For the foreseeable future, the cooking I talk about in this blog will be based around the principle of frugality. Yesterday I finished moving into a sweet new apartment, but because it costs more than my former home, and because I’m still currently working in retail, I’m pretty poor. But instead of feeling down that I can’t go buy a lot of fancy-shmancy products, I’m using this opportunity to learn more about cooking healthy, delicious foods for really cheap.

This is actually not a new thing for me – I’ve never had a large budget for food. It’s more critical now for sure, but I’ve already learned a thing or two in my day. This post will highlight some tips and suggestions for how to eat healthy, vegan meals on the cheap.

  1. Learn to cook. This is probably the most important tip of them all. Pre-packaged and frozen meals, not to mention take-out and restaurant meals, are way more expensive than if you were to cook the exact same thing in your kitchen. Before I learned how to cook (in the summer of 2009), I was spending twice as much on food as I am now, except I was getting half as much. Plus, homemade always tastes better.
  2. Shop around. I currently get groceries from four different stores – Ingles for all my basics, Greenlife/Whole Foods for the few specialty items I allow myself, and Sav-Mor/Amazing Savings for discounted goods. Also, sign up for any advantage cards you can – many times you may not be able to get a sale if you’re not a member. And it’s usually free to enroll.
  3. Buy in bulk. Instead of canned beans I stock up on dried, and I get flour in bulk. It’s cheaper, and there’s less packaging to be thrown away. Many well-stocked supermarkets have a nice variety of bulk goods – nuts, grains, beans, flours. I’ve even seen bulk shampoo, maple syrup, and extra-virgin olive oil.
  4. Shop seasonally. If something is local and in season, it’s going to be cheaper. During the summer you can go to a farmer’s market and get fresh fruits and vegetables for next to nothing. And it’s even cheaper if you pick your own. Trust me – I worked for six years at a farmer’s market. There’s nothing better than a tomato or ear of corn fresh from the field.
  5. Take advantage of frozen goods. Sometimes frozen fruits and veggies are cheaper than their fresh counterparts, especially if those items are out of season. I regularly stock up on frozen pepper mixes for stir-fries and whatnot.
  6. Limit your consumption of fake omni-substitutes. You don’t need $4.00 bags of vegan soy cheese or fake chicken nuggets. It’s ok to splurge once in awhile, but don’t make a habit out of it. Plus, these products are loaded with empty calories and sodium. If you are craving something “meaty,” try making seitan at home. A quick internet search yields tons of recipes. It’s easy.
  7. Cook huge batches. If you make soup or chili, freeze some for later. If you get off work late and starving, you’ll be less likely to splurge on some crappy frozen meal.
  8. Hoard. I’m not afraid to admit that I hoard food. I’m lucky enough to live in a town that has a discount organic food store (Amazing Savings), and when I find a really good deal (like a 5lb bag of Daiya for $3.00) I buy it. Even if you’re not going to use it right now, or if you already have the item, store it. You’ll never have too many cans of diced tomatoes or chickpeas.

So those are just a few tips for eating more frugally. I’d love to hear any others that you could suggest!