Being Vegetarian on a Budget

1 U.S. dollar banknote

Being vegetarian or vegan on a budget may seem hard at first, but actually when you look at the cost of meat versus vegetables, grains, and legumes, it actually can be more cost effective to be vegetarian. Specialty products can be pricey, especially pre-made frozen meals and vegan ice cream or cheese. It isn’t hard to make these things like vegan sorbet at home. Also, purchasing vegetables that are in season can also cut down on the cost of a vegetarian diet. In the late summer avocados are about 79 cents, where as during the off season they can be as high as 3 dollars.

Purchasing vegetables

As stated above, buy vegetables when they are in season. In the fall adding more squash to your diet can be a great way to add more diverse recipes to your usual repertoire. Pumpkin and spaghetti squash are great fall foods that can be incorporated into several different meals. Buying in season is important for berries too. Blueberries, strawberries and blackberries can be expensive in the off season, but during the right time of year they can be quite reasonably priced.

If you are interested in purchasing organic foods to lower the amount of pesticides you consume, then pay attention. It isn’t as important to purchase organic fruits or vegetables that have a thick or non-edible skin. Most of the pesticide residue remains on the outside. Bananas, pineapple, avocado, mango, papaya, and watermelon are all examples of this. Some vegetables require less pesticides to grow, such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, and asparagus.

What should you buy organic? Some fruits and veggies require more pesticides than usual. These include apples, strawberries, peaches, blueberries, potatoes and pears. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale also require more pesticides to grow.


When first becoming vegetarian it is easy to let dairy products replace meat. Don’t get me wrong, cheese, milk and yogurt have their place in a vegetarian diet, but they also can be high in fat and cholesterol. When purchasing dairy, opt for the lower-fat varieties. I’m not a fan of skim milk, but I find that 1% has a great taste and it isn’t as fatty as whole milk. Opt for local organic milk too. Organic milk has a much better taste and color than non-organic, and it is free of those nasty hormones. Non-fat yogurt is also a great way to add protein to a vegetarian diet when done in moderation.

There are several options for low cost sources of protein. These include legumes, such as black beans or chickpeas. Hummus is a middle eastern dish that has chickpeas blended with garlic and other spices. It is great on sandwiches with tomato and lettuce, or on pita bread with olives, carrots and spinach. Most health food stores offer pre-made hummus if you don’t feel adventurous enough to try making your own.

Tofu is possibly the best way to boost up the amount of protein in a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are several sneaky ways to add it to many dishes you are probably already familiar with. Incorporating it into stir fries in as simple as just frying it and throwing it in. It can be broiled with peanut sauce and put on sandwiches or added to salads. It can even be cubed and thrown into ramen noodles! Tofu takes on the taste of whatever it is added to, which makes it extremely versatile.

Purchasing in bulk

Purchasing foods in the bulk section of the health food store can save you a lot of money. Instead of buying instant rolled oats in the round container, head over to the bulk section and get them for as low as 79 cents a pound. Nuts, rice, dried beans, trail mix, even pasta are all items that are less expensive when purchased in bulk.

If you need a spice for a recipe, but don’t need much, and don’t think you’ll use it for anything else anytime soon, then check out the herbs and spices that are offered in bulk. You can get a teaspoon of curry powder for that curried pumpkin stew for pennies on the dollar, as opposed to a container of it for much, much more. Honey, maple syrup and peanut butter are also offered in bulk. Often you must pay for the container, but you can wash it out and bring it back to refill, which is also much more environmentally conscious. At the local co-op where I live they even offer shampoo, body wash, lotion and laundry detergent in bulk too. The same applies, where you must buy the container, but you can bring it back for a refill.

It’s Really Not as Hard as You Might Think

These are some of the easiest ways to be vegetarian or vegan on a restricted budget. The biggest cost will be in specialty foods, but often you can find recipes to make your own specialty foods. Although those frozen dinners look delish, you can make enough for extra when you cook and freeze it for later. Instant homemade frozen dinner! Eat a variety of foods, and include lots of protein and leafy greens and being a healthy vegetarian is easier than eating a slice of vegan cake!