Eating Vegan When the Cash Isn’t Flowing

Sometimes, like Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, you’re broke. We all either have been or will be there. And when there is a worldwide pandemic that has decreased income and increase prices, more than just a few folks have ended up broke.

A limited budget can be a deterrent to making the choice to go vegan, or sometimes people believe that you can’t do it – or maintain it – on a budget. It’s true that there are rarely amazing sales, loss leaders, or coupons for fresh nutritious food. But, eating vegan and maintaining a budget-friendly diet are not an impossible combination. You don’t have to live on ramen noodles!

Some general thoughts to decrease costs and increase vegan goodness:

  • Eat in season when you can – If you can get to a farm stand or a farmers’ market that is open now, 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 far 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 like ordering from DoorDash.
  • 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! That’s harder right now, but as stores begin to open up more fully, it will be available again.
  • 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. But, don’t let the 10 for $10 sales fool you into buying things you won’t use (or buying things that would actually be less on a daily basis).
  • Pick one “luxury” ingredient to buy each week. One week it might be a nice bottle of olive oil (not super pricey, maybe $8). 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.
  • Skip the takeout or limit it to once a week. 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 $1.50 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 $5-6, 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 $1.50 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 $9 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 $8-9 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 $2.50. 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
10 Plant-Based Meals You Can Make for Under $10 by the Frugal Vegan
20 Cheap Vegan Meals by Vegan Richa

Enjoy your frugal and cruelty-free eating!

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

Sourdough Strawberry Shortcakes

Good morning! I hope you had a healthy breakfast today. I’m not going to tell you that I did – exactly – but it was delicious. Last night for dessert, I made sourdough strawberry shortcakes. I didn’t have any then, so I gave myself permission for a shortcake breakfast. So yummy!

There are many ways to do the cake/bread part of shortcakes, but I grew up having them as biscuits, so that’s what I made. Specifically, I used this Flaky Sourdough Biscuit recipe. The only change that I made was a little sugar on top before baking. They came out lovely!

While the biscuits were cooking, I made the strawberry topping. I made it with a wee bit of rhubarb, which you can’t taste much. It just gives a hint of something to the strawberry. If you like rhubarb (I love it, but not everyone in the house does), you can certainly add more here!

Ingredients
4 cups strawberries, cleaned and sliced
1-2 large rhubarb stalks, cleaned and chopped
2 cups water
4 cups sugar

Process
– Add water and sugar to a pan, whisk, and cook over low-medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
– Add rhubarb and continue to cook until the rhubarb breaks up to the degree you want (if you like rhubarb, just get it tender; if you are not a fan, keep going until it pretty much dissolves when you stir it).
– When complete, remove from heat and allow to cool.
– Once cool, if you don’t really like rhubarb much, optionally use an immersion mixer to fully incorporate it into the sauce.
– Add berries and chill an hour or until you are ready to serve!

Transition to Plant-Based Diet

So, you are interested in living a more plant-based life, but you aren’t really sure what that’s about yet? Good for you! Let me help.

I have been a vegan for over 15 years and a vegetarian for over 20. I am often asked by veg-curious folks about how to make the switch to plant-based. Honestly, there isn’t one best way to make the switch. But having helped a few people work through it, I have some tips to share.

1. Make a commitment. It doesn’t matter if you decide to go “cold tofurkey” on all animal products or if you phase them out one at a time. It doesn’t matter if you start with an all plant-based diet or two days a week. The key is to think it through and make a plan and stick to it.

Decide what you plan to do and write it down. That will help you get it firmly into your mind so that you don’t mindlessly eat things that you weren’t intending to eat. If you are going to give up one item at a time, make an actual schedule and mark it on your calendar. If you are making the switch all at once, make yourself a list of things to eat (see below) rather than a list of things that you can’t eat.

If you haven’t already made a firm choice and established your boundaries, you aren’t likely to make it though the times when your plan is challenged by the need for a quick meal, or takeout food, or a party with a buffet.

2. Research alternatives before you start. You know what your animal product weaknesses are. Those are different for everyone. Yours might be cheese (that’s a common one), milk, beef jerky, honey, cream, hamburgers. This allows you to make a plan for how you will replace them in your diet. Almost anything can be replaced with something vegan that will satisfy the same taste urges, but you have to figure out what it is, and that’s easier when you aren’t starving or trying to cook dinner in 20 minutes.

Don’t assume that your replacement items have to be things that mimic the food you previously ate. Sometimes that may work out (milk to soy milk was an easy transition for me). Other times, it may not work as well (vegan cheese is just now getting to the place of tasting more like cheese). So, you need to think more about the kind of taste you are looking for and what could replace that kind of taste. For me, burgers were really always about the combination of chewy protein, a smoky flavor, and all the condiments. So, it wasn’t too hard to find vegan friendly items that took care of that combination pretty well.

3. Plot ways to maintain your usual ratio of “fun” to nutritious foods at first. It’s wonderful if part of your reason for a plant-based diet is health, and it certainly can be efficacious there. But, if you try to totally shift the things you eat at the same time as cutting out all junk foods, it may be hard to manage. If you are accustomed to having cheese puffs every night for a snack, and you go vegan and try to replace that with celery, you are going to be an unhappy camper.

There is so much available vegan “junk” food that it is really not necessary to deprive yourself of that at first. You can start changing the ratio after you get more comfortable with the overall choice. There are even vegan cheese puffs!

4. Don’t deny yourself the use of prepared foods for a while. I am not a big fan of frozen veg prepared foods (though dang that Boca faux chicken patty is tasty), but when you are first starting a vegan diet, it might be easier to microwave a Boca burger and some veggie baked beans, or an Amy’s meal, than to come up with a menu on your own. Prepared foods are definitely more expensive and you don’t have as much control over nutritional issues like sodium, but that’s ok for a while.

If it’s a choice between going plant-based and eating some prepared foods, and not making the plant-based transition at all, then go ahead and eat the prepared foods. Mainstream vegetarian brands (like Boca and Morningstar) have plant-based items, but be sure to double check labels for milk and eggs. Field Roast, Tofurkey, and Gardein are currently all vegan.

5. Eat a VARIED diet. I really can’t stress this enough. If you start out by eating salads for every meal, with the same set of four ingredients, you are going to get so bored and so frustrated and are more likely to crack and order an extra large cheese pizza.

There are plant-based cookbooks and websites galore! Find one that you like to look at. Even if you never actually make any of the recipes, you will get some ideas about how to eat in a plant-based style, and will probably be shocked by the amazing variety of choices. And, some of them are very entertaining, as well!

If you make your meals interesting enough, then you will probably find that you forget what you aren’t eating because you will be more focused on how good the things you are eating taste. You may find that the things you thought you would miss aren’t a problem at all!

Plant-based food ROCKS!