Plant-Based Meal Prep Challenge: How I Survived on $25/week In the Most Expensive City in the US

Plant-Based Meal Prep Challenge: How I Survived on $25/week In the Most Expensive City in the US
Sonja Huang


March 28, 2021
March 28, 2021 6 min read

  • Eating on a budget is pretty hard, but it can be done with proper planning.
  • As a resident of San Francisco – aka one of the most expensive cities in the world – budget-friendly eating is even trickier to accomplish. That being said, it's not impossible!
  • I can prove it.
  • In less than an hour, I meal prepped a week's worth of plant-based breakfast, lunch, and dinner - all for $25.
  • Let's be real - this pandemic hasn't been easy for anyone. Time and money are becoming increasingly scarce resources for many, so I wanted to provide some tips on how to do plant-based meal prep on a budget!

Create a list of cheap pantry and produce staples

I started by creating a list of pantry and produce staples that are typically cheaper. It looks like this:
  • - Proteins like dried bulk lentils, beans, and tofu were at the top of my list.
  • - Whole grains like rolled oats and brown rice tend to be cheaper than other whole grains like quinoa and farro.
  • - Seasonal fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, celery, spinach, and broccoli also made the cut (if you live in California!)
  • I steered clear from specialty foods like cacao nibs, chia seeds, and passion fruit. As much as I love trying specialty foods, they will rack up a grocery bill fast.
  • Now it's your turn! Go ahead and create your list. If you need more help, check out this blog poston the best budget-friendly staples you need.

 

Do Your Research: Brainstorm Recipes in Advance

After creating my list, I brainstormed potential recipes for these items that tend to be lower in cost.
  • I also looked up local grocery stores in my area with a single "$" on Yelp - and a small local grocery store in my area popped up. Asian and Hispanic markets are fairly inexpensive when it comes to produce as well. So maybe check those out if you don't have a 1-$ grocery store in your area.
  • Planning out your recipes in advance and having a grocery list before your visit will also keep you focused and help you avoid purchasing a bunch of impulse items that might increase your costs.
  • Pro tip: I recommend eating before your grocery visit. Never go grocery shopping hungry. Hungry people spend more!

Plant-Based Recipes on a Budget

After drafting my list, I created 4 plant-based recipes to cook in batch - 2 for breakfast, 1 for lunch, and 1 for dinner. All of these recipes are gluten-free and nut-free.

Breakfast #1: Overnight Oats

Servings: 5-6
Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • -5 cups of rolled oats
  • -10 cups of homemade oat milk
  • -pinch of salt
  • -pinch of cinnamon
  • For serving:
  • - 1 1/2 cups of apples (pre-chopped in advance or chopped immediately before serving)
  • - squeeze of lemon juice (if pre-chopping in advance)
  • - 1/2 cup of peanut butter
  • Prepare homemade oat milk (blend 2 cups of rolled oats with 8 cups of filtered water until creamy; strain the oat pulp with a mesh bag)

Instructions

  1. Blend 2 cups of rolled oats with 8 cups of filtered water until creamy. Blend for no more than 30 seconds or else the oat milk might get slimy! Strain the oat pulp with a mesh bag. Freeze pulp in a reusable container and reserve for later use. You can add it to oatmeal, smoothies, or energy bites with peanut butter!
  2. Add rolled oats to a large container. Add oat milk, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk until thoroughly combined. If you'd like to portion out your breakfasts, pour mixture into 5 separate mason jars. Add peanut butter dollops to each jar if desired. Place in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. Serve with chopped apples just before serving.

 

Breakfast #2: Banana Kale Smoothie

Servings: 3
Cook time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • - 6 frozen bananas
  • - large bunch of kale
  • - 6 cups of homemade oat milk

Instructions

  1. Add 2 bananas and a few stalks of kale to 3 reusable containers. Freeze overnight.
  2. Blend with oat milk prior to serving.

