How to maintain a vegetarian diet on a student budget
By Ali Pantony,
Starting the next chapter of your academic life, swiftly entering a domain of debt and destitution, ‘SFE’ fast becoming the most cherished acronym in your vocabulary, becoming a university student. Never again shall your fridge be graced with the likes of ‘Tesco Finest’ and ‘Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference’, never again shall your cupboards know the delights of M&S and ‘Lidl’s Deluxe’, and never again shall your freezer be the near empty, frowned-upon last resort it once was.
But fear not, those of you who partake in the casual ticking of the dietary requirements box. It’s brilliantly easy and simple to keep your grocery shopping to a student budget, while maintaining a meat-free diet. I still find myself shocked by the amount my carnivorous comrades spend on meat products. £4 on mince, £5 on chicken fillets, £4 on pork chops, an insane £2 on a mere pack of sliced ham. And god forbid they ever fancy a steak night. I honestly don’t know how they do it. So, already, by omitting meat from your diet, you’re one step ahead of the money-saving grocery game. But just to make your bank balance that extra bit happier, here are a few simple tips and tricks for really making your veggie food shop student budget-friendly.
Invest in a vegetarian recipe book, or look up recipes online prior to your food shop
While this may be slightly obvious, this planning and preparing means that you know exactly what sort of meals you are going to be making and exactly which food items you require. This immediately eradicates the potential for any unnecessary purchases, such as fresh produce which you never end up using, resulting in a total waste of money. Nobody wants to eat a grey aubergine or a potato which has suddenly started to grow its own forest, even if it does mean that £1 was a worthwhile sacrifice. Plan ahead, and you won’t waste a penny.
Buy fruit and veg which are in season
If you buy fresh fruit and veg which are in season at the time of purchase, they are likely to be much cheaper. This is because seasonal foods are much easier to produce, thus requiring less time and labour. Buy your strawberries in June, carrots in January, asparagus in May, cabbage in November, blackberries in September, and so on. Not only will the cost of seasonal fruit and vegetables be more favourable, the flavour will be much better, too. And, obviously, all of this is incredibly healthy! Visit http://eatseasonably.co.uk/what-to-eat-now/calendar/ for a calendar of seasonable fruit and veg.
Get to know your cheap, cheerful chums
The cheapest components to any vegetarian’s shopping trolley: whole grains and legumes. Lentils, couscous, buckwheat, quinoa, oats, pulses, chick peas, beans are all fantastic constituents to a vast amount of vegetarian recipes. Best of all, many packets are under £1. Chickpeas are the essential ingredient in many vegetarian curry dishes, quinoa in many delicious salads, and varieties of beans in, well, just about anything. Don’t forget to refer to your recipe book or online for inspiration and recipe ideas.
Try to avoid too many meat alternatives
With regards to money-saving, try to avoid buying more than one or two meat alternative products, such as ‘Quorn’, tempeh or tofu. These tend to be fairly expensive, especially ‘Quorn’, for which you pay £2.50 for a 350g bag of mince; about the same as meat mince. Too many of these products will dramatically increase the price of your food bill. However, these products are high in protein and very low in fat, making them a healthy vegetarian option. You might like to limit your meat alternatives to one pack of tofu, which is usually about £2 for between 300 and 400g, and can be used in a wide variety of vegetarian meals.
Don’t forget to buy frozen or canned fruit and vegetables and not to overbuy fresh
Not only does frozen or canned fruit and veg last much longer than fresh produce (obviously), meaning you’re less likely to waste it, it’s also usually much cheaper. A huge amount of us believe that fresh fruit and veg are healthier than frozen or canned, but this isn’t necessarily true. The ‘International Food Information Council’ claim that the nutrition levels of frozen and canned produce are almost identical to fresh fruit and vegetables. So don’t fall into the trap of filling your supermarket basket with fresh produce, which will rot within a few days and costs much more. Perhaps opt for half seasonal fresh, half frozen, and save some pretty pennies.
With these five vegetarian grocery shopping tips you will be able to produce satisfying, healthy, tasty meals all whilst maintaining that ever-important student budget. I hope you enjoy cooking your cheap and cheerful meals, veggie chefs!