“cheapism helps you find the cheapest "best buys"” — lifehacker
Home » blog

Cheap Vegetarian Meals and Healthy Dinner Ideas

Posted on 7/12/2011 16:48 EST

Like many things in life, preparing and enjoying cheap healthy meals requires just a bit of forethought. Keep your kitchen stocked with staples like canned beans, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, nuts, and frozen veggies. Liven things up with perishables like fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer's market, lean cuts of meat, low-fat dairy, and cheap bags of baking potatoes. And make sure the spice cupboard isn't bare: seasonings are your best friend in healthy cheap recipes because they let you cut the sodium that's often added to boost flavor.

Photo by Lane & Anne
You can easily turn cheap healthy recipes into vegetarian delights by skipping the meat and adding protein in the form of beans or eggs. If you're looking for cheap low-calorie vegetarian meals, just avoid recipes that call for meat. And that means fish and seafood, too -- strict vegetarians don't eat these foods, either. Good recipes are a must-have resource for the vegetarian cook, and the Web is loaded with sites offering vegetarian recipes by the pound. One we like is HappyCow, an interactive site that delivers cheap healthy dinner recipes for vegetarians along with a directory of meatless restaurants and health food stores around the world -- a feature lauded by traveling vegetarians who struggle to maintain their dietary practices on the road. Each recipe provides a list of ingredients, preparation method, cooking time, and a user (as in home cook) rating; you can browse through recipe categories like ethnic cuisine, pasta, salad, dinner, gluten-free, and many more. Some highly-rated cheap healthy dinner recipes include gujarati carrot salad with mustard seeds, which takes just 15 minutes to prepare, and apple-parsnip bisque, which calls for an hour of prep time that includes 45 minutes for roasting the vegetables.

Photo by Dano
There are several veggie burger recipes, perfect for a summer's day but more time intensive than hamburgers and best cooked on a stovetop or in the oven. Happy Cow fans offer their own tips for some recipes, such as adding carrot pulp and olive oil as a binder for the four-star smoked tofu and bean burger.

Another fruitful source is Food.com, where amateur chefs offer their two cents on cheap healthy dinner recipes, some of which are vegetarian. Nutrition labels are provided along with many recipes so you can be sure they're cheap low-calorie and wholesome meals. By way of example, cheap vegetarian tuna salad is something of a misnomer -- it contains no fish -- but is an excellent source of fiber and protein and makes a great cheap healthy meal for summer. It contains chickpeas, which cost less than $1 a can, carrot, celery, pickle relish, onions, mayo, and mustard. It wins five stars from eaters who say it oddly, but pleasantly, tastes a bit like tuna. The bonus: meat-eating family members enjoyed it as well. For folks who do enjoy their meat but crave cheap healthy dinner recipes, crock pot southwestern chicken includes cheap ingredients like black beans, canned corn, and salsa, which together cost less $5. (Tortillas, cheese, and rice are optional.) You can find other recipes on this site in the Healthy tab or Vegetarian side bar and filter your search for your healthy cheap recipes by ingredients or cooking method, such as grilling.

Here's an out-of-the-box suggestion: Check out student websites and forums to find very cheap healthy recipes for your family. If you're looking for really cheap and healthy vegetarian meals, StudentRecipes.com provides a listing of simple meals with ratings and a brief comment. The recipes range from mushroom stroganoff to vegetarian chili to cheese pasties.

Photo by naotakem

Among the most highly-rated are the ratatouille, which includes peppers, tomatoes, onions, and other veggies; a commenter recommends adding feta to the dish. Tortilla pizza is another hit, requiring only tortilla pieces, pesto, tomato puree, and grated cheese -- a good and quick meal if you're feeding hungry kids.

Our search turned up still more sites jammed with cheap healthy and vegetarian meals. IVillage is another useful site for healthy cheap meal planning. Recipes are organized by main ingredient and vegetable-based recipes play a starring role. But if you do want to incorporate animal products into your healthy cheap meals, there's a forum that includes the question of how to save money when buying meat. The Low-Fat Cooking section of About.com offers ample ideas for cheap healthy recipes that are also meatless and the Simply Recipes site lists cheap low-calorie meals featuring vegetables.

An article on AllYou.com showcases 100 cheap healthy recipes you can prepare for less than $1 per serving, accompanied by nutritional profiles and user ratings and comments. One vegetarian example is broccoli casserole, which gets a four-star rating, although some users home cooks were turned off by the fat content of the dish, which can be lowered by eliminating the mayonnaise and cheese. Another recipe that can go either way -- veggie or meat-based -- is sauteed chickpeas with broccoli and Parmesan, which features cheap ingredients like chickpeas, broccoli, onion, and soup broth. As users point out, you probably have these items already in your cupboard and you can add some chicken to increase the protein count.

Also check out our blogs posts on vegetarian and vegan cheap healthy meals for more recipe ideas.

Cheapism.com on Facebook