So you’re a vegetarian, or you’re deciding to add more vegetables to your diet, but you’re worried about the cost. I get it! Been there, done that. But keep in mind: meat is usually several dollars a pound. Replacing animal protein with beans, tofu, or seitan will save you quite a bit. Here are my favorite ways to bulk up on veg on a budget.
Plan a menu. Sit down each week with the ads from your local grocery stores, and plan your menu around sale items. Stir-fry is almost always inexpensive; you can dump in any vegetables on hand and you’re good to go.
Cook from scratch. Convenience foods are expensive—veggie burgers, I’m looking at you. Save money by purchasing fewer, and start learning to make meals from scratch. You can find veg-friendly cookbooks at your local library or online.
Grow your own herbs. Parsley, cilantro, rosemary, basil, thyme, and sage are simple to grow. Pick up seeds on the cheap and start them in a little soil on your window sill. With a little sun, water, and luck, you’ll have delicious herbs in a few weeks.
Buy in season. Usually, if it’s in season, it’s on sale. Certain fruits and vegetables may be as much as 50% cheaper during their growing season. And, if your local store allows it, attempt to price match. Farmers’ markets are also great places to find inexpensive produce—especially at the end of the day. Some veggies are always cheap, like broccoli, onions, potatoes, and carrots. Include those in your menu planning whenever possible.
Buy in bulk. This can halve your grocery bill! Shopping at big stores like Costco, as well as smaller stores that have a bulk (by the pound) section, is the key to success here. Stock up on staples like nuts, seeds, and spices. Instead of buying a can of beans for a buck, buy beans in bulk, soak them overnight, and cook them in your crockpot. This will cost a quarter or less—HUGE savings when you’re eating lots of beans and feeding a big family.
Stick to the budget. It’s nice to splurge once in a while, but sticking to a budget is a must. If you don’t, you’ll get in the habit of “only going over by a little bit” each week. Then, your $100 week just turned into $200, and you have to work really hard to get it back under control! If you choose one splurge item each week, that’s fine, but if you run out of money, you’ll be eating a lot of beans and rice.
Skip organics. There’s no need to buy everything organic, but I understand it’s a personal choice. I like to follow the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen checklist—foods most likely to be contaminated by pesticides—and buy those items organic. Everything else? The cheaper the better.
All in all, going vegetarian is about making food choices that fuel your body in a healthful way. Sit down, create a menu and a budget, and work on sticking with it. Even if you don’t make it the first week or two, it gets easier!
The EWG’s Dirty Dozen Plus™
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Snap peas – imported
- + Hot Peppers
- + Kale / Collard greens