Beans and rice are cheap, but, for many of us, vegan diets aren’t. Tofu, veggie burgers and soymilk are important staples in some veggie households, and they are often—or usually—much more expensive than their animal-derived counterparts.
But with a little bit of planning, you can cut costs in your veggie kitchen. Here are a few ideas:
Get back to basics: Whatever happened to beans and rice, anyway? They are still the best foods on earth—always good for you, good for the environment, easy on the pocketbook.
Take the condiment approach with meat substitutes: Progressive dietitians have long advised that meat should be treated as a condiment in healthy diets. No more big slabs of beef on the plate—but rather, small amounts of meat should be cut up and used to flavor soups, stews and stir-fried dishes. This approach can serve vegans well, too. I’d love to cook up a whole Tofurkey sausage on the grill, but at more than $1.00 each, it just isn’t feasible. So I cut them into little pieces to add great flavor and texture to soups and pasta sauce.
Shop everywhere: I get my rice and beans in bulk from the local food coop; my peanut butter, coffee, olive oil and nuts from Costco; pasta, sauce, canned beans and wine from Trader Joe’s. If I’m in the vicinity of a Grocery Outlet, I stop in there because you never know what kind of vegan goodies (and cruelty-free products) they might have that week. If you are lucky enough to have an Asian grocery nearby, it’s a great place to find cheap, fresh tofu.
Stock up on savings: : Some of these stores are an hour of driving plus a ferry ride away for me, so when I go, I buy a ton of whatever items are on sale. I never leave home without a cooler! We built shelves in our basement to store cases of canned goods, pasta, cat food, wine, and paper products. In her classic guide to creative frugal lifestyle, The Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn suggested storing cases of canned goods beneath the bed! An extra freezer is great if you have room, too, and will quickly pay for itself.
Cook from scratch: Yikes—I know! Who has time? But take a look at your food purchases and see if there are one or two things you can make yourself without a whole lot of effort. I cook beans from scratch, and make my own soups and hummus. But I buy bread and pasta sauce and veggie burgers. And I’m not about to make my own tofu and soymilk (although you might want to). Making big batches of homemade dishes and freezing meal-sized portions saves lots of time and money. And it feels so good to peek in the freezer and see a month’s worth of dinners.
Grow your own: Even a little plot that gives you lettuce and tomatoes all summer long can save lots of money. Check out the book Square Foot Gardening for ways to garden in a small space. Devote some space to leafy greens like collards and kale because you can harvest the same plants all summer long (they keep growing) and even into the fall (they love the cold!). If you aren’t one to be digging around in the dirt, then grow a few tomatoes, herbs, and strawberries in pots on the patio.
Don’t waste money:. Store brands of vitamins are just as good as pricey brand names. For produce that isn’t in season, frozen options are often cheaper and better for you.
Compromise if you need to: Maybe you need to buy bread at the bakery outlet and it isn’t all vegan. Or perhaps you can’t afford to buy all organic produce. You’re already doing a lot for the animals and the environment by eating a mostly plant-based diet. So don’t sweat the small stuff; make concessions where you have to and don’t feel guilty!