$3.33 a Day: Eating Raw on a Budget with Melody

by Gena on October 12, 2009

Hi folks!

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about the raw lifestyle is whether or not it’s expensive. This is a complicated question, because it depends entirely on whose lifestyle you’re asking about. If you’re determined to purchase a ton of superfoods, supplements, and dried fruits/nuts, it’ll add up. If you create five course dinners each night, it’ll add up. And if you shop all organic, you might find yourself spending a pretty penny, too.

GASP. Did she just say “if”? Yes, I did. Of course I support shopping organic 100% of the time, if it’s within your means. Of course I understand that the toxicity of non-organic food is troubling, to say the very least. But I also believe that there’s a difference between ideals and reality. In theory, I shop all organic. In practice, there are weeks when I have more grocery money than others, and during those weeks I’m likely to buy organic for the dirty dozen, and to buy conventional for other produce. I try to shop organic for any vegetables that go in my juicer; somehow, I just can’t get down with the idea of a pesticide cocktail.

My point, though, is that we all need to figure out which compromises are necessary to sustain a the lifestyle we want. I cut corners with organic when I really need to; I also shop on sale at my health food store for items like oils and Larabars, and I use the bulk bins for nuts and dried fruit. At the same time, I allow myself certain luxuries. I often buy juice, rather than making it at home; in my mind, I compensate for this by never dropping money on cocktails like most of my friends.

If you’re determined to maintain a plant-based lifestyle, it’s best you figure out which luxuries you need, and which need to go; where you’re willing to cut corners, and where you can’t.

No one has figured this out more beautifully than my friend Melody. Raw/vegan chef, photographer, and author of the incredible Melomeals blog, Melody recently won my undying reverence when she undertook a serious challenge: feeding herself and her two teenage boys on $3.33 a day. I won’t say anymore about why and how she did this–I’ll let Melody tell you herself–but I will say that her initiative must have taken superhuman organization, planning, and creativity. I was wowed by Melody’s efforts, and I hope you all will be, too.

* * *

In December of 2008 I was laid off from my job as a vegan and raw food chef, and I had to make some changes in my spending habits while I was out of work for six long months! One of the first places to cut back was my food budget. I realized that I only had 100 dollars a month to spend on food for myself and my two teen sons, who live with me part time. That works out to $3.33 a day.

I am not 100% raw, but I do incorporate a lot of raw food in my diet, especially green smoothies, and I did not want to give them up! Through trial and some error I was able to work with my limited funds and still enjoy a lot of great raw food!

I am going to share a few tips I have learned along the way, broken down into several categories.

•    Pantry Staples
•    Sprouting
•    Bulk Buying
•    Choosing Stores
•    Inexpensive Substitutions
•    Prep
•    Organic Dilemma

Pantry Staples:

Sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, dried herbs, mustards, vinegars, lentils, various grains, sprouting seeds, sesame seeds, sun dried tomatoes, other nuts and seeds (these can be pricey. I found that sesame and sunflower seeds were the best deals) golden flax seeds, chia seeds, Kal Stevia, oats, wheat berries, spelt berries, quinoa, wasabi, Braggs or soy sauce, miso, coconut oil, olive oil, other oils, dried coconut, dried fruit and raisins

Just a few words about soy sauce. This is where I had to become willing to either relax about my standards or choose to not use the product. I feel this is a personal choice and what I did for myself and my family may not be right for you. I chose to buy a commercial soy sauce over spending eight dollars on Braggs or Namu Shoyu. I would rather use some soy sauce in a salad dressing and enjoy a beautiful raw salad. You may not, and that’s OK.


All you need is an old jar, a rubber band and some clean knee high pantyhose. Inexpensive and organic seeds are available at most health food stores or online and are one of the best methods for incorporating organic greens and legumes into your raw diet.
I’m not going to get into all of the various sprouting methods. Do a Google search and you’ll find all the info you need, but don’t think you need to buy any expensive equipment. I sprout lots of seeds, legumes and grains. I will typically have 4-8 jars going at a time.

Bulk Buying:

I will break this into two categories. Buying in bulk and buying from the bulk bins.

Sometimes, buying a large quantity of food will give you a substantial discount. There are various online bulk distributors (do a Google search for the various items you are looking for). Calculate the cost per pound and add in shipping. If you find a great deal, try getting several friends to go in on it and share the product. You can also ask your local health food store if you can buy in bulk directly from them. You have to carefully calculate the costs, though, to make sure it’s worth it after shipping, and take storage needs into consideration.

