My Minimalist Vegetarian Diet: Super Cheap, Simple, and Healthy

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cheap minimalist meal planning that's also vegetarian, healthy, and easy

I moved to Washington about 3 months ago from California. Just like when I moved away from home for the first time for college, I had to figure out how to feed myself in my new living situation.

I already had a meal plan that I used to follow from my college days in San Diego. So I was hoping to stick to my old plan at my new place in Washington. But when I made the final move into my new place, I was in for a few surprises: 1. no oven 2. no refrigerator (I had to buy my own mini-fridge) 3. almost no kitchen space. 

I’m never renting a room on Craigslist again.

The landlord I’m living with has very strict rules on taking up any space in the house for storage. Basically, everything I own must stay in my room or outside (except for toiletries). This situation was definitely something I had to get used to in the beginning. I guess when they said they had a room for rent, they really meant just a room for rent.

The first thing I had to figure out was how to handle my groceries. Almost all of my storage space for groceries was pretty much confined to the corner of my room and a small minifridge. 

corner of my room. pretty much empty

I didn’t really have space for the refrigerated food that I usually bought which included things like chicken, eggs, vegetables, and greek yogurt. There was no way I could fit all of those into my little minifridge on top of any meal prepped food.

Given my storage situation I had to come up with a new plan that accommodated these inventory restrictions. After a few months of experimentation, I eventually came up with the minimalist grocery list. Honestly, I’m liking this new minimalist meal plan more than my previous meal plan. As an additional bonus, it’s largely plant-based, which is good for the environment and makes me feel good about myself.

The Minimalist Grocery List

Lunch and Dinner


black beans

You can pick any beans. The kind doesn’t matter too much. They all provide similar nutritional value. Black and pinto beans are the most common, but feel free to take what you can get or whatever is the cheapest.

These are very high in carbs, protein, and calories. They are very cheap for the nutritional value you get. I think of it as the macronutrient powerhouse that goes well with any meal type.



Lentils are high in carbs, protein, and calories. They are also very cheap for the nutritional value you get. One downside: they’re somewhat hard to find in grocery stores (I get mine at Walmart)

Some Vegetables (Broccoli, Kale, Brussel Sprouts)


Vegetables are high in calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. These also help provide a feeling of fullness in your meals because of their fiber content. If you’re trying to lose weight, I recommend making your meals high in vegetable content.




It’s high in carbs and calories. It’s also very cheap. I usually like to just pour them in a bowl, add milk, and wait a few minutes. It saves me a trip to the microwave. You could also do this with water.



Bread is high in carbs. It’s great for snacking on.



Peanuts are high in fat, protein, and calories. They are a very cheap source of calories and protein. They are also easy to snack on. I like them because they give me a lot of calories to support my weightlifting workouts without forcing me to stuff myself.

Peanut butter

peanut butter

Like peanuts, but in butter form. It’s high in fat, protein, and calories. It’s a very cheap source of calories and protein. It also goes well with bread. I usually like to mix this with oatmeal and regular peanuts in a bowl for a breakfast with big calories.



Good source of carbs and potassium. Great for snacking on and tastes great.



Milk adds in a number of calories to my breakfast. It’s a good source of protein and goes well with oatmeal.

You can substitute this with water or almond milk if you’re looking to cut calories or go full vegan.

Why Choose a Minimalist Meal Plan

1. It’s Very Cheap

The average person spends between $38.60-$86.20 per week on groceries just on himself/herself. This comes out to $154-$345 per month or $1848-$4137 per year.

This meal plan will cost about $21 per week ($1 per meal), $84 per month, and $1008 per year. A conservative estimate of your savings would be $70 per month, $800 per year. But if you are on the upper end of the grocery spending range, you could be saving hundreds per month or thousands per year. This is accounting just for yourself. If you were feeding a family with this, you would easily hit the hundreds of dollars range of savings per month.

