In order to be fit and healthy, we need to eat the right foods. If we are eating plant-based whole foods, we are on the right path. However, just because something is vegan, does NOT mean it's healthy, nor does it mean it benefits our bodies or physiques. Likewise, we aren't all independently wealthy with hours of time to prepare meals for ourselves. The past few months have been an uphill battle for me, and most days I have not been eating enough food and did not have a gym membership, due to living on an extremely restricted budget. It has been a big eye-opener for me, and I am happy to say that I'm figuring it out. Also, I've found that the beauty of it all, despite the downsides, is that eating the healthiest vegan food I can afford has allowed me to maintain some muscle and not gain weight. However, my goal is to be gaining muscle, maintain weight, and stay on a consistent eating schedule. But, how do I do this without a personal kitchen, a consistent place to call home, limited budget, long days at work, and no gym membership? I'm working out the kinks, but so far here's what I've been learning.
This is 2 bunches of chard, 2 boxes of tempeh, bell pepper, cilantro, avocado, and two large potatoes - all for $15 from the grocery store. This will provide me with about four meals. Being vegan does not have to be expensive.
The biggest trick to doing this is planning ahead when possible. (HINT: It's always possible.) In a massive hurry? Had a late night at work but need food the next day? Don't worry, there are plenty of options, with differing costs. First of all, a box of 8-10 instant oatmeal packets, even organic from a mini mart, will be about $4. Fruit — depending on what is in season — can be $2-4 and be paired with your oatmeal, be a snack, or go in a morning smoothie. Lunch can be a fun challenge...or a nightmare. Just remember, it is what you make of it, especially if you take the initiative to actually MAKE it! Also, if you have a container of protein powder or meal replacer around (I use Vega One), use it! It's not the ideal way to get nutrients consistently; however, they do supply our bodies with essential nutrients, vitamins and amino acids, and getting those in some capacity is better than not at all!
As of recently, I'm staying in a place where it's finally possible to use the kitchen, so I'll make large batches of rice, veggies, and tofu. But, if you need variety, or just aren't into a big pot of food that you will eat for the next six meals, there are always whole carrots, hummus, and broccoli that are easy, pretty inexpensive on-the-go options. For snacks, a local market has strawberries at 2/$3, which is a killer deal. Another store has a bag of apples for $5, and a pound of organic bananas for $0.79. Learning how to shop within your budget and still eat meals with enough nutrients IS a challenge, but it's definitely not impossible. Speaking of bananas — AKA nature's fast food — I can eat them on the way to the train, midday when I need a snack but can't take a break, or in the evening with a meal replacer if I haven't had time to make dinner or am just too tired.
Another affordable, filling, and easy to pack for lunch (or reheat the next night for dinner), is "cheezy crispy chik'n" with veggies and sweet potatoes. The great thing is, this meal only requires four ingredients, but you can add more veggies or seasoning/spices for flavor if you want to mix it up. (I shared this recently on my public Facebook page, so please excuse the repetition if you already saw the post.)
For the "chik'n" you only need nutritional yeast and extra firm tofu. Cube up the tofu, toss it in nutritional yeast (I season this with garlic powder, cayenne, and turmeric), and flip it in a frying pan until it starts to brown.
Word of caution: the nutritional yeast can burn easily, so don't let it hang out over the heat, unsupervised for too long. Throw your sweet potatoes in the oven for about an hour (Take advantage of the time to shower, or do yoga in the living room.) or, if time is not on your side, cut into chunks and boil on the stove top.
Now, if you're really in a pinch, you can microwave them for 7-9 minutes. Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of the microwave, but desperate times call for desperate measures. To eat a potato from the microwave, or not to eat? The correct answer is: eat the food. Perhaps it's not ideal, but if it is only occasionally, you're gonna make it. And, on the flip side, it just gives you another area in which to grow in your food preparation!
In a separate pan or pot, get your broccoli cooking. You can steam it, boil it, or if you don't want to wash more pans, just put it in the frying pan with the cheezy crispy chik'n. This meal not only is healthy and tasty, it also can use up very little of your time. Win/win!
Another great option for budget-friendly and minimal preparation meals are smoothies. Day or night, a smoothie is filling, quick, and has minimal clean up, especially if you have a high powered blender such as a Vitamix (which I so lovingly refer to as my "Vitie"). If you don't like the taste of smoothies, find other recipes! There are so many incredible ones out there! Here is one of my favorites: 1/4 of a cooked sweet potato (or beets!); 1 banana; ice; 1/2 cup of nut, oat, or soy milk; 1/2 apple; handful of berries; 1/2 bunch of kale; and if you want/need a little fat, 1 Tbls. nut butter or 1 Tbls. hemp seeds. The beauty of smoothies is that you really can't go wrong, because if you're not satisfied you can always add something else until you love it.
My beloved Vitie makes delicious, healthy, and affordable smoothies.
All in all, our health is in our hands, and if we take the initiative, we CAN succeed in our physical goals, health, and the ever incessant battle we all fight against: time. Whatever road you choose, just know it IS possible to plan, to be prepared, to attain your goals and dreams, and, best of all, to do it purely cruelty-free on a budget!