Monday, November 2, 2009

Vegging Out: Saving Money with Meatless Meals

For about a year and half - maybe even closer to two years - my husband and I were vegetarian. Well, technically, we were "pesco-vegetarian", meaning we'd occasionally eat seafood. We did it for a bunch of reasons - mostly health and moral/ethical reasons - but we eventually drifted back to our carnivorous ways. Our return to meat all started last year, with an In-N-Out burger while en route to Disneyland...but I digress.

As you might imagine, one of the byproducts of our vegetarianism was a lower grocery bill. And though our meatless days are mostly over (I say mostly because I almost never cook with beef or pork - most of my non-veg meals have either turkey or chicken in them), I still incorporate vegetarian meals into my menu planning at least twice a week. Not only does this help us eat meat sparingly (seriously, our country eats waaay too much meat - if we all cut back, we wouldn't need to mass-produce the animals the way we do here. Dang it - I got on the soapbox. I made a goal not to do that in this post), but it's a frugal way to cook for yourself and your family. Here are a few ideas to get you to go meatless, even if it's just one dinner a week.

These are all things I made back in our veg-head days. I might add that none of the recipes include tofu - nothing against it, I just could never get it to work for me. Maybe I just expected too much of it. Anyway, here's some ideas...
  • Pizza is a staple at our house. I'm going to devote an entire post to my pizza recipe in near-future. It is ridiculously fast and easy - and I make it for less money than even a $5 Little Caesar's pizza. But if you're dying of suspense and have to have the recipe right away, you can check out this link to my personal blog when I wrote about it a little over a year ago. We have pizza once a week and it's so easy to make it meatless.
  • While I'm mentioning pizza, I might as well add that Italian food offers many meatless options. I think it's partly due to the fact that meat isn't always the center of the meal and the pasta fills you up. Of course, there's always spaghetti - it's really easy to omit the meat in spaghetti sauce. There's also lots of vegetarian lasagna recipes out there (seriously, tons. Do a Google search. Here's one I found that I think I'm going to try - even though I LOVE my go-to lasagna recipe). There's also eggplant parmesan - delicious and surprisingly easy.
  • And while I'm mentioning noodles, how could I not mention macaroni? (This post is quite stream-of-consciousness...) Homemade macaroni and cheese is super-easy and cheap to make, not to mention so much better than the boxed kind (here's the link to the recipe I use - though I just use regular cheddar instead of white). You can also add some vegetables to the mac and cheese - I always add broccoli. My sister-in-law's mom made us chipotle macaroni and cheese, which was also awesome. Macaroni is oh-so-versatile and easy to go vegetarian with.
  • Now, one option totally unrelated to Italian food or noodles (well, I guess you could serve it on noodles...): stir-fry. The nice thing about making stir-fry is that you can basically make up your own recipe for the sauce, add whatever vegetables you want, and serve it on rice. Here's the link to a helpful guide (basically just a formula to follow - you decide the ingredients) and how-to to get you feeling more stir-fry savvy.
  • Beans are your meat-free friend. They're bursting with protein and are very filling. My favorite beans are black beans and I use them in all sorts of recipes, particularly in Mexican dishes. An example: I'll fill tortillas with cheese, black beans, corn, and a little enchilada sauce, roll them up, line them in a pan, top with more enchilada sauce and cheese, and bake them for 15-ish minutes. This is such an economical dinner to make because most of the ingredients come from your pantry or freezer. Again, Google bean recipes and you'll find a ton of ideas.
  • Eggs are an awesome meat-free dinner option. Sometimes, if I'm feeling lazy, I'll just make omelets for dinner (I'm going to try to make them a la Julia Child - I've been reading the section of Mastering the Art of French Cooking all about omelets and I want to make a truly French-style one). Another awesome way to use eggs for dinner: Smitten Kitchen's huevos rancheros. Click on the link - I dare you. I can't look at this recipe on her blog without getting a mad craving for them.
  • Make breakfast for dinner - sans the sausage, ham, and bacon. When I was a kid, my mom would make breakfast dinner and we loved it! If you're going to do this, use this pancake recipe.
  • Soup it up! There are so many options when it comes to soup, especially if you want to make a meat-free soup. You can make a simple chowder with a roux, a little water, and some vegetables (I'm keeping this all fairly vague for a reason - I'll be posting a bunch of soup stuff in the weeks to come). Or you could make this minestrone soup - not only is it meat-free and delicious, but it is so cheap to make since it's mostly just vegetables that you probably already have in your crisper and then a few pantry items. Really, it costs almost nothing to make, but it's just as good as what you'd get in a restaurant.
The ideas I've listed are only a start - there really are a ton of options when it comes to making meatless meals. Granted, if you're going to eat this way all the time, you may need to get more creative, do some more research and reading. One cookbook that I recommend is Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers - the recipes are specifically made to be simple, weeknight-type of vegetarian dinners. I also have the be-all and end-all of vegetarian cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This is an amazing guide and has all the information you could possibly want on how to prepare and cook vegetables, along with beans and grains (like rice, quinoa, barley, etc.). And then there's the Internet - you can find a bazillion vegetarian sites and recipes.

So, step away from the meat counter (don't tell my dad I wrote that - he just so happens to work as a butcher at a supermarket in Park City) and try a meat-free dinner, even if it's just once a week. You'll be surprised how little you'll miss the meat - and your wallet may just thank you.

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