David Bakke is a health and money nut who shares his best tips and insights on Money Crashers Personal Finance.
The health benefits associated with a vegetarian diet are tremendous. Sticking to a vegetarian diet often increases your intake of healthy superfoods, which boosts the immune system and can result in decreased medical costs. Vegetarians also have a lower rate of becoming afflicted with heart disease and cancer.
When I became a vegetarian, my diet was at first a bit limited, as I just hadn’t done enough research. However, there is a wide variety of vegetarian foods that will expand your menu and have little effect on your wallet.
Healthy Vegetarian Foods to Add to Your Diet
1. Quinoa - Most people consider quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) to be a whole grain, but it’s actually a seed. Nutritionally, it’s similar to brown rice, but with a higher protein content. It cooks rapidly, is very versatile, and has a creamy, nutty taste. You can make a meal out of it by combining it with vegetables, or mix cooled quinoa into a fresh green salad. Also, cooled quinoa mixed with a few eggs and bread crumbs and cooked in the oven makes for a great deep dish pizza crust.
2. Couscous - Couscous is a coarsely ground pasta made from semolina, and it also works as a standalone dish when combined with other veggies, or as a complement. Its creamy texture is sure to be a hit with adults and children alike. It cooks in about 10 minutes.
3. Hummus - Hummus can serve as a dip or a topping, and is a perfect substitute for high-calorie dressings, such as ranch. Though you can purchase prepared hummus, if you have the time, you can make a homemade version. You’ll just need some chickpeas, Tahini, salt, lemon juice, garlic, and oil.
4. Eggplant - Eggplant is actually a great tasting veggie, despite its curious name. The classic use of it is Parmesan-style, but you can also stuff two halves of it with ricotta cheese or other fillings.
If you’re concerned about the fat content of fried eggplant, you can grill it to lower the calories. Just be sure to spice it beforehand or it may come out a little bland, and be sure to grill it thoroughly, as tough eggplant is not very palatable. Eggplant makes for a very filling dish, and is very inexpensive.
5. Frozen Vegetables - I originally assumed that frozen veggies did not contain the same nutritional value as fresh. As it turns out, they are just about equal. Vegetables picked for freezing are done so at their peak ripeness, whereas vegetables picked for grocery stores are done so before they are fully ripe, which slightly limits their vitamin and mineral content. Therefore, to cut down on the time spent in the kitchen and to save money, my freezer is fully stocked with this staple.
6. Dairy-Free Yogurt - If you wish to transition to a vegan diet, or if you have a lactose intolerance, your biggest challenge will be to eliminate dairy from your diet. Switching to soy yogurt, however, is one of the simplest changes to make. Not only are there a variety of brands and flavors, which are delicious right out of the carton, plain dairy-free yogurt is very versatile. It can be used as a substitute for mayonnaise (of course, you may want to try Veganaise) and put on veggie burgers, and you can also prepare a tasty guacamole with it.
7. Lentils - Lentils are a delicious member of the legume family that are also convenient. They require no soaking, and usually cook in well under an hour. Lentils are low in fat and cholesterol, and packed with protein and fiber. You can use them in soups or even make burgers out of them. This is another highly versatile, low-cost vegetarian option.
8. Tofu - The main ingredient in tofu is soybeans. It is both healthy and versatile: Tofu can be cubed and mixed with salads, sliced and grilled for sandwiches, and blended with fruit and juices to make a healthy smoothie. It’s high in protein, calcium, and iron and comes in a variety of textures. Choose firm tofu for cooking, and soft tofu for all other uses.
9. Fruit and Vegetable Pulp - Fresh vegetable and fruit juices make for a healthy breakfast food idea or a great midday snack. Just make sure you keep the pulp! If it’s a vegetable pulp, throw it into your next soup or casserole. If it’s fruit pulp, there are a variety of sweet bread recipes you can prepare. Pulp stored in the refrigerator will usually be good for a day or so, and it can be frozen for up to one month.
10. Seaweed - Seaweed is a staple among Asian diets, and has been attributed to longer life spans. You can typically find it at a farmers’ market or an Asian grocery store, and it’s quite affordable. Eat it as a side dish, or mix it in with a fresh salad or cold pasta. Believe it or not, it tastes great and is packed with minerals straight from the ocean. It is also considered to be a natural energy booster.
Ways to Save Money
You might wonder how you’re going to pay for all of this, as most vegetarian foods typically come with rather high price tags. One solution is to utilize manufacturers’ coupons. Sign up for email updates at websites such as So Delicious and Morningstar Farms, and you’ll get printable coupons sent right to your email inbox.
Next, seek out local farmers’ markets or farms to get fresh fruits and vegetables at significantly discounted prices. When you see other items like lentils and frozen vegetables on sale, stock up to boost the savings.
You should consider analyzing your current vegetarian diet to make sure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients. You can become iron-deficient if you’re not careful, so be sure to include split peas, potatoes, and spinach in your diet. Vegans need to make sure they’re consuming enough calcium-rich foods such as broccoli, kidney beans, and certain nuts.
However, so long as you take proper precautions, you, like many vegetarians, will enjoy the benefit of a healthier lifestyle. Those who do their research can significantly save money on groceries as well.
What unique vegetarian foods do you include in your diet?