How to eat cheap vegan meals on a budget

cheap vegan meals example - a bowl with black beans and veggies.

With everything that’s happening right now, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how to eat vegan on a budget and eat well. Whether you just want to cut back expenses to add to your savings or you have found yourself recently jobless I hope you find these tips helpful. Even if you’re on a fixed or limited budget, you can enjoy healthful meatless meals.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how people like to argue that being vegan or plant-based is expensive. And sure, it can be. But it doesn’t have to be.

And I get it. When you see that the Impossible meat retails for twice what ground beef costs it seems that way. But here’s the thing - you don’t have to buy that stuff!

I hope you find these tips helpful and please share with anyone you think would benefit from these tips and recipes.

Cheap healthy foods we love

There are certain foods that are reliably cheap year-round: carrots, broccoli, cabbage, onions, apples, bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, dried and canned beans, tofu (most places), frozen spinach, frozen peas, frozen corn, and frozen green beans. We have most of these basics in the RV at any given time.

With just these items and some spices, you can make so many different meals. And you’ll see that the recipes I give below include many of these things.

2 sweet potatoes being held in a hand.

And then we add to that list by shopping seasonally. Now it’s easier to know what’s in season when you stay in one place. But you still might not be familiar with your local seasonal produce since large chain stores truck products over large distances. They usually also carry regional produce though.

Check this guide to see what’s in season near you in the United States and then incorporate these vegetables and fruits into your menu plan. (Here’s a simple guide for Canada.) These will often be the best way to vary your diet seasonally without blowing your budget.

Since we move around, the local seasonal produce changes all the time for us. For example, in Atlanta, sweet potatoes were always cheap because tons of them are grown in the southeast. And you can get an armload of collards for $3. But in Florida, the growing seasons are different so you might find your favorite produce in season at an unexpected time. In California, produce is cheap and abundant. The avocado prices will spoil you for the rest of the states!

What can you do to save money shopping

produce stand in los barriles, bcs, mexico.

I like to keep the grocery bill down so that we can splurge from time to time. And ingredients tend to be cheaper than prepared and processed foods anyway and better for you. Here are a few of my tips for saving money while grocery shopping.

Make a list and stick to it

Okay, I’m going to admit that I’m great at making lists but a couple of impulse buys will usually land in my cart too. But just having a plan for the week will keep you from buying things you don’t need and wasting food.

Check the bargain bins

This summer I found a package of Upton’s seitan at Natural Grocers for $1.99. That’s more than half price. And we used it within a couple of days. The key here is to only buy things you will use.

At Sprouts, there is usually a bargain rack in the back of the store near the bathrooms. At Kroger stores, look for Manager’s Special stickers. On one visit, they had tons of white hamburger buns for $0.10 per 8-pack. They must have over-ordered for the July 4th holiday.

Stock up on sale items that you use often

Most grocery stores put staples on special from time to time. Whenever I see canned beans, canned tomatoes, my favorite pasta sauce, etc. on sale, I will stock up. Because our fridge space is limited, I don’t normally stock up on frozen goods but totally would if I had more space.

Coupons

Coupons are tricky. I personally don’t go out of my way to clip and use coupons (there’s an exception I’ll mention below.) But they can be worth it if it’s for something you use. So many coupons I see are for heavily processed foods we would never buy so they don’t appeal to me.

Loyalty programs

Some stores only give you certain discounts if you join their loyalty program. And some programs like Natural Grocers and Sprouts have member-exclusive electronic coupons. I do clip these electronic coupons. I clip all the ones I could conceivably buy, but then I don’t look at them as I shop. That way, if it’s something I need, I’ll get the discount but I won’t buy things I don’t need.

Pro-tip: use an app to keep all of your loyalty cards on your phone. I use CardStar on my iPhone. It eliminates all those hanging tags or cards and if you sign up with fake phone numbers for privacy you don’t have to remember those.

