Being a vegetarian on a budget: “How much does a vegetarian diet really cost?”. This is probably one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked by people interested in healthy eating and vegetarianism. I realized that most of them live under the false impression that eating healthy is expensive, and thus a vegetarian diet is nowhere near of being budget-friendly. In this article, I want to debunk this myth and show you some tips and trick for eating healthy and being vegetarian on a budget.
A few weeks ago, I had a little chat with some friends of mine (vegetarians and non-vegs) about their monthly food budget. I was so surprised when they told me that the average amount spent on food in a month is somewhere around 1000 RON (That’s about 300$. This may not be much to you, but keep in mind that the average salary in Romania is about 350-400$). In my opinion, this is too much, especially because it’s calculated only for 2 people. As a comparison, in my family (4 people), the monthly food budget is around 500RON (that is 150-200$).
Let me briefly describe how things in my family work. We’re a 4 persons family, well actually 3, but Costin can be considered as a part of the family too. My dad is a gourmand. He eats a lot and that’s no secret! In our family, fruits are a must! My dad alone eats about 1kg of fruits per day. Thank God for his great metabolism :). My mom eats very little, so she doesn’t add too much to the monthly food budget. Costin is like my dad, he needs to eat every 3 hours or so, and I have my food blog, which means I have to cook daily and this implies some extra costs.
I was talking to Costin yesterday, while I was making a veggie soup, and asked him: “Look, how much do you think this pot of soup costs?”. He didn’t know what to answer, so I told him: “5RON, tops!” (that’s 2$). Yes, you can make a whole pot of veggie soup (with lots of veggies) with just 5RON (2$), a whole pot that can feed one person for at least 10 times! This doesn’t apply only to soups, but to many other recipes as well. The costs I mentioned here apply for Romania of course, but the principles can be applied in any country, as the average salary differs!
I identified several problems for increased monthly food budgets and I hope that this article will help you become more organized, learn how to shop smart and reduce your monthly food expenses. Also, I want to destroy the “healthy eating is expensive myth”. That’s something only lazy people say! There, I said it!
First of all, I must mention that I only consider vegetarian diets as being healthy. We’re not talking here about “healthy” diets with meat products, because there aren’t any! I talked more about this subject in my My Vegetarian Story: From avid meat eater to happy vegetarian article. You know that I’m very tolerant, but I have very strong reasons to afirm this. You can read more about it in the article mentioned earlier. In this particular case, I will discuss about the costs of a vegan/vegetarian diet. I will not talk about raw vegan diets, because I consider them to be expensive, and this is not because of the fresh veggies (because those are cheap), but because of the variety and large quantities of fruits/nuts/seeds one has to eat in order to maintain the necessary calories and nutrients intake. This is just a personal opinion, I only tried this diet for a short period of time, so you can contradict me of course.
I will start by showing you the most important problems I have discovered in the increase of monthly food budgets, and also how to solve them.
Vegetarian on a Budget - Problems and Solutions
1. Most people have no idea how to shop smart.
If you have huge monthly food expenses too, it means you are a part of this category of people. Shopping smart is something you learn. We’re bombarded with commercials everywhere, shops are filled with dozens of brands and dozens of different prices for only one type of product. How can we survive the temptation of buying unnecessary things and don’t fall prey to their marketing techniques? Easy. Information is key.
Look beyond appearances, branding, shiny, vibrant colors and the first shelf you see. Analyze the products. When you go to the farmer’s market, start by scaning all products available and their prices. Only after you’ve done this, start buying.
2. Unorganized = higher costs.
Always make a shopping list. If you’re organized you’ll reduce your expenses. Don’t forget to also plan your weekly meals.
3. You’re hungry and decided to go shopping.
Worst mistake every! Never go shopping on an empty stomach! It happened to me many times and regreted it afterwards. You’ll end up buying lots of unnecessary things.
4. You’re not buying in bulk.
This is another big mistake. I save a lot of money by buying foods in bulk. Frozen veggies are a must! You have no idea how much you can save by having some frozen veggies in your fridge. You can cook lots of different recipes and they’re also very cheap. Don’t think that frozen veggies are less healthy than fresh ones. They’re even better actually. Frozen vegetables are frozen right after they’re picked so they keep all of their nutrients.
I also buy spices, pasta, legumes and beans in bulk. You should always have enough of them in your pantry. Legumes and beans are excellent because they are very versatile, nutritious and have a meaty texture every vegetarian loves! Red lentils are my favorite, because they are very easy to cook.
5. You don’t buy basic ingredients.
By basic ingredients I mean foods that can be used to make recipes more than 1-2 times. I’m talking about foods like legumes, beans, pasta, rice, mushrooms and vegetables. In our family, fruits cannot be considered basic ingredients, as they are always eaten as fast as they are bought. Always buy basic ingredients and keep your pantry and fridge stocked. You’ll never find yourself in the situation of not having what to cook. For example, a few days ago I only had 2 carrots, half a celery root, a bunch of parsley, an onion, red lentils and 2 eggs in the fridge. With just these ingredients I made a whole pot of clear veggie soup and about 20 lentil patties, all in under 40 minutes.
6. You only cook in small quantities.
There’s nothing wrong with cooking single-plate meals, but when you have a whole family to feed it may not be that fun to spend hours in the kitchen for every meal. Start by cooking in larger quantities and make recipes that can be easily re-heated, like: soups, patties, stews etc.
7. You buy only BIO/Organic foods.
Let’s face it, all this BIO propaganda is just about business and nothing more! I actually saw a few days ago, that a new BIO shop opened in Bucharest. They posted some photos on their Facebook page. Those fruits and veggies looked just like the ones in the regular supermarket! How can they say that those perfectly-shaped, impeccable colored bell peppers are BIO/organic?! Really?! I’ve seen BIO, I know how organic veggies should look and taste like, and those were far from being so.
Unfortunately, these days we don’t have the certainty that BIO/Organic foods are actually like that. If you have the possibility, grow your own vegetables! If not, try to find a reliable, safe source, a farmer from whom you can buy them. Otherwise, save your money.
You’ll probably think now: “What about all those pesticides and other bad stuff sprayed on the veggies?”. Well, as I always said, pick the lesser of two evils. What do you think is better? To eat a conventional carrot or a steak filled with hormones, antibiotics and GMO’s?
In conclusion, to end the BIO/Organic subject, which I could debate forever, I recommend you to buy from your local farmer’s markets and stores. You must have some basic rules in mind, though. Never buy veggies and fruits you know are GMO, and also don’t buy them if you know them as being extremely contaminated – like tomatoes and apples are. Buy these only from your local farmer’s market and safe sources.
That’s it! I hope I didn’t miss anything. If you have any other tips, please feel free to leave me a comment and I will update the article. Hope you’ll find it useful
Just to feed my curiosity: “How much do you spend on food in a month?” Looking forward to reading your comments. :)
Photo sources: www.sxc.hu and PinterestCooksnaps