Today my friend Sasha is sharing how she spends around $1650 a YEAR for whole food, plant-based groceries! She has an amazing assortment of grains and flours here and even gives us a vegetarian week menu plan as an example. She’s going to make you stop and think about how much you are spending on groceries. I know I am! Also, these recipes and the way she wastes nothing are phenomenal.
Sasha knows a little bit about everything. Every time I come across a new topic, conspiracy theory, vitamin supplement or you name it, she’s done research on it and we have such fascinating conversation. She has master degrees in library archiving and theology. She’s brilliant, super-humble and a dedicated friend. I know you’re going to learn something from her. And also as her close friend, I can vouch that she’s honest with her costs.
Disclaimer, I hate stocking my pantry: it reminds me of how disorganized I am, how I really need to go to Ikea and get some cute storage jars, how I could learn to bake my own bread. However, I have found a fully stocked pantry to also be the most freeing element of any meal prep I do during the week.
Fully stocking the pantry a few times a year also helps me stick to my very stringent monthly grocery budget, as I can devote my bi-weekly grocery budget ($50) to produce and a few extras. Another disclaimer, I have been vegetarian/mostly vegan for over 20 years, so my grocery budget does not include meat and only occasionally dairy.
Kate asked me to talk about what I stock in the pantry on a budget while keeping it organic and whole food. I budget $350 a year for pantry items. I do a dedicated pantry stock in early November to prep for the holidays (large haul), and again in May (pantry refresh). The money left over from the large haul, I keep in a jar in the pantry to use for the refresh. I buy what I can in bulk to save money and reduce plastic.
Yearly cost of groceries
(She estimates this would work for a family of two adults and two children.)
- Weekly: $25 weekly includes produce, cereal, bread, and other non-pantry grocery items like herbs or similar
- Every 6 months: $175 for pantry supplies
- Yearly total: $1650
What we can learn from WWII rationing
So, how did I decide what to put in my pantry? Well, let’s go back to WWII England and … rationing. I watched a documentary on rationing in England. Excluding casualties of war, people were really healthy during the lean, ration book-years of the war. Occurrence of heart disease and other food related illnesses went down.
I took note of what people were eating, and it was really close to what I strive to eat on a Whole Food Plant Based diet. I decided to give living a rationed life a try, and stocked my pantry accordingly.
At the time of this experiment, I was fortunate to have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box through an organic farm less than a mile from my house ($17/week!!) The box was veg-heavy, so I spent my remaining $8/week on fruit from Aldi. I no longer have access to a CSA box, so I budget $25/week on produce. Sometimes I go over, but ONLY to get extra fruit.
Pantry haul ingredients
For this post, I did a dedicated pantry haul and bought all the items listed below except the extras. Planning for a family of four, I spent 175.50 at Lucky’s Market. Another plus of buying bulk whole food: here in Florida all the items were tax free, which means I automatically saved 7% over eating out or processed foods. A lot of my budget depends on eating leftovers for lunch. If this isn’t an option for your kiddos, stick to inexpensive lunch options like home made sandwiches, fruit, and veggies; again avoiding processed foods.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t bake bread, but if I did, I would probably need more flour. Instead, I use flour as a thickener, to make pot pie crust, to make polenta for dinner, or ugani for breakfast.
- 1 pound of each unless noted
- Fine ground corn meal
- Medium/polenta ground cornmeal
- Bean flour such as garbanzo or fava, but I get whatever is on sale as I haven’t noticed a difference in flavors
- Nut flour such as almond
- Ground flax seed
- Barley or oat flour, again, whatever is less expensive.
- Whole wheat flour 5 pounds
Grains are the staple of the whole foods, plant-based life. Inexpensive, filling, healthy (yay low cholesterol!) and incredibly versatile.
- 1 pound each unless noted
- Red quinoa 5 pounds
- Multi colored quinoa 5 pounds
- Golden quinoa 5 pounds (yes, we use a lot of quinoa)
- Old fashioned (not quick cook) oats 10 pounds
- Brown rice 10 pounds
Who doesn’t love pasta?! Quick, versatile, and oh so delicious. I wouldn’t mind eating pasta everyday. But, knowing that temptation, I limit my pasta to one box a week. Then I don’t go overboard on oodles of noodles.