Brand newsletters

If you have a favorite brand or product you buy all the time, sign up for their newsletter. Most brands will regularly send coupons in their newsletters. Beyond Meat often includes a $1 off coupon in theirs. Daiya occasionally has coupons - the image below is how it appeared in a recent newsletter. No Evil Foods will tell you about different offers at stores that stock them. 

example of a one dollar off coupon in a daiya products email newsletter.

Organic or not?

Organic fruits and vegetables are usually more expensive than conventional. I consult the dirty dozen and clean fifteen to see which produce is more or less affected by pesticides before deciding which products I will buy organic. Sometimes my wallet dictates that choice or I just choose to go without.

Bulk bins, or not!

During the pandemic, most stores have shut down their bulk bins. But, sometimes they aren’t even cheaper! Pay attention and do the math. Oats are often cheaper packaged. The same can be true for many other bulk items.

Costco or larger quantities

We buy things we use all the time in large quantities at Costco. Some of the best buys for us are almond butter, oats, rice, walnuts, and frozen blueberries.

unsweetened vanilla almond milk at costco.

Do the work

You can buy almost any produce washed and ready to eat these days. But if you do that work yourself, you’ll save money and it will probably last longer.

Frozen fruits & veggies

Frozen fruits and veggies are the exceptions to the “do the work” suggestion. They’re almost always cheaper than fresh and they’re already cleaned and ready to use. And they won’t go bad quickly.

International & bargain markets

One downside to being vegan is that we almost never find everything we want at one store. Which means we’re used to going to more than one place to shop. So if it’s an option, I’ll often start at an international (some cater to specific markets like Asian and some carry the foods for multiple cultures) or bargain market (like Aldi or Grocery Outlet.) Produce is almost always cheaper at an international market, sometimes startlingly so. Aldi has great prices on certain things. And we haven’t been around a Grocery Outlet for a long time but they often have deals on vegan convenience foods. It’s worth checking!

Cheap swaps

Dried spices for fresh

I’ve always used the general rule that one tablespoon of fresh herb equals about one teaspoon of dried. And while fresh herbs will make your dish special, you can often substitute dried without a huge change in the recipe. There are some exceptions, though. If the herb is the star of the dish, as in with pesto, for example, you’re going to need to use fresh.

If you want some more specific substitutions for fresh herbs, this post has a handy chart that might help.

Cheaper or sale veggies

Sometimes there are vegetable swaps you can make to save money. For example, if a recipe calls for baby potatoes, use regular sized potatoes cut to baby potato size. Broccolini is lovely but usually much more expensive than broccoli. And in most cases, the broccoli will work fine in the recipe. Or, better yet, get Chinese broccoli at the international market.

Also, plan your meals around in-season vegetables. For example, load up on asparagus in the spring when you can get it for $2/pound. In the fall and winter, enjoy root veggies, hard squashes, and cold-weather greens like collards.

Store brand frozen veggies

Get familiar with your local store’s selection of frozen vegetables. Peas, corn, green beans, and spinach will hang out in the freezer until you need them and are usually less than $1.50/pound for the store brand. Broccoli and cauliflower can be good too, but sometimes they have more stems than florets.

And check out the blends, too. I’ve been digging on the Mexican blend at Kroger for stir-fries. It includes broccoli, corn, cauliflower, and red peppers.

Budget AND RV friendly recipes

These are not gourmet meals but they are tasty, quick, easy, and cheap meals. These are all meals I make in our RV and should be suitable for most kitchen situations.

The costs were all calculated using Kroger’s online shopping feature but these prices do reflect what we usually see in the store. I picked the cheapest option, usually the store brand.

The recipes call for white rice and pasta but you can always substitute brown rice and whole wheat pasta. That’s what we normally use. It will cost a little more but not much if you select the store brand. The recipe costs are calculated using Bragg Liquid Aminos but soy sauce will be the cheapest option.