 

Lunch: Curried Tofu with Broccoli and Brown Rice

Servings: 5-6
Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • -1 pack of firm tofu, drained and crumbled
  • -1 large bunch of broccoli
  • -1/4 cup of carrots, chopped
  • -2 celery stalks
  • -1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • -2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • -1 tbsp of madras curry powder
  • -salt and pepper to taste
  • For serving:
  • - 5 cups of brown rice, cooked

Instructions

1. In a large pan over medium-heat, saute onions for 5 minutes or until fragrant and browned. Deglaze pan with a tbsp of water if desired, but not necessary (this helps with getting that brown onion residue in your pan for additional flavor). Season with a little bit of salt, pepper, and curry powder. Add garlic and saute for another few minutes. Season with additional salt, pepper, and curry powder (season with spices little by little throughout the whole process for a deeper flavor).

2. Add carrots and celery. Saute for an additional 5-7 minutes until soft and tender.

3. Add tofu, salt, pepper, and the rest of the curry powder. Continue to mix until thoroughly combined. Remove from heat to let cool.

4. In another frying pan over medium-low heat, lightly grease the pan with refined coconut oil or another high smoke-point oil. Add Prime Roots Plant-Based Bacon and flip every minute until crispy (about 5-10 minutes). Remove from heat. Chop into bite-sized pieces.

5. Sprinkle vegan bacon over curried tofu scramble. Prepare 5 reusable containers and add a cup of brown rice to each container. Top with curry scramble.

 

Dinner: Instant Pot Lentil Tomato Stew

Servings: 5-6
Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • -1 cup dried green lentils
  • -3 cups of water (or vegetable broth)
  • -1 32-oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • -2 celery stalks, chopped
  • -1/2 cup of carrots, sliced
  • -1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • -1 tbsp madras curry powder
  • -3 garlic cloves, minced
  • -salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In "saute" mode in an Instant Pot, add yellow onions and stir infrequently to allow onions to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with water or vegetable broth for a deeper flavor. Season with curry powder, salt, and pepper little by little throughout the process for additional depth. Add garlic and saute for a 2-3 minutes. Add carrots and celery. Saute for an additional 5-7 minutes.
2. Add green lentils, water (or vegetable broth), crushed tomatoes, and the remainder of curry powder to the pot. Turn off "saute" mode and switch to "pressure cook". Pressure cook on high in the "beans" or "stew" setting for 15-20 minutes.

3. In another frying pan over medium-low heat, lightly grease the pan with refined coconut oil or another high smoke-point oil. Add Prime Roots Plant-Based Bacon and flip every minute until crispy (about 5-10 minutes). Remove from heat. Chop into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle lentil-tomato stew with vegan bacon prior to serving.


Recap and bonus tips

  1. Shop in the bulk section if possible (for example, lentils in the bulk section will most likely be cheaper than pre-packaged lentils).
  2. Eat produce in season.
  3. Shop at international markets like Asian and Hispanic markets where produce and spices are cheaper than specialty health food stores.
  4. Plan your meals and recipes in advance with a grocery list (and don't go to the grocery store hungry!).
  5. Find more affordable swaps and substitutions - for example, switching out nut milk with oat milk! And many off-brand items taste the same as the more expensive name brand ones.
  6. Save your grocery store receipts and compare prices between grocery stores so you can decide which grocery store is more sustainable for your budget

 

  • I hope this article was helpful for you so you feel empowered to eat plant-based on a budget. I'm grateful for the chance to do this $25/week vegan meal prep challenge. It was a reality check that reminded me of the food insecurity we face in this country - which has increased dramatically since the pandemic began. I know times have been tough for a lot of folks these days, so I hope this helps you with how to eat healthier when money is tight.
  • At Prime Roots, we care a lot about food access and wish for everyone to have access to healthy and sustainable food.
  • Some of you have expressed concerns with the cost of our products, and we hear ya! But we're still a small company, and keeping production costs low immediately off the bat is difficult. In order to reduce our costs, we have to scale our business and produce in larger quantities. To get to that point, we need your support! Thank you for supporting our mission to create a more sustainable and healthy food system.
  • Join our inclusive foodie fam community! It's free to join and comes with perks. Like first dibs on freebies and giveaways, an awesome rewards program, and invites to our exclusive online and in-person events (aka free food)!
  • As a member of our community, you also get the opportunity to apply to be Prime Roots Ambassador or Taste Tester! So check it all out here!

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