Eating Vegan as a Poor College Student

For college students, a limited budget can be a deterrent to making the choice to go vegan. And, it’s true that there are rarely amazing sales, loss leaders, and coupons for fresh nutritious food. But, eating vegan, being healthy, and maintaining a budget-friendly diet are not an impossible combination! You don’t have to live on ramen.

While you might not be able to cook them in a dorm room, the recipes you will find on this site are typically not complicated, don’t require fancy ingredients that you need a specialty store to find, and don’t need the skills of Gordon Ramsey.

Some general thoughts to decrease costs and increase goodness:

  • Eat in season when you can – If you can get to a farm stand or a farmers’ market in the spring, summer, and fall, you’ll find the best deals on fruits and vegetables (unless you want to plant a garden, in which case the deals get better).
  • Plan your starches – Don’t eat white rice or white pasta every day, even though they are really inexpensive options. If you try that, you’ll get bored and unhappy and end up spending $20 on a Papa John’s pizza or binging on Doritos.
  • Cook ahead when you can – If you are cooking for 1 or 2, it’s more cost effective to cook ahead and freeze or eat the item across the week. You can always repurpose or reseason things to make them seem different the second or third time. Waiting until the last moment will lead you to more pricey choices. For college students, this might mean using a friend’s kitchen or cooking at home on the weekend and making containers of food to eat over the week.
  • Protein is important, but we don’t need as much as the beef industry wants us to think we do. You’ll notice a lot of beans in the recipes below because beans are good, cheap, and I love them. But, you have other options. In fact, you will probably find it’s just not that difficult and you can even get it in your desserts and without eating soy or nuts.
  • Buy in bulk, and generic, where it makes sense, and, when you can’t, compare prices!
  • When something that doesn’t go bad is on super sale (like dried spices, sea salt, or hot sauce), get a few! You’ll spend a little more now and save later.
  • Pick one “luxury” ingredient to buy each week. One week it might be a nice bottle of olive oil (not super pricey, maybe $7). One week it could be a container of dark cocoa for cooking and baking. You’ll build your pantry supplies without spending a fortune at once.
  • Eat at home. I really cannot say it enough. Even if you are splurging at a large fast food “inexpensive” national taco chain, you’ll spend more than you would making your food and you’ll get less nutrition out of it.
  • Avoid prepared food, except for an occasional splurge on something you really love. Everything that is in a package and sold as super easy to grab and eat (breakfast pastries, protein bars), or “just reheat” (frozen dinners, meals in a can) is much more expensive than making it yourself and is often full of crap you don’t need.
  • When in doubt, “a grain, a green, a bean.” This idea, sometimes called a vegan bowl, and referred to by the No Meat Athlete as AGAGAB, is exactly what it sounds like. Cook a grain; add a green; add a bean; season. The end.

So, with that having been said, some ideas for cheap eats!

Oatmeal!
Old fashioned oats can be had for about 20 cents a serving for the oats* and it’s so good for you. That’s cheap, right? Go ahead, add a banana for 20 cents, some almonds for 40 cents,  or raisins for 20 cents. The choices of what to put in are almost endless and can depend on what you have a bunch of or what was cheap this week. If you make a pot of oats on Monday, you can mix it up however you want it all for several days. Oats are not only tasty, they are full of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B1 and have a significant amount of protein, and if you add some blueberries, yogurt, chia, or walnuts, you’ll add an extra punch of goodness for gut and heart health.

Black beans and rice
Cheap and delicious eats. A basic pan of black beans with some onion, jalapeño, celery, chili powder, and cumin, plus enough rice to have a cup for each serving of beans, can be pulled together for under 70 cents a serving. And, these are not little servings. I’m talking a cup of rice and a cup of beans! You can check out a full recipe here.

Pasta bake with protein
Who does not love pasta? I don’t know anyone like that, actually. Buy pasta when it’s on sale and stick it in the freezer and it lasts a long time. Add some texturized vegetable protein (buy in bulk) or chickpeas for protein. Squashes, tomatoes, and maybe some kale give you your veggies. The carbs are obvious! And all of this is low in fat. A no-nonsense pasta bake with diced zucchini and summer squash, diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, and texturized vegetable protein comes in at a whopping $1 per serving! You can find a couple of additional recipes here and here.

Bean and carrot soup
We ate quite a bit of bean soup when I was a kid. It had ham in it, but I don’t miss that when I make it now. One bag of beans, a pound of carrots, an onion, a few celery stalks, and some vegan broth powder will set you back around $4.50, but provide at least 6 servings of hearty soup. Throw in a little corn or rice if you wish. And, it’s an easy meal to put on and let simmer and not need to fuss with.

Tofu wraps
Tofu cooked slowly for a long period takes on an interesting chewy texture that really gives a good mouth feel, enhancing that sense of satiation. Make your tofu not-jerky ahead of time and slice it into narrow strips. Use burrito sized tortillas to wrap up the tofu, romaine lettuce, diced onions, shredded carrot, and diced tomatoes, with your choice of dressing or hot sauce. You can make 8 large wraps from 1 block of tofu for only about $1 per wrap.

Chili
People have been making chili as a cheap and delicious meal for ages, and vegan chili is no exception. If you cook your chili starting with dried beans, it is darn inexpensive! A large pan of basic chili with pinto beans, jalapeños, onions, celery, tomatoes, and carrots can be cooked up for under $8 and will provide at least 8 servings (and those are servings for hungry people). Pull up some low-cost tortilla chips or store brand saltines and you are set. This recipe makes almost double that and reduces the cost even further!

