You no longer have the luxury of mooching off of whatever is in the kitchen at home. You’ve finally graduated from the on-campus dining hall and now realize that, one, food is expensive and, two, it’s not the easiest finding fast, affordable, and healthy meals. Through much trial and error (that consisted of eating a can of Heinz beans for lunch) I’ve found some go-to easy vegan meals for students and busy people alike, all under three dollars per serving!
Set Yourself Up for Success
If following recipes isn’t your thing and you like to improvise as you go, there are some steps you can take to ensure you always have something healthy and hearty at mealtime.
When shopping, buy items in each macronutrient and some fresh produce as well. Purchase one to two carb sources, about three variations of veggies, some fruits, at least two protein sources, and one savory and one sweet fat source.
Then, when mealtime comes, combine the above ingredients as you like with a serving of each macronutrient.
For me, this often looks like sweet potatoes and oats, beans and tofu, avocado and nut butter, berries and then broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. Then, I just mix and match as I go. Some days I’ll have a stir fry with tofu, veggies and avocado. Other days I will make a baked potato with beans and a side of veggies.
This method is super simple and streamlined, allowing for freedom as you go.
If you are more of a recipe-follower and planner, like myself, here are some perfect concoctions for those busy days.
Protein Oatmeal: I eat this every single morning, no joke. It’s been my go-to for years and I’m still not sick of it. Cook the oats according to the package and then add all other ingredients. You can also make these into overnight oats by combining everything except the fruit and nut butter and setting it in the fridge overnight.
- 50g of oats ($0.18 per 1/2 cup dry serving)
- 1 cup of berries ($0.61)
- 1/2 scoop (~18g) vegan protein powder of choice ($0.70)
- 1 tbsp nut butter ($0.11)
- TOTAL COST: $1.60
Avocado Toast: When I do want something more savory in the morning this always what I go for. Just spread the avocado onto your toast and add all other ingredients.
- 2 slices whole-grain sprouted toast ($0.46)
- 1/2 avocado ($0.49)
- 1/2 tomato ($0.46)
- Nutritional yeast ($0.35)
- Black pepper ($0.05)
- Dash of salt ($0.02)
- TOTAL COST: $1.83
Lunch & Dinner
Stuffed Baked Potato: I don’t know where I’ve been, but I just recently started making this insanely easy, really satisfying meal. Just cook the potato in the oven or microwave, warm the beans, then add them into the potato and serve with a side-salad or roasted veggies of choice.
- 1 potato ($0.55)
- 1/2 can of Heinz/baked beans ($1.07)
- Veggies of choice or side-salad ($0.50)
- TOTAL COST: $2.12
Peanut Tofu Stir Fry: I adapted this recipe from Workweek Lunch and make it just about every week. Simply press the tofu, soak it in the marinade and then cook in a pan until lightly browned. While the tofu is in the marinade, heat up a pan and cook your veggies of choice (I like the frozen stir-fry blends so I can use them whenever) in sesame oil and garlic powder. Serve with brown rice.
- 1 pack tofu (12-15oz) ($1.79)
- Garlic powder ($0.05)
- Microwave brown rice packet or fresh made ($0.30)
- Stir-fry frozen vegetable blend ($1.00)
- TOTAL COST FOR 1/3 SERVINGS: $1.21
Chana Masala: This meal feels like such a treat but is insanely cheap and easy. I like to first roast the chickpeas with or without oil in a nonstick pan. Then add the tomatoes and spices. Simmer for a few minutes, add the greens and cook until they wilt. Serve with rice or pita.
- Two cans of chickpeas ($1.58)
- Large can of diced tomatoes ~28 oz ($1.29)
- 1 tbsp garam masala ($0.05)
- 1 tbsp cumin ($0.05)
- Greens (spinach, kale, etc.) ($2.38)
- Toasted pita or rice ($0.40)
- TOTAL COST FOR 1/4 SERVINGS: $1.44
What’s On Sale? (Roasted Veggies, Vegan Meat Substitute, Carb): For this meal I will usually just find whatever veggies, frozen or fresh, are on sale and then roast them in the oven. I’ll either dry roast or use coconut oil and season with garlic powder and/or an Italian blend. For the protein, again, I’ll just buy whatever frozen or refrigerated pre-made vegan meat substitute is on sale and then heat it up with the pre-made veggies as I’m ready to eat it. Then I’ll toss in whatever carb I have prepped that week.
Yogurt and Fruit: In the UK, you can buy soy yogurt just about anywhere and I’ve been loving it. Hopefully the states will catch on soon, but until then you can opt for coconut, almond, or flax. I prefer almond or flax because the protein leaves me more satisfied. You can always mix protein powder with a tad of water until it’s at a yogurt-like texture as well. Simply top your yogurt with berries, or your fruit of choice, and some cinnamon.
Veggies and/or Pita with Hummus: So I don’t end up snacking on junk food, I try and always have chopped fresh veggies ready. Pair them with hummus and a slice of pita and you’ve got a delicious snack.
Cover image via Slimming Eats
Also published on Medium.