Vegan diet on a budget

Alexia is saving up for a unicorn.

Alexia is saving up for a unicorn.

Today we will talk money. Why? Because everyone might need to save up for a unicorn at some point and there are many people out there telling you that a vegan diet is expensive, thus you can either be a vegan or open a unicorn shelter. But do not be afraid. The non-hip hippies are here to show you how you can do both at the same time.

First let’s make one thing clear. REFINED STUFF IS BAD FOR YOU. This includes most processed meat and cheese substitutes out there as well. Think about soy. Asian cultures eat it fermented in small amounts (fermented: think of soy sauce and tempeh) and we have decided that it is a good idea to transform it (UN-fermented) in “milk”, “cheese”, “burgers” and on top of that add it to all sorts of processed baked goods, as it is a cheap crop and a good filler. On top of the health risks that you take when consuming too much soy, refined sugar -which is not vegan anyway- or ready-made baked goods of any kind, there is also the financial risk of being left penniless in the middle of the month.

Buying fresh produce

FRESH IS BEST and yes, I am using way to many capital letters today, but it is only because I am so enthusiastic about the subject of veganism on a budget. So fresh produce is the best food you can give to your body, whether you are a vegan or raw vegan. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be found in any grocery store. There are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind though when shopping for fresh produce:

Plan ahead: it is really a shame to buy fresh produce and then let it get rotten in the fridge. It is better to buy as much as you are going to use within the next 2-3 days. Wasting food means wasting money plus all the resources that were used for the food to be produced and arrive at the grocery store.

Buy organic. At least as much as possible: Yes, organic is expensive, compared to regular produce. If you are not just saving money but you are on a really tight budget and you absolutely need to buy some of your produce regular, be sure to check this list. Apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, bell peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes and hot peppers are the new “dirty dozen” of 2013, meaning that these crops are loaded with chemicals (mainly pesticides). And if you cannot afford to buy organic at all at some point, at least fill your kitchen sink with water and add a cup of apple cider vinegar or white vinegar (cheapest option). This way you can get rid of some contaminants.

Buy in season: This means no watermelons in December in Europe and no pumpkins in August. If you start eating seasonally, you will start exploring the new thrills each season has to offer. If cherries are not available in winter, you are more likely to try a different fruit, like pears or chestnuts for example. Seasonal produce is also cheaper. And you can find great deals in the farmers’ market as well.

Buy locally: yes, surely it is a good idea to support local producers, but my point in this article is budgeting. And I can assure you that samphire from Mexico is much much much more expensive than Dutch apples. By the way, I highly recommend this book, if you are wondering if local eating can solve all sorts of issues. It is thought provoking and very well researched.

Buying the dry stuff

Of course fresh produce offers your body all sorts of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables help your body detox, your skin, hair and nails look healthy, your cholesterol levels are in check, your blood vessels are clean, your bowels are moving and you have energy throughout the day. All that is great. But you also need to get your stomach full and have some variety in your diet. You also need proteins and carbs that you can get from fruits and vegetables, but there are also more efficient sources, that I call “the dry stuff”.

-Pasta and rice: buy the generic shop brand. It has the same quality with the next brand product but they save money in fancy packaging and advertising and that is how they manage to keep the cost low. 500 grams famous brand pasta: 1.2o euros. The same amount of generic brand pasta: 0.39 euros. If the “Euroshopper” brand is available in your country, go on and stock your pantry with their products.

-Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas): buy them dry, buy them in bulk. Yes, soaking takes some time -OK, it takes about 8 hours- but you can save a lot of money by buying your legumes dry and preparing them yourself. Lentils do not even need soaking, which means that it makes no sense to buy a 200 grams can when you can cook about 4 times this quantity for the same price. Still, if you choose to buy cans for your convenience, make it organic. Organic cans of beans are about 1.50 to 1.80 euros (depending on the quantity and the brand) and they will fill you up with protein and iron.

-Nuts, nut butters and seeds: buy the big package. Yes, the big bag of cashews might be expensive (1kg=16 euros at Ekoplaza, Delft), but you save big time in the long run. The same goes for tahini and almond butter. Save and invest in the biggest jar you can find. Just make sure to keep your nuts in an air-tight container, so that they do not get soggy or moldy.

Buying the liquids

-Cooking oils: buy olive oil and a huge bottle of it. It is a health investment if you use it raw. Do not by cheap frying oils. Frying is anyway bad for you and those low quality oils are no good for your arteries either. If you must fry stuff, do it in coconut oil that behaves well when heated.

-Non-dairy milks: compare brand prices and nutritional value. There are some rice milks that are very cheap, but they do not have vitamin D or B12 vitamin and especially if you rely on your non-dairy milk for your B12, such mistakes can cost you. Read the labels, invest in the fortified stuff, but get the cheap fortified one, if it offers the nutrients you need. Personally I am currently in love with the Vivera Oat milk, that is not fortified, but I love the texture and taste and I am also taking supplements.

Constructing a complete meal

Keep in mind that you should never compromise your nutrition and health for the sake of the budget. Hospitals cost much more. This means that you need to make sure that you get every day the vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, carbs and proteins that your body needs.

The last few days we have been eating variations of the same meals, that are very satisfying, easy to digest and have a variety. I am writing them down for you and you can use your imagination to adjust them to your preferences and nutritional needs.

Smoothies (for 2 people)

-2 bananas, 1 cup orange juice

-1 banana, 1 apple, 2 kiwis, 1/2 cup non-dairy milk

-2 beets, 1 banana, 1 cup orange juice

-1 avocado, 2 kiwis, 1 banana, 1/2 cup non-dairy milk

Salads (also, light dinners)

Rocket, lettuce and other mixed dark green leafy vegetables with:

-canned chickpeas, lemon juice and fresh olive oil

-canned butter beans, vegan mayo, cherry tomatoes, avocado and flax seeds

-canned kidney beans, sweet corn, bell peppers

(the pattern is: leafy greens for the fiber and antioxidant and legumes for the protein. The olive oil and avocado offer the healthy fats)


-whole wheat pasta (we have also tried gluten-free pasta and loved it, even though we are not following a gluten-free diet) with tomato sauce

-risotto rice with scallions, mushrooms and vegan cream

-whole wheat pasta with mashed avocado or shredded courgette

-mashed potatoes with roasted vegetables

-occasionally grain burgers with a big green salad

-cold cauliflower and broccoli soups

My last piece of advise -which it took me forever to implement- is to make a shopping list based on a 3 day meal plan and stick to it no matter what. It is easier said than done, but trust me, it is this cute little mango-lentil pate jar that costs 5 euros and is half a serving. I know. ‘Been there, ‘bought that.

Please add more budget-saving ideas in the comments section. Let’s help out one-another.

2 responses to “Vegan diet on a budget

  1. Great list! I am not a vegan, but I do eat vegetarian 4-5x week with the only exception being seafood or a small piece of chicken. I have a few vegan recipes on my blog you might enjoy!

    • I am glad you like it Ani. I will make sure to check out your blog as well. Who knows? Maybe the more vegan recipes you try, the more you will be enchanted by the vegan diet and way of life, as a whole 😉

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