Eating Vegan as a Poor College Student

For college students, a limited budget can be a deterrent to making the choice to go vegan. And, it’s true that there are rarely amazing sales, loss leaders, and coupons for fresh nutritious food. But, eating vegan, being healthy, and maintaining a budget-friendly diet are not an impossible combination! You don’t have to live on ramen.

While you might not be able to cook them in a dorm room, the recipes you will find on this site are typically not complicated, don’t require fancy ingredients that you need a specialty store to find, and don’t need the skills of Gordon Ramsey.

Some general thoughts to decrease costs and increase goodness:

  • Eat in season when you can – If you can get to a farm stand or a farmers’ market in the spring, summer, and fall, you’ll find the best deals on fruits and vegetables (unless you want to plant a garden, in which case the deals get better).
  • Plan your starches – Don’t eat white rice or white pasta every day, even though they are really inexpensive options. If you try that, you’ll get bored and unhappy and end up spending $20 on a Papa John’s pizza or binging on Doritos.
  • Cook ahead when you can – If you are cooking for 1 or 2, it’s more cost effective to cook ahead and freeze or eat the item across the week. You can always repurpose or reseason things to make them seem different the second or third time. Waiting until the last moment will lead you to more pricey choices. For college students, this might mean using a friend’s kitchen or cooking at home on the weekend and making containers of food to eat over the week.
  • Protein is important, but we don’t need as much as the beef industry wants us to think we do. You’ll notice a lot of beans in the recipes below because beans are good, cheap, and I love them. But, you have other options. In fact, you will probably find it’s just not that difficult and you can even get it in your desserts and without eating soy or nuts.
  • Buy in bulk, and generic, where it makes sense, and, when you can’t, compare prices!
  • When something that doesn’t go bad is on super sale (like dried spices, sea salt, or hot sauce), get a few! You’ll spend a little more now and save later.
  • Pick one “luxury” ingredient to buy each week. One week it might be a nice bottle of olive oil (not super pricey, maybe $7). One week it could be a container of dark cocoa for cooking and baking. You’ll build your pantry supplies without spending a fortune at once.
  • Eat at home. I really cannot say it enough. Even if you are splurging at a large fast food “inexpensive” national taco chain, you’ll spend more than you would making your food and you’ll get less nutrition out of it.
  • Avoid prepared food, except for an occasional splurge on something you really love. Everything that is in a package and sold as super easy to grab and eat (breakfast pastries, protein bars), or “just reheat” (frozen dinners, meals in a can) is much more expensive than making it yourself and is often full of crap you don’t need.
  • When in doubt, “a grain, a green, a bean.” This idea, sometimes called a vegan bowl, and referred to by the No Meat Athlete as AGAGAB, is exactly what it sounds like. Cook a grain; add a green; add a bean; season. The end.

So, with that having been said, some ideas for cheap eats!

Oatmeal!
Old fashioned oats can be had for about 20 cents a serving for the oats* and it’s so good for you. That’s cheap, right? Go ahead, add a banana for 20 cents, some almonds for 40 cents,  or raisins for 20 cents. The choices of what to put in are almost endless and can depend on what you have a bunch of or what was cheap this week. If you make a pot of oats on Monday, you can mix it up however you want it all for several days. Oats are not only tasty, they are full of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B1 and have a significant amount of protein, and if you add some blueberries, yogurt, chia, or walnuts, you’ll add an extra punch of goodness for gut and heart health.

Black beans and rice
Cheap and delicious eats. A basic pan of black beans with some onion, jalapeño, celery, chili powder, and cumin, plus enough rice to have a cup for each serving of beans, can be pulled together for under 70 cents a serving. And, these are not little servings. I’m talking a cup of rice and a cup of beans! You can check out a full recipe here.

