The conclusions of an expert panel, reported in a 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article, had some very good news for vegetarians. Studies show that vegetarians not only have lower body weights, greater longevity and lower rates of chronic disease, especially some cancers, diabetes and heart disease than non-vegetarians, but that vegetarian diets create less of an economic burden, too. Eating from a vegetarian menu on a budget is easy, if you use mainly simple, unprocessed ingredients. (See References 1)
Be a frugal shopper. Buy your produce in season -- when it's freshest -- and buy it on sale when possible. Purchase grains, rice and legumes in bulk; check with your grocer to see if you can order your most-used staples by the 25- or 50-pound bag. Avoid expensive convenience foods; with a little planning, you can make your own quick-to-assemble meals. Limit your use of expensive dairy products, but be sure to replace the missed calcium with plant-based sources, such as leafy green vegetables, carrots and almonds. (See References 2)
Soups are substantial and inexpensive to make. Accompanied by some warm bread, they become a meal. Make a large pot of soup and freeze the extra in serving-size portions; they'll provide you with a quick dinner later on. Some suggestions from Mollie Katzen's classic vegetarian cookbook, "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest," include dilled mushroom-barley, curried peanut, lentil, potato-leek, eggplant and summer vegetable. (See References 3)
Stir-fry dishes follow a simple theme. Onions, garlic and vegetables are sautéed in oil at high heat, sprinkled with soy sauce and served over cooked rice. The fun comes in the endless combination of vegetables and spices. Try green beans, ginger and hoisin sauce; or tofu, almonds, sesame oil and green peppers. To save time, make a big pot of rice at the beginning of the week so you'll be able to assemble a fast stir-fry or other rice-based dish as needed. Freeze any extra for later use.
Eggs provide an economical protein source and a variety of preparation options. Slice hard-boiled eggs onto a salad, peel and eat with salt and pepper for a light snack, or make into deviled eggs or egg salad. Stir raw eggs into a boiling pot of broth and vegetables for a light soup. Cover a corn tortilla with refried beans, eggs and salsa, and you have huevos rancheros.
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Food, Plant Food, and Vegetarian Diets in the US Dietary Guidelines: Conclusions of an Expert Panel; David R. Jacobs Jr., et al.; March 2009
- Loma Linda University School of Public Health: The Vegetarian Food Pyramid; 2008
- "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest"; Mollie Katzen; Ten Speed Pres; 1982
Suzanna Didier's work appears in online publications including the National Geographic website, SFGate and Local.com. She is an avid cook who lives on a hobby farm, direct-markets organic produce to local restaurants and has taught at the preschool, elementary and college levels. Didier holds a Master of Arts in education from the University of Oregon.
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