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How to save money on healthy vegan food


Rising food costs are a concern for most households these days. How to save money on healthy vegan food? I propose a strategy that goes deeper than perusing flyers. Warning: mindset shifts ahead.

Ask where your (food) money going

How much of your money are you spending at grocery stores (and which ones), how much at the restaurant, and how much on coffee and treats at the drive-through?

Tracking my family’s expenses systematically has transformed my life and I bet it will transform yours, too. You can join the fun by keeping your receipts, jotting down your spending every day, and breaking down your spending into relevant categories. Categorize every dollar you spend. Do it for at least two weeks, preferably a month… or continue for life!

There are different ways to break down the categories. Groceries vs. eating-out is perhaps the simplest way, but getting a little more granular might provide fresh insight. For example, how much money are you spending on ingredients you will cook compared with convenience, ready-to-eat food products? Within the “eating out” category, how much is for entertainment (a nice meal out with your special someone) and how much is for convenience (ordering pizza because you don’t feel like cooking)?

How are the dollars you spend serving you? Are you happy with the audit is telling you? If not, what would you like to tweak?

Beyond food, consider tracking your spending in general. Though you might have felt the squeeze more acutely at the grocery store, there might be other ways your money flies out of your wallet that, upon careful examination, don’t feel meaningful or worth it compared to nurturing your health with healthy vegan food.

We use the YNAB app (You Need A Budget… yes, you do!) which allows us not only to know where the money is going, but also to “give jobs” to the new dollars we earn when they come in. It has made us a lot more mindful of how we spend our money, including for food. I hear that a similar system, but using actual cash and envelopes, has grown popular with younger people.

Know what you have in stock… and plan to use it!

When was the last time you saw the back of your pantry shelves and the bottom of your freezer? It’s probably time for a thorough inventory and clean up.

Start with your pantry, then the fridge, then the freezer. For each, take everything out, wipe the shelves clean, and carefully examine every item. Is it spoiled or so far past its prime that it will taste nothing? Let go of the guilt and throw it away. If you have multiple containers of a given ingredient, consolidate into one so you can better track your supply. As you hold the ingredient in your hands, remember what you bought it for, and visualize how you will use it in a dish in the future. Maybe jot down ideas for your next meal plan.

Put older items that should be eaten soon, or “feature ingredients” that you want to remember using more often, closer to the front or top so they don’t get forgotten again.

Make a pantry challenge of it! Commit to not buying any new food for the coming week or two, using stock you have instead. In many cases, those ingredients will need to be replenished, but chances are you also will eat many things that would have gone to waste otherwise. My Vegan Pantry Challenge free printable kit of templates will help you with the inventory and provide suggestions to improvise meals from what you find.

Learn to improvise the most common healthy vegan dishes

I know that, deep down, you know what to do with pinto beans. Close your eyes and think for a minute.

If the beans are dry, cook them up. Otherwise, open the can. Add them to a soup or stew. Cook them with onion and garlic, add some seasonings that you just found, and serve with rice and steamed greens. Toss them into a salad. Roll them up in a burrito. Use what you have! Even if it doesn’t look like much, you can’t go wrong with good ingredients like pinto beans.

If you find ingredients that are less obvious to you, say chickpea flour, you have my blessing to look for recipes… but don’t actually follow them! If you were to do that, you would likely find yourself having to buy new ingredients, defeating the purpose of all the work you’ve done so far. Instead, read the recipe to understand how the ingredient is used, and then experiment with substitutions based on the ingredients you have at hand.

Psst! For chickpea flour, smell it to make sure it’s not rancid, then mix with some water (start with a small quantity and add more until you have a thick but pourable batter) and seasonings (things like garlic powder, turmeric, ground pepper, cumin, turmeric, black salt, smoked paprika…), plus maybe a half teaspoon of baking powder. (Not absolutely necessary.) You have yourself the base of a vegan omelet or thin chickpea crepes!

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