“Excuse me? Could you spare some change? There’s this new recipe I need try but I’m a little short for the Medjool dates and Cacao Butter”.
This is literally my thought process when I’m stood at the checkout, clutching a handful of ingredients that’ll come to a price way over my hourly pay rate. I can’t help but question why I so desperately need to try the new raw refined-sugar free paleo cheesecake recipe whose Instagram photo lured me in; leaving me in a desperate panic fuelled by foodie cravings. It’s ridiculous, really. But I love it.
It was when I started University things started to change. I never had a lot of disposable cash, but when these new bills and fees started accumulating, the ability to purchase these pricey ingredients began to slip through my fingers. All of a sudden, energy balls and fresh pesto became a distant memory. My hobby was falling away and my vegan diet began to turn bland and tasteless. Everything I cooked had to be on the cheap; leaving me with tomato pasta dishes and plain porridge. This alone was enough to bore a foodie like me sh!tless.
Only, I began to realise that it didn’t have to be this way, I can still create wonderful things with more affordable, realistic ingredients. So I began to research, and I discovered 5 points to living a deliciously affordable vegan lifestyle. Wave goodbye to those painstakingly high receipts from the checkout, and hello to reality.
- SWAP OUT THOSE INGREDIENTS, IT’LL STILL TASTE AMAZING; IF NOT THE SAME OR EVEN BETTER!
Yes you heard me right. Take that leap, edit the recipe to suit your needs. The truth is that many recipe writers do have the disposable income to purchase pricey ingredients on the regular; I would too if I could. However this doesn’t mean you have to use those specific ingredients. For example…
- Medjool Dates: these babies are mind-blowingly delicious, and that fact is unavoidable. However, they’re usually blended up in a processor or blender and mixed with crushed nuts to form energy balls or bases to raw desserts. Due to this, their texture is broken down anyway. You can achieve EXACTLY the same product using any other dates, for example the much cheaper and more accessible Deglet Noir. If the recipe specifically calls for Medjools, simply soak the Deglets in hot water for 10/15 mins, I promise you’ll be left with one dayum fine dessert. If dates still are not an option, prunes have a similar texture which means they can also be swapped in. Just really study the recipe and see if the prunes need to be soft or firm to make a decision.
- Raw Honey and Other Expensive Sweeteners: The definition of raw honey is simply honey which hasn’t been filtered. However the price-tag for a jar of it is sky-high. The reality is, the sole purpose of these ingredients is usually just to sweeten the dish and therefore any regular honey will work just the same. Maple syrup is a classic sweetener which isn’t too bank breaking too, making a great substitution for date or agave syrup. However, do check the recipe, as some call for thick sweeteners in order to hold a mix together. This is what tells you whether to use honey (thick) or maple syrup (runny).
- Test Out Nut-Free Options by Swapping Nuts with Seeds: Yes you heard correct, most recipes word perfectly well with tahini instead of nut butter, and seeds instead of nuts! You can even use sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts in pestos! This may alter the flavour slightly but the product will still work!
2. BE HONEST AND LET THE UNNECESSARY INGREDIENTS GO.
Sometimes ingredients cannot be substituted, and sometimes those ingredients cost as much as your monthly Netflix bill. This happens to me so damn much, especially with pine nuts and cacao butter. I love pesto, and I was craving it a lot yesterday actually. I went to Sainsbury’s to buy some pine nuts but they were charging £3 a pack. Three precious little pounds. Three pounds for parking, three pounds for a drink with friends, three pounds worth of work: all for some tiny pine nuts. It seems obsessive, but this is just my reality.
In terms of the cacao butter, I couldn’t find it anywhere. In fact I almost ended up ordering it online. £5.99 was the cheapest I found it at the time, and the temptation just to click a few buttons and have it delivered was almost uncontrollable. Alas, my conscience took the ropes and steered my decision. My raw chocolate would have to bloody wait.
I left the pine nuts and the cacao butter, and decided to make something else. Besides, there were and are always a million other things I crave and can make on a budget. I thought about these ingredients and told myself I will buy them eventually, just in the future when I have the spare cash to do so; and making the recipes will therefore be a fun treat.
