Saturday, October 15, 2011

On a Working Gal's Budget: Foods that Should Never (or verrry rarely) be Bought Pre-made

People often comment to me that being vegan must be so very expensive.  There seems to be this crazy notion that a vegan lifestyle is a luxury that many regular folks cannot afford, but it just isn’t so!  I make a rather modest salary and live alone, so I have very little disposable income.  My monthly food budget is $120 which includes the cost of my CSA.  As long as I pay attention to that budget and keep track of my grocery bills along the way, I can stay within that budget and still eat fabulously. 

It’s true that certain vegan versions of food products are sold at a premium price.  Although I was a huge meat eater before going veg, I wasn’t doing my own grocery shopping or cooking, and therefore wasn’t aware of the cost of meat.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that the cost of a 20 pound turkey was about the same price (maybe even less) as the piddly Tofurky I was buying for my boyfriend and myself (which we could polish off in one sitting between the two of us)!  Of course it’s not fair and it even made me boil inside, but there are so many things that we can do to combat those high convenience food prices.  I have many more post ideas on this subject, but for today’s purposes I’m going to talk about high priced convenience foods that make no sense for us frugal vegans to but at the store.    

Salad DressingNot only is the bottled stuff expensive and laden with fat but it’s also rare that you can finish a whole bottle before it goes bad.  Why buy that nonsense when you can make your own delicious salad dressing?  You can usually throw together a quick dressing with stuff you have on hand, even.  Who doesn’t have a bottle of mustard in the reefer?  Mix that mustard with some olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper and voila, mustard vinaigrette.  For a larger batch of dressing, try Susan’sFat Free Goddess Dressing over at the Fat Free Vegan Blog.  It’s easy, tasty and versatile.  I especially love using it on falafel.

Veggie BurgersThe prepackaged frozen stuff will set you back anywhere from $4 to $7 (in my area anyway) and you only get 4 mediocre burgers.  Making your own veggie burgers is easy and can be a great way to use up stuff that’s been hanging in your fridge.  Just about every cookbook and blog has recipes for great burgers.  Homemade burgers can easily be frozen too.  Just let the burgers cool completely and separate layers with wax or parchment paper.  Hurray for homemade convenience food!

SoupCanned and boxed vegetarian soups are so overpriced when you consider that you can make a big batch of comforty goodness for about the same price as one measly can.  Like veggie burgers, homemade soups are another way to rid your refrigerator and cabinets of stuff that’s been sitting around.  Some of my go-to soups are split pea, tortilla, and tomato basil.  Jennifer over at It Ain’t Meat Babe (best blog title ever?) recently posted a great soup making idea that seems so versatile and easy.  I can’t wait to try it for myself. 

Tofurky RoastI’ll admit, I love (luuurve, loave, luff) Tofurky.  Like I mention above, my boyfriend and I (with some dedication) can polish off one of these bad boys in one sitting.  Sure a stomach ache shortly follows, but the holidays are for gluttony right?  The sad fact though is commercial Tofurky is just ridiculously overpriced for the amount you get.  Brian McCarthy posted a recipe over at Everyday Dish TV for a homemade tofurky that quite accurately mimics the beloved store bought Tofurky.  He even gives the ingenious option to wrap your homemade tofurky in puff pastry, brush with a ketchup-based solution and bake for a short while.  The puff pastry locks in the moisture of your “bird” and crisps up beautifully to simulate traditional turkey skin.  Brilliant.  His homemade tofurky is simple to make, tastes better than store bought and makes twice the amount at a fraction of the cost. 
Frozen BurritosSure there are some tasty options out there, but they will usually set you back at least $3 a pop and are quite puny in size.  Why not make your own burritos, package them and throw them  in the freezer for those hectic work weeks?  It’s as easy as making a batch of beans and rice, mixing in whatever seasonings you like (spices, hot sauce, roasted peppers, etc.) and adding optional extras like baked tofu, cheeze and/or seitan.  Wrap them up, let them cool and toss in the freezer for more homemade convenience food at a fraction of store costs. 

A few more convenience foods that are quite simple to make and store at home to save yourself some clams:  hummus, salsa, lunch meat (great recipe from VeganDad HERE), vegetable broth and pasta sauces. 

Saving money makes me smile… 


  1. I rarely buy pre-packaged lunches--they're so expensive! Instead I make planned leftovers. I usually wait a day to eat them so I don't get bored with the flavors.

  2. I love this post! Great ideas to keep in mind while I'm trying to trim my food budget.

  3. I also add - Cookies, Crackers and Bread to the list!

  4. @Jackie - I agree! Leftovers are key and having a few things in rotation helps fight food boredom.
    @Kristen - So glad you liked it!
    @Sarah - You're right. Making your own baked goods can save so much money! I haven't graduated to making my own bread (yet) but I make it a point to make my own desserts so as to avoid the premium prices at the store.