Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Week of Vegan Meals for $29.78

This experiment was inspired by NJ State Senator Corey Booker's pledge to live on food stamps for a week in 2013. He was a vegetarian then, not yet vegan. (But he is vegan now!) I decided to write up a vegan food stamp menu of my own.

Here's what I learned: It's incredibly hard. It took me many hours on the computer juggling costs and calories to come up with this menu. (How likely is it that, say, a single mom on food stamps has easy access to a computer, and half a day of free time to plan her shopping down to the penny like I did?)

The reason this was hard wasn't because it's vegan. High protein, nutritious foods like dried chick peas, lentils and pasta are extremely cheap. It was hard because it's hard to live on $30 a week.

Not to mention that for your budget to work, you have transportation to a store, a working stove, pots and pans, time to cook, etc etc.—all things that, like a computer, you wouldn't necessarily have if you had little enough money that you were on food stamps.

But this experiment did show that cheap, healthy vegan eating is very achievable. If you're fortunate enough to have the basics in your kitchen (stove, pans, knives, etc.) and are not constrained by this exact budget, you can change, upgrade and add to this menu as you like, and still wind up with a week of good food for not  much money.

Here's what I did:

The menu includes mostly things that I'd cook in a normal week, but it's a bit more repetitive, and I've simplified the seasonings since there's no money for spices. The budget accounts for every single ingredient that's called for, even salt, because I figured if you're living hand-to-mouth, you could well be starting with a bare cupboard.

I used my local grocery store's prices (via their "shop online" feature), since, if you're on a tiny budget, you'd probably have to shop at stores close to you-- you wouldn't necessarily be able to travel to find the best prices.

My grocery bill came to $29.74.

[I've put optional ingredients in brackets so that if you do happen to have them, you can add them.]

I aimed for what a large, active man would need in a day: between 2,500 and 3,000 calories; 5 servings of fruit or veg; and 72 grams of protein.I came in at 3,098 calories a day if you count all the groceries and divide by 7, so there wasn't much problem getting the daily meals to between 2.5 and 3K. I hit the fruit/veg target, and came in quite a bit over on the protein: 114 g/ day—once again demonstrating what most vegans know: that a balanced vegan diet is naturally rich in protein.

In practice, you'll lose some calories and protein when you use about 1/3 of the oats to make oat milk; and there will be 1/4 c rice left. Other than that, the menu uses almost everything up. But of course you don't have to eat everything.

It's bare bones, for sure. You have to make your own bread and your own oat milk. You have to cook big batches of things and eat them at more than one meal. And every ingredient is the cheapest brand available.

All in all, though, I think it's a pretty good menu. Nutritious, satisfying, and protein-rich vegan meals for very little money. 

Shopping list

Note: I did leave off vitamin B-12, the one supplement you need as a vegan. At under 2 cents a dose it could be made to fit, but I wasn't able to fit the cheapest bottle, at $1.97, into this one-week budget. If you truly had nothing in your kitchen and had to live from week to week, you would have to sacrifice something the first week to get the vitamins--but then they'd last for over three months.

16 oz white vinegar: $0.89 / 0 cal / 0 protein / 

20 oz frozen broccoli: $1.99 / 210 calories / 7 g protein / 7 servings fruit/veg
20 oz froz spinach: $1.99 / 210 cal / 14 g protein / 7 servings fruit/veg
1 pkg yeast: $0.67 / -- / -- 
26 oz salt: $0.69 / -- / -- 
2 lb white flour $1.19  / 3,000 cal / 90 g protein **SEE NOTE
2x 8.5 oz soybean and olive oil: $2.78 / 3,936 cal / 0 g protein
1 lb green split peas: $0.99 / 1,100 cal / 110 g protein
1 lb dry lentils: $1.59 / 980 cal / 112 g protein
28 oz chopped tomatos: $0.80 / 175 cal / 7 g protein / 7 servings fruit/veg
1 lb whole wheat pasta: $1.25 / 1080 cal / 42 g protein
1 lb dry chick peas: $1.49 / 1,100 cal / 80 g protein
42 oz rolled oats: $2.99 / 4,500 cal / 150 g protein
1 lb dry black beans: $1.49 / 840 cal / 108 g protein
2 lbs brown rice: $1.39 / 3,300 cal / 66 g protein
1 bunch kale: $0.99 / 160 cal / 12 g protein / 4 servings fruit/veg (who knew kale had so much protein??)
small long hot green pepper $0.25
small piece ginger: $0.30 / -- / --
2 heads garlic: $0.69 / 110 cal / --
3 lbs onions (probably 6 onions): $2.49 / 360 cal / --
3 lb bag apples (about 12 small apples): $1.99 / 600 cal/ 0 g protein / 12 servings fruit/veg
1 lemon $0.33 / -- / --

TOTAL: $29.74 /  21,688 cal / 798 g protein / 37 servings fruit/veg
DAILY BREAKDOWN: 3,098 cal / 114 g protein / 5.25 servings fruit/veg

**NOTE about the flour: I couldn't afford whole wheat in this budget, as the cheapest amount I could get at my store was $2.49 for 5 lb--actually cheaper per pound than what I did choose, but it would have meant either paying for calories I wouldn't be using--which I couldn't afford--or eating all of it, which loaded the menu with bread. But obviously, if you could manage to get whole wheat somehow, that would be preferable. 



Every day:

Breakfast: muesli with homemade oat milk 

Lunch: pasta alla ceci (pasta with chick peas) with 1/2 apple on side; split pea soup with toast

Snacks: toast, 1/2 c hummus


You can mix these up, making your 2 or 3 portions at once, and freezing what you don't need right away:

2 days: mujadarah, broccoli soup
2 days: chana saag with flatbread
3 days: beans and rice topped with salsa, steamed kale on the side


Recipes with Calorie and Protein Breakdown


Oat Milk

There will be 4.5 cups of oats left after the other recipes, which can make 9 quarts of oat milk if you want that much. You'll only need about seven cups for your breakfasts.

oat milk recipe

(If you don't have a strainer or cheesecloth, you can strain it through a dishtowel. If you don't have a blender, you can finely chop the oats and then pulverize them in a bowl--not ideal, but it would work.)

I couldn't find out exactly how much protein and how many calories are in the milk vs what's in the pulp left behind, but I'm estimating 25 calories / cup, with negligible protein.

Simplified Muesli

1.5 c raw oats
1 apple
1 c oat milk

Chop apple into little cubes, and mix with oats and milk. This is actually one of my favorite meals--yummy and satisfying. [Great with chopped almonds sprinkled on top if you have them.] 

525 cals / 15 g protein / 1 serving fruit/veg


Pasta Alla Ceci

1 lb pasta

1/2 c oil
3 cloves garlic
1 t salt
1.5 c cooked chick peas 

Cook the pasta, reserving 1/4 c cooking water. Mince garlic, and mix with olive oil and salt in a pan. [If you happen to have red pepper flakes, add a couple pinches now.] Heat gently for a few minutes. Add reserved pasta water and chick peas. Heat through. Toss with pasta.
Freeze whatever you won't eat in the next couple of days.

7 servings at a little over 1 cup of cooked pasta each: 400 cal and 7 g protein per meal

+ 25 cal per 1/2 apple

Madame Benoît's Pea Soup 

from Elise

1 lb dried green split peas

8 cups cold water
4 T oil
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp salt
bit of lemon zest
[1 tsp dried savory if you have it]

Wash peas. Let them sit in cold water for 12 hours. Heat your oil in a soup pot. Add onion, cook until transparent. Pour in the peas with their water.They will start creating big puffs of scum. Skim that off. Then add salt, zest [and savory]. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat. Cover and let simmer. Madame Benoît says two hours, until tender. Depending on your peas, it could need more. They will be soft when ready. For creaminess, sieve. If you have some left over, you will find that when you take it out of the fridge the next day it has thickened. Just add some water when reheating.

1652 cals and 110 protein / 7 = 236 cals and 16 g protein per meal / 1/2 serving fruit/veg


Multiply this bread recipe by 2. Mix it all up, let it rise, and if you like divide into 7 very small loaves. Eat one the first day, and freeze 6. 

Eat one per day: half with your pea soup and half for snacks with your hummus.

340 cal/ 10 g protein per day


Toast with hummus -- 1/2 c hummus/day (1/2 c hummus = 180 cal / 8 g protein)

Tahnini-less budget hummus

Left over from dinner recipes you have:

3/4 c dry lentils (1.5 c cooked) = 210 cals / 24 g protein

1 c cooked chickpeas = 16 g protein / 220 cals
1/2 c dry beans (1 c cooked) = 140 cals / 18 g protein

So make 3 batches of hummus:

1 - 1.5 c chick peas, lentils or beans
1 T lemon juice
(add 1/2 T vinegar if you want more tartness)
2 T oil
1 clove garlic
1 t salt

Puree in blender; or else mince garlic, mash beans well, and mix everything together.

[And of course, if you're lucky enough to have tahini in your cupboard, you can make regular hummus by adding 1 T tahini before mixing.]

all hummus together = 1308 cals and 58 g protein / 7 = 186 cals and 8 g protein/day

Daily breakfast, lunch and snack total: 1706 cal, 56 g protein and 1.5 serving fruit/veg 


Budget Mujadarah

1.5 c lentils 
6 T oil 
2 t salt
3/4 c brown rice 
3 chopped onions 

Put brown rice in a pan with 1.5 c cold water, bring to a boil, then turn down heat, cover, and simmer on lowest for 45 minutes. (Or, if you've already cooked and frozen the rice, take it out of the freezer to defrost.) 

Put the lentils in 4 cups cold water, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer on low for 25 minutes (or more, depending on your lentils.) 

Put onions in a pan with the oil and salt. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Take out half and add to the cooking lentils. [If you happen to have allspice, add 1 t at this point.]

Continue cooking the others until they start to get brown and crispy, at least 10 more minutes. 

When the lentils and rice are done, mix them together with any oil left in the onion pan. Top with crispy onions.

T= 1785  / 892/meal and  57 g protein total = 28.5 g protein/meal

Two servings: 892 calories and 28.5 g protein / serving


Steam the broccoli until it's bright green. Then either eat it like that, or put it in a blender with 1/2 c water and 1 t salt, and blend and blend, until completely smooth. Add more water a little at a time, until you get a nice thick soup consistency. [If you have pepper, add some.] It's so simple, but it's actually a great soup, one I eat all the time. Works with cauliflower too. 

Two servings; 52 cal, 3.5 g protein and 3.5 serving fruit/veg per meal

On Mujadarah days, the whole-day calorie total is 2836, protein total is 98 g and fruit/veg total is 5 servings

Chana saag

Use recipe on this blog, but omit spices and increase oil to 4 T. The onion, garlic, ginger and salt will still give it a nice flavor. For the chickpeas, use 1/2 of your 1-lb bag, cooked (should be about 2.5 cups). 

Serve with flatbread made from the remaining flour: 3 x 100-cal flatbread per meal (that 300 cal of flatbread has 9 g protein)

Chana saag has 1398 cals, 43.5 g protein and 7 servings of fruit/veg  /  2 meals = 698 cal, 18 g protein and 3.5 servings fruit/veg per meal


1 1/2 c flour

1/2 c water 
1 T oil (optional)
3/4 t salt. 

Mix together, knead until smooth. Make into 6 balls. Let rest, covered with a dish towel, for an hour. Roll out each ball into a circle, making it very thin (half as thick as a pancake). Put a dry skillet over medium heat. 

You don't have to use oil in your skillet (many recipes say not to), but if you haven't added any to your dough you can use that in your pan instead, if you like. 

Cook each dough circle a few minutes on each side until done.  

600 cals (+123 if oil is used) and 18 g protein/ 2 = 300 cal and 9 g protein/ meal

If you have time, here's a slightly more involved recipe for flatbread, using the same ingredients.

Daily total on chana saag days: 2704 cal, 83 g protein and 5 servings fruit/veg

Budget beans and rice

3/4 lb dry beans, cooked = about 3 3/4 c 
1.5 c dry rice, cooked = about 3 c 
6 T oil
half a head of garlic--about 5 cloves (5 t chopped)
1 T vinegar

Mince garlic and put in a pan with the 4 T oil. [Add red pepper if you have any.] Heat gently for a min. Add beans, and cook on med-low about 10 minutes, till hot. [If you happen to have cocoa powder, add some.] Salt to taste, add vinegar, and cook 10 minutes more. Serve over rice with salsa on top.

Beans and rice: 2268 cals and 45 g protein /3 = 756 cals and 15 g protein/ meal

Budget salsa

1 minced hot green pepper, to taste

1 small clove garlic, minced (scant 1 t)
1 T chopped onion
2 t oil
1 t vinegar 
half a 28-oz can tomatoes
salt to taste   

Strain the chopped tomatoes over a bowl to save the liquid. Put the drained tomatoes in a bowl, and mix in everything else. [If you have red wine vinegar, use that instead of plain.] Then add back some of the liquid until you get the consistency you like.

Salsa: about 90 cals, 3.5 g protein and 7 servings fruit/veg  / 3 = 30 cals, 1 g protein and 

2 1/3 servings fruit/veg  / meal

Elise's kale 

(Other greens can be cooked this way, too!) Remove kale from thick stems. Put a splash of water into a large skillet. Add a big pinch of salt [or a splash of tamari if you have some] and a grated clove of garlic. Add kale. Bring the water to boiling, turn down to a simmer, and cover. Check every couple of minutes and remove when kale is wilted and tender. 

If you like, you can add some chopped onion sauteed with oil and salt, as you will have about one leftover onion and a couple of tablespoons of oil.

160 cal, 12 g protein and 4 servings fruit/veg  /  3 = 53 cal, 4 g protein and 1 1/3 servings fruit/veg /  meal

Daily total on beans and rice days: 2545 cals, 76 g protein and 5 servings of fruit/veg


How to get it all done

Shop on Saturday and plan to spend Sunday cooking.

On Saturday night, set the split peas, chick peas and black beans to soak.

Mix up your bread dough and set it in a warm place to rise overnight.

Put the onions in the fridge, which will make them easier on your eyes when you chop them tomorrow.

On Sunday, divide the dough into 7 loaves and make the bread. When it's cool, wrap and freeze 6 of the loaves.

Make the flatbread. Freeze it.

Cook up all the rice, chick peas, beans and 3/4 c of the lentils. This will take up your whole stove for a while but otherwise is easy, since all you have to do is put them to simmer on the stove for the recommended time.  

When that's done, rinse a couple of pots and make the mujadarah and the pasta alla ceci, and the pea soup. Freeze whatever you won't eat in the next day or two. 

Make the three kinds of hummus. Freeze whatever you won't eat in the next day or two. (Or make them fresh when you need them--it's fast.)

After cooking, chop the rest of the onions, using a food processor if you have one (if your eyes can stand doing them all at once--hard even with a food processor!) Put in the freezer.

Chop the rest of the garlic and freeze. 

Freeze what's left of the rice, cooked beans and cooked chick peas.

Or if you like, you can make the chana saag and the rice and beans ahead of time, too, and freeze them.


That's it! Nothing luxurious about this meal plan, but it will get you through a cold winter week.

1 comment:

  1. Just ran across this the recipes posted...thanks so much