Eating Vegan on the Cheap
Exploring a plant-centered lifestyle is popular these days, but with it comes the common concern of a cost increase for the household grocery budget. Now that I've been in a (mostly) vegan household for a little more than two years, I’ve learned a thing or two about going vegan on the cheap. Here are a handful of my top tips. (See also: 25 Delicious, Healthy, and Cheap Bean Recipes)
When it comes to vegan protein, many people gravitate immediately towards nuts. While I love a good cashew-pepper stir fry as much as the next girl, stocking your pantry with even conventionally grown nuts can cost as much per pound as high-quality organic meat. If you’re looking to spend less, seeds are a safe bet. For example, sunflower seed kernels can be used to make spreads, seed butter, gluten-free baked goods, and more. I’ve also found that organic versions of popular seeds such as pumpkin, flax, sesame, and others actually cost less than conventional nuts as well. Bonus? Those with nut allergies can feel free to indulge.
Season With Liquid Smoke
This is one of the best-kept secrets of maintaining a successful plant-based diet. If you’re new to being vegan and are concerned about filling your flavor requirements affordably, liquid smoke is something you are going to want to purchase for your refrigerator. Available in a variety of flavors, it adds smoky goodness to any dish you want, making it more like the meat dishes you may have previously been used to. I use it in Middle Eastern eggplant dip, pea soup, and other dishes to add “meaty” flavor without the actual meat.
Stock Up on Beans and Legumes
In addition to the seed suggestion above, beans and other legumes and pulses pack a nutritional punch as well. For example, there are several split pea recipes that are very affordable and easy to make. And not all of them are soup based. Another often-overlooked vegan grocery item is lentils. There a number of varieties that can be used in pilafs, soups, vegan meatloaf, and more.
Go for Green Groceries
While organic groceries are great, what I’m talking about here are fresh grocery items that are actually green in color. They tend to be some of the highest-rated items on the nutrient density index and can be remarkably affordable. Organic romaine hearts go on sale all the time, making them a steal for salad fans. Other affordable ideas include incorporating some frozen broccoli recipes, roasting Brussels sprouts, and trying out baby spinach as an add-in for some of your favorite sandwiches and pasta dishes.
Incorporating a few toppings is a great way to jazz up a meal. They don't have to be expensive, either. For instance, chopped scallions are one of my favorite soup garnishes for simple broths, tomato bisques, and old-fashioned potato soup. They dress things up, are nutritious, and can be prepared relatively quickly with a chef’s knife and cutting board. Another option for enhancing a meal affordably is to use creative salad add-ins. Bacos — believe it or not — are actually vegan. I love to use them on top of salads, on pizzas and even in tortilla wraps. Homemade croutons are another one of my favorite salad ingredients.
Choose Long-Lasting Produce Items
For those with crazy schedules, watching produce go bad due to lack of time can be disheartening. That’s why shopping for long-lasting veggies such as cabbage and onions can keep you on track financially while still keeping you stocked with vegetables. This might mean you eat fewer salads and enjoy winter squash more often, but in general you’ll have more flexibility with your groceries when work keeps you on the go.
Once you’ve done your research and test driven a few types of recipes to determine what’s right for you and your family, you’ll see that pulling off vegan on the cheap isn’t necessarily as difficult as you might have previously have thought. For those more experienced vegans reading, what are some areas of savings that might surprise the rest of us?