Hello everyone! This week’s post is a very exciting one for me and I have been wanting to try it out for a while now. The $50 Vegan Challenge is something I challenged myself with because the way I spend my money fascinates me. I never spent a great deal of time looking at how I spend my money and lately I have been very curious about it because I know I’m buying in completely different ways than I have previously. The way I spend my money now is extremely different than how I spent my money just one or two years ago. Alcohol, eating out, and other unhealthy foods were a big part of my life. A huge amount of processed snacks, an abundance of rice and pasta, and frozen pizzas were eating up all of my money (hello college and post college diet). Recently I have been trying to dedicate myself towards a more plant based, healthier, and perhaps occasionally raw vegan diet. I am not a raw vegan and I never intend on being one completely but I see the health benefits and want to incorporate that into my life. As hard as I try to not buy anything ‘bad’ when I’m at the grocery store I would always find myself picking up a vegan chocolate bar, some ‘healthier’ potato chips, a box of gluten free pasta, etc. I would buy it, regret it, eat it, regret it, repeat. This has to stop, Jenna! (That’s what I said to myself over and over until it just clicked.) A budget. A challenge. A change. So here goes with my little made up challenge for myself to 1) eat healthier and more plant based, 2) spend less on groceries and eating out, and 3) create delicious vegan meals for less. One rule: You can buy anything you want as long as you stay in your budget of $50. I am also allowing myself a buffer of $2.00 so if I go over by a bit I am considering that okay. It’s nice to be able to make up your own rules.
I spent the last two weeks eating vegan on a budget. I gave myself $50 for groceries each week. I wanted to see what it would be like to eat all healthy, plant based meals on a much more restricted budget than I have been giving myself lately. I first had to assess how much I would be eating in one day, what kinds of foods were most important to me, and most importantly what foods I would be cutting from my diet because they were simply too expensive and wouldn’t work for this challenge.
Because of my work schedule there are two nights a week I am not home for dinner so I took that into consideration when planning my meals. I decided I would cook a soup in the crock pot and get ingredients to make a salad so I had both a cold and warm filling meal each day. On the days I would be eating dinner at work I ate my warm meal (soup) at home for lunch and my cold meal (salad) at work for dinner. On the other five days when I was home for dinner I ate soup for dinner and took my salads to work for lunch. This was a decision I made because I do not use a microwave to heat my food and I would need to eat a warm meal at home where I had access to a stove.
The $50 Vegan Challenge means I don’t have enough in my budget to make a different type of meal each day. It is much more cost effective when cooking for one person to make one or two recipes for the week and split it up over a few days for various meals. The recipes I chose were a Black Bean soup in the crock pot and a Kale Sweet Potato salad recipe from Thrive magazine. You can find the original recipe for the black bean soup here but I altered the recipe by leaving out the cayenne pepper and adding extra paprika and some homemade taco seasoning that we always keep on hand. With the budget in mind, instead of buying salsa I used fresh tomatoes from our garden. I also skipped the avocados for topping because they are expensive and I’ve had a few bad avocados recently so I didn’t want to waste any money in my restricted budget. The original salad recipe from Thrive magazine was very much just a jumping off point for me. I honestly couldn’t even tell you what they recommend you actually use on the salad. I just used kale, roasted sweet potatoes, and whatever other vegetables I have available from the garden like peppers, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, and beans. Then I made a tahini dressing similar to the one Thrive offers but I left out a bunch of ingredients and just used what I had: tahini, lemon, coconut aminos, and some various spices. I believe they call for vinegars and oils in the dressing but 1) those ingredients aren’t the healthiest things you could eat and 2) they just added to the cost of the dressing.
After all that, let us now get into what you actually probably want to read. I’m a Wegmans shopper (not sponsored) and all of my food came from my local Wegmans and our own garden in our backyard. I used the Wegmans app (again, not sponsored) to add what I wanted to buy to the shopping list and it gave me an estimated total. This was SO helpful. I could really see what each item was costing me and how much I was really getting for $50. A few things that played in my favor were I already had tahini and coconut aminos in the house to make my dressing and we have a bunch of different spices on hand so I didn’t have to purchase any of those. Those were not included in my $50 budget because my goal with this challenge is to be super honest with myself and realistic. The reality is I don’t have to buy those ingredients every week so I don’t feel I need to include them in the weekly budget. Check out my shopping list below for everything I bought and to see how much it really cost me. Another reality is I try to eat organic products whenever I can. Yes, they cost a little more and I could make my money go further if I didn’t buy organic but eating organically is something that is so important to me and my diet so I bought all organic products (when available).
Organic Lemons 2 lb $6.99
Cleaned and Cut Kale Greens 16 oz $2.99
Organic Bananas 8 ct. $0.59/lb
Jalepeno Pepper $3.99/lb
Organic Red Potatoes 3 lb $5.99
Clementine Oranges 5 lb $8.99
Organic Red Onions 3 lb $4.99
Organic Dry Black Beans 16 oz $2.99
Organic Vegetable Broth 32 fl oz $2.29
Whole Strawberries, Frozen 48 oz $5.79
Mango Chunks, Frozen 32 oz $6.99
Total Items Purchased: 11
Total Cost: $50.07
Thoughts on the challenge after completing the week:
The week went so well! Each morning for breakfast I had a fruit smoothie that consisted of strawberries, mango, banana, oranges, and a splash of water. The smoothes were extremely refreshing and a perfect way to start my day (on a budget!) I loved having my black bean soup prepared and ready to eat before or after work. It got thicker after a couple days so I paired it with a little steamed potato and it made a great loaded potato situation. When I was taking a salad to work I prepped it the night before and let the dressing really marinate with the vegetables for ultimate flavor. I’m obsessed with roasted sweet potatoes (especially when they are cut in cute little cubes.)
I loved having my black bean soup prepared and ready to eat before or after work. It got thicker after a couple days so I paired it with a little steamed potato and it made a great loaded potato situation. When I was taking a salad to work I prepped it the night before and let the dressing really marinate with the vegetables for ultimate flavor. I’m obsessed with roasted sweet potatoes (especially when they are cut in cute little cubes.)
Overall I loved this process and would definitely do this again. I was stress free knowing my meals were already planned out and I definitely make healthier choices throughout the week because I limited the grocery store trips down to one trip and I had a list prepared when I went into the store. The only thing I would alter with this challenge is adding more fruits. This would mean adding another $20-25 to my budget but I would have loved to have some melons and fresh berries in the house. Using this challenge for myself as a base when making my grocery list will be so helpful in continuing meal planning and making those healthier choices when I get in the grocery store. Mainly I just try to stay in the produce department and not walk through that gluten free aisle with all the pastas and snacks.
I hope you were able to get something out of this post! Whether it is a recipe idea or some inspiration to meal prep for a week I would love for you to share your comments with me!