There’s a common misconception that a vegan diet is also an expensive one, but I don’t think that has to be the case at all! Sure, if you eat lots of fake meat products and load up your cart with out of season veggies, a vegan diet can definitely break the bank. If an omnivore ate nothing bit filet mignon and fancy cheeses, that would get pretty expensive too, right?
The keys to stocking a vegan pantry without maxing out your food budget is pretty simple: eat real food, and cook from scratch when you can. Does that seem easier said than done? Don’t fret! Here are some tips and tricks for eating a healthy, vegan diet without spending too much money or giving up too much precious free time.
1. Cook from Scratch
Cooking from scratch probably sounds time-consuming, but with a bit of planning it’s very easy to work this into your schedule. Pre-processing your food can go a long way. I don’t mean canning, though. I mean soaking beans and chopping veggies. When you get home from the store, cut up your veggies before you put them away in the fridge. If you know you want to make a bean dish, soak the beans overnight to speed up cooking time. It’s so much easier to make a meal after a long day when some of the prepwork is already done.
2. Essential Cooking Tools
The right tools can help you save a ton of time and money in the kitchen. Here are the things my kitchen would be empty without:
- Rice cooker. Get one that includes a steamer basket. You won’t be sorry.
- Slow cooker. Choose one that’s the right size for your family. If there are just two of you, you don’t need a giant slow cooker. For a big family, size it up so that you can cook a whole meal in there.
- Food processor or blender. Mincing garlic and making sauces is a breeze if you have a good food processor.
3. Cooking Low Maintenance Meals
What’s a low maintenance meal? It’s one that doesn’t necessarily cook quickly, but it doesn’t involve a lot of standing over the stove, either. Your food can cook unattended while you handle household chores and spend time with your family or friends. Here are some low maintenance meal ideas:
- Put your grain of choice with enough water to cook into the bottom of your rice cooker, then layer veggies and beans or tofu into the top. Turn the cooker on, and it makes the whole meal while you do other things.
- Toss beans, veggies, broth, onions, garlic, and spices into the slow cooker and let it go. Savvy Vegetarian has a great roundup of vegan slow cooker recipes to get you going!
- Cook up some pasta on the stove and toss with a quickie vegan pesto for a fast meal. Up the health value by tossing in some steamed veggies, like broccoli or carrots.
4. Cook Big Batches
If you’re going to spend time in the kitchen, make it productive! Instead of cooking enough for just one meal, make enough so that you’ll have some leftovers. You can bring these for lunch the next day or reheat them for a super quick dinner later on in the week.
You can also do batch cooking on the weekends, preparing a few dishes to keep in the fridge for busy evenings. Casseroles, pasta salads, sandwich fillings, and roasted veggies are a few great staples to have on hand for weeknight meals. While roasted veggies might not make a whole meal, Robin Shreeves has some great tips for turning those leftover veggies into a number of easy, healthy, delicious dishes.
5. Grow Your Own
Not only is growing your own food gratifying, it can help take the strain off of your grocery budget. Even if all that you can manage is a few herb plants, growing food instead of buying it will save you money! Think you don’t have the space? Try going vertical! Vertical gardens are a great way for apartment dwellers or folks who don’t have a lot of land to maximize food output.
6. Shop the Farmers Market and Buy in Bulk
You might think that farmers markets are expensive, but that’s not always true. A recent study showed that it’s actually cheaper to shop at the farmers market!
Buying in bulk is one of the easiest ways to save money at the grocery store. Instead of buying canned beans or pre-packaged (and often over-packaged) grains, hit your store’s bulk bins for some real savings! You can get as much or as little as you want, and bulk items are cheaper because you’re paying for the food, not the packaging.