The grocery store can be an intimidating place when your mom isn't there to push the cart and pay the bill. A solo trip to Whole Foods can easily turn into a two-hour ordeal if you don't have a set budget or a practical meal plan. With this totally exaggerated concept that I definitely didn't experience last week, I came up with a week's worth of healthy, vegan recipes that will cost you under $35, assuming you have cooking oil and any other desired spices and sauces on hand.

If you're a college kid on a budget, the term affordable and Whole Foods might not seem too compatible. However, I assure you that I successfully scoured every aisle of the store and prepared seven dinners that came out to less than $5 per meal. Escaping the dining hall for a week was liberating, and every meal was nutritious and easy to prepare. If you focus on fresh produce and embrace the 365 brand, Whole Foods really isn't the bank account-drainer people make it out to be.

cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, vegetable
Alyssa Cronin

Shopping List:

1 red bell pepper ($1.15)

1 yellow bell pepper ($1.22)

1 cucumber ($0.68)

1 zucchini ($1.29)

1 medium head of broccoli ($0.84)

1 large head of cauliflower ($3.50)

1 sweet potato ($0.58)

1 beet ($0.83)

1 avocado ($2)

1 orange ($1)

1 mango ($1)

Small scoop raw sliced almonds (bulk section) ($0.40)

Small scoop white hulled sesame seeds (bulk) ($0.20)

16 oz. bag organic carrots ($0.88)

5 oz. organic baby spinach & arugula blend ($3.50)

1 can of organic garbanzo beans (chickpeas) ($1.25)

365 7 Grain & Lentil Blend ($2.99)

365 Multigrain Tortillas ($2.79)

Ancient Harvest POW! Pasta Black Bean Elbows ($3.69)

8 oz. 365 Organic Tomato Sauce ($1)

8 oz. Pacific Organic Simply Vegetable Stock ($1.17)

Total: $31.96

Monday: Buddha Bowl

Alyssa Cronin

Buddha bowls are almost açaí-level trendy in the Instagram world. This bowl features 1/4 of a red bell pepper, 2 carrots, 1/4 of a yellow bell pepper, 1/2 of a cucumber, a handful of arugula, 1/2 of a beet, 1/4 of a head of cauliflower, 1/4 of the microwavable 7 Grain & Lentil Blend, and 1/2 a can of chickpeas.

You can stick with raw veggies for your bowl, but I roasted the cauliflower, chickpeas, carrots, beets, and peppers in olive oil to add some warmth and texture. They can all cook at 400 for 25-30 minutes. Feel free to roast the whole can of chickpeas and refrigerate half to use later in the week. 

Tuesday: Tropical Tacos

tomato, bread, salsa, pepper, vegetable, corn
Alyssa Cronin

For Taco Tuesday, you'll need two tortillas, a mango, another 1/4 of the red bell pepper, 1/4 of the cucumber, 1/2 of the avocado, a handful of arugula and some cauliflower rice. Dice the pepper, cucumber, avocado and mango. You can sauté these fruits and veggies in coconut oil on medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or add them raw. For the cauliflower rice, take the remaining cauliflower and pulse it in a blender for a few seconds. Sauté in coconut oil for 5 minutes and add to your tacos, before setting aside the rest in your fridge for Friday's meal. You can heat your tortillas in the microwave or oven before adding the cauliflower rice base and the remaining ingredients. 

As a side, cut your sweet potato into slices, drizzle in olive oil or coconut oil, and roast in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes to make the simplest, guiltless sweet potato fries

Wednesday: Citrus Beet Salad

cheese, lettuce, onion, vegetable, beet, beet salad, salad
Alyssa Cronin

For this meal, you'll be using a generous amount of the spinach and arugula blend, the rest of the 7 Grain & Lentil Blend, 1/2 the beet, 1/2 the orange, 1/2 the avocado, and the slivered almonds. You can simply use olive oil in place of dressing, or stick with whatever dressing you have on hand. Find the full recipe here

Thursday: Black Bean Pasta 

oil, salad, pepper, meat, tomato, sauce, vegetable
Alyssa Cronin

With 21 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per serving, this black bean pasta is loaded with nutrients and flavor. Top it with tomato sauce and veggies, and you've got yourself a hearty meal. You'll need 3/4 of the can of tomato sauce, 1/4 of the zucchini, half the head of broccoli, and, your box of pasta.

Black bean elbows cook like any other noodles, so just follow the instructions on the box. Meanwhile, you can sauté your broccoli and zucchini in olive oil, then add the tomato sauce to warm it up. Once your elbows are cooked, combine them with the veggie and sauce blend, and let your protein-packed pasta party begin. 

Friday: Cauliflower Rice Stir Fry 

salad, onion, meat, parsley, tomato, pepper, vegetable
Alyssa Cronin

Sauté the remaining zucchini, yellow bell peppers, and broccoli, and set aside. Then, sauté the rest of the cauliflower rice from Tuesday in coconut oil. Slice up the rest of the orange and some carrots, and add them into the stir fry as well. Mix in half of the zucchini and peppers, and a generous amount of broccoli before transferring to your bowl, sprinkling with sesame seeds, and feasting on your purely plant-based meal. 

The juicy orange slices and buttery coconut oil make this flavorful enough to stand on its own, but feel free to add your favorite stir fry sauce too. Refrigerate the leftover veggies to use in your weekend meals.

Saturday: Tortilla Pizzas

bread, tomato, vegetable
Alyssa Cronin

Top two tortillas with the remaining tomato sauce, arugula, and spinach. Add some of your leftover roasted chickpeas, bell peppers, and zucchini, and heat the pizzas in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes for a quick Saturday night dinner. 

Sunday: Vegetable Soup

broccoli, meat, broth, carrot, vegetable, soup
Alyssa Cronin

In order to properly reflect on your week as a chef and relive the precious meal prep memories you've made, Sunday night is appropriately clean-out-the-fridge night. Heat up some vegetable broth in a small saucepan, along with any leftover ingredients. You'll definitely have plenty of black bean pasta and carrots, and there should be some broccoli, peppers, chickpeas and zucchini remaining, too.

You can even make some baked tortilla strips to dip in your soup for a true grand finale. Feel free to experiment with other bases for your soup, like bone broth if you're not actually vegan, or homemade vegetable stock if you're feeling especially DIY.  

So that's it – seven nights of healthy, filling and flavorful vegan dinners for under $35 from Whole Foods. It's almost magic. Special thanks to Whole Foods DC for all the delicious goodies.