I’ve noticed that many healthy food blogs tend to feature expensive natural products and advocate using all organics. There is nothing wrong with that if you can afford it -organic food is definitely superior in quality – but it does make eating well on a plant-based diet seem expensive and inaccessible to lower-income people. Eating organic when possible is definitely something I advocate, but if you are on a budget, you shouldn’t stress about it. Healthwise, it is still better to eat conventionally grown fruits and vegetables than to not eat them at all, and eating a conventional (non-organic) vegetarian diet is still more sustainable than eating a non-vegetarian diet . We can all aspire to buy everything at our local co-op and be rich hippies someday (oxymoron?) but for now, it is still possible to achieve a healthy vegetarian diet on a budget.
This is where my beloved ALDI comes in. It is a delightful German grocery store featuring almost all store-brand products and offering extremely low prices due to minimal advertising, simple displays, self-bagging, and charging for bags (so bring your own). I have always enjoyed their fake brand names, and I am sure that you too will grow to love Clancy’s Corn Chips and Grandessa ice cream products.
However, ALDI is not the place for one-stop shopping. As a vegetarian or vegan, there are a lot of products to avoid (the corn muffin and brownie mixes, for example, have gelatin). Also beware that corn syrup is abundant. Just make sure to read the labels carefully, and stock up on staples such as frozen fruit, oats, beans, canned tomatoes, nuts, etc. Cheap snack foods I usually go for are the veggie chips, tortilla chips, dark chocolate, and trail mixes. It is also a good place to get pantry essentials such as oils, flour, baking powder, and spices. Although the produce is not exactly a strong point, I do usually get bags of avacados (so cheap), carrots, and spring mix or spinach if it looks fresh. My goal here is to try to knock as much off of my grocery bill as possible by stocking up on staples during a huge monthly trip to ALDI before I head to Rainbow or the co-op. This has actually gotten easier over time as ALDI continues to add products. I remember back in the day when ALDI organic soy milk and hummus were but a dream. I’m still holding out for tofu and soy yogurt!
Here are a few of my pro tips:
- Bring a quarter to leave as a deposit for a cart. You will get it back when you return your cart. This prevents theft. saving the store and the customer money.
- In addition to the staples listed above, keep an eye out for the large cartons of organic soy and almond milk near the dairy milk, and be sure to check the frozen food section for any lurking Morningstar burgers.
- Look closely at expiration dates on bagged salad mix and spinach. Dig around for the freshest looking bags. As a general rule, just dig around for anything you can’t find right away. If something is listed on the display, chances are, it could just be hiding in the back of the shelf (I swear the plain soy milk is always behind the vanilla way in the back of the refrigerator).
Here’s a look at a typical haul for me. Keep in mind that I am shopping for only one person. When I go on these binges, I aim to spend about $40-$50, which gets me probably $90 worth of similar groceries at Rainbow or Cub Foods.
If you don’t have an Aldi in your area, there is probably somewhere similar that you can stock up on inexpensive vegetarian staples before picking up the rest at another grocery store or co-op. When I lived in Olympia, WA, for example, I shopped at Grocery Outlet for most of my dry foods and got my produce at the co-op and farmers market. The takeaway here is that you shouldn’t feel bad about not being able to buy everything at the local co-op or not having a year-round farmer’s market or what have you. We all do what we can, and there is no shame in being a broke vegetarian foodie. I kind of find it to be a fun challenge, and when I do splurge on organic soy yogurt or hemp seed waffles (did I just hear Fred Armisen making fun of me?), it is a special treat.