Eating vegan on a budget

We are here to blast out of the water any pre-conception that vegan has to be expensive. Learning to cook your own fresh, plant-based dishes from scratch is exciting, rewarding and can be incredibly affordable. We can see why people think it’s expensive when they’re new to veganism because it’s so easy to be tempted by all the fancy products in attractive packaging that make you feel like you ‘need’ those foods. The truth is, you don’t! 

Foods like tinned beans, lentils and various dried pulses, vegetables (especially seasonal), potatoes, pasta, noodles, rice, wholemeal bread, dried herbs and spices, seasonal fruit, soya mince and tofu are some of the cheapest foods out there, all very healthy and easy to cook with.

Cooking from scratch is always going to be cheaper than buying ready meals from the supermarket so planning and stocking up on key ingredients such as herbs and spices really helps.

The supermarkets are now on board and you can buy fresh food, dried goods and meat and dairy alternatives on a budget – Aldi, Lidl and Iceland are particularly economical.

Shopping list

These essential ingredients are the basis of many simple and affordable homemade staples and dishes, for example, porridge, toast and sandwiches, basic cooked breakfast, pasta with vegetables and sauce, chilli non carne, spag bol, tofu with rice and vegetables, soups and stews, vegetable curries, salads, homemade hummus and mayonnaise, salad dressing, basic cakes and biscuits.

Fresh and for the fridge:
  • Good selection of fruit and vegetables, bread
  • Vegan-friendly margarine eg Pure, Vitalite or Flora
  • Firm tofu eg Cauldron or Tofoo
  • Plain vegan yogurt, supermarket own brand eg Tesco Freefrom
  • Vegan sausages eg Linda McCartney, Bird’s Eye Green Cuisine or supermarket own brand
Oils, sauces & seasoning:
  • Vegetable oil
  • Olive oil
  • Soya sauce
  • Chilli sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chilli powder
  • Ground turmeric
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • Mixed herbs
Cupboard basics:
  • Tahini
  • Peanut butter
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Agave syrup or other vegan syrup
  • Vegetable gravy granules
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Tinned lentils
  • Tinned chickpeas
  • TVP mince
  • Baked beans
  • Peanuts
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Red lentils
  • Nutritional yeast flakes (eg Engevita) Yeast flakes have a savoury, mildly nutty, cheesy flavour. Use as a savoury seasoning to a variety of dishes, including pasta, vegetables and salads.
  • Mixed nuts and seeds
Baking:
  • Plain flour
  • Self-raising flour
  • Caster sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Oats
  • Cocoa powder
  • Raisins or sultanas
Frozen:
  • Mixed berries
  • Frozen peas
  • Vegan burgers or sausages

DIY basics

Some vegan products are cheaper to make than buy and often very easy. A few examples:

Mayonnaise

This is very cheap, very good indeed and also very easy to make. Aquafaba is just a posh name for ‘bean water’ or bean brine – once regarded as a ‘waste product’, we used to chuck it down the sink. Now we don’t. And you can add the leftover beans or chickpeas to make a nice dip, pate, curry or stew. Result.

Hummus

One of our special ‘Mood Food’ recipes – packed with lots of brain-boosting nutrients including B Vitamins, Omegas, Amino Acids, Protein, Magnesium and Zinc – to help boost your mood, sharpen your mind and combat stress.

Curry paste

This chana masala is incredibly rich in flavour, very cheap to make, extremely easy and healthy too! Stock up on spices and you’re all good to go… definitely one to add to the weekly recipes!

‘Cheese’ sauce

This sauce is really easy to make and sooo cheesy… the main ingredients are potatoes and carrots! There are lots of ways you can add your favourite bits if you fancy poshing it up! You can use the sauce anytime you need a cheesy sauce eg pasta bake, cauliflower cheese, jacket potato, nachos…

Gravy

Another sure-fire recipe from Rose Elliot – one of those easy and invaluable ‘staples’ – it works well with veggie sausage & mash as well as any vegan roast dinner or Christmas spread! We’ve given a gluten-free option too.

Pancakes

This basic recipe makes great breakfast or dessert pancakes, sweet or savoury. If you want thicker pancakes – American or Scotch style – just reduce the liquid a little.

Shopping, value products and reduced sections

The supermarkets are falling over themselves to get out new and improved vegan options, which is great for us! Aldi, Lidl and Iceland now offer a good selection of products at very affordable prices – particularly useful if you’re short of time and need a few freezer items (including frozen fruit and veg).