Pasta bake with protein
Who does not love pasta? I don’t know anyone like that, actually. Buy pasta when it’s on sale and stick it in the freezer and it lasts a long time. Add some texturized vegetable protein (buy in bulk) or chickpeas for protein. Squashes, tomatoes, and maybe some kale give you your veggies. The carbs are obvious! And all of this is low in fat. A no-nonsense pasta bake with diced zucchini and summer squash, diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, and texturized vegetable protein comes in at a whopping $1 per serving! You can find a couple of additional recipes here and here.

Bean and carrot soup
We ate quite a bit of bean soup when I was a kid. It had ham in it, but I don’t miss that when I make it now. One bag of beans, a pound of carrots, an onion, a few celery stalks, and some vegan broth powder will set you back around $4.50, but provide at least 6 servings of hearty soup. Throw in a little corn or rice if you wish. And, it’s an easy meal to put on and let simmer and not need to fuss with.

Tofu wraps
Tofu cooked slowly for a long period takes on an interesting chewy texture that really gives a good mouth feel, enhancing that sense of satiation. Make your tofu not-jerky ahead of time and slice it into narrow strips. Use burrito sized tortillas to wrap up the tofu, romaine lettuce, diced onions, shredded carrot, and diced tomatoes, with your choice of dressing or hot sauce. You can make 8 large wraps from 1 block of tofu for only about $1 per wrap.

Chili
People have been making chili as a cheap and delicious meal for ages, and vegan chili is no exception. If you cook your chili starting with dried beans, it is darn inexpensive! A large pan of basic chili with pinto beans, jalapeños, onions, celery, tomatoes, and carrots can be cooked up for under $8 and will provide at least 8 servings (and those are servings for hungry people). Pull up some low-cost tortilla chips or store brand saltines and you are set. This recipe makes almost double that and reduces the cost even further!

Split pea soup
Much like chili, split pea soup is inexpensive, filling, and goes a long way. It can also be frozen and reheated easily. This easy pressure cooker split pea soup comes in at between $7-8 and provides at least 10 servings of soup. You can certainly make it without the pressure cooker, but they are amazing, so it might be worth it to watch out for a super sale, put one on your list for Santa, or check out your local yard sales.

Tavoor dal (yellow lentil curry) and rice
Lentils are really good and really good for you. Lentils are exceptionally high in protein and have good amounts of iron and potassium too. This yellow lentil curry recipe packs some flavor punch and is easy to pull together and very inexpensive. You can serve this over rice for less than 70 cents a serving!

Baked potatoes and all the things!
Do you know how cheap a baked potato is? Seriously, DO YOU? You can buy 5 pounds of russet potatoes for $2. That’s a lot of food. Now, grab a roll of generic foil and bake the potatoes you want. And then throw whatever leftovers you have on top of that potato! Chili – yes! Lentils – indeed! Black beans – jump on it! Any green veggies you have handy to sauté – affirmative! Oatmeal – no, probably not. So many things go on a baked potato and taste good. Don’t forget about them when you are thinking about your starch options.

Spaghetti
You know this one. I know you do.  Go with it. Toss some al dente spaghetti with sesame oil, soy sauce, hot sauce, and edamame = dinner. Make a basic spaghetti with marinara sauce (in fact, go ahead and get a couple of jars when it’s on super sale for times you are really in a rush). Throw some olive oil and nutritional yeast into a bowl of spaghetti and toss it with some sea salt and have it with a little salad on the side. Easy peasy and wildly cheap.

These are just a few ideas for eating simple vegan on a budget. Of course there are many more! Here are some additional links to peruse at your leisure:

Vegan on a Budget from The Stingy Vegan
Vegan Lifestyle on a Budget from I Love Vegan
31 Vegan Recipes for $3 from Peta
This Woman Shows Us How She Eats Vegan for a Ridiculously Cheap $25/week on The Penny Hoarder
10 Plant-Based Meals You Can Make for Under $10 by the Frugal Vegan

Enjoy your frugal and cruelty-free eating!

*Prices calculated NJ, so not the least expensive place in the U.S., but not the most!

