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Plant-based diets are one of the latest health and diet trends around the world, and dietitians are rejoicing that finally, a well-researched area in nutrition is making the headlines. Whether you are full-time or part-time plant-based, vegetarian, pescatarian or vegan; plant-based diets can come with a (literal) price tag.

Let’s take the humble chicken schnitzel as an example; the real chicken version comes out to be $10.33 per kilogram, whilst the plant-based counterpart is a whopping $23.33 per kilogram (and that’s for only 2 serves). But don’t let this price tag deter you, as it is possible to enjoy a tasty plant-based meal on a budget.

When looking for (affordable) plant-based foods, ideally, you want a product that is similar in nutrition to the real deal – i.e. a good source of protein. If it contains other nutrients, then that’s even better! Our dietitians have rated the top 5 plant-based foods on the market at the moment that are both affordable and good sources of protein!

Top 5 Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Foods

Canned Chickpeas

Chickpeas are one of the most affordable plant-based meat alternatives, coming in at $0.19 per kilogram. They are a good source of protein (6.3g/100g), as well as iron (1.5mg/100g) and zinc (1mg/100g), and an excellent source of fibre.

Chickpeas are an extremely versatile plant-based meat alternative and can be:

  • Mashed to make rissoles or falafels
  • Roasted and enjoyed as a crunchy snack or tossed through a salad
  • Used in curry or added to a vegetable soup

Lentils

Lentils stack up to be the same price as chickpeas at $0.19 per kilogram and are very similar protein-wise at 7.7g protein/100g.

Lentils go best as an unprocessed alternative to mince-meet (e.g. minced beef) and are great to use in recipes such as:

  • Bolognese pasta sauce
  • Taco meat
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • Indian curry

Tofu

Tofu (despite popular opinion) is a great plant-based meat alternative. Firm, unflavoured tofu comes in at $8.11kg per kilogram, which is more costly than chickpeas and lentils but far more superior in the nutrition quality.

Per 100g, tofu (generally) contains:

  • 12g of protein
  • 330mg of calcium
  • 9mg of iron, and
  • 7mg of zinc.

Tofu is another highly versatile plant-based food and goes well in virtually any recipe! It naturally lacks flavour, but it does act as a sponge when introduced to other ingredients.

Due to this, tofu is best enjoyed in recipes that have a rich flavoursome sauce such as stir-fries or when marinated. You can even crumb it and make your own “chicken” schnitzel for less than half of the price of the plant-based ultra-processed chicken schnitzels that we mentioned earlier.

Pulse Pasta

Pulse pasta (pasta made from lentils and legumes) is yet another excellent source of plant-based protein and can be used in place of regular pasta to boost the nutrition content of your meal.

This product may be costly per kilogram ($16.80/kg) but a kilogram of pulse pasta goes a long way… Considering the average serve size of pasta is around 75g, this product cost approximately $1.30 per serving which is significantly cheaper than a lot of the plant-based “meats”.

Nutrition-wise, pulse pasta contains a whopping 23g of protein per 100g, however, it is also a rich source of energy (1500kJ per 100g) so be mindful of portion sizes.

As we said earlier, pulse pasta can be used as regular pasta, so mix it into a vegetable-packed Bolognese sauce or stir through a basil pesto sauce and top with black olives for a Mediterranean twist.

Textured Vegetable Protein

Lastly, we have textured vegetable protein. For those who don’t know, this product is dehydrated soybean meal that, when water is added, takes on a similar texture to mince meat.

Again, it may seem pricy per kilogram ($15/kg) but when a serving size is 50g, this product is actually a bargain in disguise, coming in at $0.75 per serving.

As it is similar in texture to mince-meat, this product goes great in several different meals including pasta, curries, chilli con carne, burgers, rissoles, shepherd pie. You can even use it as a pizza topping!

Takeaway Message?

As you can see, following a plant-based diet can certainly be affordable as well as nutritious and tasty! By avoiding the “fake” meats, you can save yourself some serious dollars and opt for legume-based alternatives instead which are less processed form of protein.

If you’re a student on a budget curious about the plant-based movement, try these foods out and let us know what you think. If you’d like to get in contact with a dietitian, get started now!