The Daily Beet

31 Jan 5 Tips for Small Town Living

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(a photo of Jerome, AZ: population 400 and one of my favorite places to live)

The following post was written by E2 team member, Natala.

We get a lot of questions from people who live in small towns asking if they can be plant-strong even if they don’t live near a Whole Foods. You will be glad to know that going plant-strong can be done by anyone, anywhere. In fact right now we have a few people doing 28 day challenges on oil rigs, a few deployed in Afghanistan, a couple living in a very remote part of Asia, a family of 14 living on a very tight budget in a small town and all of those folks are thriving on a plant-strong diet.

My husband and I have been traveling full time for the past three years now. We have lived in small cities of less than 400 people and big cities as well (right now we are in San Francisco).

Every thing we own fits in our car. This means we do not have much kitchen equipment – a knife, a cutting board, a stove top pan and a small pot. That is all.

In every place we have lived we have had absolutely no problem being plant-strong, in fact I’d even say that living in a small city we tend to eat a lot more healthier, simply because there are not some of the speciality products (vegan junk food) around us that are available in some stores. Living in a small city is a wonderful time to really make things simple, and making things simple also means you end up saving a lot of money.

So let’s talk logistics:

1. Make a list of the things your local store does well.

For instance, most stores have a pretty good frozen vegetable section and frozen fruit. Believe it or not frozen can be even fresher than ‘fresh produce’! It is flash frozen in the field and so a lot more is perserved. So if there is a frozen vegetable/fruit section you are in luck! Even if you can’t get fresh produce, more than likely you are better off with the frozen for most of the year anyway.

*On that note- look around for some CSA’s, many small towns have a local CSA in which you can get a big box of produce, generally for a great price.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are also found in most stores. Potatoes are GREAT and an inexpensive base to any meal.

Brown rice – whole grain brown rice is another great one – the Uncle Ben’s quick boil or success rice are whole grain rices that are pretty inexpensive and found almost anywhere.

Beans – most stores stock low sodium canned beans. However you can also buy them dry and cook them in a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Beans are a great thing to have on hand. You can even freeze them and use them later!

Corn tortillas – these are a great inexpensive thing to have on hand. You can make lots of things with them – from chips for nachos to wraps to tacos! I’ve even made “tortilla” pie – which is a lot of fun.

Whole grain pasta: Most stores have their own brand of whole grain pasta, generally another inexpensive thing.

Lentils – I love lentils, they are inexpensive, and SO versatile! And they take no time to cook.

Canned tomatoes (low sodium) – another great thing to have on hand.

Oats! Oats are great – and you can make so much with them.

Salt free spices/herbs.

Parchment paper – so you don’t have to buy cooking spray!

*If there is something that they don’t carry – ASK! We have done this in a few cities and have had a lot of luck. We were living in a very remote part of North Carolina and the local store did not carry quinoa, so we asked, and a week later they had quinoa. If they know there is someone who will buy it, they are more likely to stock it.

2. Use online sources.

When we’re in really remote places we use Amazon for a lot! We have an Amazon prime membership which costs 79 dollars a year, and we split that with 5 people because you can have 5 people on the account! This means we get free 2 day shipping on groceries. We order things like dry beans, POMI tomatoes, whole grain cereal, non-dairy milk, flax seed, nuts, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta. Pretty much anything dry you can think of can be found online. And it is usually a much better price than what you can find in the stores.

3. Check out Jeff Novick’s Fast Food DVD:

We love Jeff’s approach to healthy eating and cooking, and his DVD is perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to make simple meals with ingredients you can find anywhere for about 5 dollars a day. Jeff also has a fabulous collection of recipes online found here: http://t.co/wrryqMsb these are all made with ingredients found in any store – cost about 2-3 dollars per meal (makes A LOT) and only require a can opener,  scissors and a pot! Jeff is a great resource if you are online as well.