If you’ve been wanting to save up for something, but your finances are pretty tight right now, this could be a quick fix to save a few bucks with no extra effort. Even if you switch out for just a few meals per week, that could add up to a sizable amount of savings over time.

2. It Greatly Reduces Decision Fatigue

You only have a certain amount of mental resources to devote to making decisions. Once that runs out, the quality of your decisions starts to degrade. This is called decision fatigue. Ideally, you should be conserving your decision making energy only for those important decisions in your life.

If you want to conserve your decision making energy, you might want to reduce the number of decisions you have to make in the day. This is why Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and other high performers wear the same clothes everyday. They are eliminating the daily decision of choosing what to wear to preserve their decision making energy.

Deciding what you want to eat can eat up a lot of your decision making energy, especially when it’s 5pm, there’s no food in the fridge, no groceries in the house, and you have no energy left after a busy workday. At this point, it might be really tempting to just grab some takeout, which costs 4x more than cooking for yourself and is probably less healthy for you.

I personally like my minimalist meal plan because I don’t have to go through the process of deciding what I should cook and if that will meet my nutritional goals. I sometimes run into perfectionist tendencies, especially when it comes to cooking food. When I follow a meal plan, I don’t have to spend this time and energy figuring out how and what to cook every week. That’s a huge plus for me.

If you are not into the idea of eating the same meal everyday, you still have the option to cook something different once in a while. The key difference here is you get to make that decision on your terms when you are feeling inspired, have the time, and the motivation. Not when it’s getting late, you’re tired, and have no idea what to do for dinner. If you aren’t feeling like making another decision, you always have the default of following the meal plan. 

Alternatively, you could have a set number of fixed meal plans that you follow. This would follow the same idea of cutting out decisions, but still allow you to cycle through different meals through the week.

3. It’s Quick and Simple to Put Together

Time is very important to me. I love finding ways to maximize my free time and minimize lost time. I don’t like to spend too much time on non-value added activities like buying groceries and cooking. If you also value your time (which I’m guessing you probably do), the minimalist meal plan can help with that. The good thing about the minimalist meal plan is it doesn’t take much time to put together.

I like to put all my ingredients in an instapot on high pressure for 22 minutes and come back later when it’s done. According to my time studies, the total time I spend putting things into my instapot, taking them out when ready, and cleaning up is about 20 minutes for a 5 meal batch. The breakfast meal takes about 5-10 minutes to get everything together and ready to be eaten. This is all counting the time starting from when I get up from my desk to go cook to when I sit back down at my desk ready to work.

If you don’t have an instapot, you could alternatively put the beans and lentils in a pot of water and boil them for an hour. I imagine that should also take a similar amount of time to get everything done.

The grocery trip is also pretty time efficient. From my time studies, my grocery trips to Walmart (a 5 minute drive from home) and back will take on average 38 minutes if I’m not rushing. This is including the time it takes to unpack everything and put my groceries away. I’m only cooking for myself, so I can fit about a week’s worth of groceries in one reusable bag. Since I already know what I need to get based on the meal plan, I don’t have to spend any time at the grocery store deciding what I should get.

How’s the Nutritional Content?

I designed this minimalist meal plan to focus on meeting the essential macronutrient goals: carbs, fats, protein. Macronutrients are the essential nutrients needed for energy, growth, and basic bodily functions. 

The totals for the three macronutrients for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are: 130g protein, 313g carbs, and 84g fats. The calories for the day adds up to 2370. This comes from 1lb of beans, 1lb of lentils, roughly a handful of broccoli/kale, some chia seeds I toss in, 80g of oatmeal (about 2 handfuls worth), 60g of peanuts, a big spoonful of peanut butter, 200g of milk, 2 slices of bread, and a banana.

I’m a 5’5” 145 lb male following a weightlifting program. Following this minimalist meal plan leaves me feeling pretty full, but not so full that I’m stuffed. It’s enough to fill me up so that I don’t get hungry during the day. Depending on your nutritional needs and body type, you can increase or decrease the amount to match your weight goals.