Okay, on to the recipes!

cooked oatmeal in a white bowl.
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Microwave Oatmeal

This tasty stick-to-your-ribs breakfast cooks in its serving bowl for less clean-up
Prep Time1 min
Cook Time3 mins
Total Time4 mins
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 1
Cost: $0.68

Equipment

  • microwave

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Add oats and water to a high-sided bowl with at least a couple of inches of extra space (otherwise, oats will boil over.) Microwave on high for 2 ½ - 3 minutes until oats are done to your liking. Top with remaining ingredients.
  • $0.68/serving

Notes

The costs were all calculated using Kroger’s online shopping feature but these prices do reflect what we usually see in the store. I picked the cheapest option, usually the store brand.

kung pao style noodles on a plate.
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Kung Pao Style Noodles

At just $1.40/serving, this recipe help keep you on budget with a meal as delicious as it is easy!
Prep Time7 mins
Cook Time2 mins
Total Time27 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Chinese
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 423kcal
Cost: $5.60

Ingredients

Sauce Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup Bragg Liquid Aminos soy sauce, or tamari
  • 1 Tablespoon miso paste
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon ginger freshly minced
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon chili garlic sauce
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch

Other Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. firm or extra-firm tofu about 1/2 a package, pan-fried
  • 8 oz. spaghetti
  • 1 medium red onion cut into long thin strips
  • 1 cup red bell pepper cut into 1/4" wide strips, optional
  • 12 oz. frozen stir-fry vegetables
  • ¼ cup peanuts

Instructions

  • Prep all the veggies as this recipe comes together fast.
  • Place all the sauce ingredients into a small bowl and whisk well, then set aside.
  • Cube the tofu and pan fry it in a non-stick pan until lightly browned on all sides. Set aside on a plate.
  • Cook the noodles according to package directions, drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
  • In a large pot or high-sided frying pan large enough to accommodate all the ingredients, add the bell peppers and red onions, sauté over medium-high heat for approx. 5 to 7 minutes, just to slightly tender stage. Add a splash of water if they start to stick.
  • Then move the veggies to the side of the pan and add the sauce and cook until it starts to caramelize and thicken (about 3 to 4 minutes), then fold in the peanuts, tofu, and cooked noodles. Gently fold until the mixture thickens and evenly coats all the noodles and peanuts.
  • Serve immediately.

Notes

I calculated the costs for this recipe in the Summer of 2020 using Kroger's online store. Prices at your local store may vary. 
We normally buy whole grain pasta but I use white pasta in this recipe because it is cheaper. To reduce costs further, use soy sauce instead of the Bragg Liquid Aminos and 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder for the fresh. 
 

Nutrition

Calories: 423kcal | Carbohydrates: 72g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 1277mg | Potassium: 590mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 5559IU | Vitamin C: 59mg | Calcium: 79mg | Iron: 3mg

tofu fried rice in a white bowl with added kimchi.
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Tofu Fried Rice

Always make extra rice so you can whip up this quick and tasty dish when you're short on time.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Chinese
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 302kcal
Cost: $5.05

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup Bragg Liquid Aminos soy sauce or tamari ($0.57)
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup $0.05
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar $0.18
  • 1 tablespoons tahini $0.21
  • 1 medium red onion $0.50
  • 2 carrots $0.33
  • 4 garlic cloves $0.20
  • 4 ounces sliced white mushrooms $1.20
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger grated ($0.20)
  • 7-8 oz. firm or extra-firm tofu cut into small cubes ($0.90)
  • 3 cups cold cooked long-grain white rice $0.30
  • 1 cup frozen peas $0.40
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper $0.01

Instructions

  • In a small bowl, mix together the Bragg Liquid Aminos, ketchup, rice vinegar, and tahini and set aside.
  • Add onion and carrot to pan over medium heat and saute 4-5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add garlic, mushrooms, and ginger and saute another minute or two.
  • Crumble in tofu and cook for another 4 minutes. Add sauce and stir to combine. Add rice and peas, stir to combine and cook until heated through. Season with ground black pepper. This is a great recipe to use up veggies in the fridge or partial bags from the freezer.
  • $5.05/recipe $1.26/serving

Notes

The costs were all calculated using Kroger’s online shopping feature but these prices do reflect what we usually see in the store. I picked the cheapest option, usually the store brand.

