Beat food price inflation with these budget-friendly, plant-based recipes

Beat food price inflation with these budget-friendly, plant-based recipes

When Toni Okamoto was starting her plant-based food journey, like many people, she thought eating healthy had to be expensive.

“I’ve been without a car at times, I’ve worked multiple jobs at times trying to make ends meet, I lived below the poverty line until just a few years ago, and I have found a way, specifically through meal planning, that has helped me get out of debt and become more financially free,” she told CBS News. 

Now, the blogger and social media star shares her money-saving meal tips with more than 570,000 Instagram followers. 

And with inflation affecting shopping staples like eggs and butter, her latest cookbook, “Plant-Based on a Budget: Quick and Easy” (out Tuesday, March 7), shows readers how to make 100 plant-based recipes that save you money and also time, from freezer-friendly and make-ahead breakfasts to one-pot and 30-minute meals. 

“I want to share that it doesn’t have to be a big to-do to incorporate healthier dishes into your family’s dinners, lunches and breakfasts,” she says. “When I think about meal planning, it can be overwhelming, and I wanted to share that it can be a mix of store bought and homemade so that you’re not having to cook from scratch and spend all day Sunday or every night of the week making something nourishing.”

Okamoto also brought her Mexican and Japanese backgrounds into the project with recipes like Sopa de Fideo, which she highlights as one of her favorites in the book. 

“It’s very simple. It’s very affordable. It’s filling, and I grew up eating that as a kid,” she says of the dish. “It reminds me of being a little girl, and I feel like I’m wrapped in a hug from my grandma.”

To help inspire some plant-based, budget-friendly meals in your home, here are 3 recipe excerpts from Okamoto’s book:

Hash Brown Veggie Breakfast Burritos

Makes 8 burritos | Ready in 20 minutes

Honestly, you can wrap just about anything in a tortilla and it will taste better. Tofu scramble is no exception. With the help of hash browns, refried beans, peppers, and spices, I’ve put a Mexican-inspired twist on this hearty burrito, but you’re welcome to change out this tofu scramble with the version from The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, or simply load up your tortilla with leftover cooked veggies, grains or salad.

• 2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1/2 large yellow or red onion, diced
• 1/2 large red or green bell pepper, diced
• 4-5 cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package extra- or super-firm tofu, drained and pressed
• Salt, to taste
• 8 burrito-size flour tortillas
• 1 (15-ounce) can vegetarian refried beans

Optional additions and swaps:
• Swap the hash brown potatoes for tater tots
• Swap the oil for 1/4 cup water
• For spice, add 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes or 1 minced serrano pepper in step 2
• For more flavor, add 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika in step 3
• For a cheesy flavor, add 1 1/2 teaspoons nutritional yeast in step 3
• Add crumbled cooked Soyrizo in step 6
• Add vegan cheese in step 6

Optional additions for just before serving:
• Diced avocado
• Minced fresh cilantro
• Pico de gallo
• Your favorite salsa or tomatillo salsa 

Burritos you can prepare and freeze for easy mornings? Sign us up! 

Courtesy of Toni Okamoto

1. Cook the hash brown potatoes according to the package instructions and set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms, and sauté until the bell pepper is tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Stir in the garlic, cumin, and turmeric and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Using your fingers, crumble the tofu into the pan and sauté until the tofu is golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Season with salt.
5. Warm the tortillas in the microwave for 15 seconds. (Alternatively, heat individual tortillas in another skillet over medium heat until warmed, about 1 minute.)
6. Slather a spoonful of refried beans onto each tortilla. Fill the tortillas with a generous scoop of the tofu filling and some hash brown potatoes. If you’re serving your burritos right away, you can add avocado, cilantro, pico de gallo, and/or salsa now and roll them up. If you’re freezing your burritos for later (see Toni’s tips), it’s best to add these ingredients after thawing. 

Toni’s tips:
When frozen and reheated, these taste as fresh and delicious as the day they were made. After they’ve completely cooled, wrap each burrito individually in aluminum foil and place in a freezer bag or airtight container. Keep frozen for up to 2 months. To reheat, unwrap and microwave for 3 minutes, flip, and then heat for 3 more minutes. If you don’t have a microwave, you can bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until your burrito is heated through. 

Pesto Pasta

Pine nuts can be expensive. That’s why Toni Okamoto made a pesto recipe that allows for substitutions. 

Courtesy of Toni Okamoto

Serves 4 | Ready in 30 minutes

I love a recipe that allows you to work with ingredients you already have in your pantry, and this Pesto Pasta is just that. While typical pesto calls for expensive pine nuts, this version allows you to use more affordable and readily available pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts or other nuts you have on hand.

• 1 (1-pound) package your favorite pasta
• 1 1/2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
• 1 cup your choice raw nuts or seeds (walnuts, shelled sunflower or pumpkin seeds, etc.)
• 3 garlic cloves, peeled
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Black pepper, to taste

Optional additions and swaps:
• Swap the basil for parsley, spinach, arugula, or a combination of any of them
• For spice, add a pinch of red chili flakes in step 2
• Add 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast in step 2
• Add 2 cups your favorite steamed veggies in step 3

1. In a large pot, cook the pasta according to package instructions until tender. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Meanwhile, combine the basil, nuts or seeds, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt in a blender or food processor, and blend on high until smooth and creamy.
3. Stir the pesto in the pasta. Season with a few grinds of black pepper.

Toni’s tips:
Ice cube trays aren’t just for making ice; try using one to preserve your pesto! Triple or quadruple the pesto in this recipe, pour it into an ice cube tray, freeze it, then pop out your pesto cubes and store them in an airtight container for up to 3 months. To reheat, in a medium pot, add 3 or 4 cubes (or more if you want extra flavor) to a serving of cooked pasta and heat over medium-high heat, stirring until they melt and become a sauce that evenly coats the pasta. 

Depression-Era Vanilla Cupcakes

Toni Okamoto’s Depression-era vanilla cupcakes skip eggs and dairy for a budget-friendly dessert. 

Courtesy of Toni Okamoto

Makes 12 cupcakes | Ready in 45 minutes

As the name suggests, this type of cake dates back to the Great Depression, when many Americans couldn’t find or afford typical baking ingredients like eggs and butter and had to get creative with pantry staples. I’m all about minimalist baking, so when a simple recipe with easy-to-find ingredients comes along, I hold on to it and never let go.

• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with silicone or paper baking cups.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer), mix together all the ingredients until smooth.
3. Fill each baking cup three-quarters full with batter.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.