Starting to eat more plant-based can seem overwhelming and expensive, and it can be difficult to know where to start. While you may feel like you have to go hunting down exotic ingredients that are going to completely wreck your budget, you might be surprised to know that plant-based staples are some of the most affordable options available!
Chantal Denis, Chef at Vega HQ, is a wizard in the kitchen. She cooks beautiful plant-based meals for us lucky Vegatopians, and shares her love of plant-based cooking throughout her community. She’s also keen on sharing her knowledge of how plant-based cooking makes sense when you’re worried about budget, food security, and sustainability.
Chantal teaches cooking classes once a month through Gordon Neighborhood House in Vancouver. “Gordon is doing tons of cool food initiatives. They run a variety of different community food programs that serve everyone from homeless people, to students on a limited budget, the elderly people, to people in the neighborhood who just love connecting over good food.
“With them, I created a program of cooking classes to teach that are all plant-based and with a very strict budget to make it accessible.
“With the support of a group of awesome volunteers, I also cook large volumes of soup, casseroles and stews in a community kitchen every Sunday to serve the next day for Meatless Monday. It’s a pay-what-you-can lunch program for 20 to 40 people.”
Between her work at Vega HQ, vegetarian restaurants, and cooking cheap camp meals for large groups, coupled with her extensive community work, Chantal has picked up some excellent insights on how to cook cheaply and nutritiously. “Plant-based cooking makes sense when you’re worried about budget, food security and sustainability.” She loves to help people feed themselves, no matter what their budget. To get you started, Chantal has a few key tips:
Eating Well on a Strict Budget
- “Eat seasonally. It tastes better and you use veggies that are more affordable. Knowing which fruits and vegetable are in season can help you to know which foods are going to be cheaper in the market and what to base your menu off of.”
- “Shop in the bulk section. There’s less packaging, you can make yourself a hip Mason jar pantry at home, and save a lot of money. Keep these ingredients in your pantry: garlic, ginger, onions, can of diced tomatoes, spices, and dried beans.”
- “Go dry. Dried beans are a fraction of the cost of canned beans and create less waste. You can also buy a pressure cooker, and cook soaked beans in 12 minutes. If you’re just getting started with cooking with dried beans, lentils are a good option because they don’t need to be soaked.”
“Right After Rent” Meals
When you’re short on funds, like right after you pay rent and are waiting for your next paycheck, try these meals:
- “A variety of bowls. They’re affordable and repeatable. Meal prep and mix it up – the ritual of putting something together that has multiple components can make you more excited to eat it.”
- Curry Up. “You can make Indian inspired curries with chickpeas, mung beans, red lentils, and dried kidney beans. Add a grain to make it more filling. I once made an organic kidney bean dinner with rice for 35 people for $21 dollars.”
And if you’re feeling like a bowl of soup or stew, she has a few tricks to make them a little more fresh and exciting.
Kitchen Hacks to Dress Up Cheap Stews
Just because stews and soups are cheap to make doesn’t mean you can’t dress them up a little bit! Here are a few of the easiest ways:
“Make vegan creams for toppings. You can use cashews, or if they’re too expensive, sunflower seeds will do the trick.
“You can also use things that might already be in the soup for topping double-duty or whip up a simple garnish that compliments the soup. For Mexican-themed soup you can put chopped red onions, diced tomatoes or avocado on top. For Asian-inspired stews you can top them with green onion or even toasted sunflower seeds seasoned with tamari. It adds crunch and contrast to what would otherwise be just a bowl of soup.”
Chantal’s final advice? “Don’t go to the grocery store hungry! Always have healthy snack before you start. Otherwise, impulse buying is very tough to control. Have a plan but be flexible so you can take advantage of what’s on sale.”
With Chantal’s tips you can bravely venture forth into the world of budget-friendly grocery shopping and cooking.
What are your tips for eating well on a budget?