MoneySaving vegan meals – save up to 60% vs meat

MoneySaving vegan meals – save up to 60% vs meat

Seven easy recipes including curry, pasta bake, and burgers

In my 13+ years of veganism, I've often heard the myth that cooking vegan costs more – but in fact, meat-free meals can be much cheaper to make. I'm no professional chef, but I am a professional MoneySaver and cooking is a big passion of mine, so I'm going to show you some easy family dinner recipes including curry, burgers, and spag bol – with a tasty saving of up to 60% compared to the meat equivalent.

Veganuary – where non-vegans are encouraged to try vegan living for January (and possibly beyond) – gets bigger every year, with restaurants ramping up their vegan menu. Perhaps you’ve already tried the Greggs vegan steak bake or Pizza Hut’s ‘Pepperphoni’ pizza, but what about home-cooked food?

Here's a snapshot of seven easy dinners that you can make vegan and save money. Take the prices with a pinch of salt as your local supermarket may have different stock. You can add more veg, or sides of your choice – use these recipes as inspiration to try vegan food as cheaply as you can, whilst having fun with ingredients you might've not used before.

I’ve included the full recipes below, but here’s a quick table of what’s on the menu, including the full cost of each meal, plus how much you could save swapping out meat. Each meal should hopefully be enough for a typical family of four, unless you've particularly hungry teenagers!

Meal Non-vegan cost (per serving) Vegan cost (per serving) How much cheaper is the vegan? (per serving)
Baked potato with filling £1.76 (44p) £1.17 (29p) 34%, 59p (15p)
Burrito bowl £1.72 (43p) 64p (16p) 63%, £1.08 (27p)
Curry with rice £3.56 (89p) £1.31 (33p) 63%, £2.25 (56p)
Burger and chips £2.88 (72p) £1.52 (38p) 47%, £1.36 (34p)
Pasta bake £1.84 (46p) 86p (22p) 53%, 98p (24p)
Fried rice £2.12 (53p) £2 (50p) 5%, 12p (3p)
Spaghetti bolognaise £2.40 (60p) £2.12 (53p) 12%, 28p (7p)

These examples show it’s possible to save as much as 60% across a range of home-cooked dinners when you ditch the meat and try something new.

The cost ‘per serving’ has been worked out using the cheapest prices I could find at either Asda or Lidl. You may have different supermarkets near you, so your costs and savings could vary – you can use a free tool such as MySupermarket to check prices elsewhere.

I've costed up the recipes as best I can, adding on 5p-ish for spices, as well as trying to reduce any potential food waste by using the entire tin or packet in each vegan recipe as much as possible. Remember though, any leftover food can still be used. 

I’ve tried to include a mix of recipes that’ll appeal to a broad range of tastes, as well as budgets. You can of course use whichever brand of beans, spaghetti, or other product you like and most likely still save, but I used the cheapest available to show it can be done. See our Downshifting guide for more on brand levels.

The recipes

  • This is a tuna mayo baked potato alternative that’s surprisingly easy and tasty to make. Vegan mayo is readily available from most supermarkets, and you don’t need a lot of fancy ingredients or even a blender to make this (although a hand mixer will be quicker).

    I’m not here to tell you how to bake a potato, but if you’re in a hurry you can speed things up with the microwave (give him a light forking first to prevent explosion). However, if you’ve time I recommend adding another step – oven-baking your potato wrapped in foil (you can reuse the foil afterwards if you’re careful), with a crushed garlic clove in the middle and a teaspoon of oil.

    🍽️ To make the ‘chickpea of the sea’ (a play on ‘chicken of the sea’ which apparently is tuna), drain chickpeas and mash everything together with a fork or potato masher, or use a hand mixer if you don’t have any aggression you need to take out on chickpeas.
    🍽️ Be careful not to overmix or you’ll end up with something resembling hummus rather than tuna!

    The whole meal with potatoes costs £1.17 for four portions (29p/portion), 65p of which makes the chickpea of the sea. The tin of tuna to make about the same amount would be £1.18 from Asda, plus £1.25 for non-vegan mayo which works out at about 6p per two tablespoons, meaning the same price for four portions of tuna mayo baked potato would be £1.76, (44p/portion). It means you can save about 32% or 15p per portion by ditching the fish.

    You can also serve your 'chickpea of the sea' on a rice cracker instead of a baked potato
  • If you've never thought of replacing ground beef in tacos with lentils, give this a try. You can adjust the seasonings to your taste, but lentils are a great source of protein as well as fibre – and super cheap.

    To make this fast you’ll need something like an Instant Pot (fancy pressure cooker, I have a Crockpot version) – though you can also make it on the hob – it’ll just take longer, and you’ll need to add ½ cup extra liquid and pay attention to be sure it doesn’t burn.

