‘I can’t afford to be vegan!’ It’s one of the arguments you hear far too often. I can see why people say it when they’re new to veganism because it’s so easy to be tempted by all the fancy products in attractive packaging with clever slogans that make you feel like you ‘need’ those foods. The truth is, you don’t! Veganism is for everyone and a vegan diet can be as cheap as, well, chips. But the trick is to make your diet not only cheap but healthy, too. Thrive and not just survive!
Essentials at the ready
Basic foods we rely on for sustenance and nutrition – fruit and vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, wholegrains – can be dirt cheap and if you’re clever, you can get them at half the going price. Here’s how to do it:
- Nuts, seeds, dried fruit – don’t buy small packs and avoid the snack-sized deals near tills as these are the most expensive. Bigger packs are usually in or near the baking section and tend to be considerably cheaper. Better still, buy large bags in health food or specialist shops, fill your own bags from the big tubs in bulk stores or order online.
- Fruit and vegetables – your best bet may be a local shop as they often have better prices than supermarkets. However, supermarkets always put fruit and veg on sale at reduced prices even when it’s still perfectly edible - so look out for good deals. With more expensive produce such as cherries, berries, edamame or green beans, buying frozen is cheaper and the nutrition quality is similar to fresh.
- Beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – pulses – are cheap and nutritious whether you buy them canned or dried to cook yourself. Incredibly versatile, you can use them in a wide variety of dishes – bean chilli, lentil dhal, chickpea curry, bean or lentil soups and stews, lentil ragu for pasta, peas added to almost any dish or blended in pea soup, they all work well in risottos and salads or blended for spreads and dips.
- Canned beans, chickpeas and lentils don’t lose nutrients like some other canned foods and are money-saving as cooking the same amount at home would use up more energy. The other energy-efficient option is to cook them from dry, after soaking, in big batches and freeze what you don’t use. The exception is peas – best bough frozen and cooked in a few minutes.
- Wholegrains – bread can be pricey but the cheapest, and healthy, option is usually wholemeal pitta. When it comes to grains such as brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, bulgur or millet, the same rule applies as for nuts and seeds – the bigger the pack the lower the price! And pasta is an easy one – most supermarkets offer their own brand wholemeal pasta and it’s a lot more affordable than fancy brands, which are hardly any different.
- Tofu and mock meats – ready-to-use products can drain your wallet fast. Find out where your nearest Asian supermarket is as they often sell tofu at much better prices. Mock meats and burgers are frequently ‘on offer’ in supermarkets and health food shops, so when that happens, stock up so you’re not tempted to buy them when the price rises. Check out the freezers first as frozen foods tend to be cheaper.
- Dairy alternatives – supermarket own brand plant milks can be more than half the price of other brands but also watch out for special offers. Soya yogurt prices vary but they are always cheaper and healthier than coconut yogurts – remember that when shopping around.
The best way to have a cheap and healthy lunch is to make it yourself. Sadly, there’s no way around it. You don’t need to have the most perfect lunch box so if you’re strapped for time simply bring the ingredients and assemble at work. You can also make a few jars of spread by blending beans or chickpeas with spices, salt, veggies and a spoon of tahini or seeds. Bring those to work and spread on bread or toast or use as a dip for vegetables.
Another idea is to use leftovers from the night before to make a salad – just add vegetables, nuts or seeds and you’re good to go! It works well with almost anything – rice dishes, pasta, curries, casseroles, stews etc. You can also use leftover rice to make your own sushi wraps and load them with vegetables and tofu. It’s super quick, healthy and super cheap!
If you’re caught without a lunch and don’t fancy going shopping, falafel stands are a smart choice – usually cheap and healthy with a pitta bread (ask for wholemeal) loaded with fresh vegetables, protein-rich falafels and tahini sauce, which adds some calcium to your meal.
The most nutritious and least expensive choices are fresh fruit and vegetables or homemade smoothies, nuts and seeds. Oat or rye crackers or crispbreads are also excellent as they’re cheap but offer healthy energy.
Snack bars can cost an arm and a leg but it’s easy to make your own. In a food processor, combine nuts, seeds and dried fruit, add oats if you want and blitz until you’ve achieved desirable texture. Take the whole mass out of the food processor and press it into a loaf, cut into smaller pieces and shape into bars or balls. It’ll cost you fraction of the shop price and you can make them in bulk and freeze. If your food processor isn’t the most powerful, it’s not a problem, it just means your snack will have a chunkier texture!
Never buy or eat mouldy food – cutting mould off doesn’t help as the fungus will have already grown through the deeper layers and the food will have lost some of its nutrients whilst gaining mould toxins. Don’t scrimp at the expense of your health!
If you have a varied, wholesome diet, you only need a vitamin B12 supplement, which is cheap, and vitamin D in winter. Vegan vitamin D supplements don’t have to break your bank either – you can get a three-month supply for about £6! Don’t let supplement companies convince you that you absolutely need their exclusive product at a premium price – you don’t!
For more information on nutrients, see our A-Z of nutrients pages.