CUTTING COSTS WITH A VEGETARIAN DIET…something to consider in lean times

Categories: Articles, Food Culture, Vegetarian



Are you looking for ways to trim your household budget in the depths of the recession? Well, there is no cheaper way than to eat vegetarian.

If you are new to vegetarianism let me assure you it’s no big deal. The only major change is that you swap one protein (meat) for a protein from other sources (beans, lentils, grains, seeds etc).

Making the switch is easy when there is only yourself involved. It only becomes tricky when a whole family is involved and they haven’t been part of the consultation process. But there are ways to go about it.

You can be subtle and start introducing vegetarian food into their diet by modifying their favourite meals to vegetarian.

I’m thinking of pizza, lasagne, macaroni cheese, rice, pasta or bean dishes, soups, wraps, etc. In other words familiar food – comfort food that doesn’t immediately light up red traffic signals. Make the food colourful and flavoursome; bland food will ignite suspicion immediately. Then gradually as they become more accepting begin introducing a wider range of vegetarian food into their diet.

The other option is to involve the whole family in the process right from the beginning.

Be up front with them. Tell them times are tough and of the need to cut food costs. They then become part of the process to embrace vegetarianism.

Why not hold a family conference – but come to the table prepared.

Have the necessary data; the grocery bills; and the amount that has to be shaved from the old budget. It may pay to set some ground rules (like – no interrupting when someone is talking, allowing everyone have a say – use a timer to make sure everyone has an equal input).

It may even be wise to assure them that you are not prepared to sacrifice the family’s nutrition, only that in the interest of cutting costs there needs to shift away from eating meat.

How about challenging the children to search out the healthiest vegetarian options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Reward the person, in some small way, who comes up with the best list.

Remember some people are visual and need to see the problem in black and white before they understand. So have some facts/charts comparing the price of a meat meal against the cost of preparing a vegetarian meal (up to 2/3 less).

As an aside: while you have the opportunity why not take the exercise one step further.

Ask each family member what they are prepared to do to trim household running costs (if nothing else it will be good for the planet). Power, heating, water, petrol, etc, and get them to write it down on a chart (have pencils and paper at the ready) so there can be no backing down later.

Explain it is for the ‘common good’ of the whole family and with their full cooperation life will be so much better because you wont be so stressed out about finances, etc.

Highlight the fact that doing things as a family strengthens the bonds and can also be fun.

Do things like –

  • Packing a basket and go on picnic to the local park or beach. Take a bat and/or ball and play games.
  • Go walking if you have suitable tracks nearby.
  • Look for cheap ways to entertain the family in the local newspaper.
  • Google:  100 Fun Things To Do With Your Family if you are fresh out of  ideas.

Do I hear some of you saying that is okay for young children?

Well, I’ve known teenagers who have joined in whatever game we happened to be playing saying at the end of the day they haven’t had so much fun in years. Even indifferent twenty-somethings have joined in playing a game of croquet when they realised we were having much more fun than they were.

You could even turn the whole exercise in to a ‘what can we do, as a family, to help save the planet from global warming’.

Oh, dear! I have wandered off the subject somewhat but it is all relevant to cutting costs.

The food pyramid on the VEGETARIAN DIET page will give you a visual image of a healthy vegetarian diet.



Breakfast time is usually the most hectic time of the day and we tend to resort to boxed prepared cereals. But rolled oats, jumbo oats or oatmeal are the cheapest breakfast fare there is and much better nutritionally for the family. They also have a low glycemic rating which means they stick to your ribs for longer so you don’t feel hungry so quickly.

Try any of these –

  • Porridge
  • Muesli (good if you are in a hurry. Can also be homemade to save costs)
  • Birches’ Muesli (good if you’re in a hurry)
  • Oat hotcakes

A glass of citrus juice with breakfast will raise the uptake of protein from the oats or other cereals.

Dairy products – milk or yoghurt over your cereal will contribute to your daily protein and calcium requirements.

Fruit with breakfast starts you on the fruit requirements for the day.


Lunches can be anything from salad sandwiches, wraps, homemade soup, pasta dishes, baked beans, muffins, etc.

For cost savings homemade lunches win hands down but they need to be up there with cafe looking food for the family to want to eat them. So use crusty breads (home made), pita bread, tortillas, French bread or rolls when making sandwiches.

Replace meat fillings with:

  • Hummus (try making it at home for cost savings)
  • Cheese (get into the habit of reading labels and look non-rennet started cheese. More are being branded as vegetarian cheese these days)
  • Chilli beans are great as a filling with salad items
  • Yeast extracts (ie: Marmite, Vegemite, which apart from dairy products or fortified foods are the only source available of Vitamin B12 to vegetarians).
  • Meat free substitutes

Remember lunch is also another opportunity to eat fruit, yoghurt, vege salads, nut and seed supplement.



Dinner is the main point of difference in a vegetarian diet. Some people prefer their meal to look like “normal” – 3 vegetables and meat lookalike. Others don’t care and Hoover up anything put in front of them.

A home cooked dinner is the most effective way to save money.

Vegetarian protein sources:

  • Soy beans, soymilk, tofu, tempeh, miso and TVP are complete proteins containing all the essential amino acids for human nutrition so do not need the addition of grain, seeds, nuts, or legumes to be cooked or eaten with them. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use them together if you wish too.
  • Quinoa (an ancient grain) is also a complete protein containing the essential amino acids for human nutrition so do not need the addition of grain, seeds, nuts, legumes or beans to be cooked or eaten with it. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t add them to the dish if you wish too.

The rest of the protein sources available to vegetarians need to be used in combination to get the full compliment of essential amino acids.