I highly recommend utilizing your local health food store (or even some larger grocery stores now offer bulk bins) and buying your grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds form the bulk bins. You can only buy as much as you need for the day or week, and you can try out new items for variety in your day to day diet.

Choosing Stores:

This is probably the biggest tool I’ve found. In my town there are three major grocery stores, and one of them is by far the cheapest. I can literally spend half as much on produce and other items at my local Market Basket compared to Shaw’s and Stop and Shop. Kale and collards are usually $.79 a head. I can get avocadoes for $.99 a piece, daikon for $.79/lb. Spend a couple hours going to different stores or look in the weekly circulations to plan your meals for the week. Many of the larger supermarkets have their weekly specials online as well. I usually wait for bananas to come on sale for $.29/lb and stock up. There are also discounted produce shelves in most stores if you know which days to look. It’s worth a call to the produce manager to find out.

Ethnic markets are fabulous places to find great deals. If you don’t have one in your town, find out where the nearest one is and see if you can carpool with a friend to check it out.

Inexpensive Produce and Substitutions:

I stock up on kale, collard greens, carrots, green peppers, onions, garlic, daikon, bananas, oranges, apples, bananas, chard, beets (only if I can also use the greens), limes or lemons if they are on sale.

I have substituted lemon and lime juice with vinegars. I know many raw people don’t eat vinegar [Gena’s note: I do! But prefer apple cider], and again, that’s a personal decision.

I use golden flax meal (that I grind from the seeds) mixed with water to replace flax oil in salad dressing. 2 T of flax meal to 1 cup of water will replace 1 cup of flax or other oils in dressings or sauces.

Sunflower seeds replace almost all nuts in savory dishes.  Sesame seeds can be ground into tahini.

Organic Dilemma:

This was and is a big one. I had to give up a lot of organic produce. I wish I could afford to eat all local and organic, but I can’t, and instead of stressing about it, I choose to enjoy what I have. I will splurge as much as possible on organic produce if possible. I know this is not a popular opinion in the raw world, but it is what it is. We all make do with what we have and do the best we can, and the fact is that many of us can not afford to eat an organic diet.

That being said, there are options available to look into for procuring local and organic produce.  I’ve already talked about sprouting. Most communities have some sort of community garden. You may have to call around, but spend the time to see if one of available in your area. You might even go to a local farm and see if you can work for food. Bartering other services with farmers may be an option, too. You never know unless you ask.

Farmer’s markets and local farm stands are all options, but honestly, I have found the produce to be much more expensive. It may not be that way in your community.

My daily raw food usually consists of green smoothies (made from kale or collards, frozen bananas and flax meal). I also eat a lot of collard wraps filled with veggies and nut pates, raw pastas with various sauces. You can check out my blog, www.melomeals.blogpsot.com to see more of the day to day foods we eat.

Here are several recipes I have developed and enjoy on a regular basis.


Meaty Marinara Sauce

2 c soaked sun dried tomatoes (save liquid for another use)
1 c sunflower seeds
8 c water
1 c fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
1 shallot
2 dates
salt/pepper to taste
2 T balsamic vinegar or dry red wine
2 T EVOO (or more to taste)
4 T Nutritional Yeast
1 t dried marjoram
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t fennel seeds
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
pinch stevia

Mix everything together in a large bowl and process in two batches in either a good blender or food processor. Let this sit overnight if possible so the flavors will develop. Freeze leftovers for future use.


Raw Cincinnati Chili

Serves 4

2 med carrots
1 stalk celery
½ green pepper
1 serrano chile
3 cloves garlic
¼ c chopped onion
½ c walnuts or sunflower seeds
3 T chili powder (make sure your powder doesn’t contain salt, or if it does, taste before adding more salt)
1 t creole seasoning or salt
2 t cumin
½ t oregano
1/8 t cinnamon
¼ c nutritional yeast
2 dates
5 sun dried tomatoes
2 c water
2 T chia seeds
1 c cilantro
2-4 T pickled jalapenos (optional)
Salt/pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime
Avocado for garnish
Chopped onion for garnish
Cilantro for garnish


Soak dates and sun dried tomatoes in water for 4 hours.

