell it as shelf-stable), soy, and oat. I will say that making your own oat milk is a completely viable option-it makes trying oat milk more affordable while utilizing your oats in more ways than one.
- Tofu is your friend. It gets a bad rap for being boring. Tofu is this magical ingredient that truly becomes whatever you want it to be-it absorbs the flavors around it and there are a million ways to use it. My personal favorite is to make Chick-fil-A copycat tofu nuggets. So good.
- Read your labels. The biggest challenge when embarking on this change is that there are animal products in so many things-even wheat bread has milk in some brands but not others. This is just a good practice in general, but even more important if you want to incorporate more animal-free meals in your diet.
- Dried beans. My absolute favorite budget saver? Dried beans. I can get a large amount for a low price and they’re foolproof. I cook mine on the stove for several hours but there are so many ways to cook them-dutch oven, crock-pot or instant pot are all easy ways to keep things stress-free.
- Frozen veggies are as good as fresh produce. While I love eating produce that is in season, I totally rely on frozen veggies. They’re fast, convenient, cheaper than fresh produce sometimes, and they’re frozen at peak ripeness. Plus, you don’t have to worry about them going bad on you three days after purchase.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. Right now, I’m not eating in restaurants because of the pandemic. However, most of my favorite places are doing carry-out or curbside. I want to encourage you to speak up and ask if something can be substituted. I love swapping mayo with avocado, asking for black bean burgers instead of a beef patty, and asking for an allergen menu. Allergen menus are my best friend when it comes to new restaurants.
- Batch cook. Dinner at our house usually falls to my responsibility. I plan a month out what dinners will be and honestly? I batch cook. I make large portions of rice, pastas, veggies, beans, and anything else I might need for the week. While it is a fair amount of work while I’m doing it, it pays off when I don’t feel like cooking or we have a busy evening. I have ‘“emergency meals” ready if I need them. It also prevents the decision to order delivery…most times.
- Don’t get swept up in the overly processed vegan substitutes. I love a Beyond Burger as much as the next vegan but those are expensive. They are a splurge item for our house and even then, I feel like I need them to be on sale with a coupon attached before I put them in the cart. When people say that going meat-free or vegan is expensive, these kinds of products are usually the reason. Are they convenient? Yes. Are they delicious? Absolutely. Do they fool my non-vegan friends? Ehhhhh.
- Announce what you’re doing…or don’t. It’s your call. If you think that announcing your decision to be meat-free sometimes will give you more accountability, go for it. If you don’t want the questions or assumed judgment? Keep it your little secret. I won’t tell.
- Start slow, start small, give yourself grace. As a vegan, there is such a pressure to constantly be perfect. Society gives us no room to mess up, to relax on our diet or to be anything less than the A-team vegan. I’m calling bullcrap on that right now.
- Have fun! Try new cuisines, new ingredients, or even just mix up your dinner rotation.
Changing your diet, even just a small change, is a huge undertaking. All you can do is your best and honestly, you should be proud you have the courage to attempt trying a vegan diet at all. The last thing you need is someone making you feel guilty for ‘messing up’ or forgetting about checking ingredients. Do not pressure yourself to go all-in all at once. If you truly want this to stick and become a new habit, start slow. One ingredient, one meal, one day at a time. Give yourself grace for the days you revert and give yourself grace for the way you approach it.