 

A Well-Aged Vegan: Eating for Heart, Brain, and Gut Health

Rumor has it that I am getting older. The fact that my oldest “child” is going to be 30 in less than six months suggests that this might be true, but I am not sure I believe it. However, the medical establishment assures me that it is true.

That being the case, I am having to make some dietary adjustments to attempt to deal with medical issues that apparently come with age. I’m not going to bore you, or me, with a list of the medical nonsense that I have been dealing with.

But, I will share some info about some of the quality choices you might make, and that I am making, for vegan gut health and heart/brain health.

For Gut Health and Beyond

Really, this applies to everyone, not just vegans. But, if you are vegan and aren’t really doing much for your biotic wellbeing, now is a good time to start. And, as you get older, this gets even more important, as hormonal changes can create biome issues beyond the gut, #ifyouknowwhatImean.

So, what to do? Decrease your sugar intake and your processed food intake, take a probiotic, and then incorporate some or all of the following regularly into your diet:

  • Organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
  • Sauerkraut (look for good sauerkraut, not the kind that comes in a can)
  • Kimchi
  • Kefir (obviously, look for vegan kefir; it does exist)
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles (again, the less processed the better)
  • Yogurt (unsweetened; you can even make your own)
  • Tempeh

The doc who I worked with on this advised me to work these foods into my diet like it’s my job!

For Heart and Brain Health

It’s much easier to get omega 6 in your diet than omega 3, and research suggests that you want to keep the right ratio (ideally not more than 2x as much omega 6 than omega 3) and that supplements don’t work well for the omegas.

Reducing your processed foods (see above) will also help decrease your extra omega 6. So will cooking with oils lower in omega 6 (like avocado oil, olive oil, or even coconut oil). After that, the key is to add more omega 3. You can do that by adding the following to your diet:

  • Chia seeds
  • Ground linseed
  • Hemp seeds or oil
  • Ground flax seeds or oil
  • Walnuts
  • Sea vegetables
  • Purslane
  • Cauliflower and brussel sprouts

You don’t have to get all crazy with it, as limited amounts make a difference.

So, I’m trying to work some of the foods from the first list into every meal, and get a good amount serving or two from the second list a day. My recent strategy has been to have: for brunch, overnight oats with walnuts, chia seeds, and soy yogurt; and then for dinner, another food from the good bacteria list.

What are your strategies for these pieces of healthy vegan eating?

Vegan Disney World 2017

I’ve posted about dining at Disney World as a vegan before, but if you are a Disney fan you know that the menus change often. So, it seemed like a good time for a new post! We were in Disney this week, traveling with 3 vegans and 5 omnivores. Good times and good food were had by all!

Day 1 – We arrived in Orlando and took a side trip to Disney Springs (previously Downtown Disney), where we stopped at Erin McKenna’s bakery and had some soft serve.

We got a pineapple upside down cake and a donut for later (meant to be coffee cake but there was a communication breakdown). The pineapple upside down cake was amazing!

After settling in we met up at Boma. We have had good Boma experiences in the past, but this wasn’t the best. The restaurant was packed (it was the night before the marathon, a Saturday, and really cold out). When the chef came out to explain to us what the vegans could eat, he was clearly not pleased about it. He walked us through the buffet, pointed out things we could eat, noted things that could be made more vegan friendly (i.e. the pasta sauce with meatballs) but didn’t say how to make that happen, explained that there was not dessert, and then said “will that do?” Being friendly, we said sure and made the best of it. Later, he did come out with a bowl of a nice vegetable curry. Sadly, after a 16 hour drive we were all a bit brain addled and we forgot to take a picture of that dinner. We would probably still give Boma a good overall review if you like buffets.

Day 2 – We had intended to go to the parks, but it was very chilly, so we decided to tour Disney Springs and catch a movie. We saw Moana and ate way too much popcorn. If you haven’t seen Moana, you should!