3. SHOP AROUND FOR THE CHEAPEST PRICE FOR THE SAME PRODUCT, OR WAIT FOR AN OFFER
Funny thing is, the pine nut and cacao butter story does not end there. With all of the varieties of nuts I buy, including almonds, pecans, walnuts; I carried out extensive research on the cheapest way to buy them. From ordering in bulk online to buying a million tiny packets, even comparing prices and weights between each and every super market chain going. I found the cheapest retailer to be LIDL, selling the cheapest nuts and seeds. I know, not quite Wholefoods. But the same darn nuts, baby. This is where the pine nuts come in. I previously didn’t know that Lidl sold pine nuts, but after I’d visited Sainsbury’s; a detour to Lidl proved me wrong. A packet of pine nuts, 80g, for just £1.19! This calls for some boring maths:
Sainsburys Pine Nuts: £3 for 125g
Lidl Pine Nuts: £1.19 for 80g, but if we buy two, that’ll be £2.38 for 160g of pine nuts! More for less, am I right…
Offers, on the other hand are less predictable… but they do come around! I only buy nut milks on offer, which usually saves me between 50p and a £1 from the original price. I also do this with nut butters. Always keep coupons and check for flash sales such a the ones they do in Holland and Barrett: which brings me back onto that cacao butter…
I had a £2 off coupon from Holland and Barrett, so made the decision to treat myself to some cacao butter for £2.99 rather than £4.99. Upon entry, the sales assistant informed me that the whole store was holding a buy one get one half price sale… which meant I bought two packets of cacao butter for £5.98…. which is almost a packet for free! This means I’ll have enough cacao butter for future needs, meaning I won’t have to re-buy it at a more expensive price.
4. BUY FROZEN
It’s true, frozen fruit and veg is literally the greatest idea ever. Buy spinach, cauli, broccoli, berries, mango, pineapple even avocados! Throw them into smoothies, leave them to that and chop into salads, and even fry the spinach up in or throw it into curries. You immediately avoid food waste, you can get out exactly what you needs from the freezer and you also save so much money, as fresh can be so pricey, especially out of season.
You may be questioning whether the frozen fruit and veg will be mushy or watery, so I’ll give you the low-down:
- Berries: amazing in smoothies, compotes and jams. Can be a little mushy compared to fresh when simply thawed but still delicious!
- Mango/pineapple: Again, smoothie and compote gods. Yet these babies hold their shape better when thawed so you can even chop them and add them to salads!
- Avocados: Basically exactly the same as fresh once thawed!
- Spinach: Great in smoothies, curries and stir-fries. However when thawed can be quite soggy.
- Cauli/Broccoli/Carrots: amazing in curries and stir-frys, taste fantastic roasted and can be added frozen into smoothies too. When left to thaw, they can be quite soft, almost like they’ve been boiled, so it’s best to cook them in one way or another!
Buying frozen fruit and veg means you can treat yourself to fresh berries for the perfect breakfast toppings, and save your fresh spinach for your salads and save a tonne of money on fresh food and food wastage. Life saver.
5. BE OPEN TO EXPERIMENTATION
Open that fridge, what’ve ya got lying about? What can you create without buying anything? Got some veg, pulses and chopped tomatoes? EASY STEW RIGHT THERE! Just season and you’re good to go. Random fruits and veg lying around but none of them the right ones for any recipes you have? Create you’re own smoothie concoction using ones you think will pair well! The key is to trust your instincts and go with what you think will work. You don’t need to live off recipes by others, which is something I’m learning by creating this blog and making my own recipes. Use what you have, not just what you don’t. This instantly cuts the cost of any expensive ingredients, as you dot have to shop at all.
The real deal to conquering the scary price which comes with being vegan is be realistic. Don’t compare yourself with successful food bloggers who use expensive items on the daiyl. That is simply not the reality for most people, I know it definitely isn’t for me. At the end of the day, it’s all about enjoying your food. So use your cooking knowledge and your favourite ingredients and create something of your own, and remember that these fancy ingredients are not a necessity at all. We can all live a plant-based diet well as long as we focus on ourselves and never lose touch. I hope these tips can help whilst the plant-based community is still finding it’s feet in the world, and I’m sure soon in the future it’ll be just as easy and affordable to live a vegan diet as it is for everyone else.