Split pea soup
Much like chili, split pea soup is inexpensive, filling, and goes a long way. It can also be frozen and reheated easily. This easy pressure cooker split pea soup comes in at between $7-8 and provides at least 10 servings of soup. You can certainly make it without the pressure cooker, but they are amazing, so it might be worth it to watch out for a super sale, put one on your list for Santa, or check out your local yard sales.

Tavoor dal (yellow lentil curry) and rice
Lentils are really good and really good for you. Lentils are exceptionally high in protein and have good amounts of iron and potassium too. This yellow lentil curry recipe packs some flavor punch and is easy to pull together and very inexpensive. You can serve this over rice for less than 70 cents a serving!

Baked potatoes and all the things!
Do you know how cheap a baked potato is? Seriously, DO YOU? You can buy 5 pounds of russet potatoes for $2. That’s a lot of food. Now, grab a roll of generic foil and bake the potatoes you want. And then throw whatever leftovers you have on top of that potato! Chili – yes! Lentils – indeed! Black beans – jump on it! Any green veggies you have handy to sauté – affirmative! Oatmeal – no, probably not. So many things go on a baked potato and taste good. Don’t forget about them when you are thinking about your starch options.

Spaghetti
You know this one. I know you do.  Go with it. Toss some al dente spaghetti with sesame oil, soy sauce, hot sauce, and edamame = dinner. Make a basic spaghetti with marinara sauce (in fact, go ahead and get a couple of jars when it’s on super sale for times you are really in a rush). Throw some olive oil and nutritional yeast into a bowl of spaghetti and toss it with some sea salt and have it with a little salad on the side. Easy peasy and wildly cheap.

These are just a few ideas for eating simple vegan on a budget. Of course there are many more! Here are some additional links to peruse at your leisure:

Vegan on a Budget from The Stingy Vegan
Vegan Lifestyle on a Budget from I Love Vegan
31 Vegan Recipes for $3 from Peta
This Woman Shows Us How She Eats Vegan for a Ridiculously Cheap $25/week on The Penny Hoarder
10 Plant-Based Meals You Can Make for Under $10 by the Frugal Vegan

Enjoy your frugal and cruelty-free eating!

*Prices calculated NJ, so not the least expensive place in the U.S., but not the most!

 

Sweet Sweet Protein

Sometimes you want a little something sweet, but you are still trying to get your protein in. Vegan recipes to the rescue! Some of these are mine, but some are not. All are delicious. Some involve protein powder, some beans, and some peanut butter (ok, many involve peanut butter, but that can frequently be subbed with another nut butter if peanuts aren’t your thing – I just love peanut butter).

Sometimes, I throw a couple of frozen bananas in the vitamix with some chocolate chips and peanut butter and make some ice cream. Sometimes, I just give in and buy some ice cream (like the chocolate on the left) and skip the whole protein. But, if I want to go a little harder (though still very easy), these are some of my go-to ideas.

And now, I want a cookie!

 

 

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bliss Balls

Easy Vegan Peanut Butter Cups

Vegan Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cream Pie

Cookies More Cookies

Dawes Cookies – Vegan Recipe

Vitamixing it Up with Breakfast Smoothies

No-Bake Vegan Protein Bars (4 Ingredients!)

Peanut Butter and Banana Protein Bars [Vegan]

Hidden-Ingredient Tiramisu Protein Blondies [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Chocolate Covered Black Bean Brownie Pops [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Black Bean Brownies – No Flour Required!

Sloppy Lennys and Coleslaw – A Vegan Yum

Do you remember sloppy joes? Did you mom make them, as mine did, or do you remember them from school lunch? I loved the sauce on my mother’s sloppy joes, though even then I didn’t like the texture or idea of the beef. Now, I can have the sauce yum without the meat gag.

For a rainy Memorial Day lunch, we cooked up some Sloppy Lennys and made a crunchy vegan coleslaw to go with it, along with chips and fruit. Delicious!

Sloppy Lennys

Ingredients

1 lb dry lentils
Water or broth to cook lentils
2 T olive oil
1 large onion – diced
1 red or green pepper – diced
2 cloves garlic – minced
1 can tomato paste
2 cups tomato puree or sauce
1 t worcestershire sauce
1 t liquid smoke
1 T chili powder
1 t smoked paprika
1 t hot sauce of your choice
2 T balsamic vinegar
3-5 T molasses, agave, or maple syrup
Sea salt to taste

Process

Cook lentils by covering in water or broth (about 1 inch higher than lentils), bringing to boil, and letting boil gently for 15-20 minutes. They should still be al dente. Save broth/water when you drain them.

Saute onions, peppers, and garlic in olive oil. Add remaining ingredients (not lentils yet) and mix well. Simmer 5 minutes. Add lentils. As they finish cooking, you will need to add the vegetable broth/water to maintain the level of sauciness you would like.

When lentils are cooked to your desired tenderness, serve on buns or bread.

 

Vegan Coleslaw

Ingredients

4 cups shredded green and red cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
Diced onion if desired
2 cups vegan mayo
2 T apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Process

Mix ingredients above. Refrigerate several hours or (preferably) overnight. Serve beside, or on, sloppy lennys!