14 Cheap Meatless Meals for Calorie Counters
High-quality meat is often one of the priciest items on the grocery list. While cutting out meat completely may be unrealistic for many, planning a vegetarian meal even once a week can make a difference. Going meatless also inspires many to cultivate a healthier lifestyle. These 14 recipes feature nutritious, low-cost ingredients and should satisfy omnivores as well as vegetarians.
Related: 20 Dirt-Cheap Vegetarian Meals
Burgers may have become synonymous with culinary satisfaction and indulgence, but there's no need to avoid them when going meatless. Aside from the many recipes for veggie burgers, which make use of cheap pantry staples such as rice and beans, substituting a whole portobello mushroom is an option that retains a meaty texture, especially when cooked on a grill. Simply switch out a portobello mushroom for the burger patty, seasoning and marinating as usual. Aside from saving on calories (mushrooms are less caloric than meat), portobellos usually cost a few cents less per ounce than ground beef. For an even cheaper option, substitute mushrooms such as white button -- but be prepared for more elaborate recipes to form these smaller mushrooms into patties.
Related: 10 Cheap, Healthy Alternatives to Red and Processed Meat
Falafel can be so much more than the fried balls of deliciousness that line a cheap, on-the-go pita sandwich. A baked version by Mark Bittman cuts the fat by swapping the fryer for an oven. The main ingredient is dried chickpeas, which are even less expensive than the already cheap, precooked canned version. Toss in aromatics such as onion and garlic with a hefty serving of piquant spices and this cheap dish can take the place of meatloaf or roasted chicken on a traditional dinner plate. It also makes a great salad topping or tapas-style shared plate.
Curries are more about flavorful combinations of spices than any chunks of meat nestled within the thick sauce. Throw a good curry on broiled shoe leather and it has a chance of tasting good! There are plenty of premade mixes and powders that add up to less than $1 a serving. Making a curry from spices such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, chili, cumin, and coriander -- many linked to a range of health benefits -- is even less expensive and allows for customized flavor. Make a large batch and keep on hand for busy weeknights. Add vegetables of your choice (frozen vegetables work well) and some coconut milk for an easy and inexpensive meal.
The essentials of a good enchilada are tortillas, sauce, and cheese; the filling really plays second fiddle. Replace the commonly used chicken with roasted potatoes and broccoli for a low-calorie, low-cost yet hearty dish. Make salsa verde at home (an Allrecipes contributor has a highly rated recipe) to get really bold layers. Cover the tortilla roll-ups generously to allow sparing use of cheese without sacrificing flavor. After sprinkling the cheese on top, bake or broil until it melts and the sauce sinks in.
A big bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce provides a deeply satisfying dose of sweet and savory flavor with toothsome texture -- but a high carb and calorie count. To hit all those marks without the heavy meat and carbs, replace the wheat-based pasta with spiralized zucchini noodles, or "zoodles." Create depth in the sauce by roasting tomatoes, drawing out their sweetness as well as their umami flavor. Toss roasted tomatoes with the zoodles, along with fresh basil, chili flakes, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and revel in a dish that provides just as much flavor with plant-based ingredients.
As long as the filling is sufficiently spiced, no one will miss the meat in the rice and bean filling of these stuffed peppers. A version posted on Allrecipes is easily adaptable to use up leftover veggies, fresh or already cooked, or make good use of inexpensive frozen veggies. Cut calories and cost by skipping the cheese or swapping it out for a few slices of heart-healthy avocado on the side once the cooking is done. The avocado provides a similar rich creaminess.
Tacos are a favorite food for people of all ages and dietary preferences. Tortillas are usually cheap, but if they are difficult to find, consider making them from an instant corn masa mix instead -- just a few cents' worth goes into each tortilla. Black beans cost about 20 cents a serving and make an excellent taco filling when sautéed with onion, garlic, and chili powder. Top with cilantro, onion, and lime and enjoy flavorful meatless tacos for less than $1 each.
Beans are one of the best plant-based sources of protein, not to mention providing a whole host of vitamins and minerals. This hearty soup is a great option for those who worry about protein intake when skipping meat in their meals. A recipe from Whole Foods lays out the basics. Any leafy green works well in the soup, including chard and escarole. The vegetarian version contains no sausage or bacon, so put those calories toward a glass of Tuscan wine and crusty bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.
Related: 5 Vegetarian Slow Cooker Meals Under $15
Upgrade this salad to a meal by adding protein-rich chickpeas atop a tasty and cheap base of sliced cucumber, tomatoes, and red onion. A little chunky and tangy feta goes a long way and adds calcium in addition to flavor. Dress the salad simply with olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, and oregano. For a healthy lunch on the go, spoon this into whole-wheat pita and enjoy as a sandwich.
This traditional Israeli breakfast makes a filling meal any time of day. A basic version from Allrecipes combines spicy tomato sauce with eggs, gently cooked to create a savory stew that is traditionally eaten with bread. The bones of this recipe come from two dirt-cheap ingredients: canned tomatoes and eggs. Adjust the seasonings to make it as complex and spicy or simple as you'd like, and consider adding some chopped spinach or chard to work in a daily dose of greens. This is a good dish to present family-style, served in a large skillet.
This dish is essentially the Italian, vegetarian version of chicken noodle soup. Born of peasant origins, it makes use of two cheap and readily available foods: pasta and beans. A TreeHugger recipe is simple and adaptable, combining broth, veggies, and small pasta with beans and herbs. A sprinkling of Parmesan cheese tops off a heartwarming bowl of comfort.
Replace high-carb tortilla wrappers with collard greens, which cost just a few cents apiece during the summer. When fresh they provide enough structure to hold together ingredients while being tender and sweet enough to enjoy raw. Layer in hummus and thinly sliced veggies such as cucumber and carrot, along with a fresh herb such as parsley or cilantro and even mango or red pepper for sweetness. Dip these in a mix of soy sauce and chili sauce for an explosion of raw, plant-based flavor. Each filling wrap uses a fraction of a vegetable or fruit, making this meal truly cost-effective.
It can be difficult to find satisfying vegetarian options when many staples rely on meat ingredients. Swapping out the meat in sandwiches is a great way to save on calories and stick to a vegetarian diet. Substituting avocado for bacon in the classic BLT provides a full dose of rich, fatty flavor without relying on expensive meat alternatives such as tempeh or coconut bacon. Be sure to use a good-quality sea salt on the avocado to bring out its flavor and create an umami-rich sandwich.
Burritos are not often considered health food. They are high in carbs, from the wrapper and rice, and high in animal fat, from meat fillings and cheese. Create a healthier burrito by skipping the rice and meat and loading it up with savory roasted veggies. Everything from potatoes and broccoli to Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and bell peppers make a delicious filling. Add zesty pico de gallo and guacamole and enjoy an overstuffed burrito without the guilt.