A lot people mistakenly assume that being vegan is expensive, but I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. Below are a few tips and tricks to keep food costs down, without sacrificing flavour or variety.
- Cook from scratch
Now I know this will scare some people… But, regardless of your diet, it isn’t really possible to eat affordably if you buy ready-made, jars of sauce, or premium brand meal deals. I understand that these sort of products go hand-in-hand with the word ‘convenience’, but cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be overly complicated or arduous. In fact, the majority of the meals I make take 30 minutes or less, and I hope the points below demonstrate how I do this…
- Always have tinned tomatoes in the cupboard
I feel like I’ve got nothing in the house when I run out of tinned tomatoes. I buy the chopped kind, and prefer the low-cost packs of four you get from supermarkets – home brands tend to be cheaper, so I stick with those. When you have a can of tomatoes you can make a great tomato sauce, and a great tomato sauce is the foundation of lots of meals: spag bol and pastas like arrabiata 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, coriander 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, tinned beans, pasta or dough, and you have a load of versatile and cheap meal options at your fingertips.
- Buy dry
Lentils and mung beans are great for dahls and curries, and are a super cheap way to add bulk (and protein and iron) to soups and stews. I always have big bags of them in the cupboard, as you can basically make a soup or curry out of anything. I give them a rinse in cold water and chuck them straight 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 them) then you’ll be pleased to know that I have discovered how to keep canned bean costs low (keep reading). I also buy 1kg bags of rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat, as I enjoy mixing up my carbs and proteins, and changing the texture of meals. You can get these fairly cheap.
- Buy in bulk
If you have the storage space, then bulk-buying store cupboard essentials is a brilliant way to save dosh. 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. My best friend is an expert at this and even has shelves in her garage to keep non-perishables.
- Local Veg Boxes
I am a massive fan of these! So much easier and fresher than supermarket veggies, and typically with the added advantage of less plastic and better organic options. I tried one of the big veg box companies but found it a bit inconvenient and fairly expensive. After a bit Googling about, I found a local greengrocers that does a much cheaper version. I think they’re worth their weight in gold and they’re my saving grace in the lead-up to pay day.
- Shop around
Not all pricing is created equal, and you will find similar products in different shops at different prices. For example, the little shop round the corner from me sells tins of chickpeas for only 39p, so that’s where I buy my chickpeas; but I can get cans of other beans cheaper at the supermarket, so I get the rest when I do my online shop. Similarly, I find that ‘basic’ veg (broccoli, cauliflower etc.) is often cheaper at the supermarket, whereas the seasonal stuff (asparagus, sprouts etc.) is usually cheaper from my local grocers. So I try to divvy up my shopping as much as is practical, and it does make a difference at the end of the month.
- Ethnic supermarkets
You can find all sorts of vegan gems at a much lower cost at your local ethic supermarket. Think jackfruit, tofu, and tempeh, as well as cool stuff like rice paper, noodles, spice mixes, and big bottles of soy and chilli sauces.
- Make big dinners
I am the queen of the leftover lunch! Cooking up a big dinner means I don’t have half-used tins of beans etc. hanging around (which often go to waste), and also means that I have lunch sorted for the next day. If I don’t fancy the same thing two days running then I 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 on 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 mayonnaises when you feel more confident. Homemade dips are also a great thing to take along to parties; not a huge outlay for you and people really appreciate the effort.
- Remember the basics
Simple meals rock! Baked spuds, beans on toast and tomato soup are popular for a reason; easy, healthy, cheap and loved by all the family. They’re my ‘I’m too tired to think’ meals and the perfect comfort food.
- Don’t snub frozen veg
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, 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 off, they work out far cheaper, and they make your smoothies lovely and cool.
- Look out for budget recipes
New recipe ideas stop you getting stuck in a rut. We have lots of these in our ‘On a Budget’ section, and food bloggers, like Jack Monroe, are also brilliant for inspiration (even if you just scan over their pics on Instagram). Jack took part in Veganuary 2016 and has over 100 vegan recipes at cookingonabootstrap.com; the majority of which only cost £0.50 per person!
If you’re thinking about going vegan but are worried about making a big commitment, then why not sign up to 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’, you can take part with a family member or friend, and I really think you’ll enjoy it. Drop me a line and let me know if you do!
This article was first written for a 2016 edition of Vegan Food & Living Magazine