Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Going Vegetarian or Semi-Vegetarian as an Economic Strategy

A lot of people have strong feelings about vegetarianism - almost everyone has an opinion on the ethics, health and lifestyle aspects of eating or not eating meat.

My only opinion is that vegetables are cheaper than meat. It's a simple bit of math - when we buy meat we're paying for the veggies the animal in question eats, its housing, medical care, transportation to market, inspection process, etc., and so eating vegetarian all or some of the time is an important option in saving money. Add in the fact that the majority of Americans don't get enough veggies in their diet on a regular basis, and it really begins to make sense to change focus from meat to veggies in your menu planning.

It's not hard to incorporate vegetarianism into your lifestyle - try it out for just one day a week! You may realize that you don't miss meat as much as you might think.

Breakfast is easy, since many folks don't have meat for breakfast anyway. Your standard bagel w/cream cheese, cereal with milk, pancakes or waffles are all vegetarian to start with.

Lunches can be equally simple: PB&J is a classic old standby, and many soups and salads are or can be vegetarian.

The sticking point most folks have is with dinner...but it doesn't have to be a sticking point. Try some Indian dishes like saag paneer or channa masala, or Mexican dishes like cheese enchiladas or bean & cheese burritos! Want something a little less exotic? Try some quiche or meatless chili! You can find a whole world of vegetarian cookbooks on Amazon, here: Vegetarian & Vegan Cookbooks

Not ready to cut meat out of your diet, but still looking to save money on it? Here are a few ideas:

Spread It Out: A little bit of meat can go a long way. Try dishes like casseroles, where meats are usually used mostly as flavoring, or Pilafs & Paellas
, in which rice is the star ingredient, pasta dishes, or stir fry. Bacon & ham, with their strong, salty flavors, can be used as flavoring in hundreds of dishes, from twice-baked potatoes to a pot of beans, to salads or casseroles. People make fun of casseroles sometimes, but their simplicity and money-savings are no laughing matter. They're also incredibly satisfying and comforting.

Set a Price Point:

I've mentioned this idea here before, but it bears repeating. Study your local grocery flyers and determine what you can reasonably spend per pound to get a variety of meats. In my area, it's $2/lb. For that I can get (on sale) italian sausage, all cuts of chicken - from leg quarters to boneless, skinless breasts, london broil (aka top round), pork loin (in a 10-12 lb package, on sale), ham, stew meat, spare ribs, lean ground beef, ground turkey, and turkey breast. It's really important to shop the sales and create your menus around them! If your grocery store has a meat section called "manager's specials", check out their offerings as well - it's often premium meat that is nearing its sell-by date and is reduced for quick sale. This can be integrated right into that week's menu, or re-wrapped and frozen for later use.

Try it out for a day or a week, and you might be surprised not only at how much you'll save on groceries, but also by how much you enjoy the change of pace!

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