News Flash: Going vegetarian may not only be beneficial for your health, but could also be healthy for your wallet. As the cost of producing and purchasing meat continues to climb, the cost of fresh produce, beans, legumes and other vegetarian staples are reliably less expensive than their bloody counterpart. While it is true that meat contains protein that is vital to our well being, with proper planning and balance you can get just as much protein from a vegetarian diet. Despite what you may think, you can get as much protein from a well thought out vegetarian meal than you can from your tried and true meat and potatoes ensemble.
By eliminating meat from your meals, you per-meal cost will be reduced drastically. Multiplied by 3x meals a day, 30 days a month, this can completely shift your food costs and your health. Let’s look at the best ways to maximize savings while eating a vegetarian diet.
Skip the middleman. Purchase your produce from local vendors, a local co-op, or farmer’s markets to find higher quality, lower cost options. Save a ton by avoiding the markup in pricing at the grocery store and the added transport time for the produce. The longer the food travels, the less of a shelf life it has at home. In turn, you can expect less food waste from longer lasting food you procure locally. These finds shouldn’t spoil as fast as grocery store produce and typically taste better on top of it. Fresher produce, lower prices, less waste and better taste= more money in your pocket and better health. That’s a win.
I’m gonna get a little crazy here and make a wild suggestion to save even more: grow your own produce. Not only do you know where your food came from, you don’t have to pay when you harvest. Learn to use the seeds and sprigs (depending on the plant) to produce even more plants from what you already have. Yep, it will take some trial and error. But for the cost of dirt and water paired with some free sunshine and oxygen, you too can be enjoying the fruits of your labor- literally. Don’t think you have enough space? Think again. People are growing advanced gardens in their window sills or small balconies. Have a rooftop terrace in your building? It may be worth your time to approach management and ask about a community garden. Many hands lighten the load and provide for everyone that contributes. Community spirit? Check. Fresh, healthy food? Check. More financial resources kept in your pocket? Another check. It’s a win all around.
Eat Frozen, Buy in Bulk.
Frozen produce often maintains the same nutrients and benefits as fresh– plus, they’re cheaper and last longer. Even if you are only one person, a big, resealable bag of produce from your local warehouse can provide for months. For a fraction of what fresh could cost you in the same time span, frozen will give you quick, easy side dishes and homemade smoothie material. With slow spoil rates, frozen produce helps to eliminate the “I-didn’t-eat-it-fast enough-and look-at-that-mushy- mess” syndrome that happens all too often with fresh produce. Stockpile frozen vegetables and fruits when you see them on sale at your local grocery store and you’ll find yourself saving even more in the long run – especially in the off season months when your favorite produce goes up in price and down in quality.
Buy your proteins such as beans, TVP (texturized vegetable protein) and other legumes in the bulk section. These items can be bought dry and keep in the pantry for quite a long time before needing to be discarded – and of course, buying bulk many times means buying cheap. You can even try online resources for better quality, lower priced options. Since these items keep well, they will be more readily available even if at a distance.
Shop on a Full Stomach
This rule really applies to all of us who eat (which is hopefully everyone)- vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Hitting the grocery store on an empty stomach is never a good idea. If you enjoy the taste of meat, this may be a particularly important suggestion. Especially if you’ve just recently decided to go vegetarian and forgo your carnivorous ways. It can be a lot more difficult to stick to your new lifestyle if you’ve got a big appetite and there’s a thick, juicy steak tempting and woo-ing you in the meat case. Play it safe and do your grocery shopping after a big meal to strengthen your resolve in the face of temptation. Both your wallet and Bessie the cow will thank you.
Making the Switch
Do you feel like you’re ready to make the change? You can start by not putting too much pressure on yourself from the get go. Start small. Try working with one “meat-free” day a week and gradually cut down from there. You may never even make the full switch to being entirely vegetarian, and from a financial perspective, that is okay. Even just cutting out meat a few days a week can make a substantial impact on your food costs over time. In the meantime, experiment with recipes that interest you and keep it light. You may find that some of your favorite recipes made it on the list because of the seasonings used, not the meat product.
Grow Your Savings
By eliminating meat (either totally or mostly) from your diet, you’ve unlocked another tool for saving more money on the regular. But take heed- this does not give you free reign to buy all the “vegetarian” snack food you can get your hands on. The money you save on not buying meat can easily be squandered away with unnecessary, costly treats in the snack aisle. Convenience foods that make their way in to your cart can undermine the best efforts both financially and from a health perspective. Stick to the basics, eat balanced and thoughtfully, and watch your money grow while your waistline hopefully shrinks. Here’s to you and your newfound vegetarianism(-ish.)