Vegan on a budget
Shopping for a balanced vegan diet doesn’t have to be any more expensive than shopping for a non-vegan diet. With our tips and your creativity, you may even find yourself saving money.
A majority of healthy vegan meals use the ingredients that you should already have in your cupboards and that most supermarkets offer as less expensive own-brand versions, including:
- tinned beans and dried pulses of various kinds
- vegetables (particularly seasonal ones)
- egg-free pasta and noodles
- bread (wholemeal is ideal from a health point of view)
- dried herbs and spices
- seasonal fruit
- soya mince
These ingredients may not sound hugely exciting on their own but can be used to make a wide variety of dishes such as chillis, curries, stir fries, wraps or pasta dishes, so it’s possible to enjoy plenty of variety too.
Branded staples such as soya/nut milk and vegan-suitable margarine are similar in price to their dairy equivalents. However, supermarkets normally also offer their own brand plant-based milks, which are often cheaper than the own brand dairy equivalents.
Frozen veggie burgers, sausages and mince are often fairly inexpensive; particularly supermarket own-brand products (check the labels before buying though, as not all ‘veggie’ products are vegan and many contain egg).
Some supermarkets also offer dried veggie packet mixes (found near the seasonings and other dried pulses) for foods such as burgers and sausages, that you can happily experiment with. A packet of burger mix can be turned into ‘meatballs’ and tossed in tomato sauce to be eaten with spaghetti. Alternatively, a sausage packet mix can be rolled in some puff pastry (most cheap supermarket own-brands are vegan) and you can create vegan sausage rolls in no time. Perfect for snacking or picnics.
Check the ‘value’ products
Quite often products in low-budget supermarket ranges are vegan when their more expensive equivalents are not; for example, cheaper products that are made with vegetable oil or margarine when the more expensive ones use butter. Things like apple pies, garlic bread, dark chocolate and fruit crumble have been spotted as vegan ‘value’ versions in various supermarkets. If you take a minute to check the ingredients, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that it's vegan.
If you fancy cooking up a spontaneous meal, search your local shops for fruit and vegetable in the ‘reduced’ section and consider what you can make with them. You never know where your creativity will take you. If they've only been reduced by 20p or are still relatively expensive, then it might be worth giving them a miss, as you'd only be saving a small amount.
If you visit supermarkets and shops near closing time, you can often benefit from dramatically reduced prices on bakery and fresh produce. You can find anything from bargain bread buns to puff pastry and pots of houmous that are practically being giving away for pennies. Items such as pastry and bread can be put in the freezer and defrosted later to last the entire week.
Special occasions and deals
In many health stores you can find ‘specialist’ products such as vegan cheese or vegan meat equivalents, that are great if you're craving such foods. Their costs may run a little higher than the supermarket own brands, but if you find them on offer (larger health stores such as Holland and Barrett offer some great deals), you can work them into a tighter budget.
Health-wise it’s better to view these as occasional additions to your diet rather than staple foods. This doesn’t mean a vegan diet is ‘expensive’ – if you based a non-vegan diet on expensive cheeses and cuts of meat, the costs would soon add up too!
Freeze and reheat
If you have access to a freezer, you can make up several portions of a curry, chilli or casserole with a big bag of supermarket ‘basics’ vegetables or potatoes - and freeze them. This is much cheaper than buying ready meals and is also convenient ie. just heat up a meal in the microwave if you don’t have time to cook.
Frozen vegetables can sometimes be cheaper than fresh - for example frozen peppers, broccoli or spinach - and taste just as good. They also keep for longer, meaning you don’t end up throwing any away.
Discovering cheap fruit and berries at local markets is great, but they may be nearing the end of their shelf-life. A quick and easy way to keep them fresh and edible is to wash, chop and freeze them. This means that they last a long time and are ready to be whizzed into smoothies whenever you want them. Also, if you find cheap bananas they can make a fantastic ice cream when frozen and blended.
Leftovers for lunch
If you can, make extra of your evening meal and use the remainder as a packed lunch the next day. It’s usually cheaper and more convenient than buying lunch when you’re out. Plus you'll know it will taste good! If you get in to the habit of making extra and freezing it, you should have plenty of choice of what to eat the next day.
Explore new shops and markets
If you have shops near you specialising in food from other countries, go in and explore. You might find that some ingredients are cheaper there than in supermarkets. One example is tofu, which is normally a lot cheaper from Chinese supermarkets than from other shops. You can often find interesting noodles, cooking sauces and other ingredients too.
As we mentioned before, markets can be a good way of finding fresh produce for less than supermarket prices. If your local market has cheap vegetables on offer, try making them into a hearty, healthy soup and freezing it in portions.
Buy what you need
Food waste is a big problem in the UK and we can help combat that problem by only buying what we need. If you have spare fresh ingredients, see if it’s possible to freeze them for later. Some vegetables such as peppers and spinach or even tofu can be cooked up into spare portions of curry, chilli, soup or pasta sauce to be frozen and eaten another time.
Make a list and stick to it
We’re writing a list, we’re checking it twice! Lists are a good idea, particularly if you find yourself buying things that you don’t manage to eat in time, or if you get distracted and tend to impulse-buy products on your shopping trip. If you plan your week’s meals, then write a list and only buy what’s on your list - and you’re less likely to overspend.
Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry
You may have heard this before, but it’s true. It is much easier to resist non-essential food purchases when you’re not already hungry… after all, do you really NEED those vegan chocolate truffles?