    🍽️ Cook the rice – I cheat, I add it to my Japanese rice cooker and push go.
    🍽️ If you’re using pudding rice, or sushi rice, remember to give it a rinse before you cook it. Also remember to rinse your lentils before use, too.
    🍽️ Bung everything else that isn’t rice or toppings in your pressure cooker, stir, and close, moving valve to sealed.
    🍽️ Cook on manual for 6-7 minutes.
    🍽️ Carefully release the pressure, and when it’s safe open the lid and stir.
    🍽️ It should be quite thick, with the lentils keeping their shape but being soft when you bite them.
    🍽️ You can add more seasonings to taste at this point if you feel it needs it, or a splash of water or broth if it’s too thick.
    🍽️ You can also put it on again for 1-2mins if it’s still a bit watery – this will depend on what you’ve used to cook them as all cookers are slightly different.

    This should make four smaller servings, or if you’ve a bigger appetite you could call it two large ones. You can either put everything in a bowl and eat it that way, or plate it with the rice underneath, a mound of the lentils on top, and salad, avocado, or other toppings around the side (it then becomes the Japanese dish ‘taco rice’).

    If you’re keeping it as four servings, this whole dinner works out at about 16p a serving, so you may feel you can afford to add some of those optional extra toppings.

    One cup of dried lentils makes approximately 2 ½ cups of cooked lentils, which is about 500g. The equivalent amount of raw beef mince is £1.59 in Asda, so you’re looking at about 43p per serving for the meat version, making the vegan recipe 67% cheaper to make.

    Here's how you'd present your dish as taco rice - I used gluten-free tortilla chips and a vegan sour cream sauce
  • Another pressure cooker recipe, this is one of my favourites and I make it at least once a week. It makes about 3L of curry which for me is six portions, which may be more than you need, but it keeps well in the fridge.

    As with the burrito bowl above, these directions are for an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, but you can cook on the hob – you’ll just need a bit more liquid and more time for cooking.

    🍽️ To your pressure cooker, add a splash of water and use the sauté function to cook the onion and spices until fragrant, adding a splash of water now and again to prevent burning.
    🍽️ Add chickpeas and stir until coated in spices.
    🍽️ Add in the passata, coconut milk, and vegetable broth. Stir, and add in the rinsed lentils and butternut squash if using.
    🍽️ Stir, and close, moving valve to sealed.
    🍽️ Cook on manual for 5-6 minutes.
    🍽️ Carefully release the pressure, and when it’s safe open the lid and stir.
    🍽️ It should be quite thick, and you can add more seasonings to taste at this point if you feel it needs it, or a splash of water or broth if it’s too thick.
    🍽️ You can also put it on again for 1-2mins if it’s still a bit watery, and even add more lentils to thicken if required. Every cooker is slightly different.

    The rice is enough for four large servings – have this as a bigger meal option. The rice is 4p per serving, and the curry total comes to £1.31 with squash (£1.19 if you leave this out), which means about 33p each for four large servings. So, it’s 37p per serving all in all – not too bad, and delicious!

    I used 440g of chickpeas and lentils (100g dry is about 200g cooked), which cost 42p. I’d suggest using roughly 500g of chicken as meat shrinks on cooking, and I found it cost £2.50 per 500g of chicken breast – bringing the cost of the meat curry without rice up to £3.39 – 89p per serving with rice. This makes it more than twice the price of the chickpea & lentil curry at just 37p per serving.

    I can and do eat this curry three times a week or more, it's that delicious
  • These freeze quite well, but beware – they’re not something I’d suggest trying to barbecue or fry, and are best cooked on a non-stick sheet in the oven. They’re also really good made into falafel-style balls, and have a delicious spicy flavour you can adjust to suit your own tastes.

    🍽️ These really are as easy as mashing everything together in a bowl and then cooking in the oven for 20-30mins at 180 degrees C, turning halfway through. If you've room, you can cook the chips at the same time.
    🍽️ I use a reusable silicone oven sheet to stop them sticking, and remember – if you make them into bean balls they’ll take less time to cook than if you make bean burgers.

    The total cost for all ingredients is 55p, and it makes four burgers or 6-10 bean balls depending on size. Taking the cost of four burgers, each would be 14p. The cheapest similar-size beef burgers I could find at Lidl were £1.97 for four (49p each). So the total cost for one burger in a bun is 32p for the bean burgers, and 66p for a beef burger – more than twice the cost of the vegan option. If served with 100g of chips, the total cost for the bean burger and chips would be 38p a portion, and the beef burger and chips would be 72p - 34p more expensive.

    You can serve your bean burgers with whatever you like - here, I've made some purple potato chips and beetroot salad
  • When I first went vegetarian, many, many years ago (before I went vegan), I really missed eating my mum’s pasta bake. We’d either have tuna pasta bake, or more often leftover pasta bake with yellow-sticker reduced or ‘needs eating’ chicken. When I went vegan at uni I put together this cheap alternative using a can of baked beans. I know, it sounds weird but give it a go!

