There are plenty of articles that talk about how to live a vegan lifestyle while living in a dorm or in your first college apartment. There are also plenty of vegan foodies who discuss more advanced vegan cuisine for those established vegans making it in the world.
But what about us 20-somethings, out of college (or in grad school), but not quite making an established salary? If you can’t afford to shop recipe to recipe at Whole Foods, but also want to live on something other than cheap pasta and peanut butter sammies, (though those days exist more often than one would think), there are some vegan staples you should be sure to keep around the house that are likely within your vegan budget.
Beans! In my house, beans are the easiest thing to mix into just about everything. I buy a mixture of canned and dry beans, and alternate on the types of beans I get. There is plenty of variety – from kidney (my favorite) to navy, black, garbanzo – the list goes on. These items are often under a dollar per can, and a little more for bags of the dried stuff. They are an easy way to get protein and other nutrients such as calcium, zinc and iron in pastas, soups, burritos, you name it. I just made some broke-as-a-joke chili with various beans and it will probably last for almost a week. If you get tired of chili, mix it up by re-making it into chili-mac with cheap elbow macaroni. Top with nutritional yeast and it’s a pretty nutritious, cheap comfort food. Several different recipes can be found on VegWeb.com, but you can pretty much use anything you have on hand.
Tofu. Oftentimes, tofu will be on sale at grocery stores like Dierberg’s because they aren’t as popular a grocery item in non-health food-type stores. Look for packages in the produce aisle. Tofu stays good for a relatively-long time (but be sure to check your expiration dates). You never know when a dish will need an extra somethin-somethin, and it can be easily fried for a quick snack for those long hours at the coffee shop (okay, that’s just me). I like tofu scramble, which is quite filling, but I can also eat the strips plain, with a little Sriracha (my own personal must-have). I added it to the chili mentioned above, but you can also pull a John Lennon and put it on a peanut butter sandwich, with roasted red-peppers.
Tortillas/Bread/Pita. We eat a lot of sandwiches in our house because we are so busy, and bread is pretty cheap, depending on where you shop. We’ll alternate between different kinds of bread, which fills you up faster than a soup or salad, but always make sure to check the ingredients. You can often find vegan bread under $2.00 pretty easily, though it’s sometimes the brand you don’t expect to be vegan. Tortillas and pita bread are good ways to turn leftovers into a wrap or burrito. I’ve got plans for you later, chili mac.
Various frozen fruits. After a stint with a raw vegan cleanse, making juices has given me great pleasure. I never knew how fun shoving things into a blender or juicer could be. Store-brand frozen fruits are most-likely under the $2.00 mark (though can be more expensive than frozen veggies), but look out for store coupons and 2-for-1 deals to make more bang for your buck. Try frozen blueberries - because of their slightly sour taste I find they last a long time, and these little gems bring all kinds of good nutrients with them.
Frozen spinach. I swear I have four or five bags of spinach in my freezer, but it is such an easy way to add antioxidants to your diet (as well as other vitamins and minerals) and it’s super cheap to keep in stock. Spinach is a good cure for the Sunday hangover blues, or a pick-me-up when you feel like you need an extra dose of greens. Add spinach to soups, smoothies, put it in a pasta, or if it’s fresh – have salad! Look for fresh, raw spinach at your local farmer’s market, often sold by the giant, plastic bag-full.
TVP. It’s like meat, without eating meat! TVP is a great staple found in bulk aisles that can be easily added to recipes calling for a meat substitute, so you don’t have to shell out cash for expensive faux-meats. TVP, or Textured Vegetable Protein, is made from soy, and, a funny fact, is often used in the food service industry (think school lunch and correctional facilities) to cheaply provide “meat” protein. Here are some vegan recipes using TVP, but you can really be quite creative.
Nutritional yeast. Not much to say, except this stuff is awesome. Also an easy bulk aisle fix, nutritional yeast is my favorite cheese-type substance, except, it’s not like mass-produced faux-cheeses. Nutritional yeast comes in a nice flake form, to be easily mixed or sprinkled on just about everything, from popcorn to tacos, to stew. An excellent source of B-12, nutritional yeast (or, “nooch”) costs only a few bucks when buying it by the pound.
Other things I always have on hand, for those days when you just don’t have time to cook, or don’t have grocery money: Peanut butter, oatmeal, canned tomatoes (my favorite lazy pasta sauce), popcorn (the kind you make over the stove), and various packages of dried nuts, like cashews and peanuts (I will also add Sriracha to nuts and eat it with a spoon. It happens).
Also, don’t follow every vegan blog’s advice without checking the ingredients yourself. While I was researching budget staples, I came across several lists which claimed to include vegan foods, many of which were not actually vegan. Do your own homework kids!
Check out these vegan, money saving tactics too!