If you’re interested in becoming a vegetarian or vegan, you may be worried about the cost. Fresh produce seems expensive, and we’ve all experienced the guilt when it goes bad before we get around to eating it.
But fret no more! Eating vegetables, fruits and grains can actually be cheaper than a traditional meat-inclusive diet. These tips can even be helpful for “part-time vegetarians” who are looking to buy cheap, filling and nutritious foods.
Basics & Shopping Lists
How Vegetarian Can Be Cheaper: Believe it or not, cutting out meat can automatically lower your grocery budget. Meat can be much more expensive per pound.
Seasonal Ingredient Map: Select the month and your state to find out which vegetables and fruits are in season near you.
25 Items for Frugal Vegan Shopping: This article focuses on going all-organic and lists 25 cheap, nutritious foods to include on your list.
Food Stamp Budget: Eat fully vegan for $3 a day. This challenge is truly bare bones, but the ideas could help you understand how possible vegetarianism on a budget really is.
Vegan Starter Shopping List: These 15 foods are good staples for beginners who want to keep things simple.
Grocery list by Category: This sample vegetarian list is organized into fruits, vegetables, grains, spices, protein alternatives, and “superfoods.” There’s also a pantry staple list that helps you have common vegetarian ingredients on hand at all times.
Canned, Frozen or Fresh: Don’t feel obligated to buy fresh foods that go bad quickly. Canned and frozen foods can be just as nutritious if you follow these tips.
Best Vegetarian Restaurant Meals: A few of these chains may be local to you. They serve as examples of how to eat out as a vegetarian on the cheap.
Growing Your Own Food
Growing Herbs Indoors: These tips help you grow and maintain your own herb garden. You’ll also find tips on how to include them in your recipes.
Best Foods to Grow Indoors: Learn how to grow vegetables and fruits indoors. They may be smaller than ones grown outside, but they can be easier to maintain.
7 Tips for High Yield Gardens: If you have yard space, make use of it. These tips help you get the most food from your plants.
Bulk Buying and Preserving
Find a Co-Op: Find a produce co-op near you where you can buy fresh produce, often organic, that can be bought in bulk directly from farmers and shared or preserved.
Canning, Freezing and Drying: This 8 part series “For Dummies” walks you through everything you need to know about preserving fresh foods.
Preserving Your Own Food: If canning seems daunting, try these unique ideas to preserve foods.
52 Meatless Meals on a Budget: These vegetarian meals are designed for real people with recipes targeted toward limited time and limited ingredients.
Vegetarian Meals under $2: These meals are extremely cheap per serving, so make in bulk and refrigerate or freeze leftovers whenever possible.
14 Quick Vegetarian Recipes: These easy meals are compiled for even the most “hopeless cooks.”
41 Easy Vegetarian Recipes: This list includes many hearty soups and recipes with tofu as a meat substitute.
Supercook: This website lets you input the ingredients you already have to receive recipes you can make right now.
Tips for Being a Vegetarian on a Budget
So You Think It’s Expensive?
Think again. Cutting out meat can actually save you a lot of money.
As of February 2015, ground beef averaged $4.23 per pound. A pound of red delicious apples cost $1.35, and a pound of bananas cost $0.59. Potatoes were 60 cents per pound, while broccoli – a true powerhouse of nutrition – was just $1.84 per pound.
Of course, many Americans are used to having and enjoying meat as a main portion of their meals. But you can make grains, vegetables and fruits just as tasty and filling with some simple cooking, like light steaming, and good flavors from home-grown herbs, jarred spices and oils.
Shop in Season
Be careful when picking recipes. It is usually cheaper to base your recipe on in-season ingredients.
Start by finding out what is in season, and then check out your local grocery stores’ weekly flyers for sales. Pick a few main ingredients to stand out as stars for the week and find recipes that include them.
Check Out Co-Ops
Co-ops help you buy fresh produce in bulk. You have a few options to take advantage of the deals you can get through a co-op.
First, you can split the bulk buy with friends and family. You will all pay significantly less per pound of food.
Second, you can preserve the food. Canning, freezing and drying can be great options.
Preserve Fresh Foods
As we mentioned, canning, freezing and drying are popular ways to preserve foods.
Canning: To can, you need what are commonly known as mason jars. You’ll use either a water bath or a pressure canner to preserve your food depending on the acidity. To save money by skipping the pressure canner appliance, you’ll want to use the water bath approach, which is best for high acid foods.
Freezing: To freeze foods properly, you do need proper storage materials. There are special baggies and food storage containers that help prevent freezer burn. Keep in mind that foods with high water content, like lettuce or melon, do not freeze well.
Dry: You can dry fruits and vegetables to keep them edible longer. You don’t need a food dehydrator, either. If you have an oven, you’re ready to go.
Make sure you label your preserved foods with the date you prepared them. It would also be a good idea to look up the expected life of the preserved foods so you can write an expiration date.
Find Recipes by What You Have
Use Supercook, Ingredient Chef, or RecipeMatcher to make the most of your foods. Instead of throwing out fresh foods or leftovers, tell one of these programs which ingredients you have and it will give you recipes you can make. This helps decrease your wasted food and save money.
Some recipes may be listed as requiring a few additional ingredients, which you may choose to skip. Or you can pick them up if you make two trips a week.
Try to Shop Twice a Week
If you want to include as many fresh fruits and veggies as possible, you’ll probably want to consider shopping twice a week. This helps avoid foods going bad before you can get to them, especially if you are cooking for two or fewer people.
Buy Frozen or Canned Fruits & Veggies
Frozen and canned vegetables can actually be fresher and more nutritious than “fresh” veggies from the produce section. Fresh produce is often sitting around for days whereas frozen and canned produce is kept in peak condition.
Try to save as much of the nutrition as you can by lightly steaming the vegetables. You can also use the frozen fruits in the blender with milk (or milk alternatives) and dark, leafy greens to make a healthy “green smoothie.”
When you pick canned vegetables, always check the label for the sodium content. The less sodium, the better it is for you.
When it comes to canned fruit, try to find them packed in their own juices, not sugary syrup or high fructose corn syrup.
You may also want to try dried fruits like raisins, dates and figs. Keep in mind that these are very calorie-dense.
Grow Your Own
Herbs, veggies and even fruits can be grown at home. You don’t even need a lot of yard space. You can grow them indoors, on a balcony or in pots outside.
If you don’t think of yourself as having a green thumb, start small. Versatile herbs like parsley are easier to grow and can contribute to hundreds of dishes.
Choose Organic Wisely
Organics come with a higher price tag, which turns many people off from vegetarian eating. You may also have heard of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” that aim to help you decide when organics are worth the extra money.
However, you may want to be even more skeptical. Organic foods still use pesticides. And it’s hard to rank a “Dirty Dozen” strictly by pesticide residue amount, since some pesticides are less toxic than others. Even of those produce tested to make the “dirty” list, less than 1 percent exceeded the maximum safe level of residue. The vast majority were at 0.01 percent of the maximum limit.
To keep it simple, you can skip organic for foods that have thick skins like bananas, but you can almost certainly skip most organics unless you notice a particular taste difference based on the growing conditions of the produce.
Skip Recipe Ingredients Wisely
When you’re making a recipe or planning the week’s meals, you don’t have to aim for perfection. Vegetarian recipes often include a wide array of produce, but you don’t necessarily need every single ingredient to have a successful, tasty dish.
One exception is anything baked, like breads, cakes, muffins, etc. Baking is an exact science that requires the right ratio of ingredients to turn out.