4. Keep things simple.

One of the best things you can do – is to simplify your food life a little. There are 100’s of fabulous taste combinations made with simple ingredients like:

▪ Sweet potato, kale, white beans, brown rice.
▪ White potato, black beans, tomatoes, corn, spinach.
▪ Quinoa, mixed greens, red beans, cauliflower
▪ Brown rice, chickpeas, peas, zucchini,  curry powder, turmeric
▪ White beans, fingerling potatoes, brussel sprouts, garlic, kale.
▪ Whole grain pasta, zucchini,  brocoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes
▪ Lentils, collard greens, brown rice, artichoke
▪ Potatoes, portobello mushrooms, green beans,  spinach, black beans
▪ Whole grain  pasta, lentils, strained tomatoes (or tomato puree), garlic, brocoli
▪ Whole grain bread with portobello mushrooms, grilled zucchini and oil free hummus.
▪ Wild rice, onion, red lentils, greens
▪ Brown rice, salsa, frozen southwestern veggie mix, black beans
▪ Sweet potato, topped with black beans
▪ Brown rice, black pepper, asian style veggie mix.
▪ Cauliflower soup – cook cauliflower, blend add chickpeas.
▪ Whole grain pasta cooked and chilled, cucumber, tomato, beans, balsamic vinegar
▪ Mashed chickpeas, onion, garlic, chopped celery, cucumber served on whole grain bread ▪ Lentils, chopped tomato, lettuce, spinach, salsa, served on lettuce or served in corn tortillas
▪ Roasted vegetable mix & quinoa
▪ Beans & brown rice ▪ Spinach salad: strawberries, raisins, balsamic
▪ Chop salad: chopped cucumber, celery, carrots, zucchini, tossed with quinoa.
▪ Big salad: Whatever fresh vegetables you have on top of greens. (the whatever salad!)
▪ *Salad is always a good option if you have fresh vegetables/greens laying around. You can use balsamic vinegar for a dressing, salsa or even just lemon.
▪ Huge plate of steamed vegetables with spices.
▪ Breakfast: oatmeal or quinoa with fruit and ground flaxseed
▪ Breakfast: Rip’s big bowl (of course!)
▪ Looking for an easy dressing? We use low sodium salsa, oil free hummus or balsamic vinegar.

5. Make a list.

We have found that when we make a list we spend far less on groceries, than when we go into a store unprepared. When we go into a store unprepared it feels a little bit like going into battle, we start going up and down aisles and just throwing stuff in the cart because we just want to get out of the store. We have become very systematic about our lists. We put things in categories so that we can only head to the aisles we absolutely need to go to. So our shopping list will start off with “Produce Section” and we put every thing we need to get in the produce section, and then the “Beans/grains Section”.

Living in a small town can present a few challenges, but it definitely can be done! We hope that this helps you a little in your plant-strong journey. Even if you don’t live in a small town, the above tips will help you to save money on your next shopping trip.

Do you live in a small town? What are some of your tips for other people in your situation?


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Natala Constantine
  • Meridith
    Posted at 12:38h, 31 January

    I live in a smallish town in North Dakota – 6 hours from the nearest whole foods! Boo hoo. 🙂 I’m lucky that we have a small natural food co-op grocery in town and a great local grocer that stocks great natural food items. I like to support my local stores, but for a few items I just have to order online. Amazon and Vitacost are my usual online stores. Great prices and great shipping.

    The best advice is to just keep it simple. Not only is it easier to find the items you need, it’s better on your budget, and likely on your waistline, too. Learn to use spices and to make plant-strong sauces/gravies to switch things up. I never go to the grocery store without a detailed list, written in the order of the aisles, based on our meal plan for the week. I have to stick to a budget and this makes it so much easier.

  • Kelly P.
    Posted at 12:44h, 31 January

    Thank you SO MUCH for this article. I live in a fairly major city, and we do have a Whole Foods and a Co-op that stock great products, but they are at least 40 minutes away (or much more during bad traffic times), so I don’t get there very often. Usually I have to make due with whatever my nearby grocery store has, and it’s not that exotic. When I look at a recipe and see 16 ingredients, some of which are available only at specialy or health food stores, it is a bit discouraging, not to mention EXPENSIVE.

