Budgeting for the Holidays: Cheap + Simple Vegan Meals

Often I have heard: “I could never be vegan– it’s too expensive and I don’t have time!” Case in point: My mother-in-law said this on our last visit, and then proceeded to sit down to a meal of corn and potatoes. I noted that, aside from the enormous slab of butter, she was eating a vegan meal. We both laughed. 😊

I’m hoping to ease the stress by posting some inexpensive and easy-to-make meals using items that may already be in your pantry. 

Best way to startGo with what you already know how to prepare and with what you enjoy eating (Example: pasta + tomato sauce, beans + rice, PB&J). 

Some quick tips for saving $$: 

🍚Get in the kitchen! Eating out every day over the long-term can be detrimental to both health (heavily oiled food) and wallet. Cooking from scratch is best (i.e., bulk dry beans vs canned).🍵

🍅🍎🍓Organic=more $$, but if pesticide-sprayed produce like apples, berries, spinach, & bell peppers is of concern to you here’s a list of the Dirty Dozen & Clean 15

🍂Buy in-season produce to get the best bang for your buck or buy frozen fruits and veggies for longer-lasting produce. Sustainable Table has a seasonal food guide to know what’s in season where you live.🍁

🍴Buy in bulk for foods you already eat a lot of like pasta, canned or dried beans/lentils, canned tomatoes, rice, etc. or for buying smaller amounts of items that get used rarely such as herbs & spices.🍽

🌲Did you know? Non-dairy milk products have a much longer shelf life (and fridge life) than dairy. Also, store nuts and seeds in the freezer to last longer.🌴

🍺Note how much is spent on beverages. I spend money on a soy latte once a day but drink water the rest of the day. No alcohol.🍷

More money-saving tips from Choose Veg.

Read this book: Great tip from this book: Basis of a healthy and cheap plant-based diet: Big bags of dried beans/lentils/peas bulk grains + vegetables (fresh in-season or frozen) with fruit for dessert.

Cheap Breakfast Options :

Bowl of cereal (hot or cold) with  non-dairy milk like soy, almond, rice, hemp (I add 1/2 milk + 1/2 water). Cereal recipe: 1/3 cup cooked oats + 1 cup soy milk + 1/2 cup water with a TBS or 2 each of crushed walnuts & almonds and a tsp hemp and chia seeds. Top with blueberries or a banana (or raisins) + sprinkle of cinnamon. Either cook stovetop or place in fridge (for dry muesli/oats) for 1 hour or overnight to soften & serve warm or cold. Toast with avocado, peanut or almond butter, or a vegan butter like Earth Balance + OJ, fruit, or a smoothie.Fruit (in season) bowl with non-dairy yogurt (i.e., soy, coconut–some are loaded with sugar though–I buy unsweetened and no flavor added if available) + nuts or seeds, or granola. 

Tip from Eat Vegan on $4 a Day: When in the bulk section of a big box store buy only the amount you think you will use for the week (or month, depending on how often you shop and how often you eat these bulk items). Look for non-dairy yogurt here as it may be cheaper than Whole Foods.

Smoothie: If you think you would like to make smoothies for breakfast or snack, purchasing an inexpensive hand blender (aka, immersion blender, stick blender) may be worthwhile. Drink right away or take it to go in a mason jar (or any jar with a lid) or in a stainless steel container. Here is a quick breakfast smoothie recipe: 1 cup non-dairy milk (or 1/2 water, 1/2 milk), 2 TBS soaked or dry oats, heaping spoonful nut butter, 1 over-ripe banana (frozen for a colder, thicker smoothie), 1/4 cup frozen berries + handful of spinach. Blend until smooth.

$$-saving tip: Peel & freeze over-ripe bananas and use them for smoothies.

