No matter what you eat, to stay within a tight budget you need to plan ahead as much as possible. If you wait until you are hungry to buy food for your next meal, you will always end up spending more than if you plan a menu and shop smart. Take a look at my Green Meal Planning article for details on doing just that.
Look for coupons in your favorite vegetarian magazines or in the health stores that you already shop in. Sometimes you can even find coupons for tempeh, tofu, fake meats, and non-dairy milks.
Buy extra tofu or tempeh when they are on sale and freeze them. Do not freeze silken tofu, just it’s water packed relatives. Frozen tofu has a different texture when thawed. Squeeze out the water, crumble, and it makes a cheaper ground beef substitute than the pre-packaged vegetarian ones.
When you do make a homemade meal, freeze the leftovers in individual portions so you can bring them for lunches or have a ready made meal on a night you might be tempted to buy an expensive meal out. The bonus to this is when you are sick, you can still eat a healthy home cooked meal.
Try New Things
It’s getting more expensive to buy pre-made veggie burgers, such as Morningstar Farms or Boca burgers. Why not try making your own? You can even make them gluten free or vegan. Vegan Dad’s blog is a great resource for recipes, and so is Post Punk Kitchen. Give a few recipes a try and before you know it you’ll be making up your own. Burgers are a great way to use up veggie remnants from juicing if you have any. I’ve had carrot burgers made from what was left after juicing and they were delicious!
Try shopping international stores for tofu and spices. You’ll be surprised at the amount of money you can save. Also you’ll be introduced to new vegetables and recipes along the way. Indian stores have inexpensive ready to heat dishes that keep in your pantry. They are perfect for a quick meal. Just cook up some rice and heat the bag and you have a complete meal with no preservatives for under two bucks. Make sure to read the ingredients if you are a vegan – some have dairy.
Buy in bulk whenever possible, especially coops and other natural food stores. You can get the exact amount you need at a much lower mark-up price than packaged. This is especially true of herbs and spices.
Freeze for Later
Don’t be afraid of frozen vegetables. There are so many organic brands of them around now. They can make a quick pasta meal in a pinch. You can also lurk around your grocers mark down area for fruits and vegetables. I actually find a lot of organic produce this way, and they are less than half their normal price. You will need to use them quickly or freeze them. I juice the citrus I find, freeze in ice cube trays, and put in plastic bags. This way I always have lemon, lime, and orange juices for soups or fancy drinks.
Ripe avocados can be mashed with lemon juice and frozen for future guacamole. Cut up fruit for smoothies and freeze. I only buy ‘over ripe’ bananas, and most of the time I still have to wait a few days before they are ripe enough to freeze. Try putting 1 sliced frozen banana in a food processor with 1/8 - 1/4 cup soy or almond milk for a cheap and healthy ice cream alternative.
Please continue on to page 2 to learn additional money saving tips for vegetarians.
Beans, Soup, and Pasta
Never forget about the perfect vegetarian food staples, beans and rice (or other grains for variety). These never need to get boring. Make a big pot of plain beans and turn it into an international extravaganza. From one large pot of white beans you can make pasta with chard and white beans, white bean chili, white bean herb sandwich spread, and a creamy vegetable soup. With garbanzo beans, try making hummus, mock tuna salad, minestrone, and Moroccan stew.
Don’t limit yourself to bean dishes that you’re familiar with, look up different countries and see what national bean dishes they are famous for. Beans are good in all kinds of soups, and pureeing them can make a creamy base for vegan soups.
Soups are also great for the budget minded. Got 2 carrots, ¼ bell pepper, ½ onion, clove of garlic? Add tomatoes, beans, or other veggie scraps and you have lunch for a whole week. Make thicker soups or stews and you can serve over rice, quinoa, or even a baked potato for a filling cool weather meal.
Pasta is another great way to stretch a soup or stew. What would feed 4 could feed 8 if served over pasta. Everyone’s default easy meal of pasta and tomato sauce is always good for the budget.
Bringing your own lunch everyday can save you tons of money. If you don’t have access to a way to heat up your food at work, you can heat a soup or stew ahead of time and bring it in a thermos, or simply bring a sandwich. In a pinch, you could go to a Subway, but with homemade sandwiches you already have it the way you want, and it costs much less than going out. If you are eating your sandwich at home, try it grilled to make it extra tasty.
The place I often blow my budget is at breakfast. Skip the coffee shop and brew your cup of joe at home. Make a batch of muffins with tofu, zucchini, and carrots to take on your way out of the house instead of that expensive unhealthy one you buy at work. You can also make a batch of biscuits and fill with veggie sausage for another grab and go treat. You can also freeze these individually and heat it up once you get to work.
My favorite breakfast is steel cut oats cooked in a little dipper slow cooker. I just put in ½ cup oats and 2 cups water and cook over night. You can also add applesauce, ground flax seed, cinnamon or other spices, and any dried fruit fruit that would brighten your morning up.
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to eat healthy and vegetarian. If you find yourself too busy or tired to cook when you come home during the week, pre-make your meals on a day off. You could also pick up a slow cooker at a thrift store and come home to freshly cooked vegetarian meals that are ready to eat. Geekypoet and the Crockpot lady have some great vegetarian slow cooker recipes to get you started.