For many, the idea of a vegan diet conjures up images of overpriced salads, expensive meat replacements, and bougie health food markets. But a vegan lifestyle doesn’t have to be expensive. When done correctly, eating vegan can be as cheap as (or even cheaper!) than an average diet. Here are five easy ways you can eat vegan on a budget.
#1 Preserve your food
Anyone who buys fresh produce knows first-hand how quickly it can go bad. Unless you eat everything right away, there’s a good chance a lot of what you get will go to waste. You might as well pour your money down the drain! The freezer is a budget-conscious vegan’s best friend. Freezing your freshly-purchased fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to make them last.
“Vegetables and fruits are cheap in general, but they can also be frozen and can be saved longer unlike most other things,” notes vegan Amber Marti. “You can stretch your dollar even further.”
Frozen produce is so much more than the classic microwaveable mixed bag. Today, the frozen aisle is home to fresh berries, full heads of broccoli, large carrots, bags of spinach, and more. Preparation is easy — when you’re ready to eat, just take them out, let them thaw, and cook them as you normally would. Mix-ins, dressings, and sauces can be preserved in the freezer, too. Whip up your favorite vegan add-ons and store them in a jar or quart bag.
Dehydrating your fruits and veggies is another way to make them last. By cooking them at a low temperature, you’ll rid them of moisture without destroying their nutritional value. Dehydrated food is low-maintenance and can be stored at room temperature in your pantry, in your cabinet, and even on your counter. Simply cut your fruits and vegetables into thin, even slices, spread them on a baking sheet, and pop them in your oven until they’re dry. For an extra punch of flavor, toss the slices in olive oil, salt, and herbs before you bake.
#2 Don’t fall for trendy products
With their bright packaging and eye-catching designs, it’s difficult not to be drawn to cool, up-and-coming products like superfood supplements and soy-based imitation meat. Here’s the cold hard truth — you don’t need any of that to maintain a vegan diet. They might save you some time in the kitchen, but specialty vegan food will burn a hole through your wallet in no time. If you’re trying to eat vegan on a budget, the fancy stuff will just get in your way.
Many popular brands like Kroger and Great Value now offer inexpensive plant-based options in an attempt to keep up with veganism’s growing popularity. Generic brands are starting to jump on the bandwagon, too. Sure, you might have to spend a minute or two double-checking the ingredients, but the money you’ll save is worth every minute.
#3 Buy in bulk
Staple foods like rice, flour, seeds, and herbs are the cornerstone of plant-based meals. Instead of buying as you go, stretch your dollar by purchasing the essentials in bulk. It might be counterintuitive, but the biggest bags are often the best value. A five-pound bag of brown rice, for example, can cost as little as $4 dollars and is enough to feed a family for a week or more.
Need more than the average package, but not pounds worth of goods? Many stores have a weigh-and-pay option that allows you to get as much as you like. Just grab a provided bag or container, pour in as much as you need, and set it on the scale. This is also a great way to test out new foods — you can buy a little bit to try without committing to a full box.
#4 Visit your local farmer’s market
You don’t have to sacrifice freshness for the sake of your pocketbook. At your local farmer’s market, you’ll be able to load up on fresh, hand-grown produce for no more than you’d spend at the store. Amber Marti relies on this strategy to eat vegan on a budget.
“This time of year I like to go to the farmer’s market and get the ‘fill up a bag for $10,’” says. Marti. “You can get a huge range of vegetables that are a fraction of the cost.”
Though they’re most popular in the summer, many cities have indoor farmers markets where you can pick up some produce all year ‘round. Curious if there’s a market near you? Just search “farmer’s markets near me” to find your closest option.
#5 Research your options
Many people think a vegan diet is expensive (and boring) because they don’t know all the options available to them. You don’t have to drive across town to your specialty, organic market. There are countless vegan options sitting on the shelves at your nearby grocery store. Who knows? They might even be things you already enjoy eating. Here are a few little-know vegan options:
- Aunt Jemima Pancake and Waffle Mix
- Thomas Blueberry, Cinnamon Raisin, Whole Grain, and Everything Bagels
- Rice-A-Roni Spanish Rice
- Unfrosted Pop Tarts
- Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
- Sarah Lee Apple Pie
- Wheat Thins
If you’re on the hunt for new vegan food, sites like Pinterest and Allrecipes are an excellent resource. One three-second search will bring you thousands of great, unexpected results. When you find something that catches your eye, save it to your list so that you can try it out later.
Need a fast food fix? On days when you can’t be bothered to cook, you can head to the drive-thru for a cheap and easy vegan meal (that isn’t a salad). Major chains like Chipotle, Wendy’s, Burger King, and McDonald’s offer vegan options that you can snag for $5 or less. Before you head out, check the restaurant’s website or ask the cashier when you arrive. You might be surprised by what you find.