These days, most of us are on an ever-tightening budget. With skyrocketing food prices, even buying the basics has our grocery bills reaching new highs. Trying to feed your family nutritiously and cheaply is hard enough…trying to put aside and be prepared for the unexpected as well is a very daunting proposition.
I’ve noticed a steady stream of newspaper and magazine articles and other media reports suggest many ways to save money on food, and interestingly, “eat more vegetarian meals” is one of the primary suggestions.
Those who enjoy a plant-based diet already know that saving money on the food bill is just one of many benefits of eating vegetarian. What most people don’t know is how easy it can be to build a vegetarian food storage program. The reason is that smart and savvy vegetarians cook using a lot of whole grains, beans, and seasonal produce. These are also the basis for an easy and reasonably inexpensive food storage program.
Now while I enjoy a burger as much as the next guy, I fully realize that there are many advantages when you choose a vegetarian diet, ranging from the health benefits to helping animals to the “green” effect a vegetarian diet has on the environment.
There are also economic advantages, since a plant-based diet generally costs less than a meat-centered one.
Across the board, as food prices soar and packages shrink, more of us are tightening our food budget belts. To some people, this means simply going out to restaurants a few less times a month. At the other end of the spectrum where Realistic Sustainability dwells, it can mean planting your own vegetable garden and baking your own bread. I sincerely hope it means putting away food and other supplies for the lean times. Most people though just fall somewhere in between, looking for ways to prepare healthful, well-balanced, and economical meals at home.
How a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet Can Save You Money
- Grocery bills. Plant-based products tend to be less expensive than animal products. For example, basic plant proteins, such as beans, cost less than $1 a pound and tofu around $2 per pound. Even certain “convenience foods,” such as frozen veggie burgers and frozen veggie burger crumbles, can cost less than $1 per pound.
- Medical bills. Eating a well-balanced plant-based diet can go a long way toward boosting the immune system. Thus, you may find that you have fewer colds or that they don’t last as long. Additionally, a diet based on animal products has been shown to be a leading cause of heart disease and some cancers; thus, a plant-based diet could save you money on future medical bills.
- Dining out. Vegetarian options in restaurants are usually less costly than meat and seafood options. You may also find yourself dining in ethnic restaurants such as Thai, Indian, and Chinese, where prices are generally less expensive than traditional American restaurants. If you live in a rural area where the only vegetarian food available is the bean burrito (hold the cheese if you’re vegan) at Taco Bell, you’ll save money on dining out simply because there’s nowhere to go!
Following is a list of meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation strategies that can save you time or money or both. Some are simple techniques that you may be using already. Others may take a little more effort on your part. Read them over and decide what’s best for you and your lifestyle. If you give some of them a try, you’ll find that even small changes can yield big results in saving time and money.
Meal Planning Tips Strategy Session.
Set aside fifteen minutes once a week to develop a menu for the week and make a shopping list. I do mine on Sunday afternoon.
Plan one or two meals a week that you can stretch into two meals each. It can be as simple as making extra rice on Sunday to turn into a fried rice dish on Tuesday or making extra pasta on Saturday to enjoy in a stir-fry on Monday. It can also mean making a seitan pot roast for Sunday dinner and having enough left over to sauté the next night with mushrooms and lemon juice or a red wine sauce. Perhaps you’ve also included enough potatoes and other vegetables in your pot roast to work into a new side dish, making a new meal with the addition of some roasted Brussels sprouts. If you make a large casserole or pot of stew, consider all that you can do with the leftovers. They can be used for lunches, served again for another dinner, or portioned and frozen for easy single-serving future meals.
A Matter of Taste.
Just because it’s thrifty doesn’t mean it can’t taste fabulous. It’s important to cook what you and your family enjoy eating. Even the cheapest dish won’t save you a nickel if nobody likes it. Rotate recipes to eliminate repetition and utilize spices, herbs, and other seasonings to enhance the flavors of basic ingredients.
Stick to Staples.
This is one of the places where realistic food storage shines. Let many of your meals revolve around the pantry staples in your food storage such as rice and beans or pasta. Come up with different ways you enjoy making these staples and keep that list handy. Between family favorites and staple-based meals, you should have at least twenty-four regular meals from which to choose.
Incorporate Family Favorites.
Make a list of your family’s favorite dishes. Try to come up with at least a dozen choices, allowing each family member to include a favorite. Chances are good that many items on the list will already be thrifty, such as veggie chili, pasta with marinara sauce, pizza, burritos, or noodles with peanut sauce. Include several of these dishes in your weekly menu, and rotate them each week, adding one or two new items. Plan all your meals for the week ahead of time, allowing for one or two nights of leftovers. Use your menu plan to make your grocery shopping list.
Be a Thrifty Cook.
Cut down on waste in other ways, too. For example, save vegetable trimmings to make a vegetable stock or turn broccoli stalks into a slaw. Use older bread in bread puddings or stratas or to make croutons or bread crumbs. Add water to jars of sauces and shake them to get the last spoonful. Before juicing lemons or limes, bring them to room temperature and roll them on the countertop with the palm of your hand to get more juice.
Include More Soups and Stews.
As I’ve said before, we eat a lot of soup. We’re talking 3 or 4 times a week. Let’s face it, what’s more soothing than a bowl of soup or stew? Their virtues are many, from being easy and versatile, to being adaptable and forgiving, to being a way to add water to our diet without having to drink it. Not to mention that they are the ultimate dollar-stretcher. Whenever your fridge gets low, check around and see if you can’t get one more meal out of what’s left before going to the store. If you have even one onion and two carrots on hand, then a pot of soup can’t be far behind. If you have a piece of celery, too, then it’s a sure bet. Chop them up, add water or stock from your freezer, simmer them a bit, add some seasonings, and then look around for what else you have. A potato? Some frozen vegetables, such as lima beans or spinach? How about a can of diced tomatoes and a can of beans? Do you have a bit of leftover rice or pasta? Soon, a pot of soup is ready for the tasting. We had many names for this kind of soup when my kids were little. They called it Refrigerator Soup, Friday Night Slumgullion and Garbage Soup. They weren’t really all that upset about soup night…I always made fresh baked bread to go with it!
Jazz Up Rice and Beans.
Get creative with rice and bean combos, and you’ll always have something great cooking. While some omnivores may still be skeptical, savvy vegetarians know that bean and grain dishes don’t have to be austere fare, beans and grains can mean haute cuisine with the right seasonings. With some thought and imagination grain and bean combinations can run the gamut from soups and sautés to salads and pilafs. Best of all, they’re inexpensive, easy to make, and delicious.
Use Your Food Storage in Your Every Day Cooking.
I know I preach this all the time, but here we go again. Store what you eat and eat what you store. To help make a feast out of simple ingredients, keep your pantry stocked with a variety of non-perishables such as canned tomatoes, canned beans, and pastas, as well as grains, nuts, and seasonings. Keep frozen veggies on hand for those times when you run out of fresh veggies, as this will save a trip to the store.
Food Storage Recipes.
Keep a few easy food storage-based recipes handy (on the fridge or in a kitchen drawer or taped inside the pantry door) to remind you of all of the simple easy meals that you enjoy and can put together quickly. This will save last-minute panics when you’re starved and don’t know what to cook. If you have a box of pasta and a can of beans in the pantry, you’re within twenty minutes of a satisfying meal that can save you from the expense of ordering that pizza!