High Quality, Healthy Vegan Diet for $3.33 A Day

By Guest Blogger   |  22Comments|

Hello everyone! I’m so honored to do a guest post on CSL. My name is Melody Polakow and due to being laid off from my job as a vegan and raw foods chef in December, I am living on a very strict budget of $3.33 a day or around $100 a month for myself and two teen sons who live with me part time. I have always been a frugal cook by nature and grew up eating a vegetarian diet based on whole foods, fruits and vegetables. (Thanks mom!)

Eating high quality, healthy vegan food on a budget is very do-able, but it might require a shift in thinking when it comes to how you plan menus, shop and prepare your meals. There are several important steps I recommend if you want lessen your grocery bill without sacrificing the quality, taste and variety at the dinner table.

The first step is taking an inventory of what you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer. I wrote everything down and started to plan meals around what I had on hand. I was fortunate to have had an abundance to start and that enabled me to only spend $1.80 a day or $50.00 in February. You can check out my starting pantry list here.

Everyone’s tastes are different, but here are some staples that I have found to be very useful: (Obviously, this is a very large list and most people do not have all of these on hand. Pick and choose which ingredients you use the most and build from there!)

Dry and Canned Goods
Brown rice
Unsweetened coconut
Whole grain pasta
Wheat berries (if you grind your own flour)
Nutritional yeast
Various dried spices
Vegetable broth cubes
White whole wheat flour
Baking soda
Baking powder
Sea salt
Canned tomatoes
Roasted red peppers
Pickled jalapenos
Canned pineapple
Unsweetened applesauce
Sunflower seeds (keep in freezer)
Raw cashews, almonds, walnuts (keep in freezer)
Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame seeds (keep in freezer)
Roasted peanuts
Chia seeds (keep in freezer)
Dijon mustard
Coconut milk
Olive oil
Canola oil
Coconut oil
Hot sauce
Soy sauce
Toasted sesame oil
Concentrated lemon juice
Dried beans/legumes/lentils
Rolled oats
Steel cut oats
Golden flax seeds (keep in freezer and grind in coffee grinder) or
Golden flax meal (keep in freezer)
Active dry yeast (buy in bulk and keep in freezer)

Ok, so now that you have taken inventory you can start to plan your meals around what you have on hand or on several basic staples.

What has been working for me is to base the bulk of our meals on legumes and whole grains. I cook up a pound of dried beans and 2 cups of dried whole grain and use them in a variety of ways throughout the week.

For instance, a pound of lentils ($1.29) will yield around 6 cups of cooked. 2 cups will be turned into veggie burgers, 1 cup will be turned into meatballs, 2 cups will be used in our breakfast muffins and 1 cup will be turned into a soup.

I usually cook 2 lbs of different legumes each week. Chickpeas can be turned into hummus, pasta sauce, sandwich spreads, burgers, eaten in salads, in Indian food and in soups. I often freeze 2 1 cup portions of the beans right after cooking to ensure they will remain fresh later in the week.

The vegetables/fruits I have on hand most of time are kale, collards (I can get HUGE bunches for $1.29 at my local Market Basket in Portsmouth, NH), carrots, onions, garlic, celery, cabbage, cilantro, bananas, limes/lemons, frozen strawberries and sometimes apples. I look in our grocery circulars every week to see which fruits/veggies are on sale and plan my meals around them in addition to my staples. I was very excited to get a pineapple for $1.99 and find broccoli for $.99/lb today at a store I rarely shop at due to their high prices.

I have been baking all of my own bread. It is not as daunting as it sounds because I do an ever simpler version of No Knead Bread.

We enjoy pulling some out and making fresh English muffins (on the stove) to use as a buns for our veggie burger.

I hope that some of these tips have helped you! I am going to close with this easy recipe:

soup1Raw Thai Noodle Bowl
Serves 2

-3 large collards, chopped finely OR 2 spiralized zucchini (enough to -produce 4 c of veggies)
-1 medium carrot, shaved into noodle shapes
-2 c mushrooms, sliced and marinated in Braggs hot pepper and black pepper
-1 clove garlic
-2 inches ginger
-4 T dried coconut
-1 t toasted sesame oil (optional)
-Siracha to taste (or cayenne)
-juice of 1 large lime
-Braggs to taste
-3-4 c water
-stevia or other sweetener to taste
-1 c cilantro
-fresh mint/basil (optional but VERY good)
-sesame seeds
-black pepper

1. Chop the collards. I like to chiffonade then so they will be somewhat “noodle like”. I used a julienne peeler to peel the carrots into noodles.
2. In a blender place the garlic, ginger, coconut, sesame oil, siracha, lime juice, Braggs and water. Blend for several minutes (to get it warm) Add stevia or sweetener to taste. Pour over veggies and top with chopped cilantro, mint, basil and sesame seeds. Taste and adjust seasonings. I like to warm mine gently on the stove and I added a lot of hot sauce, so it really warms me up.

