One of the most common gripes I hear is that eating more healthily is expensive. If I received a bean for every time someone suggested to me that you need to be flush to go vegetarian or vegan, well, I’m sure I could make a very nice dip with it.
The truth is, convenience foods ARE cheaper than healthier items, but there’s plenty of ways you can adopt a plant-based diet without needing to take out a bank loan. Being smarter about key ingredients, prepping your meals in advance, and getting creative in the kitchen are just a few ways you can eat healthily on a budget.
Here are a few tips for saving money when you’re a vegetarian or vegan:
- Avoid the packaged veggie/vegan versions of meat products. I don’t eat products like reconstituted soy burgers or steak made from mycoprotein because I have zero interest in eating things that taste like the real deal. Also, they’re usually very processed and, because healthy eating is cool right now, they really hit your wallet. That being said, if you’re just dipping your toe into vegetarianism and don’t know where to start, they’re definitely useful. From both a financial and nutritional POV, I think it’s best to cook for yourself and to explore all the amazing veggie and vegan recipes now available at the click of a mouse. Making it yourself is always cheaper. For example, buying the ingredients for my sweet potato burger recipe costs the same as a packet of just two soy protein burgers from a major brand but my recipe makes 6-8 burgers.
- If you are going down the ready meal/pre-packaged route, be careful with the specially-for-vegans ranges as these are often more expensive than other pre-packed meals which aren’t heavily branded for a vegan audience. You can often find a microwave meal in the supermarket’s regular selection that’s vegan but, because it’s not being marketed to the now-lucrative vegan market, it’s a fraction of the cost of the vegan range. Forget the branding and just check everything that tickles your taste buds for the V or Vegan symbols.
- Cook in bulk and freeze ingredients. I used to be reluctant to eat frozen food but there’s ample research to say that frozen fruit and veg is just as nutritious as fresh. If you’re like me and you’ve no idea of portion control, it’s easier to cook a meal in bulk and freeze meal-sized portions. I really like doing this with soup in particular so there’s always something in the freezer when I don’t have time to make soup from scratch. You can also buy bags of frozen peas, string beans and even chopped spinach for under €1 at most major supermarkets.
- DIY. Even if you’re not Nigella Lawson in the kitchen, you can make substantial savings by making key ingredients yourself. I used to buy the ground flax seed bags that cost €8. Now I buy the €1.49 bag of Tesco whole flax seeds and grind them myself at home with a hand-held food blender. Likewise, I used to buy big bags of oat flour in the health food store before I realised I could just blend the jumbo oats I always have in my kitchen instead. As for buying smoothies? Don’t even go there. It takes all of 5 minutes to make your own so definitely invest in an affordable blender.
- Food blogger videos, not cooking classes. There is a strange perception that vegetarian or vegan cooking is challenging or requires more skill but this really isn’t true. You need a bit of creativity at the start but really, if you can already cook basics, you can cook vegetarian or vegan food. Treat yourself to a cooking class if you like but I have learned so much from following food bloggers and watching their videos and Instagram Stories. And they’re free. Rachel Mansfield in particular regularly shares step-by-step recipes on her Instagram Stories. To return the favour, I always share their recipes or tag them on social media. Two of my favourite food bloggers are Minimalist Baker (try the sweet potato lasagne) and Beaming Baker for my sweet tooth.
- Substitute ingredients. You don’t have to buy every single ingredient in a recipe and you definitely shouldn’t do this if you’re just experimenting with plant-based life or you’ll just end up with a kitchen full of strange ingredients you’ll never use again. Keep the ingredients list to a minimum by trying recipes that have 5 ingredients and less or try recipes you can make in one pot. Where possible, substitute expensive ingredients for cheaper versions, eg swap quinoa for brown rice.
- Don’t overlook budget food shops. I love to support small businesses but here in Dublin, specialist health food shops are so overpriced. Before veggie goods were as readily available in Ireland, I used to spend a fortune buying everything from grains to vegan chocolate in health food stores. Now I get so many vegan essentials, including oat milk, coconut oil and quinoa, in my local Lidl for under a tenner. You can also get huge bags of grains like buckwheat in Polish shops or seaweed snacks in Asian shops that are miles cheaper than the health food store so always shop around.
- Meal prep. I know this takes all the fun and spontaneity out of food but planning your week’s meals (or even just Monday – Wednesday) really saves time and money. Most importantly, it saves on waste too. I buy big bags of beans and pulses which require soaking overnight so planning ahead is essential. When you have a rough idea what you’re going to eat for the week, you’ll only buy the ingredients you need when you go grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon.
Got a great money-saving tip? Tell me in the comments. If you liked this post, check out my post on 5 Things To Know Before You Go Vegan.