    I have found one of the best ways to save is to have something relatively simple for breakfast and lunch, and eat the same thing for a week for those two meals, saving the variety for dinner. So for breakfast I might have steel cut oats with a chopped apple and cinnamon, and for lunch a whole wheat pita with low-fat hummus, cucumber, jarred roasted red pepper strips and some spring mix, and an apple for a snack. I can buy enough ingredients for a week of that for a fraction of what it would cost me to have something different every day.

    What I would really love to have are some easy fat-free or very low-fat vegan slow cooker recipes that would be suitable for dinner. If anyone has one. please share! Thanks again.

    • Carrie M.
      Posted at 14:46h, 31 January

      I live in small town farm country and shop at my local grocery 20 minutes away. They have a decent section of “health foods” near the produce area. Every now and then I make an hour trip to Whole Foods to try new products.
      I love using my slow cooker. It really hardly ever leaves my counter! This is my favorite way to make oatmeal. I use Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats. I put them in the crock around 8 pm when the kids go to bed and they are ready before school 10-11 hours later. My slow cooker has a keep warm, low and high setting. I use the “keep warm” setting for the oatmeal. You can add spices and fruit to cook through the night or add them in the morning.
      For lunches and dinners, I make lots of different soups and chili in the slow cooker. I made a soup by dumping what I had on hand one day and I really liked it. I don’t have measurements really…that’s the way I cook! 🙂
      green cabbage, turnips, carrots, celery, onion, corn, green beans and enough water to reach the top of the veggies(my crock was stuffed full of veggies) cook on high for about 6 hours until turnips are tender. season with McCormick’s Mediterranean blend, pepper and rosemary.

  • Lani Nuelrath, Plant-Based Health & Fitness
    Posted at 15:23h, 31 January

    The nearest WFM to us is 2 hours away though we do have some good natty foods stores within an hour and fortunately our small downtown (?) market here in these-thar-hills of N. California has decided to go all-out with a small organic section! Yet it’s all been years in the coming, so lots of practice for us getting the goods we need for a yummers plant-strong diet.

    The fact that we love simple yet delicious works in our favor. I’m not a fancy-recipe grrl, as a matter of fact any recipe with more than 5 ingredients makes my eyes glaze over and I save that kind of thing for special occasions.

    So when I shop, we go to the bulk bins if possible and if not, then big bags of lentils, split peas, black beans, brown rice, and their friends. In the grocery section I stock up on 2 weeks of fresh veggies: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, several bunches of kale, 2 colors of cabbage, bags of broccoli …. and then I may need to dash out for some greens before the next big haul.

    The method here is stock up!

    Excellent post Natala, full of some very useful details. Good stuff.


  • Ginger
    Posted at 18:01h, 02 February

    I grow sprouts and microgreens plus bok choi and kale in pots in my kitchen. I would rather live in a small town, experiencing a serene lifestyle, than the big city life with all its available resources. Our tiny health food store has organic apples, oranges, spinach, potatoes, onions, garlic, yams, and a few other things. We buy beans and grains in bulk through the mail. We just make it work and still eat 100% organical all the time.

  • Heidi R.
    Posted at 20:22h, 05 February

    I lived in a small town of about 600 people in NW Montana until just recently. I found my grocery store manager really receptive to suggestions – give them a try and see what they can do. In summer I could buy my produce from farms and a local co-op. In winter, I often bought organic vegetables from Costco or [sucks breath in] Walmart. Both had the freshest produce in town. My closest whole foods market was about 90 miles away, so when I went to “town”, I often stocked up on dry, bulk ingredients. I occasionally mail ordered spices. But I learned to love clean, unprocessed foods and now that I’m in a city, I really don’t need any frozen or pre-packaged anything.

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