For most, student life is a haze of 2-for-1 pizza deals, drunken fried chicken, cheese on toast, lattes, hungover cereal with lashings of milk…in short, not a very vegan diet. Being a vegan at uni can be tough, especially with all the temptations, but it needn’t be impossible and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
So whether you’re curious about trying something new or are simply up for a challenge, here’s all you’re ever going to need to buy to ace an all-vegan diet…on a budget!
Canned chickpeas and beans
These are cupboard essentials. Toss them into a curry, stews, or ratatouille, use the chickpeas to make hummus, or add washed beans straight from the can to bulk out a salad or put on toast. They’re really cheap and you can buy them in convenient cans or dry in bags – just soak them in water overnight and cook for 20 minutes, or as the instructions on the back indicate.
When going vegan, the fridge is where the most change happens. There are loads of vegan options that can be used to replace milk – soya, rice, coconut, cashew and hazelnut – and a lot of these have been made into dairy-free butters, spreads, and, less commonly, cheeses. In tea and coffee, and in cooking, cheap soya milks are a great way to save money, especially because you tend to get a lot less ‘milk’ for the £1.30-£1.80 you pay for a carton. If you’re really craving cheese and dairy, health shops like Holland and Barratt do a few ‘cheat’ foods that taste almost the same – but be prepared to fork out for them.
A.K.A a vegan’s best friend. Every student knows that heading to the supermarket later on in the evening gets you the best deals on fresh food, and vegetables are no exception. Stock up and have a cooking session – ratatouille, veggie curry, and pasta sauce are super easy to cook up in big batches and freeze in single portions (get 8 microwave and freezer friendly Tupperware boxes from Poundland for, you’ve guessed it, £1). And I cannot say enough good things about the humble avocado – mash it with lemon juice and black pepper for a great sandwich filling, make guacamole, slice and use in salad – just make sure it’s slightly soft when you gently squeeze it, and you’re good to go!
I once read that if you’re trying to go vegan for the first time, you should avoid fake meats such as Quorn because it will only make you crave the real thing. However, as a student, I have found that a bag of frozen veggie mince is very convenience – sure, it doesn’t taste the same as proper beef, but it doesn’t go off as quickly and you don’t need to remember to defrost it five hours before you want to eat. I’ll put a special mention in for tofu here because, as bland and tricky as it is to cook, it’s actually not bad if you can season it well and cook it without burning it – a little practice and tofu becomes a great substitute for chicken in stir fry or as an added ‘meaty’ ingredient on top of a salad.
The secret to being a great vegan chef is adding loads of interesting flavours to what can otherwise be fairly dull food. Tofu and ‘fake’ meats need a whole load of seasoning, so at the very least get a shaker of mixed herbs and one of mixed spices, perhaps a pre-mixed flavour sachet (I like how the fajita kit ones taste in anything tomato-based), and good old salt and pepper. Don’t be afraid to use them – the more flavour, the better.
The worst bit about a vegan diet is the constant label checking, but soon enough you’ll be able to spot the dreaded (Milk) allergy warning. Dairy hides in almost every food that’s been processed in some way, but you can usually eat pasta (as long as it’s not made with egg, which most dry supermarket pastas aren’t), noodles (again, check for egg), dark chocolate (not milk chocolate, for obvious reasons), bread, fruit juices, potatoes, chips, lentils and couscous, tea and coffee, crisps…the list goes on.
So really, a vegan diet isn’t that restricted. Avoiding meat is easy, with most of the difficulty coming from convenience foods with hidden cream and milk content. The next biggest hurdle is finding interesting recipes that make your new diet come to life – luckily the internet has the answers! Recipe websites are good, but often foodie blogs are even better, with more vegan-specific sites than ever before. So go and have a search, get inspired, and say goodbye to greasy fried chicken forever (or at least until your student loan and/or willpower begins to run out)!
Can you add to the list of vegan essentials? Know any good vegan recipes? Do you eat vegan at uni?