Day 3 – We got an early start at Animal Kingdom. After some trips on Everest, a nice safari ride, a little Lion King, some Bugs Life, etc., we dropped by Tusker House for lunch. We were a little alarmed by the check ($50 each for lunch is steep!) but the food was excellent. While the chef here visibly rolled his eyes at the start, he warmed up while showing us the items and the selections were plentiful and delicious. There were even cookies for dessert.

Since Animal Kingdom is usually a pretty quick day for us, some of the group also dropped in at Epcot for a few rides in the evening.

Day 4 – Hollywood Studios was on the agenda for day 4. We mostly enjoy this park for Rock n Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, The Great Movie Ride, and Muppets 3D. For this trip, we decided not to eat in the park (though some pickles and other snacks were had) and instead saved our hunger for the day’s dinner.

Dinner was at Trail’s End restaurant in Fort Wilderness. GPS in both cars took us the wrong way, so getting there was rather an adventure. Once you arrive, finding the restaurant is also a challenge and weirdly the signage is lacking (unusual at Disney). But, the restaurant was kitschy country with good food for the omnivores and AND the amazing and fabulously kind Chef TJ!!!!  If you haven’t heard of Chef TJ, he is a Disney chef known for his kind and generous treatment of those with special dietary needs. We were on pins and needles waiting to see if he was actually there. And then, good news, he was! He came out and chatted with us, and then the feast began.

There were several courses including samosas, nachos, a wonderful cream of broccoli soup (not pictured here), a beautiful and delicious entree with tofu and vegetables, and a dessert that was a tower of fried goodness and fruit. Mmmmm….

We practically had to roll back to our car (with takeout boxes).

Day 5 – Our full Magic Kingdom day was Day 5. We had fun trying to do the rides in a different order (not beginning with Space Mountain as we usually do), and then went to the Liberty Tree Tavern for lunch. In the past, we have had some delicious vegan burgers and sandwiches at the Liberty Tree, but all of that is now off the menu. We were presented with an allergy menu that had no vegan items, so the chef came over and offered a pasta dish with vegetables and marinara sauce. It was quite good and we had some fries as an appetizer because… fries.

For dessert, we had a Dole Whip for the first time.

We only recently were told these were vegan and we hope that is correct. They were quite delicious!

Day 6 – Off to Epcot at the start of the day! It was a little crowded due to early magic hours, but we still managed to see all of the attractions we hoped before our lunch reservation at Teppan Edo in the Japan pavilion. Teppan Edo is a hibachi-style restaurant. With a group of 8, we just fit at a table. Everyone was pretty happy with the offerings, which included a vegetable and tofu plate (made without butter and substituting white rice for the beef rice). Our chef was a woman, which was new to all of us for hibachi, and she did a wonderful job with the preparation.

After lunch and some tooling around in world showcase, some delicious margaritas from La Cava del Tequila. This little tequila bar used to be an unknown treasure in the Mexico pavilion. Now it’s a known treasure. The handmade and delicious (no sour mix!) margaritas here are not inexpensive, but they are very good. We sampled the Minty Pineapple, the Dragones Top Shelf, the Jalapeño, and the Guava, and all were pronounced good. Somehow, we also ended up eating guacamole and chips….
What can  you do?

Day 7 – The last day is always our “parks du jour” day. This trip, we started in Epcot in the morning, where we got to experience Soarin’ two more times, Test Track, the new Pixar Film Festival attraction (very cute), Journey into Imagination, and then headed over to the World Showcase where the International Festival of the Arts was happening. We wandered, saw some art, drank some beer and ate some “chips” in England.

Then, we moved over to Magic Kingdom for another trip on Space Mountain, a visit to the Carousel of Progress and the Hall of Presidents, a Mickey Pretzel, and some Tofutti on Main St.

It turned out to be a very rainy evening, so we called it a day a little earlier than planned and headed back to start the packing.

All in all, it was a week of delicious food and we are all happy that we walked many miles to counteract everything we ate!