10 boxes of mixed types. I use bean-based pastas whenever possible, but if you are on a very tight budget, white pasta is often available for less than a dollar a box. I also buy a few cans of whatever tomato sauce is on sale for under a dollar, and a couple jars of spaghetti sauce for days I don’t want to make one from scratch.
Beans are another staple of the WFPB life. Easy to prepare, always inexpensive, and when marathon training I eat beans at each meal, because they are so easy to fix a million ways. I used to buy dry beans, which are much less expensive, then realized I never used them, and would run to the store to grab a few cans when a recipe called for something. If you buy dry beans, substitute one pound dry for each 5 cans.
- Garbanzos 10 cans
- Black beans 10 cans
- Cannellini beans 5 cans
- Pinto beans 5 cans
- Great northern beans 5 cans
- Pound of dry lentils
I usually get these outside of a dedicated pantry haul, but they can be considered infrequently purchased pantry items.
- Tea: I will actually drink (I used to buy any tea I found interesting, realized it was rarely used, so now stick to the essentials like a breakfast tea and a green tea).
- Nut butter
- Pecans: Several pounds purchased when they are in season directly from the farm
- Oat milk
- Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes
- Dark chocolate 1/2 bar per week.
- Rice vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Jar of jam
- Large jug of maple syrup
Sample menu for the week
Now, that list is fine and dandy, but what do you cook for a family of 4 using that? Happy to answer! Here is a basic meal plan for a week using items from the pantry and CSA box. To prepare these items, I make the assumption we have the normal array of spices that can usually be found in any home I’ve visited. For snacks, use fresh or dried fruits purchased outside the pantry/CSA items.
The average CSA box I got usually contains the items below. If you don’t have access to a CSA box, try to find organic produce at your discount grocer such as Aldi, Trader Joe’s, or Walmart. They usually have all these items organic, and you’ll be able to save money. You may even have some of this in your garden! If not using organic, wash all produce well with a produce wash.
Weekly fresh produce grocery list
- 1 head broccoli
- 1 head cauliflower
- 4 mixed summer squashes such as zucchini and yellow
- 4 large potatoes
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 4 apples
- 2 bunches kale
- 2 bunches lettuce
- 1 head cabbage
- 2 bulbs garlic
- 2 peppers
- 6 tomatoes
- 3 onions mixed variety
I didn’t include a lot of flavoring instructions in the recipes because taste palates are so different. I don’t use salt in my cooking but you may want to.
Breakfast: Oatmeal with chopped apples and cinnamon: Take 1 cup of oats, add to 2 cups boiling water, chop one apple, add in tsp of cinnamon and ginger too if you like. Cook until soft.
Lunch: Chopped salad with half can black beans, 1 pepper, and balsamic vinegar
Dinner: Pasta with cannellini beans and roasted vegetable
Sauté in a pan with 1 cup of water 3 cloves garlic, one onion, and 2 tomatoes until onions are clear. Drain and add a can of cannellini beans. Remove from heat. Cook a box of pasta. Cook the head of broccoli however you prefer (I like to chop mine and roast it in the oven). Save the spear for later in the week, and put in the freezer. Combine pasta, beans and sauce, and broccoli. Garnish with cheese if desired. Leftovers will be used for lunches.
Breakfast:Ugani – bring 1 cup water to boil. Slowly and carefully add in 1/2 cup corn meal. Reduce heat and stir until all water absorbed. Serve with a side of fruit.
Lunch: Leftover pasta
Dinner: Savory quinoa with veggies
Bring several cups of water to boil. Rinse well 1 cup of quinoa and add to boiling water for 8 minutes. Drain in colander. In a separate pan sauté a few cloves of garlic and half an onion in 1/2 cup water. Once onions are almost done, add one bunch of kale (washed and remove stems) and cover pan. Turn off heat, but do not remove from the burner. Chop one tomato. Once kale is softened to desired texture, combine veggies with quinoa.
