Sunday, 2 January 2011

Vegetarian food on a budget - meal planner

If money is tight, meal planning could really help cut the cost of your weekly food budget. There are loads of meat-free food options available now, but these processed products are fairly expensive, especially compared to good old root vegetables and pulses. If you do want to include meat substitutes, try the dried veggie mince/burger/sausage mixes you can buy in supermarkets and health food shops, as these are much cheaper than the ready-made versions.

If you're a new vegetarian, and aren't quite sure how to exclude meat and fish without missing out on flavour, the ideas below may help. You could also try the Vegetarian Society for information, recipes and advice. 

My top tips for cheap and great-tasting veggie food are:

  • Buy stores' own cheap fruit and veg...or shop at your local fruit and veg market.
  • Look for marked-down products at the end of the day. 
  • Add plenty of herbs and spices - buy in a few basics such as garam masala, cumin, chilli powder, mixed herbs, oregano, black pepper, garlic and ginger. Don't buy these in the cute little jars that cost around £2 each...look in the stores' own range and the world/ethnic food aisle and buy larger packs for half the price (go for brands such as Rajah and East End). Fresh ginger can be frozen, and garlic will keep in the fridge for several weeks. 
  • Grow your own herbs either in your garden or in a window box ...basil, parsley, sage and rosemary are all easy to grow. 
  • Buy cheap tins (or dried packets) of pulses for a budget and nutritious protein source.
  • If you like meat substitutes (Quorn etc.), bulk buy them when they are on special offer and freeze them until needed.
  • Use up left-over veg, by making them into a soup and freezing.
Here's my budget conscious and low(ish) fat vegetarian family main meal planner for a week. If you're single, a student, or cooking for 2, just reduce the quantities stated. You can cook these dishes in any order, but don't throw away leftovers. Use in another meal, or freeze until needed.
  • Pasta with sauce: Make up a double batch of tomato & vegetable pasta sauce, but omit the herbs. Use half over pasta (add some herbs) and save/freeze half for the following two recipes:
  • Vegetable curry: Use half of the pasta sauce in a vegetable curry - Fry 1 chopped onion in a little oil. Add 1 tbsp garam masala, or curry powder/paste, ½ a chopped green chilli, the pasta sauce, 100-200g of mixed frozen vegetables and a tin of drained chickpeas, lentils or mixed beans. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Serve with boiled rice.
  • Veggie chilli: Use the other half of pasta sauce to make a chilli - Add 1-2 tsp mild chilli powder, 1 tsp ground cumin, ½ a chopped green chilli, ½ a small tin of drained sweetcorn, a few sliced mushrooms and a drained tin of red kidney beans, or baked beans. Add  a handful of Quorn/veggie mince if available. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve with boiled rice, or wraps.
  • Vegetable pizza: use my the bread recipe for the base. Top with tomato purée, dried herbs, finely sliced vegetables, the remaining sweetcorn and a sprinkling of grated economy mozzarella/cheddar. Serve with salad.
  • Jacket potatoes: Cook 1 large baking potato per person. Serve with left-over curry, chilli or tinned baked beans and a sprinkling of grated cheese.
  • Veggie roast: Cook a roast dinner with 1 veggie/Quorn sausage per person, stuffing and/or Yorkshire pudding. Serve with roast potatoes & parsnips, boiled seasonal vegetables and veggie gravy.
  • Bottom of the fridge soup: Peel and chop all your leftover veg (you'll need around 500g-750g, including at least 1 onion or leek for flavour and some root vegetables to thicken). Fry the veg in olive/vegetable oil for a few minutes. Add 2 tbsp tomato puree and a good handful of dried red lentils, or ½ a drained tin of lentils/beans. Pour in about 1 litre of vegetable stock (use a stock cube). Season to taste with black pepper and herbs (½ tsp ground cumin, ginger or chilli powder will give it a kick). Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 mins, or until the vegetables are soft. Cool slightly and blend. Bring back to the boil before serving. Serve  with crusty bread.
  • Pesto Pasta: Cook some dried pasta, drain and stir in ½ a jar of vegetarian pesto or 50g of cream cheese or soft goats cheese. Flavour with black pepper and fresh chopped herbs. Serve with garlic bread, seasonal vegetables and/or salad.
To save even more money, buy dried beans and lentils. Soak overnight in cold water, drain, rinse, boil for 10 minutes and then simmer until soft. 
After boiling to remove toxins and soften the pulses, cook for:
  • Lentils (don't soak), boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  • Black eyed beans, black beans 30-35 minutes.
  • Kidney beans, flageolet beans, mixed beans, soya beans 45-60 minutes.
  • Borlotti beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, haricot beans 60-70 minutes.
To store cooked pulses, drain, cool quickly and refrigerate (for up to 2 days) or freeze (for up to a month).

Find more cheap meal ideas on my student food post. Pin It


  1. Pleased to have found you on BMB, I am now following.

    My hubbie is a veggie and I always get stuck for inspiration so I will be keeping an eye.

    Cheers Mich x

  2. Great stuff! I love these kind of tips where one meal becomes two or three or even four. I always do too many jacket potatoes, I like them sliced in an omlette the next day.

  3. There are so great money saving tips here. I live on quite a tight budget and I prefer to save as much money as I can for travelling, so being able to save money on food is really a priority for me.

  4. I hope the recipes and ideas are useful Zoe. Have fun travelling!

  5. This is the most amazing blog! Thanks for the resources. My hubby's a veg and slowly but surely I'm going in the same direction!! lol.

    1. Aww, thanks Helen :-) It took me a fair few years to go fully veg, but over 20 years on, I've never been tempted to eat meat again!


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