Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vegetarian on the Cheap - A Beginner's Guide

If you are a first time visitor - welcome, and I hope these
10 steps will get you going. Don’t worry if you are only a part time vegetarian or not a vegetarian at all and simply curious - all are welcome!
If you are wondering whether this way of eating can save you money - it absolutely can!
Make changes to your diet - gradually - nobody expects you to change you entire diet over night. You will feel a difference in your overall well being and in your wallet!
Vegetarians are far from weak and anemic - only the ones that are actually junkatarians would fall prey to malnutrition.
I won’t pitch you on the health benefits - there are numerous doctors, who can do that with much more authority than me, check out Dr. Weill or Dr. Mercola or Dr. Ornish for that. I am also not going to assault you with animal rights fanfare - you know how to find sites that will do that. What I am concerned with, is the health of your pocket book. The fact that this change will also lead to better health and a greener life style, is just the absolute icing on the cake when it also saves you money!

So let’s get you started.

1. Analyze where your money is going right now - which meals are your biggest money drain? Fancy dinners? Expensive lunches? Too many recipes from magazine articles by food editors, who obviously do not worry about budget (Martha are you there?).

2. Find a store with a bulk food section. This cannot be overemphasized - read up on it in my entry The Bulk Food Section = your place of worship.

3. If you want to incorporate vegetarian eating into your lifestyle or just want to eat less expensively - you will need a plan! Plan out the whole week - make a chart with the days of the week, and columns for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Line out where your family is going to be for all these meals - be as accurate as possible. What are you going to eat for dinner four days from now? What about lunch tomorrow ? Plan in all events you're going to attend (from your daughter’s soccer match to your son’s ballet lesson). Count eating out as well - and then make a shopping list. Leave some spaces blank - there will be leftovers and you will have to use them. Check out this shopping tutorial.

4. Figure out how much of your diet you want to change - just a couple of meals or the whole shebang. It is up to you - but remember #3 - you have to have a plan!

5. For starters find two recipes with beans or lentils and two with a grain product in them. That will get you out of a budget crisis rather fast.
Then plan the rest of your week around those 4 meals - and between the main dishes and the left overs you are on your way.

For example: Let’s say we picked lentils, black beans, quinoa and rice for our staples. Mind you, all these staples will cost us about 1.50 per pound - which is not a lot and goes a long way.
So if we bought two pounds of beans, lentils, rice and quinoa each, we would have enough staples to feed a family of four for a week, making vegetarian chili, black bean burgers, fried rice with tofu, quinoa pilaf, quinoa breakfast, lentil soup, black bean soup, rice pudding and much more (I will post recipes for all of these in the next couple of weeks, so check back!).
This would cover most of the meals that week and would get everybody well fed.
So after you spent about $12 on your staples you would just have to buy the veggies, fruit and milk and you would be on your way. You see why you will need a plan? You cannot let anything go to waste!

6. Rethink breakfast!
I always found it rather infuriating that I would buy a $5.00 box of cereal, expecting it to last for the whole week, only to find out that there is so little actual cereal in there - the bag is pumped full of air and the amount of real cereal would easily fit into a box half the size. So after three breakfasts you are out.
On top of that, these cereals, although they charm you with all their “whole grainy goodness”, are in fact very far from whole grains - remember, if only 1% of a product is actual “whole grain” the manufacturer is able to call the product “whole grain”. What you won’t find written on cereal boxes is “100% whole grain” - but that is where we are headed.

Make your breakfast cheaper and more nutritious at the same time!
Make a pot of steel cut oats cooked on a Sunday - maybe about $5 worth - and it will get you through the working week easily!
Every morning you can serve yourself or your loved ones a cup of cooked steel cut oats, with some dried or fresh fruit and half a cup of your favorite milk - and you are set to go for the whole week. Also, after a breakfast that is so nutritious, you will not want to eat for a couple of hours. No snacking.
The rule here is, the better your breakfast, the less you will be tempted to reach for empty and expensive calories for lunch.

7. Find good inexpensive sources for vegetables. Your supermarket and even some health food stores will be really hard on your budget. Alternatives include

+ a CSA farm share - CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture - you can find some in your zip code here.

+ a farmer’s market or farm stand, check here

+ a buying Co-Op - find one in your area here

+ if none of these are available to you - check out online grocery services - but keep in mind shipping is involved

+explore frozen veggies - they usually harvested when they are in season, since they are cheapest then - so they should be nutritionally at peak

8. Always buy in season!
Give up the notion that strawberries, cucumbers, even celery are year round options.
See what is on sale and flex your diet to embrace different veggies every month.
When something is in season buy as much as you can afford, and freeze the rest, for when it's out of season.

9. Learn your spices and herbs. They are cheap, bring a zing to your recipes and are also good for you! What more can you ask? Check out the spice mixes at the end! Tres sophisticated! Learn more here.

10. Go easy on yourself and your loved ones. Take it one step at a time. Realize you are in great company. Check out the list of famous vegetarians here.

Change happens a step at a time. Take the first step, and the others will follow. Have fun!


Singing Sparrow said...

I already wrote to you this morning but I just want you to know that your efforts are taken to heart here and they will make our family life soooo much better because we will not be running out of money every month.
Blessedly we live here in the San Francisco East Bay next to Berkeley and we have access to the best in bulk at the Berkeley Bowl but also year round Farmer's Markets. We have always had the best food but I have spent way too much money going to shop every other day for fancy food than truthfully I could not afford -well the cavalry has arrived with your site and book which I will be buying next week.

Grace Smith said...

Thank you SO much for all of the information you have provided. I have been doing online research to learn how to become a vegetarian on a budget and have found some decent articles and blogs, butnone with the amount of advice you give. My main reason for choosing vegetarian is because of the health issues I have faced. I have an ulcer, acid reflux, digestion issues, severe eczema, and hormonal issues which I believe are largely due to the chemicals and hormones present in food. Did I mention I am only 24 years old? Yes, I believe it is time for some changes as well. ;)

Mel Cisum said...

This is great starter information! I'm still weighing the idea of actually learning to cook and eating healthier, but I'm convinced it would be better on the health and budget if I could really embrace this idea. Your post has taken a lot of the fear out of considering it. Thank yoU!

Patricia Pelayo said...

Thank you for such valuable information! Keep the good info coming to us, so grateful.

Jessica Auld said...

My 9 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with severe allergies to wheat and corn, which in turn has completely changed the way our family needs to eat. My daughter reacts to most meats because the animals are corn fed and there are wheat and corn additives in almost everything. The information on here has been very helpful, Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for providing this essential information. It will be really helpful for someone who is beginning to adapt to the changes of a vegetarian. The icing on the cake is; it is pocket-friendly. You have truly pointed out some helpful way to cut down on the expenses without actually compromising with the health. Very rarely, does one find such a write-up which is so clear about what it intends to convey. So, thank you once again for your amazing pointers on how to become a vegetarian in budget. Free groceries for low income families.