A Vegan’s Guide to Cheap Complete Proteins (Gluten-Free Options Included)

Debt-Free Dining


I have to be honest with you: I’m not a vegan… I’m not even a vegetarian.

I fall into this weird little subset of people who toe the line of vegetarianism known as ‘pescetarians.’ This word means that I consume seafood, eggs and dairy products. I don’t eat animals that live on land or in the air. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, my eating habits are utilitarian- several foods (including meat) make me sick, so I don’t eat them (sorry, not sorry).Although I’m not a vegan I am a huge fan of vegan dishes.

Contrary to popular belief, vegan foods can be extremely inexpensive, super easy to make and totally delicious.

Moving on…

A Complete (Whole) Protein is a protein source that has an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids.



If you’re a human being and you’re reading this, you need to eat complete proteins in order to stay healthy, happy and alive.

Most meat eaters don’t need to worry about complete proteins as animal proteins are almost always complete in nature. Fish and seafood are also typically complete proteins, meaning pescetarian options are usually not a cause for protein related concern. Finally, eggs and dairy products are generally considered complete proteins, making it easier for vegetarians to meet their protein requirements.

Sorry vegans: nuts, grains, vegetables and legumes do not constitute complete proteins on their own.

They can be combined, however, to form Complementary Proteins, or two separate proteins that combine to form a complete amino acid profile.

One final thing before we get down to the basics- it’s actually really easy to make vegan meals work with a gluten-free diet. As an individual who has been put through the wringer by dietary restrictions, I totally understand how mind-numbingly frustrating it can be to try to balance  a budget and a whole list of food related prohibitions simultaneous. Don’t worry- I’m here for you!


Stand Alone Complete Proteins


Okay, so this is by far the most expensive option on the list but I figured I’d put it on here anyway. You can pick buckwheat up at most health stores and big box grocery stores. I usually buy it at Bulk Barn or Walmart. While $4-6 per bag may seem like a lot, it’s still cheaper to buy buckwheat and make your own recipes than it is to eat out, especially if you’re trying to do so with two serious restrictions.

Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, making them a convenient base for vegan meals. They’re quite affordable and widely available at most grocery outlets (about $2-$3 per package). Most varieties of soba noodles are vegan, though you should read the package to make sure that they don’t contain trace amounts of milk or egg from cross contamination.


Gluten-free friends fear not! Although buckwheat contains the word ‘wheat’ in its title this super food is more closely related to rhubarb and is totally g-free. It is possible to get 100% buckwheat flour soba noodles, but these will normally be more expensive. Most soba noodles are cut with wheat flour because it makes for cheaper manufacturing. If you’re having a tough time finding g-free soba, follow this recipe and make your own. 



Cheap vegan soy options include tofu, textured vegetable protein (TVP) and soy beans (also sometimes found as bean curd in Chinese dishes or in the form of miso).

My favourite and the mot versatile of these options is likely TVP. It’s amazingly cheap at Bulk Barn (like $2 for a big bag), and it absorbs the flavor of whatever you put it in.

Once upon a time, a long time ago I actually though tofu was boring. In reality I just didn’t know what to do with it. At under $3 for 4 servings, it’s worth your time to check out this list of awesome tofu recipes and commit to super cheap complete protein.


For gluten-free options check packages and buy accordingly. Soy proteins are naturally g-free but if you’re buying pre-packaged options the sauces or flavorings added may contain wheat.

Complementary Complete Protein Combinations

Rice and Beans

Rice and beans are a killer combination. They come together to form an amazingly cheap, incredibly delicious complete protein (often costing $1 or less per serving). To make this dish even cheaper buy dry beans and soak them overnight.


Both rice and beans are naturally gluten-free, so as long as you make sure you’re choosing products that aren’t cross-contaminated and you’re preparing the sauces and seasonings yourself you shouldn’t have a problem.

Here’s a short list of easy recipes that take advantage of how versatile rice and bean dishes can be.


Peanut butter and Toast

This is one of the easiest complete proteins to make. You can try making a peanut butter and banana sandwich for a sweet and nutty vegan option or you can throw together peanut butter and basil for a more savory (and surprisingly fantastic) combination.


Don’t worry gluten-free readers, I haven’t forgotten about you. Try making yourself a pb sandwich on this cheap homemade gluten-free bread– unlike the g-free bread in grocery stores, this option is cheap, fluffy and delicious.


 Hummus and Pita Bread

If you’ve been buying prepackaged hummus you’ve been getting ripped off. Hummus costs about $2 to make and can be ready in 5 minutes or less. Don’t believe me? Try this recipe for yourself.


Try cutting your g-free bread into strips and toasting them to dip in this awesome hummus, or whip up a batch of reasonably priced g-free pita bread and then head down to chow town.


Vegan Black Bean Burgers

Pair this simple vegan black bean patty with a whole grain bun for a healthy complete vegan protein.


Substitute all purpose flour for gluten-free flour at a 1:1 ratio in the recipe, and use gluten-free bread or pita for a bun or crumble the patty over a bed of rice for a g-free alternative.


Remember: if you’re in a pinch, making a complete vegan protein is basically as easy as combining a legume (black beans, lentils, chic peas) with a whole grain (corn, rice or oats)- feel free to experiment with combinations and seasonings. Let me know your favourite vegan protein options in the comments section below.



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