Healthy Vegan Dishes on a BUDGET

by Debra Daniels-Zeller

As rising food prices eat into budgets, a diet of healthy foods can be expensive. But the truth is, even if you're a frugal shopper, you can likely afford nutritious foods with several different choices weekly. And whether cooking for one or more, with a few tips you'll soon become an expert at finding healthy bargains.

One thing to consider is where you shop. Natural foods stores can be alluring with their promise of organic foods, but prices may be off-putting to frugal shoppers. Instead, peruse discount outlets, ethnic markets, and big box stores. Jeff Yeager, creator of the website The Ultimate Cheapskate, says he only buys food at 99 cents a pound or less. It's something to look for in produce departments. Some stores sell damaged and over-the-hill produce for cheaper prices, and if you're persistent, you can find organic produce for bargain prices. At farmers markets, look for "seconds" or less-than-perfect produce. It can be worth a trip to a farm to buy in bulk and freeze or can your produce. Consider growing your own, and if you don't have a yard, consider container gardens. Keep in mind, water prices may inflate the cost of growing produce in your yard. Whatever you do, be open to seasonal bargains and you'll find a variety of produce week after week.

Shopping, stocking the pantry, and making salads, entrées, and snacks from scratch doesn't have to be overwhelming. And at the end of the day comes satisfaction that healthy foods can fit into your budget without draining your savings.

Guidelines for a FRUGAL Vegan Kitchen

  1. Write a rough food plan, using weekly sale produce. Include snacks in the plan, so you won't be tempted to shop impulsively for grab-n-go items, which are more expensive. Use weekly newspaper ads or peruse deals online. If you have a smartphone, you can download free apps devoted to grocery shopping. Grocery Pal offers weekly ads; Coupon Sherpa finds coupons; Flipp features weekly ads and coupons, and Apples2Oranges compares prices at different grocery stores near you.

    There are also apps that allow you to also keep a grocery list on your phone, so that you stick to the plan and don't forget anything. Old-school shoppers can write lists down and keep a notebook of prices to continually find the best deals.

  2. Shop once a week, except for fresh fruits and vegetables. You are less likely to impulse buy with a plan, and when you buy only what you need, nothing is wasted. According to the Huffington Post, Americans waste 165 billion dollars of food annually. Food waste is also the number one component of landfills, and when you toss out food, you toss out part of your paycheck. Stick to a weekly food plan.
  3. Seek out less-than-perfect fresh foods and read use-by labels when purchasing processed foods. Use by means food consumed past that date might be risky. Best if used by does not necessarily mean the product isn't safe to eat. Grocery outlets are filled with canned, frozen, and even fresh products that are close to or past the best-if-used by dates.
  4. Stock the pantry with basics for quick meals. Finding foods at the best prices takes persistence, but dried and canned beans, grains, pasta, canned vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices, and condiments can be purchased at bargain prices throughout the year.
  5. Prepare at least two meals a week that can be divided and frozen. A well-stocked freezer gives you a wider range of choices and can make a grocery store impulse buy less likely.

Spicy Black Beans

(Serves 4)

Serve this main dish with rice, or use it to fill tortillas. Add some greens and you've got the whole meal. *Total estimated cost for entire recipe: $3.07 with dry beans and $3.97 with canned beans. (*Prices in this article are estimated from Washington State in 2017.)

  • 1 cup dry black beans or two 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 medium sweet potato, diced
  • 1 medium white potato, diced
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 clove garlic, minced, or ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • One 15-ounce can no salt tomato sauce
  • One 15-ounce can no salt diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

If using dry beans, clean, rinse, and soak them overnight. For a "quick soak," place rinsed beans in a pan with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat, cover, and let beans sit for 30 minutes before draining and cooking.

While beans soak, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add oil and onion, stir and cook until onion caramelizes. Add corn, sweet potato, white potato, chili powder, garlic, and cinnamon. Stir and cook for a few minutes, then add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, water, salt, and drained black beans.

Cover and cook on medium low for one hour with soaked beans or 20 minutes with canned beans. Add water if necessary. Serve with tortillas or corn bread.

Total calories per serving: 365 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 68 grams Protein: 16 grams
Sodium: 193 milligrams Fiber: 14 grams

Grilled Pepper and Quinoa-Millet Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette

(Serves 4)

This cooling summer salad includes two gluten-free grains and the produce of summer. Consider alternative seasonal vegetables when making this salad throughout the year. *Total estimated cost: $2.54.

  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup millet, rinsed
  • ½ cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 Tablespoons raspberry vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon agave nectar
  • ½ cup each diced red pepper and green pepper
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup roasted cashews
  • ¼ teaspoon each salt and ground pepper

In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil, add millet and quinoa. Then bring to second boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and grains are tender. Let grains rest 5 minutes, covered, then fluff with a fork to separate the grains; place them in a bowl.

While grains cook, combine olive oil, garlic, vinegar, and agave nectar. Combine, grains, vinaigrette, red and green peppers, corn, chopped parsley, roasted cashews, salt, and pepper.

Total calories per serving: 331 Fat: 14 grams
Carbohydrates: 46 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 164 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Zucchini-Corn Chowder with Tomatoes

(Serves 4)

Zucchini is plentiful and the price is often the best during summer months. The same goes for peppers, tomatoes, and fresh basil. If you don't have access to fresh basil, use 1 Tablespoon dried basil, but add dried basil in the beginning of cooking as it takes more time for dried herbs to impart flavors. *Total estimated cost: $3.76.