Breakfast:Cereal with plant based milk, side of fruit
Dinner: Asian “stir fry”
Finely chop half the cabbage and half the cauliflower. Put the rest aside for later in the week.
Put in a cauliflower in large pan or pot and add enough water to cover. Boil until tender. Drain most of the water. Add cabbage to the top, cover, and keep on heat until the cabbage is tender. Drain any remaining water. While the veggies cook, cook 2 cups of rice (2 cups water, 1 cup rice).
Mix 1 TBSP nut butter, 1 TBSP rice vinegar, 1 tsp Tamari with 1/2 cup hot water until all ingredients blended.
Top vegetables with nut dressing, serve over rice.
Breakfast: 1/4 cup chopped pecans (per person), mixed fruit salad, toast
Dinner: Sweet potato enchilada bake
You will need a pack of enchilada sauce for this recipe, or make your own. Cut 2 squash into large pieces. Bake 2 sweet potatoes, peel. Set aside one sweet potato for later in the week. Mash one can of black beans and one sweet potato.. In a 9×9 baking dish layer beans, squash, and sweet potatoes. Top with enchilada sauce (according to package, double the water). Bake at 375 until bubbling. Serve with tortillas if desired, and use remainder of lettuce as a salad.
Breakfast: Boil 1 cup water. Rinse and add 1/2 cup millet, cover, and lower heat. Cook about 20 minutes until water absorbed or millet is tender. Add 3/4 tsp ginger, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, squeeze of lemon juice, 2 TBSP pecans. Top with plant based milk and fresh fruit.
Dinner: Baked squash boats with lentils
1/2 cup rice, 1/2 cup lentils, 2 zucchini, 1/2 pepper, 2 cloves garlic, one can tomato paste. Cook rice using 1 cup water. Cook lentils using 1.5 cups water. While rice and lentils cook, wash all produce. Finely chop pepper and garlic. Half the squash lengthwise and remove the center to create a boat. Once rice and lentils are cooked, mix together very well the rice, lentils, peppers, garlic, tomato paste, and the insides of the zucchini. Fill the boats. Bake in an oven safe dish for 20 min at 350.
Breakfast: Pancakes using whatever recipe you prefer with flour from your pantry. Top with fresh fruit and nuts.
Dinner: Curried chickpea jacket potatoes
Wash and bake the potatoes. Rinse and drain one can of garbanzo, and bake on parchment paper while the potatoes are baking until they get crunchy (about 20 min). Keep potatoes baking, and mix in chili spice, salt, curry powder (all to taste) with the chickpeas. Once potatoes are baked, halve two of the potatoes, put the other two in the fridge for Sunday. Split the potatoes jacket style and top with chickpeas and cheese or other toppings if desired.
Breakfast: Mash 2 bananas. Chop remaining apples. Mix apples and bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 TBSP cinnamon and 1 tsp ginger and pinch of salt. Add maple syrup if you want them sweet. Slowly add oatmeal, mixing as you go, until it forms a loose, cookie dough like consistency. Oatmeal amount depends on how much liquid was in your fruit, but plan for about a cup or more. Add to muffin pans and bake at 375 for 45 minutes.
Lunch: Creamy vegetable stew
Take all remaining produce from the week, including broccoli stalks, and chop. Add to a giant soup pot, cover with water, add salt, pepper, and any spices you want, or a veggie bouillon, and boil until veggies are tender. In a separate container, mash the leftover potatoes. Before removing soup from the stove, mix in the mashed potatoes. This will create a creamy veggie soup. Half the soup, saving some for the following week or freezing it.
Dinner:Eat remaining leftovers, or have soup again.
Hopefully you’ve made it to the end of the week and have no food waste, and soup to have as lunches or a dinner the following week.
For more WFPB recipes, check out Forks Over Knives https://www.forksoverknives.com/recipes
To try your hand at some WWII ration recipes, check out the 1940s Experiment. https://the1940sexperiment.com/100-wartime-recipes/ Not all are vegetarian, but all can be easily modified to be vegan.
USDA local food directories (CSAs): https://www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/csas