In theory, switching to a vegetarian diet should save money on groceries. But, depending on your personal tastes and habits, this isn't always the case. I've been asked many times about the cost of going vegetarian. I've also heard complaints from some that it is expensive because of the amount of "specialist" food they feel they need to buy. I love to eat well but I need to be frugal and I always keep my grocery bill to a minimum. Here are a few of the ways I have found to save money on groceries.
Plan your meals for the week so you are clear on your grocery needs. Make sure to take your schedule into account. Are there days in the coming week in which you know cooking time will be cut to a minimum? Do you expect to work late a lot? Do your kids have a lot of activities? Plan for these days, whether that means pulling out a favourite quick meal or a freezer option. As you plan week to week, you will hopefully gradulally build a stock of these meals.
Your shopping list should be based on your meal plan. And don't forget to stick to it! If something looks good but it doesn't fit into your meal plan, don't buy it - especially if it has a short shelf-life.
When you are making your meal plan, it is useful to look at what staples you already have. Many of the best, cheapest and most nutritious vegetarian meals are based around dried goods like beans and whole-grains.
Use dried beans instead of cans. Buy in bulk, cook in bulk, then freeze in logical size portions. Here's how.
If you have the space to store them, buy beans, grains and other long-life foods to save money and ensure you have a constant supply. If you don't have easy access to shops that provide bulk options, you can order bulk online. You can even do this with Amazon. You can also get discounts if you sign up for their "subscribe and save" options.
With a good supply of seasonings, dried and fresh, it will always be easier to turn simple staples into good meals. Other good things to keep in the pantry are good quality jars of pickles, olives, artichokes etc. These are a little more expensive but will keep for ages and liven up your more basic ingredients.
Now my logic with this advice is that these are the things that will allow you to save money by keeping grocery shopping trips to a minimum. Keep frozen pizza dough (homemade if possible) and good quality pastry in the freezer. You can rustle up a tart or pie very quickly with these. If you eat cheese, buy some good quality vacuum packed cheeses which have a good shelf life. I love halloumi and feta (salt fiend I'm afraid). They are both sold vacuum-packed with a long shelf life. They have saved dinner many times. Do keep a backup of frozen vegetables in the freezer too. They can bulk up a stew or soup or just add an extra side when you haven't shopped.
Am I really saying that? Well yes. Fruit and vegetables are what we throw out most. So eat fresh everyday but don't get carried away with your fruit and vegetable shopping. The more you buy, the more you are likely to waste. Many of us, full of good intentions, overbuy fresh items that do not fit with our schedule for the week. If you don't have a plan for it, don't buy it. (Remember your meal plan?)
Storing fruit and vegetables properly minimizes the chances of them going bad, loosing nutrients and being thrown out before you eat them. The LoveFoodHateWaste people are now running a campaign to encourage people to buy packaged rather than loose produce. They say it lasts longer. While I get the logic, I hate that advice. All of that packaging generates waste too. My alternative suggestion is to buy unpackaged produce (it's getting harder to do outside farmers' markets) and store it using something like Debbie Meyer Green Bags or an inexpensive fridge container, designed to prolong the life of your produce.
If your vegetables are starting to look old, make a big pot of soup or add them to a stew or casserole. I like to toss lots of aging and unloved vegetables in a roasting pan with olive oil, garlic, some herbs and canned tomatoes. Cook in the oven till soft, purée with a blender and freeze. It may be a little like student food but you'll find it works over pasta some busy evening.
Whenever you make a freezer-friendly meal, double the quantities and freeze half for one of those busier days. This is also a good way to use up produce if you have overstocked on vegetables. Curries, chili, stews, lasagna are all good freezer meals.
Fake meats can be useful but, as well as being highly processed and loaded with sodium, they are a much more expensive option than cooking from scratch. If you like a chunk of protein on the side of your plate, baked tofu is an easy, home-cooked alternative.
Make full use of coupons when shopping. Just make sure you are using them for things you want or can really make use of. You know the rule. If it's not part of the plan...
If you have any tips for saving money on groceries, I would love to hear them. Please leave a comment below if you would like to share!
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