Vegan meals don’t have to be expensive, but they certainly can be. Vegan gourmet restaurants, vegan processed foods, vegan specialty products. These can certainly add up.
Here are a few helpful hints on making veganism as affordable as possible.
My last year of college I actually saved significantly on my food bill by eating vegan.
Granted, I didn’t eat packaged foods, at all. Everything I ate was made from scratch every day. Every morning I would wake up 1-2 hours earlier to prepare my food for the day.
1- Avoid foods that come in cans, boxes and jars as far as possible.
2- Get to know your local farmers market. Even better, make friends with the farmers. Talk to them about their culls. Most farms end up throwing out lots of food, not because it’s necessarily bad, but because it may not be ‘aesthetic’ enough to sell. Farmers markets are certainly more lenient than supermarkets, but typically most farms have a serious amount of veggies and fruits that they end up giving largely away to employees or go to the dump. Find out if farmers are willing to work with you — maybe they would be open to you coming and picking it up from their location on their harvest days, or perhaps you can buy these foods in bulk from them for a reduced price. It’s possible that they may be quite happy to work with you on this.
3- Some grocery stores, have a section of fresh foods that are going at a reduced rate, they may have been on the shelf a bit longer, with perhaps a few spots, but these foods are still edible and can often go for half the price of their shelved counterparts, if not more.
4- Grow herbs in your window sills, basil, parsley, chives, sage, cilantro. If you have space on the patio or garden, it’s possible to grow tomatoes, green leaves, salad, radishes. Experiment, find out for yourself how much you can fit in the amount of area that you have. One seed packet, can grow often 7-8 plants. Each plant can harvest several servings. It’s definitely the most bang for your dollar.
5- Some communities have community garden plots. Sometimes these small plots of land are free to grow whatever you’d like on them, and sometimes it may cost a small amount of money for the season you grow something.
6- Get to know if your area has CSA shares. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Basically at the beginning of the growing season the farmer sells shares of his produce for that season. How this works is you may pay a one time installment of 300-400$ depending on the size of the share (often half and full shares are the common features) in order to receive a fresh fruit and vegetables from that farm on a weekly basis. I get a CSA share from the University campus organic farm. I paid a little over 300 dollars in the spring, in order for a weekly share of veggies that I pick up every Tuesday for about 4 months (if not a little more). In each share of veggies, I get whatever was in season for that week. Recently the shares may look something like:
1 bundle of beets
1 bundle of kale
1 bundle of basil
1 bowl of raspberries
1 small bag of edamame
1 bundle of swiss chard
1 bundle of parsley
2 heads of lettuce
As the season moves forward the shares have more food,
they start including tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplant, onions, garlic, etc.
It can sometimes be difficult to finish all of the food, I only receive a half share, but it’s really ample amount of greens for the week typically. In some cases volunteering at a CSA may mean bringing home lots of extra stuff, either culls, or extras or in some cases the CSA provides volunteers with free shares. CSA shares definitely can save a lot, especially when it comes to organic produce.
7- Find others who are into foraging and wild food collecting. There may be local meet up groups, or field days hosted by local universities about wild plants, check local events pages. The cost of wild food is basically the transportation that may be involved in getting to a place where you can collect. Common wild foods (at least in the intermountain west): Amaranth, wild lettuce, dandelions, plantain, sorrel, clover, grass — actually wheat grass is such a craze in the health food movement, but actually all grass is edible and full of nutrients, the only part of grass that wouldn’t be good for health is a black mold that can sometimes be found in a seed head.
*Note: Do learn the common poisonous plants in your area to make sure there aren’t any edible lookalikes. Wild foods do tend to have more bitter qualities than their store counterparts, but on that same note they are also typically much higher in nutrients such as calcium, iron and other essential elements. These should be slowly introduced into the diet, so to not be too overwhelming for the body, large quantities of new foods can sometimes be a little hard on the stomach, but overtime adjustment will happen.
8- I haven’t personally tried this cookbook but Robin Robertson has written a cookbook specifically for vegans wanting to save money, “Vegan on the Cheap”, there is also a book by Ellen Jones, “Eat vegan on 4 $ a day”. Both having fairly good reviews on Amazon.
9-Also, just remember that by eating vegan, you are saving some pretty hefty expenses that may not occur later on, because you are amping up your immunity through fresh foods. To learn more about this, please refer to Primitive Nutrition series on youtube, where multiple first hand scientific journals are reviewed on basically the health benefits of a plant based diet. Other helpful resources: (films) fat sick and nearly dead, forks over knives, healing cancer, eat, and simply raw, (books) nutritarian handbook. You may find that medications you once needed, may begin feeling less useful, once your body really begins to adapt and thrive off of whole fresh foods.
10- Cooking/Uncooking tips:
*Note: these tips are largely for those living in the US, some of these may be helpful tips in other locations, however depending on the region food selection and prices will vary as local foods will tend to be more available hence cheaper than imported food. On that note, no matter where you live, buying local foods will most likely be the best value for your money.