  • 1 medium to large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 seeded jalapeño, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • One 28-ounce can no-salt diced tomatoes or 8 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 small white potato, diced
  • 2 cups water or vegetarian stock
  • One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • ¼-½ cup chopped fresh basil or 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 cup soy, rice, or almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, garlic, onion, jalapeƱo, and oil. Stir frequently, cooking until onions become translucent and vegetables are coated with oil.

Transfer cooked vegetables to a soup pot; add diced tomatoes, corn, potato, water or stock, and kidney beans. If using dried basil, add it now. Simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If using fresh basil, add now and continue cooking for 10 more minutes.

Remove one cup of the soup from the pot and purée with milk, then stir into the chowder. Add lemon juice and salt.

Total calories per serving: 264 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 44 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 357 milligrams Fiber: 11 grams

Kidney Bean-Sweet Potato Stew

(Serves 4)

Soaked dried mushrooms provide a savory flavor base for this year-round comfort stew. You can save your own mushroom stems to use for a quick stock by leaving them out to dry. *Total estimated cost: $4.08.

  • 4 cups boiling water
  • ¼ cup dried mushroom pieces or stems
  • 4 fresh button or cremini mushrooms, sliced, stems removed and saved
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped green pepper
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • One 15-ounce can no salt tomatoes, diced, whole or crushed
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • Two 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper

Pour boiling water over dried mushroom stems and let them absorb water for an hour or more. Heat a heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add fresh sliced mushrooms and dry fry (without oil). Stir frequently until the mushrooms squeak. Remove from heat and set aside.

Use the same pan and add onion, oil, green pepper, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and the vegetables soften. Place all cooked vegetables in a soup pot. Add mushroom water, removing the mushroom stems if you want. Add garlic salt, pepper, bay leaf, tomatoes, and diced sweet potato. Cook for 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft.

Purée one cup of the soup and then stir into the soup pot with kidney beans. Heat on medium low for another 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper. This soup is perfect with the following Lemon Cornbread recipe crumbled on top.

Total calories per serving: 270 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams Protein: 14 grams
Sodium: 718 milligrams Fiber: 14 grams

Lemon Cornbread

(Serves 8)

Store-bought cornbread, sometimes served at soup bars in grocery stores, can cost $1.20 per serving. You make your own cornbread for less than a quarter of that price. Ground flax seeds whipped with water makes a great egg substitute for homemade baked recipes. *Total estimated cost: $1.55.

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup almond milk (original or vanilla)
  • ⅓ cup softened vegan butter or margarine
  • ½ cup organic sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 Tablespoon ground flax seeds
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray or lightly oil a 10-inch oven-safe skillet or an 8-inch baking pan.

Combine lemon juice and almond milk and set aside. In another bowl, blend vegan butter, sugar, and lemon zest mixing with a spoon until smooth. Set aside.

Using a blender or an immersion blender (hand blender) whip flax seeds and water on high until frothy. Blend this mixture with the butter-sugar mixture.

Sift flour, cornmeal, and baking powder and soda together in a separate bowl, and then combine dry ingredients with the butter mixture and almond milk, stirring gently to blend.

Place mixture in the skillet or baking pan and place in the oven. Immediately reduce oven temperature to 375 and bake for 25-30 minutes. Test doneness with a toothpick.

Total calories per serving: 248 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 39 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 247 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Lemon-Carrot Coleslaw

(Serves 6)

Cabbage isn't just a bargain all year long; it's also nutritious, keeps for a week, and is good served raw or cooked. If you have a cooler, you can take this slaw oncboat trips or take it camping. Make cabbage part of your frugal kitchen all year. You might consider adding raisins, dried cherries or cranberries, chopped dried apples, red peppers, toasted walnuts, or even sunflower seeds into this stand out salad. *Total estimated cost: $1.56.

  • 2 Tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2-3 teaspoons ketchup
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 4 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 1 cup grated carrot

Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest, ketchup, and pepper in a small bowl. Blend until creamy. In a large bowl, combine cabbage and carrots, and then stir in the dressing and any other optional ingredients. You can serve it immediately, but flavors mingle and the taste improves if this salad is refrigerated for an hour or more.

Total calories per serving: 39 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 6 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 78 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Tofu-Broccoli Noodle Bowl

(Serves 4)

It's time to celebrate when broccoli dips below a dollar a pound, and if you don't care for broccoli, you can easily substitute cauliflower or blend in spinach right before serving. *Total estimated cost: $4.98.

  • 12 ounces soba noodles
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 8 ounces tofu, cut into small squares
  • 1 pound broccoli, stems peeled and diced and florets cut into small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • Low-sodium tamari or hoisin sauce to taste (optional)

Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add soba noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain noodles when done.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add olive oil, onion, and red pepper. Stir and cook until onion becomes translucent and pepper is soft. Add tofu to the pan. Spread the tofu so it will brown on the bottom. This may take 7-10 minutes. Stir and turn tofu. Add the broccoli. Blend grated ginger with water and stir in, then cover with a lid. Cook for about 5 minutes, adding more water, if needed.

In a large bowl, toss noodles and vegetables with low-sodium tamari or hoisin sauce, if desired, and serve.

Total calories per serving: 408 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 75 grams Protein: 21 grams
Sodium: 723 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Debra Daniels-Zeller is a regular contributor to Vegetarian Journal. She lives in Washington.