Jessica has been a vegetarian for seven years and has been working as a cook for six.
When talking about switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet you will often hear, "I would switch, but it's just too expensive!" Sure, if you are only buying expensive organic produce from health food shops this may be true, but in my experience buying vegetarian food is actually much less expensive than buying meat. There are also plenty of ways to make inexpensive food without skimping on nutrition or flavor. Below are my top 10 picks for items that are helpful for any vegetarian to have on hand, and they are all super inexpensive.
Beans are a wonderfully versatile food for any kitchen. The least expensive way to buy beans is to buy them dry, but there is also a huge variety of canned beans that you can buy for less than a dollar. Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and pinto beans are all awesome to have a stockpile of, but you should get whatever your favorite is! You can add them to so many recipes and they add a boost of protein to any meal.
Some great ways to use beans are:
- Rice bowls
And there are a ton of different ideas online!
A box of pasta costs about $1 and it serves multiple people. Pasta is an awesome staple to have because you can make so many great meals with it, it's inexpensive, and it is filling! You can make anything from regular spaghetti to something like this vegan pasta primavera.
There are so many meals that you can make with pasta. I frequently throw noodles in vegetable soups to bulk them up, and there are numerous ways to enjoy pasta with vegetables. Whether you are making a quick simple dinner or you are making something fancy, you are not going to regret buying a $1 box of pasta.
I know this one is a little controversial. A lot of people don't like tofu, but a lot of people have never had good tofu either. I thought I didn't like tofu for a long time. The first time I tried it it was bland and soggy, and I didn't try it again for years. When I finally had it cooked well I realized what I had been missing, and I decided to start cooking with it myself. The most important thing to remember when you are cooking tofu is that you want to have plenty of seasoning (that doesn't mean a ton of salt!) and you want to have a nice crispy crust.
Tofu is very inexpensive—it is usually around $2-3 where I live. It also has a ton of protein and calcium. Tofu is great to have on hand whether you want to make tofu steaks or you want to throw it in a stir fry or salad. It is extremely versatile, you can season it however you please and there are so many ways to use it. Since it is so good for you and so inexpensive I definitely think it is a good thing to keep on hand!
4. Rice, Quinoa, and Other Grains
Rice and other grains can make great bases for meals. You could make rice and veggies, a quinoa bowl with tofu and veggies, rice and beans, fried rice, and tons of other recipes. Rice and quinoa are staples that you can build a whole meal from, and they will keep you feeling full.
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Rice especially is super affordable. You can find a bag of rice for under $1 at most grocery stores. Quinoa can be a little more expensive, but it might be worth it to you for its health benefits. It is high in protein, fiber, and iron.
5. Frozen Veggies
Frozen veggies are the way to go if you are on a budget. Bags of frozen vegetables are much more economical than buying all of your veggies fresh, and buying them frozen allows you to build up a stockpile to use in different recipes. A good example of this is buying frozen broccoli florets. Most of the time you can find a bag of frozen broccoli for a dollar or two, and you don't have to worry about it cooking down as much as you would with fresh vegetables.
A lot of the time you can find bags of frozen vegetables for less than a dollar. Great options to have are peas, mixed veggies, broccoli, asparagus, corn, and stir fry mix. These are super easy to use for whatever recipe you want to make, and you will save a lot of money buying them frozen.
6. Nutritional Yeast
This might sound weird or fancy, but nutritional yeast is actually a good staple to have in your kitchen. It has a rich cheesy flavor so it is good in all sorts of different foods, and it is especially nice if you don't eat dairy. It is also full of nutrients that you can't get from a vegetarian or vegan diet, such as vitamin B-12. It is very nice to have on hand for seasoning veggies, pasta, and popcorn, but you can use it on anything. I like Now Nutritional Yeast Flakes just because it comes in such a big container and it lasts forever, but you can find it at almost any grocery store.
I like having it around because of the flavor and the nutrition it adds to foods. It is also very inexpensive per serving!
7. Canned Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes can be used in so many things. I throw a can of diced tomatoes in soup pretty often, but they are good to have on hand for pasta, chili, and crockpot meals too. There are so many meals that are just not the same without that tomato flavor, and canned tomatoes are both cheaper and way easier to use than fresh tomatoes in a ton of recipes. Canned tomatoes are not always better than fresh, I always like to have fresh tomatoes on hand for salads and sandwiches, but they do deserve their place in the kitchen!
None of these foods are going to taste very good if they are not seasoned. When you are building up your vegetarian pantry it is important not to forget about spices. Make sure to get all the basics like salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, oregano, chili powder, paprika, Italian seasoning, etc, but don't forget to get all of your favorites as well.
I know at Walmart there is a whole section of spices for under a dollar—$0.98 to be exact. You could stock up on so many seasonings this way, and having the right spices will definitely step up your cooking!
9. Staple Fruits and Veggies
Some good cooking staples for veggies are potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. I think it is also worth it to buy a few fresh fruits. Bananas are always good to have on hand, and they are pretty inexpensive. If you have these things you can always make a great soup, and you will always have a fresh snack.
A great way to get delicious seasonal produce is to shop locally. In the summer we get great cherries, peaches, apples, tomatoes, and much more for way cheaper than at the store. You can find great deals at farm stands, farmers markets, or even by driving out to the farms to get boxes of produce.
10. Vegetable Broth
If you have vegetable broth on hand you will always be able to make a soup out of whatever you have. You can make fresh veggie soups with beans or pasta added, or you could make a nice cream soup with extra broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach. Either way, you will need broth for a base.
There are a variety of options to choose from, you can get low sodium, broth with extra protein, vegetarian cream base, regular vegetable broth, or even vegetable bullion cubes. Most vegetarian broth will be very clearly labeled, but you can always double-check by looking at the ingredients. I love having the option to make an easy soup, and using whatever leftovers you have is a great way to save money.
© 2021 Jess H