Going Vegan on a Budget

If there’s one thing that keeps people from going vegetarian or vegetarians from going vegan, it’s the supposed lack of options–and the prohibitive price range in the options they do have. Vegan groceries and restaurants are notorious for their overpriced tofu and thirty-dollar sandwiches. But healthy living is cheaper and more varied than most people think.

It all started with the idea that vegan food is “fancy.” It’s not–it’s just that companies tend to overvalue vegan choices knowing that their market has limited choice. A vegan sandwich may cost no more than a chicken one, maybe even less, but since it’s hard to find, vegans are willing to spend the extra $5 on it. If you shop smart, however, you can avoid these pitfalls without resorting to bland food.

Start by stocking up on filling items, such as beans. Beans can be bought by the sack for cheap, even at non-specialty stores. They’re also a good source of protein. To save even more money, buy dried beans and soak them overnight, so they’re softer by the time they’re ready to cook. Use them in salads, soups and stews, wrap sandwiches, and any dish that could use a bit more volume.

Whole grains should also be a staple in your diet. While you don’t need them in every meal, they make a nice complement to beans and other protein sources. The best prices are usually found in local markets, where they come in buckets and are sold by weight. Think beyond rice and oatmeal and try barley, millet, and quinoa–all are cheap, easy to prepare, and go with pretty much anything.

Don’t forget the fruits and vegetables–next to carbs and protein, they’re the most important part of a vegan diet. The key is to shop by region and season. Stock up on whatever’s cheap and available this time of the year. Shop at farmer’s markets to get the best deals in price and quality. Better yet, grow your own produce if you have the space or if there are community gardens in your area.

Finally, you need a source of calcium. Most vegans spend the bulk of their food budget on milk and dairy substitutes. Some experts suggest using nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute, as its cheaper than the more popular soy cheese. Vegan milk options are practically endless; besides soy, you can now find almond milk, rice milk, barley milk, and peanut milk, all of which are a great addition to your diet.

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