Budget-friendly sources for vegetarian and vegan foods

How to Be a Vegetarian or Vegan on a Budget

by Amy L. Thomas

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In today's world, many people are adopting a healthier lifestyle, which may include changing their diets by eliminating meat and/or seafood. While this may seem like a great way to also reduce one's grocery bill, more often than not, families may end up spending more on their food than when they were purchasing meat, cheese, fish, milk and eggs. This does not have to happen, and you do not have to shop in specialty food stores in order to get all of your nutritional needs met.

I began eating a plant-based diet six months ago. I had already eliminated chicken, beef and pork, but was still consuming fish and seafood. There is already one vegetarian and one vegan in my household, and I wanted to try a more plant-based diet to determine if I felt better and healthier, while not wiping out our bank account. I refused to change shopping in my favorite store, and I did not want to spend more money in any of the elitist, overcrowded specialty "organic" stores.

After a few months, I found my rhythm. Beginning this process in the spring also allowed me to take advantage of all of the wonderful produce that was in season as well. I was determined to serve meals that we could all enjoy while staying within an established spending pattern. The following are some of my recommendations and observances:

  1. Keep It Local - Why purchase local fruit and vegetables at a specialty store at ridiculous prices? Get yourself to your local farmer's market or farm stand and buy direct. Better yet, get your family to your local farm and pick your own. This is much cheaper and much more fun. Can or freeze whatever you are able for fresh foods all winter.
  2. Related: Learn the Basics of Canning and How to Freeze Fruits and Veggies

  3. Tofu, You Say? - This is a staple, and you can get the best price at your favorite large chain market. This can replace meat in many recipes or be used in smoothies and desserts, such as a wonderful, easy and cheap chocolate raspberry mousse. Don't let anyone fool you; tofu is your new best friend. A little can go a long way to keeping the proteins in your system, and it is much less expensive than buying meat for each meal.
  4. Living-Better Tip: Saving With Soybeans

  5. Rice, Beans and Pasta - Buy in bulk at your local grocery store, or get generic cooked beans in cans. These will sustain you with wholesome, protein-packed goodness, and there are lots of recipes available online that will keep your taste buds happy. Look for inexpensive dishes that can all be made in a microwave, so anyone in the family can cook their own delicious meals or snacks. Vegetable stock is used in many recipes, and the cheapest way to get this is to buy the vegetable bouillon cubes and mix them up yourself rather than buying the stock ready made.
  6. Related: Using Dry Beans to Reduce Your Grocery Bill

  7. Eggs or No Eggs? - If you choose to not eat eggs, you may believe that you cannot enjoy baked goods again. Not true! There are some great egg replacers at your local grocery store that are easy to mix and use in every recipe. I have found I can bake any recipe and make it vegan with these egg substitutes and vegan margarine. The egg replacer is actually cheaper than eggs ($9 for the equivalent of 64 eggs). There is no need to buy expensive vegan treats. You can easily make all of the family favorites!
  8. Related: Eggs and the Frugal Kitchen

  9. Cheese, Glorious Cheese! - Okay, this can get a bit pricey if you buy the vegan variety. With soy cheese, rice cheese and almond cheese, there are many choices to replace the dairy variety. The problem is these are expensive to use consistently. The secret is to use cheese substitutes less and less, and you won't miss them. If you make a pizza with so many fresh veggies and some great red sauce, no one will even ask where the cheese is. Have your "cheese" occasionally, and keep your food budget in check.

I am enjoying eating a plant-based diet, and my family is reaping the benefits. We have all lost weight, and our cholesterol and sodium levels have decreased dramatically. I find that I plan and make fresh meals and snacks, rather than mixing up some processed box foods. With some preparation and simple recipes, you can eat a more healthful diet without spending any additional money at the store.

Take the Next Step:

  • Discover smart, easy ways to buy produce for less by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
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