Process all of the veggies and nuts one at a time in the food processor or chop finely. Place in bowl, then add the seasonings. Next add the dates, tomatoes and soaking water to the food processor. Blend until well combined and add to the bowl along with the chia seeds. Chop cilantro (I use the food processor) and add along with the pickled jalapenos, salt/pepper to taste and lime juice.

Serve on a bed of zucchini pasta.

I like to dehydrate the pasta for a bit and warm the chili at the same time, but you can eat it as is.


Raw Eggless Salad

Serves 4

3 c cauliflower, pulsed in food processor
½ c sunflower seeds soaked for 4 hours, drained then pulsed in food processor
1 c diced celery
1 c shredded carrots
½ c scallions or 2 T diced red onion or shallot
½ c nutritional yeast
2 t dried sage
1 T dried dill
1 T dried parsley
½ t garlic powder
¼ t turmeric
4 T tahini
4 T yellow mustard
2 T Dijon mustard
4 T relish
1 T chia seeds or golden flax meal
1 t black salt (or sea salt)
½ -1 t black pepper
½ c water


Pulse the cauliflower in processor and set aside in large mixing bowl. Pulse the sunflower seeds, and add to the cauliflower. Add the celery, carrots and scallions and nutritional yeast and spices (not the salt or pepper).

In a small bowl add the tahini, mustard, relish, chia seeds, salt and pepper along with ½ c water. Whisk well and pour over the veggies. Taste and adjust seasonings. Allow mixture to chill for an hour before serving.

Garnish with paprika if desired.

I hope this has been informative. If you have any questions, feel free to post there here or visit my blog at: www.melomeals.blogspot.com

* * *

Thank you, Mel, for your inspiring post!

I’m on my way home today, missing Chloe already. Stay tuned for a recap this week!


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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

evergreen October 12, 2009 at 6:08 am

Great shopping tips, and amazing looking recipes! Thanks so much for sharing them:)


michelle October 12, 2009 at 6:17 am

thank you so much. you make beautiful meals at your blog, im a fan


VeggieGirl October 12, 2009 at 6:23 am

MEL!!! Awesome guest post, tips, photos, and recipes.


Ashley October 12, 2009 at 6:37 am

Great guest post! The recipes look beautiful and sound delish!

PS – There is a typo in one of the references to the blog address that will take readers to a bible mega site!


Rose October 12, 2009 at 6:39 am

Great write-up! I will definitely be using this.


Jessica @ How Sweet It Is October 12, 2009 at 6:40 am

I really appreciate this because I always find myself spending so much money on fresh produce. Great post!


leslie October 12, 2009 at 6:41 am

thank you for this post! $3.33 a day is inspiring, and i wish everyone who claims living healthfully is too expensive could read this. i’m beyond impressed!


MarathonVal October 12, 2009 at 6:47 am

Great post! I’m definitely going to be making that eggless salad recipe soon! :)


Lauren October 12, 2009 at 6:49 am

YAY! MEL!!! Great post, Mel is my girl! :)


pure2raw twins October 12, 2009 at 6:54 am

Wow. Great information about how to eat more raw within a budget. I agree with the buying organic. I try to buy as much organic as I can, but it doesn’t happen all the time. :( I hope that with more people slowly purchasing more organic foods it might actually help bring down the cost!!! One can dream I guess!


Shelby October 12, 2009 at 7:01 am

I actually find the bulk bins at WF to be MORE expensive than buying them bagged from my local heath food store. But maybe that’s because the store is small and local.

The recipes are INSANE! I’ve been looking for some heartier recipes for the winter and these are just perfect!


Whitney @ Lettuce Love October 12, 2009 at 8:18 am

Great shopping tips and amazing recipes! I can’t wait to try those.


Bianca- Vegan Crunk October 12, 2009 at 8:28 am

All three recipes sound fantastic and they’re definitely going in my to-make-next-raw-day file! I love Melody and remember her $3.33 a day challenge quite well. It always amazed me that she could make such beautiful, healthy meals for such a low price. She had fierce determination in such a challenging time in her life. That’s such an inspiration.


Teresa October 12, 2009 at 8:45 am

Great Tips Melody! It’s admirable how you managed to stick to a strict budget without compromising the health of yourself and your loved ones. It can be done!