    🍽️ Cook your pasta and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.
    🍽️ Add the cooked pasta and all other ingredients to an 8” square or rectangular oven dish and mix together.
    🍽️ Put in the oven, stirring after 10mins.
    🍽️ You can top with vegan cheese to taste (£1.80/200g block of Violife at Asda, you'll only need about 10g) and put back in the oven for a further 10mins, or just put it back in the oven for 10-15mins.
    🍽️ Check everything’s warm and cooked up to your taste before serving.

    This baked bean pasta bake makes about four servings, at a total cost of 61p, or 86p if you add butternut squash. That’s 22p a serving, without cheese. Even if you add 10g of grated vegan cheese, it’d only add 9p to the whole dish, making it 95p for four servings, or 24p a serving.

    If you were to use chicken instead of beans, it would be £1.20 for 240g at full weight before cooking – considerably more expensive than the 22p tin of beans. So even if you went with branded Heinz beans (I know some people insist on it), at about 50p/tin you’d still save money.

    Here's my baked bean pasta bake fresh from the oven
  • We’re getting fancy now. This is a variation on an Indonesian fried rice dish my roommate taught me when I lived in Japan. You can find tofu in most supermarkets, and the smoked version is very easy for a new vegan to handle as it’s already pre-seasoned. The Cauldron tofu I've used here is from Asda, but if you shop at Tesco look for The Tofoo Co smoked tofu instead - I personally prefer the flavour.

    🍽️ Cook the rice according to instructions, and set aside.
    🍽️ If you have any rice leftovers, it’s good to use up in fried rice the next day – just be sure to have stored it correctly overnight and be sure it’s thoroughly heated through.
    🍽️ I don’t use oil to make fried rice, as I use a non-stick wok, but if you’re using freshly cooked rice you might want to add a splash of oil instead of water to sauté the onion with the spices on a high-ish heat until translucent.
    🍽️ Add the rice and continue stirring so it doesn’t stick, add splashes of water or soy sauce as needed to prevent it sticking.
    🍽️ Add the tofu and keep cooking until warmed through, stirring constantly.
    🍽️ When it’s heated through, turn off the heat and add the garlic and ketchup – you can add more ketchup to taste if you’d like.

    The total cost for this dish is £2.01, and it makes about four servings, so about 50p each. Often, fried rice is made with prawns and 150g of prawns cost £1.75 at Lidl, so 160g would be £1.87. The total cost of the dish with prawns would be £2.13, 53p a serving – so again the vegan dish works out cheaper than the meat/fish alternative.

    Vegan MoneySaving swap: If you want to make the meal cheaper, you can use frozen edamame beans, which are £2.25 for 600g. You'd need about 150g, which would be 56p, making the total cost of the dish 82p, or 21p a serving – 32p cheaper than the prawns per serving.

    Using frozen edamame (soya beans) is my favourite way to make fried rice
  • Let’s go with an easy classic, and see if we can do a straight swap with a vegan meat alternative for beef to check the prices.

    🍽️ Cook the pasta according to the directions.
    🍽️ Add a splash of water (or oil) to a frying pan on medium heat, and cook the onion and garlic in the spices until translucent.
    🍽️ Add the frozen meat-free mince, passata and tomato purée and cook until heated through, it should take about 5 minutes.
    🍽️ Add water as necessary if the sauce gets too thick. Serve with pasta, and crack fresh black pepper and add dried herbs just before serving.

    The pasta should be enough for four servings, so 2p a serving. The bolognaise comes to £2.02, which is 51p per serving – so it’s 53p per serving with the pasta.

    500g of the cheapest beef mince I found is £1.59, so 454g would be £1.44 – slightly cheaper than the meat-free alternative. Though as meat shrinks by about 25% on heating, I reckon you’d lose about 114g on heating. So technically, you’d need about 568g of raw meat to get the same 454g as the meat-free recipe after cooking, which would actually cost £1.81. This makes the total for the meat £2.41 for four servings with pasta, 60p per serving – 7p more than the meat-free option.

    Vegan MoneySaving swap: Of course, if you wanted to make the meal cheaper, you could use one cup of brown lentils, similarly to the the taco recipe (1 cup is roughly 200g, 46p), plus some extra stock or water instead of the vegan mince alternative – which would take the cost down to 98p – 27p per serving with pasta, which is 33p less than the meat option. 

    Using ready-made frozen vegan mince means you can cook up your spag bol quickly

It’s worth me adding I’ve stripped the recipes down to their bare minimum to keep the price comparison with meat as simple as possible, but normally I add extra veg even when I make something simple like beans on toast as a quick and easy way to eat healthier. 

Have fun with your cooking, and I hope my recipes can save you some money 😊

Are you trying vegan food this Veganuary? Do you cook meat-free to save money? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter.