Plant Based on a Budget Challenge

[I pre-scheduled this post for today because it was important to me that it go up before the holiday.  But I promise an update on last night’s vegan Thanksgiving dinner is coming soon!  In the meantime, enjoy, and definitely scroll down for some new recipes, including Southwestern Shepherd’s Pie!]

This month, the folks over at Plant Based on a Budget have offered the challenge of designing 100% plant-based meal plans within a budget of $25 per person per week.  Today, I am participating in this challenge by providing a 7-day meal plan that will feed three meals a day to two adults within this budget.

For those who don’t know, Plant Based on a Budget is an incredible resource for affordable plant-based eating.  Its contributors are working hard to dispel the myth that a vegan diet is expensive and unrealistic for the majority of Americans, particularly those living on a limited income.

This is actually a topic about which I feel very strongly.   The truth is that a well-designed plant-based diet is not only extremely affordable but also provides outstanding nutrition.  Better education and awareness about this could help to address and alleviate the rampant malnutrition in our country’s low-income population.

Needless to say, I am thrilled to participate in this challenge.  Particularly as most of us prepare for a day or entire weekend of gorging ourselves on an excessive amount of food, it is important to remember that not everyone is as fortunate.

Thanks 2 003[Sidenote: I didn’t feel like trolling Google images looking for non-copyrighted graphics, and this is the best I could come up with on short notice using only three colors of pen!]

As I mentioned, the meal plan outlined below will feed three meals a day to two adults for seven days, and is of course completely plant-based.  The total cost of ingredients used to make these meals is $42.25.  A breakdown of ingredients by price is included below the seven-day plan.  If you would like to see meal plans created by other contributors (including menus for up to 4 people), please visit the Plant Based on a Budget blog.

I managed to design this plan without deviating much from my usual style, that is: 1) buying stuff that’s on sale and/or comparison shopping, because like all red-blooded Americans, I like to save money; 2) making frequent (but hopefully not boring!) use of leftovers; and 3) making things that come together fairly quickly on a weeknight and also pack up easily for workday lunches.

Day One:
Whole wheat English muffin, with 1 tbsp. peanut butter and ½ banana, sliced
Baked Marinated Tofu (2 strips) on whole wheat bread (2 slices), apple
Hearty Chipotle Chili with Skillet Cornbread

Baked Marinated Tofu (make this the night before): Drain and press a block of firm or extra-firm tofu, then slice it into strips (8 strips per block).  Make the marinade by combining 6 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger, 2 cloves minced garlic, and 1 tsp. sesame oil in a shallow dish.  Add tofu strips and marinate in refrigerator for one hour, flipping halfway through.  Preheat the oven to 400.  Bake tofu strips for 20 minutes, then flip and bake another 10 minutes. You can reserve the marinade to throw into a veggie stir-fry some time next week!

Meal Plan 005

Hearty Chipotle Chili: In a large stockpot, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil, then add 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 diced onion, and 1 diced green bell pepper.  Cook 5-7 minutes until softened.  Add 4 cans of beans (any variety…this is about 6 cups of beans), 1 cup frozen corn, 1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes, 1 15-oz. can of tomato sauce, ¼ cup water, and 1 tbsp. finely chopped chipotle in adobo, plus 2 tsp. adobo sauce.  Also add ½ tsp. oregano, 1 tsp. chili powder, ½ tsp. cumin, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. red pepper flakes, and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper.*  Stir well to combine, bring mixture just to a boil, then cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Add 8 oz. sliced baby portabella mushrooms (optional, but I found some on sale for a really good price!), stir well, then cover pot and cook another 10-15 minutes, until mushrooms have cooked down.  Taste for seasoning, top with a tablespoon or two of chopped green onions, and serve with cornbread.  Makes approximately 10 cups.

The cornbread I used is the Skillet Cornbread from Veganomicon (double-corn variety).  Most vegan cornbread recipes will use similar ingredients if you don’t have Veganomicon.

*Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the spice ingredients listed in the recipe.  The beautiful thing about chili is that it is completely adaptable!  You can also omit the chipotle and/or red pepper flakes if heat is not your thing.

Day Two:
Oatmeal prepared with ½ cup water and ½ cup soy milk, 1 tbsp. peanut butter, and ½ sliced banana
Leftover Chipotle Chili with leftover Skillet Cornbread
Easy Lentil Soup with Homemade Whole Wheat Croutons

Easy Lentil Soup: In a large stockpot, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil, then add 6 cloves minced garlic and 1 diced onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add 2 diced carrots and 2 diced stalks of celery, and cook another 3-4 minutes, until softened.  Add 4 cups vegetable broth, 4 cups water, and 2 cups dry brown or green lentils, stir, then cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are soft and cooked (I find this usually takes 20-25 minutes).  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  Dried thyme and cumin also taste great in this soup, if you have them.

Meal Plan 001

Homemade Whole Wheat Croutons: Take two slices of whole wheat sandwich bread (preferably sort of stale…you can leave them out during the day while at work), brush each side lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and dried oregano, and toast in a toaster or 350 degree oven until crispy and browned.  Cut into squares and use to garnish soup or salads.

Day Three:
Blueberry Breakfast Cake (1-2 slices)
Leftover Lentil Soup with leftover Skillet Cornbread
Leftover Chipotle Chili on top of a baked potato

Blueberry Breakfast Cake: This recipe is by Happy Herbivore and can be viewed by clicking here.

Easy Baked Potato with Chili: Scrub the skin of the potato (either Russet or Yukon Gold are fine), dry with paper towel, and then pierce several times with a fork.  Microwave for 3 minutes.  Test with fork.  If the fork pierces the skin easily, the potato is done.  If not, continue to microwave at 30-second intervals until done.  Serve each baked potato with ½ tbsp. Earth Balance, 1 cup of Chipotle Chili, and a tablespoon of chopped green onions.

Day Four:
Whole wheat English muffin with 1 tbsp. peanut butter and ½ banana, sliced
Baked Marinated Tofu sandwich (2 strips) on whole wheat bread (2 slices), leftover Lentil Soup
Peanut Passion soba noodles (if you don’t have soba noodles, rice noodles or spaghetti are perfect substitutes!)

peanut passion sauce

Peanut Passion Soba Noodles: I used Dreena Burton’s recipe for Peanut Passion Sauce (pictured above), which can be viewed by clicking here, and followed her instructions for noodles (in the Notes).  Top noodles with a tablespoon or two of chopped green onions, if you like.

Day Five:
Oatmeal prepared with ½ cup water and ½ cup soy milk, 1 tbsp. peanut butter, and ½ sliced banana
Leftover Peanut Passion noodles
Southwestern Shepherd’s Pie (this is how we will use up the remaining leftover Chipotle Chili!  You should have 3-4 cups left at this point.)

Meal Plan 007

Southwestern Shepherd’s Pie: Peel and rinse 4 medium-large Russet potatoes (or 6 small-medium Yukon Gold potatoes) and chop them into large pieces.  Place them in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower the heat slightly and allow them to gently continue boiling, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, until fork-tender.  Drain the potatoes, then add them back to the warm pot and let them rest for 1 minute to release a little moisture.  Transfer the potatoes to a bowl, and add 6 tbsp. soy milk, 4 tbsp. Earth Balance, ¼ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, then mash the potatoes using a potato masher or a fork until smooth.  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Lightly spray or oil a 9 x 13 glass or casserole dish, then add all of your leftover chili and top with mashed potatoes.  Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until potatoes have a golden crust.  Remove into bowls, top with a tablespoon of chopped green onions, and enjoy.

You can also bake this in ramekins for individual portions, if you prefer:
Meal Plan 006

Day Six:
Blueberry Breakfast Cake (1-2 slices)
Leftover Southwestern Shepherd’s Pie
Pasta (2 dry cups of any variety, cooked) with meaty lentil sauce

Meaty Lentil Sauce: I made the lentil pasta sauce by following the recipe for Homestyle “Meaty” Tomato Sauce with Lentils and Walnuts from Plant Based On a Budget, but omitting the walnuts.  View the recipe by clicking here.

Day Seven:
Whole wheat English muffin with 1 tbsp. peanut butter and ½ banana, sliced
Leftover pasta with Meaty Lentil Sauce
Sautéed tofu, caramelized onion and mushroom brown rice, roasted asparagus

Caramelized onion and mushroom brown rice: Cook 1 cup brown rice according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, melt 1 tbsp. Earth Balance in a large skillet.  Add 1 onion, thinly sliced, plus a generous pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until very soft and very brown.  Set onions aside and deglaze the pan with a little water (or cooking wine, if you have it), then add 1 clove minced garlic and cook until softened and fragrant.  Next, add 4 oz. sliced portabella mushrooms and cook until they soften and shrink down a little.  You may need to add splashes of liquid here and there to prevent sticking.  Once the mushrooms have cooked, add the caramelized onions back in, plus the cooked rice, and stir to combine.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Sautéed tofu: Drain and press tofu and cut block in half, reserving half of it for another time (maybe for that stir fry next week?).  Slice the remaining half into triangles, and sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper.  In a non-stick skillet, add 1 tsp. of olive oil, then cook the tofu triangles for a few minutes on each side, just until browned.

Asparagus 004

Roasted asparagus: Preheat oven to 400F.  Snap off the woody ends of the stalks, wash, and dry them.  Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then place in the oven for 15 minutes, flipping or shaking them about 10 minutes in.

Ingredients and Price Breakdown
Breakfast
2 cups oats – $.32
2 cups soy milk – $.82
10 tbsp. natural peanut butter – $.70
5 bananas – $1.22
1 cup frozen blueberries – $1.20
6 English Muffins – $3.49
½ cup unsweetened applesauce – $.23
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract – $.34
Total breakfast price: $8.32

Lunch (non-leftover)
1 block extra-firm tofu – $1.70
6 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce – $.60
1 tsp. sesame oil – $.13
1 inch ginger, grated – $.04
2 cloves garlic – $.06
2 apples – $1.14
8 slices whole wheat bread – $2.40
Total lunch price: $6.07

Dinner
4 cans of beans – $2.00
2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes – $1.50
1 can tomato paste – $.45
15 garlic cloves (1 head) – $.45
4 onions – $1.44
1 green pepper – $1.03
2 cups frozen corn – $.54
1 tbsp. chipotle in adobo – $.18
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce – $.40
2 ¼ c. + 6 tbsp. soy milk – $1.08
6 tbsp. Earth Balance – $.78
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar – $.03
2 cups cornmeal – $.10
6 potatoes – $1.08
2 carrots – $.26
2 stalks celery – $.34
3 ½ cups dried lentils – $1.40
4 cups vegetable stock/broth – $2.00
1 package soba noodles – $3.99
½ cup peanut butter – $.56
1 tbsp. sesame oil – $.39
1 inch ginger, grated – $.04
3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce – $.30
1 bunch organic green onions – $.99
2 limes – $.67
½ block extra-firm tofu – $.85
12 oz. sliced baby portabella mushrooms (sale) – $1.89
1 bunch asparagus (sale) – $2.10
1 cup dry brown rice – $.16
2 cups dry pasta – $.52
2 slices whole wheat bread – $.30
Total dinner price: $27.86

NOTES
I am not a dietician or nutritionist.  This is just the kind of stuff I like to eat and reflects my personal view of what represents a healthy balance.

The only ingredients whose cost is not factored in are things that are commonly found in all kitchens: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, basic spices, and oil.

It does not matter what day of the week you count as day one, day two, etc.

You will have leftovers!!  Leftover lentil pasta sauce, lentil soup, blueberry breakfast cake, whole wheat bread, and canned chipotles can all be frozen.  You also can (and should!) freeze the leftover ½ block of tofu.  The only things I’m not sure I would freeze are the Peanut Passion noodles and the Southwestern Shepherd’s Pie (can you freeze mashed potatoes?), so you would want to use any leftovers of those within a few days.  Not hard to do because they are so delicious!

Other Stuff
Please note that I did not actually go out and purchase all of the listed ingredients before coming up with the meal plan.  The overwhelming majority of the ingredients used are staples in my kitchen and I already had them available to me.  Please feel free to make substitutions or omissions as needed in order to fit the plan into your personal budget or food items you have on hand.  The best example of this is the soba noodles; if you don’t have those in your kitchen, but you do have spaghetti or rice noodles, you can save yourself the $3.99 by just using what you already have.

Also worth noting is that I did not always pick the cheapest options for all of the listed foods.  For example, dried beans are almost always cheaper than canned, but I happened to find canned beans on sale for $.50 each, which I thought was a good deal that would save me time.  But the point is that you could save even more money (and avoid sodium, BPA, etc.) by making the chili recipe using beans that you have cooked from dried.

Finally, you can probably also find even cheaper options for bread, English muffins, and peanut butter.  I felt okay using what I had on hand once I realized that they would fit into the budget for the meal plan.  It’s your choice and you should feel free to buy whatever products you like that fit into your budget!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!

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