Nutrition

Calories: 302kcal | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 1045mg | Potassium: 411mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 5411IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 110mg | Iron: 2mg

almost instant black bean soup cooking in a pan.
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Almost Instant Black Bean Soup

Blend it up and heat it up - that's all there is to it!
Prep Time2 mins
Cook Time8 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 214kcal
Cost: $2.64

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Add all ingredients to a blender. You can pulse a few times or blend until smooth depending on how you like your black bean soup. Add to a saucepan and simmer for about 8 minutes until warmed and flavors have combined. Thin with ½ cup water or vegetable broth, if desired.
  • $0.66/serving

Notes

The costs were all calculated using Kroger’s online shopping feature but these prices do reflect what we usually see in the store. I picked the cheapest option, usually the store brand.
The nutrition database didn't include no salt added black beans so the recipe was calculated with the salted ones. If you use no salt added, the sodium will be less.

Nutrition

Calories: 214kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 1118mg | Potassium: 848mg | Fiber: 16g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 182IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 106mg | Iron: 5mg

pumpkin sage pasta on a plate.
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Pumpkin Sage Pasta

Stock up on pumpkin when it's on sale and you'll feast on this all year!
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 250kcal
Cost: $1.80

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. dried penne pasta $0.50
  • 3 cloves garlic minced ($0.15)
  • 1/2 onion diced ($0.25)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened unflavored soy milk ($0.28)
  • 3/4 cups pumpkin puree canned or pre-cooked ($0.48)
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon dried sage $0.11
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste ($0.02)
  • Black pepper to taste fresh ground ($0.01)

Instructions

  • Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  • In a medium-sized pot or large frying pan, saute garlic and onion in olive oil 3-5 minutes. Add the sage and heat for another minute. Reduce heat to low, and add the soy milk, pumpkin, and sage. Stir gently to combine ingredients.
  • Simmer until flavors are well combined, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper then add pasta and cook on low until heated through.
  • $1.80/recipe $0.45/serving Splurge and add some steamed broccoli!

Notes

The costs were all calculated using Kroger’s online shopping feature but these prices do reflect what we usually see in the store. I picked the cheapest option, usually the store brand.

Nutrition

Calories: 250kcal | Carbohydrates: 49g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 262mg | Potassium: 305mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 7244IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 88mg | Iron: 2mg

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Easy Beans and Greens

Use whatever beans or greens you've got! We also like it with pintos or lentils, kale or collards.
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time15 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 258kcal
Cost: $4.06

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. frozen chopped spinach or other greens ($0.92)
  • 1 can no salt diced tomatoes $0.55
  • 2 cans black beans rinsed and drained, or 3 cups cooked ($1.36)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder $0.12
  • 8 oz. prepared salsa $0.70
  • 1 cup frozen corn $0.40
  • Ground black pepper to taste ($0.01)

Instructions

  • Combine everything in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Eat as is, over a whole grain, or with toast.
  • $4.06/whole recipe $1.02/serving

Notes

The costs were all calculated using Kroger’s online shopping feature but these prices do reflect what we usually see in the store. I picked the cheapest option, usually the store brand.

Nutrition

Calories: 258kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 456mg | Potassium: 1125mg | Fiber: 16g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 7041IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 156mg | Iron: 5mg

More Cheap Recipes at VeganRV.com

Now I didn’t calculate the cost for these recipes but they’re all made of inexpensive ingredients and would be perfect for a budget meal plan.

Did I miss anything? What do you do to cut back on your grocery budget when necessary?

As always I’d love to hear if you found any of these tips or recipes helpful. Just pop it in a comment!

Laura Nunemaker

About the Author

Laura Nunemaker

vegan. full-time traveler. rv dweller. food lover. cow petter.

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