Nutritional Info based on 2 servings
266 calories, 7 g protein, 21 g fat, 17 g carbohydrates

To see what else we eat on a daily basis, check out my blog and my website.

Thanks for reading,


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19 responses to High Quality, Healthy Vegan Diet for $3.33 A Day
  1. This is great! The looming health crisis that will surely follow this economic one is terrifying. It is amazing what we allow our minds to talk us into and the fact that people are using this economic crisis to indulge in spam feasts and mac and cheese is no cheaper. It costs a lot more to be sick!

  2. Hi Mel!!! As you know I just <3 YOU! :) Terrific post, so glad you are getting out there and showing people how it’s done! You really are inspiring, and this post will help so many people. Thanks! Hugs!

  3. Thanks for showcasing Melody! She is an amazing chef. I have made several of her recipes, all with wondrous results. She also has the most gorgeous food photos ever!

  4. Melody! This is such a helpful post. I admire you so much for being able to live on $3.33 a day. Take that Rachel Ray! Love your list and thanks so much for the recipe…..can’t wait to make it! You are an inspiration.

  5. You are truly amazing. Most people would be paralyzed when faced with a budget like that, but your meals are really inventive and sound delicious. You’re inspiring!

  6. Melody, this is an awesome post. I have a pantry that is busting at the seams and I still buy loads of groceries that end up going to waste. This weekend I am going to empty my pantry, put back what is still good and make note of it and then shop for only the things I’d need to make food with that. I’m really excited to try this!!

    And that recipe sounds DELISH! I love anything thai and trying to incorporate that into a high raw diet has been difficult… this is right up my alley!

    Thanks again :)

  7. I love your blog!!!!! I think your future is in writing a book with all your recipes, cost per day and per week etc. It’s really very very cool stuff!
    Maybe Skirt would be interested!
    hint hint
    love deb

  8. Stunning post dear!!!

  9. great post! Would love more recipes. Do you give cooking classes? I live in the Boston area, so close to you in NH.

  10. I love your blog! Thankyou!!

  11. Thank you all for the kind comments. I really love creating healthy and frugal food! It makes me so happy.

    Diane, I do offer cooking classes. I can do personal or group classes in your house or mine. You can email me at:

    Debbie, Skirt? I will have to check that out. I’ve never heard of it. for more information.

  12. I’m intrigued by this recipe, but a bit confused. Where is the 21 g of fat coming from? Surely 1/2 of the 4T of coconut called for isn’t supplying it all?

  13. Julia, Thank you for catching that! The fat content should have been divided in two for a total of 10.5 grams per serving!

  14. Great post!!! Thanks for sharing :)

  15. This recipe is one I will try. It should great.

    Your blog is great, Melody. I’m going to add Kris’s to my blog roll too. I need all the help I can get to “green” my body.

  16. I was surprised that there was not one mention of pesticides vs. organic vs. conventional vs. farmers markets vs. pesticide free vs. pastured vs. local vs. imported etc. etc. These are always factored into the health equation for me. How does one reconcile all these things and still maintain a tight budget for healthy food? Is it possible?

  17. Matt, while I love and really believe in the idea of eating local and organic food, right now I simply can only afford $100 a month for myself and two teen sons (who live with me part time)

    I figure it’s better to eat fruits and vegetables even if they aren’t organic than it is not to eat them at all!

    It is a real concern and I struggle with it, but have come to the conclusion that right now I have to make do with the limited budget I have.

    Since I was laid off in December, I have been in survival mode I haven’t really had the “luxury” of choosing organics. Before my budget was so strict, we ate much more organic produce and I really thought I would be able to continue it, but quickly realized that $3.99 for 5 oz of spinach was gone in ONE salad for us. I can get a HUGE bunch of collards or kale for $1.29 that will last for several days.

    I think it is possible to eat organic produces if you grow it yourself! I am also going to check into “buying clubs” to see if we can split the cost of cases or organic produce.

    There has to be a WAY! Now that I’m over the “shock” I feel I can begin to look into the options! I’ll definitely post more on this subject both on my personal blog and here in the future!

    Thanks Matt for the questions. I believe that almost everything is possible, but it might take a lot of work to find the answers!

  18. great post. thank you.

  19. Moo said on May 26, 2009

    That just makes me hungry for a steak. Actually, time to have one right now.

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