A lot of people mistakenly assume that being vegan is expensive, but many actually find the opposite to be true. It depends on what you buy and how you cook. Below are a few tips and tricks to help keep food costs down without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Cook from scratch
Regardless of your diet, it isn’t really possible to eat affordably if you buy all ready-made or premium-brand meals. Of course, these are convenient, and we all rely on them sometimes, but they certainly come at a cost. Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be overly complicated or arduous. There are so many one-pot meals you can make in 30 minutes or less, like this incredible linguine.
Always have canned tomatoes in the cupboard
If you’ve got canned tomatoes, you can always make something! Tomato soup for lunch or tomato sauce to form the base of your dinner. A great tomato sauce is the foundation of lots of meals: Spaghetti bolognese and pasta like arrabbiata or puttanesca (without the anchovies), veggie/bean chili, tacos, burritos, or nachos, curries, and pizza sauce. All you need is a little oil, onions, and garlic, plus herbs and spices to alter the mood… Cumin, cilantro, and chili/paprika/cayenne pepper take you to Mexico. Oregano, basil, and thyme place you in Italy, whereas ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and garam masala transport you to India. Alter the garlic and heat to suit your taste, and perfect your own signature sauce! All you need are veggies, canned beans, pasta, or dough, and you have a load of versatile and cheap meal options at your fingertips.
Lentils and mung beans are great for dhals and curries and are a super cheap way to add bulk (and protein and iron) to soups and stews. Keep big bags of them in the cupboard so you can whip up soup or curry at a moment’s notice. Just give them a rinse in cold water and toss them right in, letting them cook in the sauce. You can lower costs even further by buying dry beans, but if you don’t have the time or inclination for that (you need to soak most of them overnight), then read on for how to keep canned bean costs low. You can also buy bulk bags of rice, bulgur wheat, and millet and mix them together or interchange them in recipes for different tastes and textures.
Buy in bulk
If you have the storage space, then bulk-buying cupboard essentials is a brilliant way to save money over the longer term. This is one of the great things about the internet as you can scan the shopping sites looking for bargains and then save that search for next time.
Local Veggie Boxes
We are massive fans of CSA! So much easier and fresher than supermarket veggies, and typically with the added advantage of less plastic and better organic options. Some of the bigger box schemes can be pricey but indulge in a bit of Googling and see if there is a farm nearby that does a cheaper version.
Not all pricing is created equal, and you will find similar products in different shops at different prices. For example, the little shop around the corner may sell cans of chickpeas very cheaply, while cans of other beans may be cheaper at the supermarket. Similarly, “basic” vegetables (such as broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower) are often cheaper at the supermarket, whereas the seasonal stuff (like asparagus or sprouts) may be cheaper from your local grocers. So, try to divvy up your shopping as much as is practical, and you’ll find it does make a difference at the end of the month.
You can find all sorts of vegan gems at a much lower cost at your local ethnic supermarket. Think jackfruit, tofu, and tempeh, as well as cool stuff like rice paper, noodles, spice mixes, and big bottles of soy and chili sauces.
Make big dinners
There is something glorious about a leftover lunch! Cooking up a big dinner means you don’t have half-used cans of beans, for example, hanging around (which often go to waste), and also means that you have lunch figured out for the next day. If you don’t fancy the same thing two days in a row, then you might make the leftover cold rice from a veggie chili into a rice salad for lunch and then make burritos for dinner by filling wraps with the chili. This also saves cooking time, giving you the opportunity to whip up guacamole, salsa, and a salad to make the burritos more interesting.
Make your own dips
Store-bought hummus, salsa, and guacamole are not cheap, but you can make your own at home for a fraction of the price and exactly to your liking. We have lots of recipes on this website! And you can have fun experimenting with bean dips and cashew mayonnaise when you feel more confident. Homemade dips are also a great thing to take along to parties; they are not a huge task for you, and people really appreciate the effort.
Remember the basics
Simple meals rock! Baked potatoes, grilled cheese, and tomato soup are popular for a reason; easy, healthy, cheap, and loved by all the family. They’re our “too tired to think” meals and the perfect comfort food.
Don’t snub frozen vegetables
Vegetables that are flash-frozen retain a huge amount of their nutrients and are usually much cheaper than buying fresh. Frozen spinach is fantastic for curries; choose mixed veg for a shepherd’s pie, there are some great stir-fry mixes available now, and no roast dinner would be complete without frozen peas! Another top tip for smoothie fans is to use frozen berries. You don’t have to worry about them going bad, they’re far cheaper, and they make your smoothies lovely and cool.
Look out for budget recipes
New recipe ideas stop you from getting stuck in a rut. We have lots of these in our ‘On a Budget’ section, and food bloggers are also brilliant for inspiration.
If you’re thinking about going vegan but are worried about making a big commitment, then why not sign up for Veganuary and see how you find it for a month? We send daily support emails with all the tips and tricks on how to eat delicious meals that are healthy, easy, and affordable. It’s a fun way to “dip your toe in the water.” Ninety-nine percent of former participants who responded to our survey said they would recommend it!
Adapted from an article written for a 2016 edition of Vegan Food & Living Magazine
PAGE UPDATED JULY 2020