As for taste, it’s acceptable for me. It’s definitely not at the level of eating out at a respectable restaurant, but it doesn’t fill me with disgust at the thought of eating it. Overall, it gets the job done without making my life miserable. However, if taste is a big factor for you, you could think about adding some spices to it or a few extra ingredients to balance out the flavors. I think some rice would go nicely with this, but this meal plan is the bare minimum I would find acceptable. Hence, the minimalist meal plan.

One potential downside of following this minimalist meal plan is lack of nutrient diversity. I’m not a nutrition expert, but there may be some nutrients that may be neglected by religiously eating the exact same thing everyday no exceptions. So I do think eating something different once in a while is recommended. I think the diversity should come naturally if you ever decide to eat out with people.

However, too much diversity has been associated with weight gain and obesity according to a study by the American Heart Association scientific advisory. So on the bright side, this meal plan helps with reducing dietary diversity and resulting weight gain.

How to Design Your Own Minimalist Meal Plan

The idea behind minimalism is to make a deliberate decision to keep what is most important to you and discard the rest. It’s not necessarily cutting everything down to the barebones survival necessities (unless that’s what you want to do). 

To create your own minimalist foods grocery list, decide what is most important to you about your meals and cut down the rest. For me, my most important criteria for my meals is meeting the essential macronutrients needed to sustain my health and support my fitness goals. Time and simplicity are also up there with that. For you this could mean having something that tastes good enough. Or it could mean something that takes the least amount of time to prepare. 

Once you’ve decided what’s most important to you, decide what items in your current meal plan are not completely essential to meeting your goal and eliminate them. In the beginning, I started with a number of not completely necessary items that did not help me with meeting my most important goals. These were bell peppers, potatoes, carrots, and avocados. Although these are healthy food choices, after counting the macronutrients, I decided they weren’t completely necessary for my diet and I cut them out.

Tips on Optimizing Inventory Space

What started me down this journey was limited inventory space, especially in my minifridge. A big advantage of a minimalist meal plan is it doesn’t take up much space, leaving your house less cluttered. This will help a lot if you share fridge space with roommates. Here are some tips to help you optimize inventory space:

Stick to a Meal Routine

If you can, try to stick to only a small number of meal types. That means routinely eating the same meals for most of the week. Having a large diversity in your meal plan will require you to store more food in excess of what is needed. It also adds a little bit of unnecessary mental overhead when you need to gather ingredients together to prep your meals. I’m sticking to two types of meals: breakfast and lunch/dinner meals.

Stick to Dry Non-Refrigerated Goods

I have a minifridge, so space is very limited for any refrigerated items. That’s why I chose to primarily compose my meals of dry ingredients that can be stored out in the open. Most people have more space outside of their refrigerator than inside. Composing your meal plan with mostly dry goods will help save some of that prime refrigerator real estate.

Buy only what you’ll need until your next trip to the market

This tip is somewhat negotiable, depending on how often you want to go buy groceries and how much space you are willing to devote to storing your groceries. If you don’t want a cluttered home, you should aim to only buy what you will need until your next trip to the grocery store. Instead of buying a bunch of stuff and bringing it home, pre-plan what you will need to get you through until the next time you buy groceries.

If you’ve heard about LEAN manufacturing, some of the same principles are at work here. You are looking to eliminate what is unnecessary and let your needs decide what you should buy. Not buying what you think you might use then struggling to figure out how to use it. If you’re really interested in hyper-optimizing your grocery shopping routine, I would start looking into LEAN manufacturing and thinking about how you can apply that to your grocery shopping process.


Following my minimalist meal plan has helped me to save a significant amount of money since I’ve started to implement it. It’s also really nice not having the burden of deciding what to make for dinner every time I cook. It meets my nutritional goals, is quick and easy to prepare, and all the ingredients fit into my limited space. Feel free to try it yourself if you’re looking to make drastic cuts to your grocery bill.

Joe Wong

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