Organic is best, but I need to live within my means. I buy whatever produce is the least expensive. I like oriental and Mexican groceries. A chain here called Sprouts is pretty good, lower prices than the whole-paycheck type places.
On my shopping list is lots of fruit for breakfast. I make the vegetable starch the center of the second meal of the day. On my list are any staples we are low on which we keep in canning jars, such as brown rice, beans,, quinoa, millet etc. I also shop for fresh butternut squash (or similar), sweet potato, yam, white potato, cucumber, jicama, avocado, cabbage, onion and a couple of carrots. (The last three items are for saur kraut.) We keep fresh fruit and fresh vegetables in ice chests. They will keep for about a week without ice. We buy fruit hard and green now that we are living off-grid. When we were living in town we would shop daily and buy everything at the peak of ripeness. Now we stock up for a week, and I think we save money this way.
I like shitake mushrooms and stock up on the dried ones. Fresh shitakes are good too, but not having a refrigerator, I would have to dehydrate any not eaten the first day. I made a dehydrator from bamboo paper paste holders tiered under each other with twine and covered by netting that closes with a drawstring on the bottom and hung it from a tree. Sometimes I get fresh mushrooms and dehydrate them. You can usually find both fresh and dry shitakes at oriental stores. I read the ingredients on the package of the dried ones to make sure they don’t have sulfor dioxide or some other additative.
Sea vegetables, such as wakame, are rich in minerals. I like to sprinkle cut wakame in beans or quinoa etc. when it is served. Wakame and other sea vegetables are also available, at usually lower prices, at oriental stores (than health food stores).
Nuts is another expense that is hard to do without. I get a variety of raw nuts and seeds, such as macadamias, blanched almonds (available at a Persian market in the San Diego area called North Park Produce), cashews and budget-friendly sunflower seeds, which I store in canning jars. Some nuts, such as Brazil nuts are, in my opinion, better in the shell because they seem to taste fresher when freshly cracked. I usually have a small handful of nuts near the end if a meal.
I am living without much water or electricity, and plan on finding a way to grow greens, but right now I’m just having fresh salad on the day we go to town to stock up. The rest of the time I eat a bit of saur kraut or kimchee, half a cucumber and usually half an avocado, with the second meal. I make the kraut or kimchee and also brew a drink similar to kombucha.
Preparing the hot food is done by putting 1/2 cup beams, rice or quinoa etc in one of the pans of our two-pot solar oven with 3 cups of water and 6 dried mushrooms the evening before. Some things benefit by soaking, and although most cookbooks advise changing the water after soaking, I don’t, because we haul all our water up here, so I use it sparingly. I put a large potato, two smaller ones, a winter squash, or a different grain or legume in the other pot, place the pots in the solar oven, close the oven and orient it toward the morning sun, and the next day’s dinner Is on its way, even if I wake up totally preoccupied with other things for awhile. A solar oven gets to about the same temperature as a crock pot for most of the day. A crock pot would also work well.
Sour kraut is made from a cabbage cored and chopped finely, add chopped onion, carrot etc. Add at least a tablespoon of good quality sea salt, mix well and place in a container such as a ceramic crock (I use a ceramic cookie jar I got at the thrift store), find a stoneware plate that just fits inside the crock to weigh the kraut down, and a rock about the size of your fist, or a jar partly full of water for added weight. Too much of even good salt isn’t good, so I eat small servings, and don’t add salt to anything else I eat. I start eating the kraut the first day I set it up, although it doesn’t ferment much until the third day. Should still be good for up to two weeks. If you don’t add enough salt it will get rotten. It should taste salty but not sickeningly so. Kimchee is similar, but has plenty of red pepper, garlic and ginger.
I save money by not buying bread, pastries, meat, dairy, anything canned or frozen, ready-made foods, or drinks other than water, and that from the machines that fill a 5-gallon bottle for a little more than a dollar. Sometimes we splurge a little on a fresh juice or a store bought kombucha. There is a store here called Jimbo’s that is similar to Whole Foods where we love to eat in the deli. Once in awhile we do.
Sticking to a budget and eating healthy is a challenge. We sometimes go to a cheap Mexican place when funds are tight and just have beans and whatever is in the salsa bar, such as cilantro and onions. Few Mexican food restaurants, or delis in Mexican groceries, have brown rice, and I don’t eat white rice (or any refined foods.) The deli at Vallarta Market in Escondido had the whole beans (frijoles enteros, which my “Jaime” knows how to ask for) so we didn’t have to worry about the quality of the oil they used to refry them, the last time we were there.
My kids were grown before I stopped eating while grain bread and pasta. I thought we were okay as long as it was whole grain. Kids seem to like sandwiches in their lunches. I made more from recipes back then, and had a notebook of my favorites. I would use tempeh or tofu, fry it or steam it, and make a gravy sometimes with whole wheat flour and olive oil. I made soy milk from the soybeans themselves, and even made my own tempeh and tofu from beans sometimes. (I also bought a lot of soy, rice milk, bottled juices and tofu.) I made a cheesecake with tofu being substituted for 3/4 of the cream cheese, with raw sugar, whole wheat flour and olive oil. I made ice cream from a thick soymilk I made and honey. I also made ice cream from mashed fruit such as bananas or sapotes. I had cake and cookie recipes with what I felt were wholesome ingredients that I made over and over. I made whole wheat bread in a bread machine. We ate oatmeal or granola with coconut-pineapple juice sometimes, or soy, rice, or almond milk. I made flour tortillas from whole wheat flour, thick sometimes like fry bread. I made corn tortillas from masa a couple of times. Most of the time I kept them on hand, making sure the ingredients list did not include preservatives. The kids liked to make quesadillas. I guess we were not completely vegan then. My cooking adventures are much simpler now.