Veganism has often been associated with upper-middle-class pretentiousness. It is often confused with health trends or fads, like the organic and gluten-free movements, which often prey upon misinformed wealthy consumers. A common response to veganism is “but it’s so expensive!” Well, it doesn’t have to be. Read on to find out how to go vegan on a budget!
Hit the Produce Section First
When you go to your local grocery store, produce is usually the first section you come to. Here, look for onions and potatoes. These long-lasting root vegetables are used in all sorts of dishes – onions add flavor, and potatoes are a healthy source of carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes are a healthier option, but there’s nothing wrong with regular potatoes either. Depending on the store, there might be tofu available. Tofu is a great way to add a lot of protein and iron to any meal, and it’s often less expensive than meat! Don’t worry about organic vs. non-organic if you’re on a budget. There are no significant health benefits of organic produce, and no health dangers of GMO products.
Dry Goods on a Budget
Next, you’ll want to head to the dry goods section. Here is where you’ll find most of your food for the week. Pasta, rice, and oats are all vegan, and can be bought in bulk for dirt-cheap. If you really want to pinch pennies, find a local Hispanic or Asian grocery store; there, you can usually find massive bags of rice for significantly less than you would pay at a chain supermarket. Asian stores will also have buckwheat noodles and ramen, which usually cook quicker than European-style pasta. Brown rice and whole-grain pasta are better for you than their refined counterparts, but can cost more. Don’t worry about eating some refined carbs if you can’t afford not to.
The dry goods section will also have beans, both dry and canned. Dry beans are much cheaper, but also require more time to prepare. Canned beans are more expensive, but are pre-cooked and are ready in under 20 minutes. Note that “more expensive” is still quite affordable – you should be able to find canned beans at under $1 per can, before taxes. Chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans are all versatile, healthy, and inexpensive. Lentils might also be found near the beans, and are just as affordable. They’re packed with iron and protein, and can be prepared in under 30 minutes.
Bread should be vegan, but many common supermarket brands actually contain whey, honey, or both. Make sure to read the ingredient lists carefully, but don’t worry if you accidentally buy a non-vegan loaf; it happens to the best of us. Whole-grain breads are preferable to white breads, as they contain more fiber and iron. Again, though, don’t confuse “healthier” with “more vegan.” White bread is just as vegan as whole-grain bread; if you’re on a tight budget, don’t worry about refined carbs. To go on your bread, pick up a jar or two of peanut butter. It’s loaded with unsaturated fats and protein, and it’s very filling. Nothing wrong with a peanut butter sandwich for a quick lunch.
You’ll want to pick up some spices and oils in order to bring out the flavor of your food. In addition to salt and pepper, pick up some garlic powder, dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cumin, paprika, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. While this may sound like a lot, remember how long spices last and how versatile they are. If money is tight, you can spread your spice purchases over a few weeks. Look for a high-smoke point oil for cooking, like vegetable, rapeseed, or canola. These are useful for pan-frying or roasting at high temperatures, due to their heat resistance. For sauces, dressings, and flavor accents, pick up some olive oil. Its versatile flavor combines well with most spices, and it’s shelf-stable. If you’re going to be cooking a lot of Asian dishes, some peanut oil might be useful as well.
Now On to the Refrigerated Section
Next, take a trip over to the frozen and refrigerated section. You’ll probably want to pick out a milk replacement; the most common are almond and soy. If you’re worried about getting enough protein, soy milk is for you. With around 8g per cup, it rivals dairy milk in protein content. If you want to lose weight, pick up almond milk, since an unsweetened cup only has 30 calories. Both almond and soy milks are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, as well. Avoid the sugar-laden flavored varieties, if you can. In the freezer aisle, pick up some bags of frozen vegetables. These are usually flash-frozen, meaning their nutrient content is high regardless of the season or point of origin. Broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and corn are all commonly available in large frozen bags, usually for under $2 each. Eating a cup of frozen veggies with lunch and dinner is a quick, cheap, and easy way to make your diet healthier. Frozen fruits can also be found here, and are very useful for smoothies. Like vegetables, they are flash frozen, so you’ll be getting the full nutritional value.
Finally, grab a B12 supplement. It’s the only supplement you truly need as a vegan, and a deficiency can be quite serious. Luckily, it’s quite affordable. Most brands are under $10 for 90 or more pills, and sublingual varieties are also available for those who have trouble with capsules. B12 can also be found in several fortified foods, like tofu and soy milk, if those are available to you.
Veganism is perfectly doable on a budget, especially if you live in an area with Asian or Hispanic markets. Focus on fruits, vegetables, and grains being the bulk of your diet, and avoid heavily processed imitation meats and cheeses. Buy in bulk if possible, and don’t feel pressured to buy organic, gluten-free, or any other specialty foods. Remember to season your food liberally, and enjoy your new, plant-based lifestyle!
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