Monday, March 30, 2009

Thrifty Tips for Vegetarians...

From a buddy on my LJ blog (posted with permission):
Scanned through "My Thrifty Family"...any ideas on how to save AND be vegetarian? We tend to spend quite a lot in food - a red pepper here can cost as much as $3.00/pepper! And "fake meat" (vegetarian style chicken strips or bocca burgers) usually run $3.50 per package.

Here was my response:
I've read a number of things regarding frugal/thrifty vegetarians. I'm sure you already know most of the tips I'd be able to give from what I learned on those sites if you are a vegetarian. The question is what level of vegetarian are we talking about? Vegan? Eggs and dairy okay? Fish okay?

But a few that come to mind are:
  • Do as much as you can yourself. If you aren't willing to make it, then you probaby don't need to buy it (often or at all). Certain items (like soy sauce) are near impossible to make yourself. Veggie burgers can be made by hand from what I've seen, and quite easily according to several websites and magazines. Make your own tortillas, pasta sauce, soups, chili, hummus, dips, bread, mashed potatoes, and so forth. What people buy for several dollars at the store, you can make for a few cents at home. Most are unbelievably easy to make.
  • Avoid processed foods. They might seem cheap, but when you are looking at the net weight, they can often be far more expensive than produce, beans/nuts/proteins and grains, and have far less nutritional value.
  • Try not to buy "quick cooking" items. Oat meal and grits don't take that much longer to cook than the quick versions and they tend to be more filling and healthier. Same with brown rice versus white (though I do love me some white rice and eat it often... I do plan to cook both types and mix them together at times. Devious, I know!)
  • Beans, obviously. Dried beans combined with a starch (rice, potatoes, etc) make a complete protein and is very inexpensive. There's a ton of dishes you can make using them, you can substitute them for meat, or just add them as an extra ingredient to a number of recipes.
  • Look into different types of cuisine. A number of Japanese and Indian recipes are vegetarian. Recipes from other cultures can be altered to be vegetarian. I made "sesame chicken" using a recipe we love, but substituted the chicken with extra firm tofu. The recipe I use for my spicy stirfries would be great with tofu as well or as a straight vegetable dish (which I plan to make soon).
  • Check out ethnic grocers. You can typically find amazing deals on many items. Huge bags of rice (which lasts practically forever), spices, flours, noodles, vegetables, and fruit can all be at extremely good prices. Also look in the international aisles of big grocery stores. Sometimes you can find some really good deals there (though you need to keep in mind what the prices are comparatively). Never buy things like toasted sesame seeds from the normal spice aisle.
  • Price things. If you take a mental note or keep a small notebook of prices for staples or items of interest, you will know when you have found a good deal.
  • Soups are easy and inexpensive. The vegetable broths can be made from vegetable scraps and peels. Thicken with cornstarch, tapioca flour, or potato starch, depending on the type of soup you are making. Heck, you can even use some mashed up potatoes. Of course, 'no meat' chili is great too.
  • Stir fries are great, quick, easy, and inexpensive too. Use cold leftover rice for best results. I can post a recipe for fried rice that I use and love (and got my ex and my husband hooked on). Best fried rice I've ever had and doesn't hurt the body or wallet.
  • Smoothies are great. You can use water (which works really well), a small amount of coconut milk, or leftover juice from canned fruit. (First and last on the list being very thrifty, indeed.) Use frozen fruits, which typically have more nutrients and are less expensive, and you will have a great cool drink. I actually do like using banana a lot (something my mother used often in our smoothies and milkshakes when we were kids... it give a great consistency and flavor and is fairly cheap), and have been known to add a small amount of peanut butter.
One of the hardest things for many people is to try to seriously look at why they do or do not eat certain things. Once you can look past some of the taboos you grew up with and place less emphasis on food in a social or emotional context, you will open many doors nutritionally and in taste. A lot of people avoid perfectly good food items or will refuse to give up certain foods out of some sense of fear; fear that they will suddenly be incomplete. Food is for fuel and nutrition. Everything else is "icing on the cake", but as you know, too much icing (and too little of other things) is not a good thing health-wise. "Eat to live; don't live to eat."

Anyways... those were the main things that came to mind. I'll be sure to post blogs I find regarding thrifty vegetarians (I find them often).

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