The other supermarkets also all have own-brand products and new ones are coming out all the time – check out the free-from chilled, freezer dry goods sections for things like vegan yogurt, cheese, burgers, patties, mince, pies, sausages, mayo, pizzas, chocolate, cream, desserts, butter and lots more, for all budgets.

Most supermarkets will also offer a reduced section and it’s always worth having a look in there for bargains. There is also usually a ‘value’ version of a lot of items and hardly any difference in quality.

Sometimes frozen fruit and veg will be cheaper than buying fresh so it’s always worth checking!

On the whole health food shops will be more expensive than supermarkets but better quality with a wider range of vegan, zero waste and local products. They do also have reduced items and Holland & Barrett often have a range of offers.

Try shopping in Asian supermarkets for herbs, spices, dried pulses, rice, pasta, tofu and various other hidden gems as they’re often much cheaper.

 

Buy and Cook in Bulk

A great way to save time and money is to make big batches (eg on a Sunday) and then freeze for dinners and pack lunches throughout the week. Some of the cheapest and simplest meals are vegan such as curries, dhals, bean chilli, lentil spag bol, burgers, cereal/energy bars, breads, muffins, cakes, biscuits and many more. We’ve got a whole section on Vegan Recipe Club dedicated to budget recipes so check it out for lots of inspiration!

You can try buying in bulk from wholesalers to save money as well. Asian supermarkets also often sell in bulk so this can be a really good option too.

Buy What You Need and Plan Ahead

It’s very easy to get distracted by all of the incredible vegan offerings in the health food shops and supermarkets but this can end up breaking the bank. Try writing a shopping list and make an agreement with yourself to only buy exactly what you need. This is where the planning part comes in – it’s great to create a weekly meal plan and then stick to it as you’ll be less tempted to buy other bits randomly or worse if you’re feeling hungry (tip: don’t go food shopping when hungry!).

Get Saucy

Sauces and dressings are a great and often cheap way of sprucing up a very basic meal. Buddha bowls are essentially bowls of veg, rice and (often) tofu with a delicious sauce, such as satay.  You can make up a big batch of sauce and then add it to other dishes throughout the week or freeze it.

We’ve got a recipe for a fantastic cheese sauce made from potatoes and carrots – cheap as chips and can be used for mac n cheese, nachos, baked potato, cheesy chips, veg with cheese sauce etc. Check out all of our delicious sauces on Vegan Recipe Club for lots more inspiration.

Having a lovely dressing for a salad can again turn a plain meal into something super delicious. Often using very cheap ingredients that you’re likely to have in the cupboard (a very basic mix is olive oil mixed with cider vinegar and a tiny bit of mustard), it can transform budget meals instantly. Check out our salad dressings on Vegan Recipe Club for lots more ideas.

Our Top 6 Budget Recipes

Domoda (Gambian Peanut Stew)

One of the Vegan Recipe Club team recently visited The Gambia and was delighted to find this vegan stew as a national dish. Peanut butter, tomato, chilli and sweet potato create a deliciously hearty blend with a nice bit of heat… yum!

Tin Can Spaghetti Bolognese

This is one of our weekly staples… cheap, nutrious and super easy. It also tastes amazing… comfort food at it’s best!

Spinach & Potato Rosti with Tofu

We literally cannot get enough of these potato rosti! Perfect for people on a budget, they’re cheap, delicious, easy and a great source of protein. Make a big batch and then freeze for simple evening meals.

Simple Speedy Dhal

We’ve made this in bulk for innumerable events but here it is in smaller quantities! It’s cheap, cheerful and easy and goes well with just about any type of curry dish or even simple stir-fries and rice.

Quick & Easy Chana Masala

This chana masala is incredibly rich in flavour, very cheap to make, extremely easy and healthy too! Stock up on spices and you’re all good to go… definitely one to add to the weekly recipes!

farinata

Farinata

This is a poshed up version of a traditional Mediterranean street food. It’s a mixture between a tortilla (omelette) and a savoury pancake and lends itself to different additions and different meals – breakfast, lunch, supper. It’s great cold as a kind of finger food and it’s also cheap as chips!

See our top budget product options on our guide to meat alternatives

See our new Frugal Feasts guide to eating vegan on a budget – tips and recipes galore! 

See our amazing budget recipe section on Vegan Recipe Club

See our article on eating a nutritious vegan diet on a budget

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