I find that eating vegan has not only been easier on my wallet, but also makes me feel generally better. Although I’m not vegan, my girlfriend is and has been for a while. We strictly eat vegan at home, and only when I'm out will I eat meat. Since I bring my lunch to work every single day, all my lunches are vegan. Here are some affordable vegan meals I take to work. I've also included links to some of the recipes, in case you want to try them out too.
I warn you, these meals aren’t that exciting. We’re not usually ones to complain about eating the same meals though, since we slightly mix up the ingredients every time. I also have an intense relationship with Sriracha sauce, so I pour that stuff over everything and am more than content with whatever I'm eating.
Our Typical Vegan Work Lunches
The Base (choice of): basmati rice; soba noodles; vermicelli noodles; or quinoa.
Protein (choice of): edamame; quinoa; almond/peanut butter tofu (recipe here)
Vegetables (a mix, depending on what we have): bell pepper; broccoli; cauliflower; carrots (yellow & orange); peas
Dressing: soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, Hoisin sauce (or all of them)
The Base (choice of): romaine lettuce; kale; or spinach
Protein: baked chickpeas (recipe here); edamame; quinoa; walnuts; cashews; almond/peanut butter tofu (a bit weird depending what you add to your salad but hey it’s protein)
Vegetables (a mix, depending on what we have): bell pepper; tomato; cucumber; carrots;
Fruit (if available): strawberries
Dressing: basic Italian dressing; 3-ingredient vegan honey mustard dressing (recipe here)
Sweet potato wedges; Hummus
For a lot of these recipes you will need to buy some staples, i.e. sesame oil, tamari/soy sauce, maple syrup, lime juice, cayenne pepper flakes, peanut butter, etc. But once you buy them, they will last you for a while.
Our Grocery Shopping Strategy
We only buy our fruit and produce from local shops/stands. The prices at big box stores are insanely expensive and it can seriously damage your budget. We’re lucky because we live near a small fruit & vegetable stand/shop, owned by a very loving family, who sells very affordable produce. Today, we bought 2 sizeable containers of strawberries for $4.00. Sometimes we’ll go there and it’s 2 containers for $3.00. At the big box grocery store around the corner, one container, identical in size, is usually $4.99. I hate that there’s often a stigma of going to small and/or ethnic stores for fruit and produce. In reality, these stores will help you eat healthy and save you so much money.
We also occasionally buy frozen vegetables from the big box grocery stores, but only when they’re on sale. I also recommend buying dried chickpeas & legumes, as you'll get way more (vs. a can) for less. You'll just have to remember to soak them overnight. Tofu is also your best friend, when it comes to protein. A block of extra firm tofu is usually just under $3 and it will usually last me about 3 meals.
Also, I highly recommend buying Asian food products, they are so ridiculously cheap. Packages of vermicelli noodles are like $2 each and will last you for awhile. Also, it only takes them 3 - 4 minutes to cook, for all the impatient eaters out there.
There's also something so easy and economical about throwing together a bunch of stuff into a "bowl." I whipped this up one night when I was lazy. As you'll note, there's some basic salad, green beans, avocado with Sriracha sauce, crispy mini potatoes, quinoa, hummus and chickpeas.
My favourite snack to make at home is popcorn. I buy my popcorn kernels from Bulk Barn, which often means I can fill a large plastic container for $2 - $3. This usually lasts me at least a month, with eating a few bowls multiple times a week. I usually add olive oil, nutritional yeast and salt.
I also have a microwavable popcorn popper bowl, where I can stick it in the microwave and it'll pop the kernels for me. I love that it's reusable. I couldn't find my specific version, but I found a similar one on Amazon for around $19.
Fun and Inexpensive Dinners
When we have more time, we make more interesting meals at home. We really enjoy making homemade vegan sushi together. I believe the ingredients totalled $12.00 (not including the bottle of Saké, of course).
The other week my girlfriend made this unreal pineapple curry:
Umm, sorry, I didn't realize our apartment was a 5 star restaurant?
Vegan = Wallet-Friendly
In the end, I believe you are able to eat relatively healthy within your budget. While I’m not strictly vegan, I find that eating predominantly vegan is much cheaper than if I were to regularly incorporate meat into my diet. Yes, I could spend less on groceries if I ate instant noodles every day (I actually love instant noodles), but for me, food is sometimes worth paying a bit more. Plus, I generally only eat at restaurants twice a month, so financially it tends to balance out.
According to this news report, Torontonians spend on average $254.00/per person (or $508.00 for a family of two) on groceries. The article states that grocery costs tend to go up in big cities. We usually spend around $400 - $450/month for the two of us. This includes us buying coffee beans, since we usually make coffee at home and bring it to work. It also includes our love of Oreos, bbq chips, chocolate and other snacks that we devour in one sitting. If we eliminated the unnecessary splurges, our budget would definitely fall below $400.
If eating more plants sounds good to you, I would suggest giving a few of these recipes a try. The best part about things like the peanut butter tofu, is that you can literally add that as a side to almost any meal and it's a yummy, inexpensive way to get your protein. Although it’s not very exciting, these meals works for us and our wallets!
Disclaimer: I did not receive any money in exchange for referring these recipes, but if any of these amazing people/companies want to work with me, I am so down to work with you.