Cheap Lunch Options:

Salad (warm or cold): Try this kale and butternut squash recipe from The Pioneer Woman blog or roasted squash, apple, kale & lentils from Sorted Food, or this warm spinach salad recipe from The Washington Post that is both filling & ready in 10 minutes.  I love a simple fresh spring mix with fruit and nuts + quinoa, blending fresh fruit like strawberries or blueberries with cashews and pitted Medjool dates for a dressing.  Steam, boil, saute or roast any veggies you have on hand such as peas, carrots, potatoes & green beans and top with Earth Balance butter, salt & pepper, or mashed avocado + salsa or a pre-made cheese sauce, such as Hot for Food’s or Post Punk Kitchen’s.  $$-saver: I started boiling my broccoli or green beans (2 veggies I use often) in salted water, reserving the water as a broth for cooking my lentils. Not only is this water packed with healthy nutrients from the vegetables but is a great alternative to buying broth. Rehydrate sundried tomatoes by soaking in boiling water and use that broth for cooking brown or green lentils then top the lentils with chopped sundried tomatoes.Leftovers are always an option (or  a can of vegan chili) served over spinach or with your favorite vegetable (raw or steamed) and a chunk of a baguette.

Veggie-Loaded Sandwich or Wrap: Hummus makes a healthy & tasty substitute for mayo. Try this wrap recipe from Pioneer Woman Cooks.Burritos make a cheap, filling, and healthy lunch or dinner meal whether it’s a take-out vegan burrito or homemade using tortillas, black beans, rice, greens, and guacamole made with avocado, salsa, S&P. Grilled Cheese & Roasted Tomato Soup: When tomatoes are in season roughly chop & roast a bunch (maybe 8-10) of tomatoes + a head of garlic with the end chopped + 1 sweet onion all together for about 45 min at 450 degrees. Remove the garlic after 30 min and use 4 cloves for the soup.  While roasting, soak about 1.5 cups of sundried tomatoes in 2-3 cups boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes or longer. 

Next, add all the above ingredients to a blender and blend with the soaking tomato water + 1-1.5 cups  vegetable broth or water + 2 heaping TBS tomato paste + a pinch of oregano and thyme. 

Taste the soup and either leave it as is or add 1 can (14.5 oz.) of white beans with the liquid from the can. This will give a very thick & creamy soup. 

Pour soup into a pot, turning it on low heat to warm, adding more vegetable broth or water to taste. 

PB&J !☺️ 

Cheap Dinner Options: Lentil StewPizza! Take a cheese-less (such as Amy’s) pizza and add toppings such as garlic and sauteed tempeh (sauteed in veggie broth, tamari with onion flakes & garlic powder) + spinach (not seen) to make an awesome carb-loaded supper:-).🍅

🍅Option 2: No-cheese pizza with extras: Garlic, spinach, sundried tomatoes (pre-soaked in boiling water), & baked tofu that I marinated in the tomato water + added onion flakes & garlic powder. On top of the pizza sprinkled pistachios grinded in a spice grinder (cheap coffee grinder used just for grinding whole spices, seeds & nuts) to make a nutty parmesan. Pasta: Hearty bean balls are a great addition to noodles & pasta sauce. If you can ignore the foul language, Thug Kitchen has a bean ball recipe using common pantry ingredients. 

Bowl of greens, grain & a proteinIdeas are endless! Tips: Add nuts or seeds for crunch; make a sauce, hummus or guacamole for a creamy layer or just add soy sauce or tamari (wheat-free, low-sodium soy sauce); pack in extra veggies for a healthy filler. Cheap and healthy supper bowls:

  • Black beans & rice with steamed spinach, salsa & guacamole. Add pumpkin seeds for a nice crunch.
  • Tempeh, butternut squash, steamed kale, crushed peanuts, over rice or quinoa. Top with tamari.
  • Roasted garbanzo beans + broccoli, rice, vegan cashew queso.
  • Tofu cubes, green beans or snap peas, carrots, peanuts or sesame seeds, soy sauce all topped over a bed of rice or quinoa.
  • Crunchy peanut or almond butter spruce up an ordinary kidney or pinto bean & rice bowl. Throw in some steamed broccoli or spinach for healthy bulk + crushed peanuts or almonds + hot sauce. 

Stuffed Baked Potato (sweet or russet) with beans, shredded vegan cheese & your favorite steamed or roasted veggie like broccoli, spinach, or a medley. Try this stuffed sweet potato with cashew sour cream recipe from Ordinary Vegan.

Here are more cheap, healthy vegan dinners from No Meat Athlete 🚵and from PETA 🐓.

Vegetarian Journal offers free sample vegan menus for adults 50 and over.

Happy Cooking!


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