How moving towards a vegetarian diet can help you save money and stay healthy

A Vegetarian Diet on a Budget

by Debra L. Karplus, MS, OTR/L

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A vegetarian diet is often misunderstood or stereotyped. One needn't practice yoga, live in California, or have a bountiful backyard garden in order to benefit from a diet of lower meat consumption. If you choose your foods with care, you'll ingest enough protein, calcium, and B vitamins to gain and maintain optimal health. This can be accomplished without devouring huge quantities of red meat or even any meat at all.

Eating less meat can save you money in numerous ways. Red meat typically costs more than other protein sources, chicken or fish, or vegetable protein sources such as beans. And a vegetable-based diet is usually lower in fats and calories, which can lead to better health, thus reducing your medical expenses.

The most effective way to improve your diet is to phase into it slowly, without self-imposed rigid rules or restrictions. Peruse cookbooks, magazines, or recipes online, or ask health-minded friends for menu ideas. Buy foods on sale and experiment with vegetables and fruits that you haven't served before, such as spaghetti squash. This can become a fun family activity.

Break the fast with these healthy breakfast choices.

Skip the bacon, sausage, and ham and say "good morning" to some of these foods. Even if you are dining away from home, you can savor a healthy meal. You'll wish you'd always eaten veggie-style.

Whip up an omelet with your favorite vegetables and cheese. You may even be able to sneak in some of last night's leftovers. An omelet is a satisfying protein source for your first meal of the day.

Oatmeal or cold cereal mixed with fresh or dried fruit can be quite filling. Or add homemade or store-bought granola that doesn't contain all the oils and fats. Many of these foods can be bought in bulk, thus saving you money.

Complete your morning meal with plain yogurt topped with your favorite seasonal fruit or berries. Enjoy a cup of green tea; it has a reputation for being an immune system booster. And include low-fat milk to your meal for calcium. You need healthy bones and teeth.

You'll like to munch on these lunch choices.

Served hot or cold, a cheese sandwich filled with veggies like zucchini or bean sprouts makes a sumptuous easy-to-prepare lunch entree. Or try a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Use whole grain bread for added nourishment. Cut it in half or quarters to make it look especially appetizing for lunch guests. You can even use those decorative restaurant-style toothpicks.

Whether you use canned soup or make your own pot of soup or stew from scratch, this is a hearty course for your mid-day meal. Tomato or vegetable-based soups are simple and can have other ingredients added to them. You can even sprinkle Parmesan cheese on your soup. Be creative.

Add fruit salad made from fruit bought on sale for your dessert. Fruit salad can look fancy if topped with coconut or other condiment. Experiment with different food combinations.

Develop a knack for preparing your snack.

Homemade trail mix is simple to make using your favorite goodies like peanuts, cashews, almonds, dried cranberries, or chocolate chips. You don't even have to cook or bake anything. Just mix. Enjoy trail mix at home, sitting in front of the TV, in the car, or at work. It's great as a travel snack, too. Now that airlines are being increasingly stingier with on-board food, it's a great idea to keep some trail mix in your carry-on luggage. It promises to save you money on purchasing overpriced junk food at the airport.

You might become thinner with a vegetable-based dinner.

Vegetable lasagna using mushrooms and veggies will be a popular main course next time you invite dinner guests or bring food to a potluck supper. Look for veggies on sale and try making different kinds of lasagna. You can use whole grain pasta for added nutrients.

Serve spinach quiche, and people will be asking for your recipe. Egg, spinach, cheese, flour, and some spices whipped together and baked for about an hour makes this entree extremely easy to fix. You probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen.

Veggie chili is especially delicious as a winter meal, but can be enjoyed year-round in whatever climate you have. Use a variety of beans and spices. Serve it with homemade cornbread, which is also easy and inexpensive to bake.

Rice pudding or apple crisp for dessert is great, served cold or just out of the oven. Made from whole grains and fruit, you can't go wrong. Recipes are plentiful or create your own.

A vegetarian diet of more fruit and nuts may be good for your health and your wealth. And if you're worried about getting enough nutrients, select a multivitamin appropriate for your age and gender. Bon appetite.

Reviewed August 2017

Debra Karplus is an occupational therapist and teacher with a degree in accounting and a Master's Degree in administration. She is also a freelance writer interested in many topics. For more of her work, visit her blog

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