Eating sustainably on a budget: is it possible?

With food prices going up for month after month, we wonder how affordable our recipes are. The recipes are created mostly with sustainability and simplicity in mind. But are they also affordable?

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Mareike Brühl | 10-17-2022

Sustainable isn’t necessarily more expensive

A transition to a more sustainable food system only works, if it’s available to all. Therefore it’s important that a sustainable diet is an affordable diet. And actually this is exactly of the main issues: people think that it’s expensive. According to an EU study it’s even the number one reason that prevents people from eating (more) sustainably.

A sustainable diet consists of less meat and dairy and more vegetables, legumes and nuts. Therefore a good starting point would be to have a look at the cost of vegetarian and vegan diets. An Oxford study compared the costs of different diets. They found that in high and upper middle countries flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets had lower costs than the current diet.

How about organic?

The perception that sustainable is expensive might come from the fact that organic products come to mind immediately. This makes sense. In 2019 the Consumentenbond (a Dutch Consumers Association) checked prices of supermarkets’ own products, premium products and organic products. While organic products cost on average 63% more than supermarkets’ own products, supermarkets’ own organic products sometimes also cost less than premium products.

As a consumer you can make the biggest impact in terms of CO2-reduction by focussing first on what is on your plate, and only secondly on how that food is produced. Therefore, don’t worry about organic products until you’ve taken the first steps. Have a look at our compass to see what comes first.

Our recipes have lower costs than we thought

Okay, enough theory. How does this apply to our recipes? Now that we know sustainable diets are in general affordable, we felt the moral obligation to calculate our recipes’ cost. This is at the core of what we do: making it as easy as possible to transition to a sustainable diet. And recipes help a lot with that. So also their impact on you wallet should be minimized.

We were actually really surprised by the results. The majority of our recipes – more than 80% – are actually below 2,50 eur per portion. This is also in line with what NIBUD recommends in terms of budgeting your warm meal (2,34 EUR). And for these calculations we haven’t even optimised buying in bulk and what’s discounted, going to the cheapest (super)market, and cooking for multiple days.

We’ve also looked into what made certain recipes more expensive than others. Is it really the case that vegetables are the expensive part? There is some truth in this. Vegetables do make up the largest part of our recipes in terms of cost. However, there are also large differences among recipes and it is hard to recognize the cost directly from the recipe.

We also found that legumes and nuts never make up the majority of the cost of a recipe. Legumes are in fact really cheap. Nuts have a reputation for being expensive, but if you buy them in bulk and buy the more common ones, costs aren’t high.

What really made some recipes expensive are more ‘special’ ingredients. These could easily be exchanged for more common ones or left out. Instead of ravioli and gnocchi, choose other kinds of pasta. Naan bread and fresh bread are welcome additions but could be left out. And fresh herbs are a luxury, given that dried herbs could also be used. Other recipes also simply have expensive ingredients like avocado or jackfruit.

Some tips for recipe selection and the supermarket

  • Pasta, rice, and potato-based recipes are cheaper than wraps, bread, naan, etc. as a ‘base’ of the recipe. Of course you can easily swap the type of pasta for the cheapest one.
  • Legumes are amazing: they’re cheap, provide protein and leave you satisfied.
  • Back to local cuisine: fruits and vegetables that are more exotic are more expensive so if you live in the Netherlands: try to stick to root vegetables and cabbages, apples, and pears mostly.
  • Buy frozen veggies: first, they are often cheaper, and secondly, you can buy larger amounts without the risk of food waste (if you don’t manage to eat everything in a couple of days from purchase).
  • Add cheese as a luxury.

A few of our great low-budget recipes

These four recipes can be made for less than 1,50 euros per portion (October 2022 prices).

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