  • Grains – Rice (any variety but brown and basmati have higher protein levels); corn; wheat; barley; millet; buckwheat, couscous, bread/bread rolls, pasta, etc
  • Beans (any variety)
  • Legumes – lentils (any variety); peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Nuts (any variety – peanuts are the cheapest)
  • Seeds (any variety)
  • Dairy products – milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream

Some meal suggestions:

Falafels in pita bread
Stir-fry vegetables with nuts and seeds or tofu
Pasta with chickpeas or beans or lentils
Lasagne made with lentils or TVP
Bean Burritos
Corn fritters
Quiche made with tofu
Burgers made with beans or lentils and seeds and nuts
Rice/pasta/vegetable salads with all the extras
Lentil curry over rice
Tomato and beans with pasta
Cornbread with the meal
Soup with crusty bread rolls
Pies filled with vegetable cheesy sauce
Roast vegetables with mock meat burgers/sausages
Casserole of bean or lentils with savoury crumble topping
‘Meat’ balls with spaghetti
Potato topped TVP savoury mince

Although some nut, seeds and cheeses are dear to buy, if you only use a few tablespoons at a time, ie: parmesan cheese or pine nuts, then the flavour boost more than compensates for the cost of buying them.

Include yellow/orange and green vegetables in your meals as they help the liver synthesise proteins.

Including a tomato product, capsicum (bell peppers), asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, citrus juice, raw leafy greens in the meal to help increase your iron absorption from non-heme (non-meat) foods.

Do all your sauteing of vegetables and meat substitutes in oil not fat.

Involve children with preparing vegetables. Teach them to cook simple dishes. The more children are engaged with cooking vegetarian meals the more receptive they are to eating them.


One thing to keep in mind is that babies need to be exposed to a new food up to 10 -14 times before they will accept it in to their diet. Hold that thought tight when you begin changing the family’s diet to a vegetarian one. They may baulk at eating it but eventually when they are hungry enough they will learn to like/love it. You never know, one day they may thank you for their healthy upbringing.


It is just as fast, and far less expensive, to put a meal together at home than it is to send out for takeaways. With a few ingredients stored in the pantry or freezer you’ll be sitting down to a meal in no time.

  • Baked beans on toast is the fastest I know. Serve with side salads
  • Corn fritters with side salads
  • A can of tomato pasta sauce over noodles with added veges
  • Pizza with salads or vegetables
  • Soup with crusty bread rolls
  • Super Spuds with side salads
  • Roasty Toasty vegetables with tofu cubes or feta cheese served over mini salad greens
  • ‘Ham’burgers
  • Stir-fry with tofu or nuts
  • Wraps with chilli bean or tofu and side salads
  • Sauted halloumi cheese served over mixed salad greens with crusty breads rolls



Fresh fruit; raw vegetables; or something from Jeanette’s Nut Supplement (on Nutrition page)
Spread low fat wholegrain or rice crackers with nut butters; Marmite; Vegemite; low fat cheeses; tomato paste; feta. Popcorn; pretzels and salsa; pita bread crisps with hummus



  • Make your own bread, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, French dressings, grow your own vegetables (see below), make your own snack bars, etc.
  • Only eat vegetables that are in season. Out of season veges are always more expensive.
  • Stop buying cups of coffee out. The price of a latte will buy a packet of coffee beans that will keep you going for days at home.
  • Cook up a double batch of food and use it the second night or freeze it to bring it out when you are time poor.
  • Cook dried beans and lentils from scratch instead of opening up canned ones. Cook more than you need for a meal and freeze the remainder in bags to bring out later.
  • Freeze any surplus fruit and vegetables you grow.
  • Never throw away food. Recycle leftovers into crepes, lasagne, casseroles, soups, etc.
  • Don’t buy bottle water. It’s cheaper to filter it at home if you think it’s necessary.
  • Make your own yoghurt.
  • Powdered milk is much cheaper than buying fresh. I’ve used skim milk powder for years and the only difference I notice is in the price I pay for it at the counter. If you really notice a difference in flavour try adding a few grains salt or a few drops of oil when you mix the milk up.
  • Buy from bulk bin stores. Buy only as much as you need at a time – spices, baking things, etc.
  • But it does pay off to buy some things in bulk – flour, dried beans, lentils, oats, etc.
  • Save money by baking healthy cakes, muffins and cookies at home.
  • Make a weekly shopping list and don’t buy anything that’s not on it.
  • Only shop after a meal. It will save heaps in impulse purchases.
  • It’s more cost effective and faster to heat one cup of water in the microwave than in a kettle.




  • If you only have a windowsill then grow potted herbs – parsley; mint; marjoram; thyme; chives; basil
  • If you have a balcony then you will be able to grow salad items – lettuces, mesclun, cress, etc; silver beet, chard or spinach is always a good standby green vegetable; plus herbs – the ones above plus rosemary; a bay tree (keep it clipped); sage; oregano; tarragon
  • If you have room for a vegetable plot you will be able to grow tomatoes, beans, peas, brassicas, spinach, etc, as well as salad items and herbs. Google – no-dig gardening or square foot gardening for heaps of ideas.


Sprouting seeds (alfalfa, mung, etc) to include in salads, stir-frys, wraps, sandwiches or used as toppings or garnishes for eye appeal is also a great cost cutting exercise.

Involve children in the garden. If children plant the seeds or seedlings, then watch them grow, they will be that much keener to eat the end result.

Also involve children in making vinegrette (best made fresh for each meal). Add variety with herbs, spices and sprouts. This way children develop flavour options and combinations (and clashes, too). This will school them in palete appeal and balance and will be with them for the rest of their life.



Read the rest of the pages on this website. They have all the information needed to lead a healthy vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

FAMILY MEALS – Comfort Food for Vegetarians is on sale through the Bookshop on this website and has a good range of simple and nutritious recipes for beginning vegetarians.