When using online recipes or recipes from books and you want to maintain the same quality yet not use such expensive ingredients, here are some go to ingredient swaps that can make a nice difference in your pocketbook.
- Cashews and pine nuts — cashews can certainly be expensive, often over $10 for a bag (and much more for pine nuts), and same with almonds. Try sunflower seeds, often they sell for $3 a bag, being a dryland crop they don’t take a lot of resources to grow. In fact, they often grow as ‘weeds’ in many arid regions. You can make cheeses with these, creams, even milk.
- Cereal — cereal adds up, especially boxed cereal. The best savings is to have oatmeal instead of cereal, or something else home-made instead of oatmeal.
- Vegan meats, cheeses, yogurts, ice-cream and other specialty products — this is where the costs of vegan can really hit the pocket. A lot of these products are 5 dollars each, sure maybe they taste amazing, and maybe they are great for special occasions, but for everyday fair, it will certainly add up. Also many of these products can be made at home, vital wheat gluten is a common ingredient for vegan meats, cashews or tofu are common in cheeses — however cashews can be substituted by sunflower seeds and tofu can be substituted by chickpea ‘tofu’ http://www.mynewroots.org/site/2014/04/genius-chickpea-tofu/
- Tofu– I just listed this above, but figured it was worth mentioning in it’s own bullet. Not that tofu is that expensive, however making your own from chickpea flour is cheaper, http://www.mynewroots.org/site/2014/04/genius-chickpea-tofu/
- Berries and exotic fruits — of course these are so good for you, however they are often expensive, apples, oranges and bananas are typically the most cost effective fruits.
- Basil – Basil is amazing, and every now and again I may spend to get some, however, other herbs are much cheaper. Cilantro and parsley for example typically sell for a fraction of the price that basil does. Cilantro pesto is awesome– and is personally my favorite, and much cheaper to make than basil pesto. Some people prefer the taste of parsley over cilantro, in that case make pesto from parsley.
- Ready made sauces — to be avoided, the only sauce that is fairly useful in vegan cooking is tomato sauce, for some reason blended tomatoes don’t always give the same rich texture that canned tomatoes do. For all other exotic and fun ready made sauces, just skip them. Healthier sauces can be easily made at home. Tahini and peanut butter are packaged foods, however if used sparingly within recipes can go a long way for the investment. Tahini often goes for $10 a jar, but will last months in the cupboard, and is great in so many recipes. I’ve even made my own milk from 1 banana, 1-2 tbsp tahini and 2-3 cups of water blended. It may be acquired taste, but for the time I had little time I wanted to invest in actually making a nut milk, this was a perfect solution for me.
- Supplements– don’t worry too much about this, B12 is important to have but apart from that as long as you are getting plenty of greens, and calories in general, you will have the nutrients that you need from a vegan diet.
- Pickles — organic pickles can be pretty expensive. Try buying a cucumber instead, slicing it thin and marinating it in sugar, salt and vinegar. It may add the right amount of tangy crunchiness to your sandwich that you may not even miss the jarred variety. (http://www.food.com/recipe/norwegian-cucumber-salad-agurksalat-423204)
- Olives — Sometimes there are sales on organic olives, but incase it’s not happening, capers are generally more affordable.
- Bread — If you are really looking to save money, buy flour not bread. You will get 6-7 loaves for the price of one, if you make your own bread. This can be time consuming, so again it really depends what level of cost saving you are interested in.
- Junk food — I know it’s tempting, but chips, cookies, cakes, sugar and fat filled things only serve to deplete the body of nutrients, keeping up the vicious cycle of cravings and hunger. The more quality rich food you have the more full you will be, hence the less you will buy. Raw food recipes are especially great at satisfying cravings. Try a raw broccoli soup, you may be surprised at how quickly your nerves and cravings stabilize.
- Dates, agave and maple syrup– in the US, alternative sweeteners can be pricy, these are common sweeteners in vegan cooking. Alternatively you can buy stevia — upfront costs may be more, however the quantities needed to sweeten are very very minute, hardly a few grains. One small container can last years — mine certainly has. Raisins can also be used, these are much cheaper than dates and can easily replace dates in many raw food recipes. If neither of these quite fit the bill, agave is certainly cheaper than maple syrup, and can be used sparingly.
- Buy in bulk, go to the bulk aisle and get everything you want in dried version, cans of beans definitely add up in cost. Pre-made rice in bags or boxes give you much less value for your money. Load up on dried bulk food. *if you have never cooked dried beans, it’s less intimidating than you might think, throw them in a slow cooker for 8 hours while you are at work with ample water alternatively soak them in water overnight and simmer them for 1 hour until they are soft. If you are interested in foods that cook faster, try millet instead of rice, try lentils instead of beans, they don’t require soaking or an hour. They can be done in 20 minutes, sometimes a bit longer, but at minimum about 20 minutes. I have never been brave enough to use a pressure cooker, but that is another way that these foods can be cooked much quicker.