A lot people mistakenly assume that being vegan is expensive, but many people find the opposite to be true. It depends what you buy and how you cook. Below are a few tips and tricks to help keep food costs down, without sacrificing flavour or variety.
- Cook from scratch
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. Of course these are convenient and we all rely on them sometimes, but they certainly come at a cost. But 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.
- Always have tinned tomatoes in the cupboard
If you’ve got tinned tomatoes, you can always make something! A tomato soup for lunch, or a tomato sauce to form the base of your dinner. 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 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 a soup or curry at a moment’s notice. Just 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 most of them overnight) then read on for how to keep canned bean costs low. You can also buy 1kg 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 store cupboard essentials is a brilliant way to save dosh 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 Veg Boxes
We are massive fans of these! 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 Googling and see if there is a greengrocers or farm nearby that does a cheaper version.
- 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 may sell tins of chickpeas very cheaply, while cans of other beans may be cheaper at the supermarket. Similarly, ‘basic’ veg (such as broccoli, carrots and cauliflower) is 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.
- 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
There is something glorious about a leftover lunch! Cooking up a big dinner means you don’t have half-used tins of beans, for example, hanging around (which often go to waste), and also means that you have lunch sorted for the next day. If you don’t fancy the same thing two days running 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 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 mayonnaise 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 potatoes, beans on toast 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 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, 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 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. 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. 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