Ellen Jaffe Jones, author of the cookbook “Eat Vegan on $4 a Day,” speaks at the recent Tampa Bay VegFest about how to use vegan eating to lower costs. Photo courtesy of Ellen Jaffe Jones

With inflation hiking grocery bills above 11 percent in the past year, vegan cookbook author Ellen Jaffe Jones is getting more calls about how to use the inherent low-cost of vegan meals to bring down those bills.

“You’re the third person who’s called in recent weeks,” Jones told me when I reached her by phone at her home in Sarasota, Florida. Jones, a former TV journalist who covered consumer finance, wrote a cookbook on the subject in 2011 called “Eat Vegan on $4 a Day.” The weekend before we talked, she spoke at the Tampa Bay VegFest about how vegan eating can save money at the grocery store.

Before I rang her, I went to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online inflation calculator and plugged in $4 in 2011 and learned it is equivalent to $5.23 a day in 2022 dollars. Still sounds like a bargain to me, but Jones said the prices of vegan basics, such as beans and rice, have not risen that much. She questioned whether the estimated increase is entirely accurate for basic vegan food.

“On Friday, I hopped over to Walmart to check my prices,” Jones told me. “The beans and rice I used in ‘Eat Vegan’ are exactly the same price as they were in 2011, or a fraction of a penny less.”

Jones said raw white rice cost 3 cents an ounce and dried pinto beans 2 cents an ounce on her recent price check – the same as in 2011. Jones said four ounces is an average serving size of protein-rich foods, making a bowl of beans and rice (2 ounces of each) a 10-cent meal.

Jones, who turned 70 last weekend and is a competitive runner, counsels people to consider that vegan eating not only saves money on their grocery bills but also on their medical bills and their climate change bills.

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“Our current model is not a sustainable model.” Jones said. “Being sick is extremely expensive. My parents were so sick with heart disease, arthritis and then dementia, they missed out on time with the next generation. They never could lift my kids. For the planet, vegan is the best, hands down.”

While bean and rice prices remain stable, Jones said vegan shoppers will experience cost increases when they buy processed foods and fresh produce. Jones advises people to avoid processed foods, to buy frozen fruits and vegetables, and to cook simple meals from scratch at home.

“People say, ‘I don’t have time to cook,’” Jones said. “I say that cancer, heart disease and diabetes are the real time wasters.”

Fresh or frozen vegetables work in this ramen stir fry, a quick and inexpensive lunch option. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Avery’s Vegetable Ramen Stir Fry

This simple stir fry is a budget-friendly way to stretch fresh vegetables or jazz up frozen ones, and it saves money with its short, plant-based ingredient list. I work at home and often make this quick dish for lunch, using leftover chopped vegetables. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, and the vegetables can change to match whatever is available.

Serves 2

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Vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced into half circles
1 small carrot, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups chopped vegetables (such as fresh cabbage, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, broccoli or cauliflower; or frozen broccoli, peas, green beans, corn or greens)
2 cakes ramen noodles (or another pasta, to equal 2 cups when cooked)
1 cup peanuts, crushed
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon hot sauce (optional)

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is warm, drizzle it with vegetable oil and add the onions. Allow the onions to soften slightly and brown, about 5 minutes; watch carefully so the onions don’t burn. Once about a third of the onions have browned, add the carrots and other vegetables. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the package instructions. After you’ve drained them, add the noodles to the hot frying pan with the vegetables and cook for another few minutes, turning the mixture to combine and cook regularly. Turn off the heat. Add the peanuts, soy sauce and hot sauce and mix thoroughly. Serve.

25 LOW-COST VEGAN PANTRY STAPLES

I always keep these 25 inexpensive ingredients on hand and as a result am ready to make multiple, low-cost, nutrient-dense vegan dishes at a moment’s notice. In addition to potatoes, I consider three perishable vegetables (onions, carrots, cabbage) and one perishable fruit (apples) among my must-have pantry staples. All are nutrient-dense, have long shelf lives and are grown on local farms. Three essential vegan seasonings – soy sauce, tomato sauce and nutritional yeast – are low-cost ways of delivering high-quality flavor boosts.

Overnight oats, beans on toast, peanut butter sandwiches, vegan mac and cheese, grilled mac and cheese sandwiches, burritos, lentil soup, mujadara wraps, bean-corn chili, potato soup, veggie burgers, black bean soup, vegetable stir fry, lentil loaf, hummus pasta with peas, vegan Shepherd’s pie with tomato lentils, peanut noodles with carrots and edamame-corn noodle bowls are just some of the possibilities with these 25 simple, pantry staples.

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Rice
Oatmeal
Raisins
Potatoes
Pasta
Noodles
Bread
Tortillas
Flour
Peanuts
Peanut butter
Beans
Lentils
Hummus
Soy milk
Frozen peas
Frozen lima beans
Frozen corn
Onions
Carrots
Cabbage
Apples
Soy sauce
Nutritional yeast
Tomato sauce

SAVE WITH FROZEN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Fresh fruits and vegetables can be pricey and their shelf life is short. One way to reduce the cost and the potential for food waste is to purchase fruits and vegetables from the frozen section. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash frozen, preserving their nutrient content at its peak. Frozen vegetables can be steamed and sprinkled with nutritional yeast or added to stir fries and soups. Frozen fruits liven up oatmeal, porridge and baked goods, and for a splurge night can transform into smoothies.

INEXPENSIVE VEGAN MEAL IDEAS

I start all budget-friendly, vegan meals with a grain or a starch, and then I add vegetables and a low-cost protein, such as peanuts, peas or canned beans. I lower the cost of beans even further by buying and cooking dried beans rather than using canned.

Green pea stir fry = sautéed onion + frozen green peas + cooked rice + soy sauce

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Hummus baked potato = baked potato + hummus + sautéed onion + frozen green vegetable, cooked

Simple vegetable soup = onion + tomato sauce + 1 diced potato + 1 can of beans + frozen green peas + frozen corn + frozen lima beans + 1 cup uncooked pasta

BUDGET-FRIENDLY COOKBOOK

“BOSH! on a Budget,” by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, 2022, HQ, $24.99.

The popular British social media stars behind the online vegan TV channel BOSH released their latest book in the best-selling BOSH! series in the United Kingdom last year. This year, just as inflation keeps climbing, it’s landed here in the U.S.

“BOSH! on a Budget” is the perfect book for those who enjoy both bold flavors and cutting costs. While these aren’t frugal recipes in terms of ingredient lists or prep time, they do save money with make-at-home recipes for plant-based basics, including tofu, granola, pasta, crumpets, naan, focaccia, injera, hummus, tater tots, soup stocks and sauces.

The book also encourages the economy of batch cooking. Recipes range from Bombay potato salad and lockdown chili ramen to tacos acorazados and jackfruit larb. Desserts include recipes for Right Good Rice Pud, Lemon Drizzle Traycake and Mississippi Mud Pie. The book makes a perfect holiday gift for anyone looking to trim food costs while eating well.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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