I wanted to add one more comment/tip of my own about local and organic produce. If you go to your local farmer’s market(s) at the closing half hour, you are going to score many great deals. Farmer’s really don’t want to have left over food to pack up into their trucks and will offer you a deal, sometimes practically giving it away. At this point in the market it is definitely appropriate to bargain or simply make your own offer- especially since the produce is often a bit more picked over or wilty since it’s been sitting out for a few hours. It’s a great way to get awesome (local and pesticide-free or organic) produce for half the regular price! You can also ask vendor’s for “Seconds” at any time during the market. I’ve come home many times with 10 tasty heirloom tomatoes for $1, and one time I scored a flat of apricots for free (the farmer said I was doing him a favor!)! You just have to ask, and pretty soon you’ll develop a great relationship with your farmer and they’ll always hold the “visually distressed,” yet perfectly tasting, produce aside for you. Whew- sorry to write such a long comment but I really wanted to share this advice with others who may want to buy locally but think it’s impossible to afford!


Maggie October 12, 2009 at 8:48 am

This post rocks! I will definitely try to incorporate Melody’s ideas. I feel like a lot of the time I *know* what I need to be doing to save money, but I don’t follow through.

And I love that you tackled the organic issue – yes, organic is great… but not eating organic is not the end of the world. Stressing will just make things worse.


Christine October 12, 2009 at 9:06 am

Great post filled with lots of ideas. Looking forward to trying the recipes, especially the Meaty Marinara, thanks!


elise October 12, 2009 at 9:07 am

choosing which stores you get what at is one of the major things that changed my life too…great post!


Christine Mc. October 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Those are some great dishes! So full of flavor. I especially like the eggless salad. These are some great tips. Not only for the budget concious, but for the raw food beginner. Thanks! off to melomeals to check out the rest… ;)


Peggy October 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Very informative and helpful. I’ve recently purchased a Vitamix, dehydrator, and spirooli and am going to be dabbling in raw food (as well as trying to broaden the options for my son who I have on an additive-free diet).

Thanks for the recipes. I’m heading over to check out your blog.


Aly October 12, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Great recipes and tips, Thank you!
Gena – what juices do you buy? I would love to juice for the mornings but can not at this time, maybe buying juice would be a good substitute :-)
Thanks for all this great info!


KRISTEN'S RAW October 12, 2009 at 2:07 pm

MEL’s a rock star.

And, I love sprouting… the ultimate nutrition for only pennies. Doesn’t get better than that!

Cheers XOXO,


Tracey R October 12, 2009 at 2:14 pm

WOW…I can’t believe it… RAW cincinnati chili. when i stop eating meat, i used to say the only thing i really miss is Skyline Chili (aka Cincinnati Chili). Can’t wait to try it!!! LOL


Chaz October 12, 2009 at 2:32 pm

I love her realistic approach to living raw. Great job, Melody, and nice feature, Gena.


zoe October 12, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Melody! If I’m not mistaken, I believe you left out the “Prep” section of the post that you intended to talk about (as per your original bulleted list of categories). I remind you of this because I am pretty keen on hearing your thirty-three cents ;) about it. I love everything that you have written, especially because I’m still in school, and well, being a high raw foodist on a college student’s budget is really difficult. I am all about cutting corners when I can, using coupons and bargain-hunting, and being resourceful with what you have. Your practical, frugal tips totally inspired me to re-vamp my weekly grocery lists (for example, I’ll be buying more sunflower seeds from now on, less almonds!), and to have a more realistic perspective on eating/living raw. =) Thanks! I’ve bookmarked your blog, too.


Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) October 12, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Great post! I am a mom, a high raw, all vegan eater. My daughter is vegetarian, hubby is whatever he’s served :) but does eat limited white meat. That said, it can be not only exhausting taking in everyone’s dietary choices but shopping/budgeting for them as well requires planning.

I totally agree that WHERE you buy things matters. I too dont believe that farmers markets are cheaper. Actually, they can be more. I love supporting local farmers but sometimes it’s not the wi$est way to go.

I am so with you on your whole organic thought process, too.

And raw vegan dessert making ingredients aside (agave, dates, nuts, cocoa powder, etc) I feed my family very cheaply but only b/c I never go into WF unless it’s an emergency. Everything is from TJs or Albertson’s and I buy what looks good, what’s cheapest. Bulk bins are great but if you are a food allergic/intolerant person they are a breeding ground for cross contamination and I am very gluten sensitive so I have to avoid :(

Great post, thank you Melody!


Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) October 12, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Thanks Mel. I really struggle with trying to find ways to cut down on my grocery spending. This was very helpful. I’ve got a ton of sesame seeds, and I want to try grinding my own tahini since I’m obsessed with the stuff lately, and I LOVE your recipes – all of them. Thanks!


Kimberly@Living Free October 12, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Wow– 3.33 a day! I really enjoyed this post and checking out Melomeals! I really need to take another look at my shopping habits and see where I can save. Great Post–Thanks!


Glidingcalm October 12, 2009 at 6:53 pm

awesome post! i love the “meaty” , savory meals!


Sheri (Green & Crunchy) October 12, 2009 at 7:25 pm

WOW! Melody, you fed yourself and TWO TEENAGE BOYS on $3.33 a day? That is AMAZING! Teenage boys have voracious appetites! (and I say that with a bit of nervousness because I have 3 sons who will one day be hungry teenagers and I fear they will eat me out of house and home…)

I’m a high-raw whole foods vegan with 5 high-raw kiddos. these kids, they eat a lot! I am always prepping food for these hungry kiddos. One of the main ways I save is by buying bulk, as much as possible. I’m in a monthly wholesale organic bulk food co-op, and bulk buying saved our grocery budget, chopping it in half of what it used to be in our pre-bulk days.

This was a wonderful post and you included delicious recipes too! Thank you for sharing your healthy, frugal ways! Your photos are absolutely delicious-looking.


Katie October 12, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Gena, your guest posts keep getting better and better. This is perfect. I’m really, REALLY budgeting right now, and it’s easy to forget eating cheap doesn’t have to mean just opening up a can of beans and sticking a fork in it. Fabulous tips, and great recipes.


Katrina (gluten free gidget) October 13, 2009 at 4:44 am

Awesome post and recipes! Thank you so much!


Casey October 13, 2009 at 5:32 am

Mel and Gena, thanks so much for sharing your awesome tips. I find focusing on simple raw meals and staying away from the novelty ingredients keeps things very affordable, even when buying organic. Of course, growing your own is also a brilliant money saver!

Thanks again
Casey xx


melissa October 13, 2009 at 7:29 am

awesome post! great info!


Diana (Soap & Chocolate) October 13, 2009 at 8:22 am

This post is timely, as food is absolutely my #1 expense! Like, I totally need underwear but instead my brain says, wouldn’t you rather have a jar of coconut oil? Not to mention the pressure I feel to make something new and exciting every week for the blog’s sake. Honestly, I hardly have any dishes that are old, oft-repeated favorites at this point because I’m always trying something new so I can write an interesting blog post about it. Sigh.

Melody’s recipes here are divine, though so I will definitely have to (not) splurge on the ingredients to whip em up stat!


Lucca October 13, 2009 at 2:53 pm

hi my dear — thanks so much for this mega-post — so useful and inspiring and heartening, and so timely.

I hope you’re well — I’ve been going through some massive life transitions so have not been posting recently, but will return and I hope we can be in touch more in the future.

Sending you my very best,



The Veg Next Door October 17, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Hi, I’m a follower of your blog. Have been for a while. I just made the raw eggless salad (without the sunflower seeds) for tomorrow’ breakfast and I just had to let you know that it mimics the flavours of egg salad that I loved. I love the crunch of the cauliflower. Brilliant!


Lindsay September 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Great article…. 29 cents a pound for banana? wow… not where I live in canada :P


Anonymous April 18, 2012 at 9:10 am

Why does the melomeals address lead to a bible website? I did not see anything about raw foods. Is there a new address or was this all a scam?


Lola September 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Hi! Thank you very much for your share of honesty and experience.

I noticed a misspell in your written format of your blog Mel.
It leads to a very strange site! hahah

Anyways happy days


Lola September 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm
Elizabeth March 5, 2013 at 12:21 am

Does using yeast have any negative side effects, and is that something I should expect to see as a staple in raw vegan recipes?


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G March 26, 2014 at 11:04 am

Sorry, but this isn’t at all like egg salad….it’s not even tasty. Sorry


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Winston Smith April 3, 2014 at 11:09 pm

I thought 29 cent bananas was the pre-2008 depression price. I guess some places might have had that low of a price in 2009. In 2014 it’s 52 cents here. If the price of everything else increased at the same rate as bananas then would this now be a $5.97/day budget?


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