Soon to be nearly broke - need advice on cheap vegetarian food options

So I’ve heard about folks strapped for cash subsisting on ramen or sardines etc… fish is definitely off the table for myself and my partner and I’m not sure if there is ramen that doesn’t contain meat stock. So I’m turning to my fellow Dopers for advice. Eggs, dairy, honey we’re fine with just not meat of any description. Off the top of my head the only thing I can think of is nachos with nothing on them.

Has anyone had experience with staying vegetarian on a tight budget? Can it be done?

Oatmeal? Rice? That’s cheap and will fill you up, but you need vitamins. Didn’t I read on this board that the Irish years ago stayed surprisingly healthy on a diet of potatoes, milk, and…something else, oatmeal? Anyway, someone will let you know.

Pancakes? PB&J? Edamame for protein? Dollar menu french fries? Cheap “old” fresh fruit that you buy and freeze and then make into smoothies? Quiches?

Trader Joe’s had the best deal on protein powder when I was into it. If you get that you can add it to most anything to give yourself a protein boost. has e-books for a couple bucks that provide shopping lists, menus, and recipes for very inexpensive cooking that does happen to be vegetarian. We eat from it a lot, and we’re carnivores. There are some free recipes on the site for you to try - as you probably know, a certain amount of cooking apparatus helps a lot when cooking vegetarian. Crock-pot, for sure, if only for beans.

A big bag of rice and an equally big bag of beans is a good way to go. You can vary the spices and add-ins (onions, tomatoes, etc.) for a pretty long period of time. And while you may get tired of it, I’m sure that’s true for any diet restricted by a lack of funds.

It’s much easier to eat veg when broke than carnivore, IME. With the exception of ground beef, some dairy, and eggs, animal products are pretty expensive.

If at all possible cook from scratch and buy raw materials in bulk. Processed, packaged foods will eat your money. This includes corn chips! You’re paying for air with those. You can get a bag of rice that will feed you for a week for the same price. NEVER eat out. It is not worth the expense!

You need to make sure you get enough protein and essential fats: eggs, cottage cheese (Which I don’t like on it’s own but can be added to many things), and butter are all fairly cheap, and full of nutrients.

Other than that I would stick to buying grains (whole preferred because they have vitamins and protein unlike white rice, white flour, etc), dry beans (canned ones are much more expensive), dried texturized vegetable protein (much cheaper than tofu, seitan, other soy stuff), whatever fruit and veg you can afford (frozen packs are a good value), and that wonderful staple of vegetarians, peanut butter.

Use coupons whenever you can. Menu plan ahead of time. It’s also really important not to waste any food. Eat leftovers from last night’s dinner for lunch. If you are going to work, pack lunch. Keep an eye on dates so nothing goes bad before you eat it and wastes money.

Sample menus:
Breakfast: 2 eggs, pancakes with cottage cheese added (cottage cheese pancakes are the best)
Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich, carrots, apple
Dinner: Brown rice with bean and TVP chili, broccoli on the side

Breakfast: Oatmeal, with butter and nuts
Lunch: Leftover dinner from the last night
Dinner: Zucchini egg foo young (look up recipes online, it’s delicious!) with a side of veg and brown rice


Planning and a budget is going to be the key here. Google around and you can find a ton of from-scratch, vegetarian recipes and meal plans.

Much of the world is functionally vegetarian because they can’t afford meat.

When I was broke, I went down to my local warehouse store and bought a 20 lb. bag of beans, a 20 lb. bag of rice, a flat of tomato sauce, A large jar of pickled peppers, a sack of onions and a huge bottle of hot sauce. I think I spent maybe $30.00 on around 1,000 servings of food.

Twice a week I’d boil up a huge pot of spicy beans. It takes a while- you have to start the beans boiling as soon as you get home from work. But it works. Beans are nearly nutritionally perfect. With the addition of tomato sauce and hot peppers, you are getting pretty decent nutrition. It packs up easy in tupperware and reheats well. I’d eat beans and rice for lunch and dinner maybe five or six days a week. It’s monotonous, but it keeps you going.

Another tip- powdered milk is not the enemy. It sucks for outright drinking, but it’s fine for all kinds of other stuff. It’s cheap and full of protein. You can throw spoonfuls of it into pasta sauces, veggie dishes, smoothies, oatmeal, coffee, etc. It’s like an instant nutrition boost.

There are vegetarian ramens, but really ramen is not a good thing to subsist on. It’s nutritionally worthless and will make you feel tired and run down if you start relying on it.

**Even Sven **nailed it. Legumes are your friend in this situation. They’re nutritious, filling, and dirt cheap, and you can season them (inexpensively) in about a million ways. Don’t like spicy beans? How about baked beans (no salt pork), white bean soup, or savory lentil stew?

In a word RICE. It’s dirt cheap, filling and good for you. Of course it’s not a complete protein so eat it with beans. Beans are pretty cheap too

Rice and Beans are really hard to beat if you want to save money and eat cheap.

They get monotonous fast, so you can spice them up with hot sauce or various spices etc.

From my days of being dirt poor, find some cheap generic soups. And when you make rice instead of adding water add the canned soup (use the soup plus the amount of water you’d normally put into the soup)

If you follow that Cook for Good plan religiously, you get breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner with dessert for an average of $1.07 per meal. (I’m not sure if that’s per serving or per meal in total, but at any rate it’s shockingly cheap.) I tend not to even bother with the desserts, and there’s just two of us so everything lasts longer, so it’s even cheaper. Tastes good, too - I especially recommend the potato peanut curry.

Thanks all! Hmm we do have a bunch of curry powder that we’re not sure what to do with… certainly it’d be good with the rice and maybe even with the beans. We have miscellaneous other spices as well so that will help immensely. We also have some licorice root powder but I can’t figure out what to put it in. Back in my meat-eating days I used to love this one dish that uses a mixture of licorice root, curry, and ginger to season chicken. The combination of spices was right on.

Although most folks on a budget would perish the thought, in my unemployed days I found whey protein to be indispensable. Generally speaking, if you’re not getting enough protein through the day, you will try to compensate by eating more. It’s cheaper to swallow a scoop of protein powder than to eat 1/3 more food.

Ramen does come in vegetarian flavors – the standard grocery store stuff has Mushroom, I believe – or other flavors at Asian groceries.

Have you tried ethnic markets? Asian and Indian grocery stores are an impoverished vegetarian’s best friend. Big bags of dried spices for the cost of a tiny bit in the grocery store, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to types of beans, lentils, rice, canned veggies… the deals can be outstanding. Even though I’m more financially stable now, I still stop by to pick up things like bags of whole nutmeg.

Rice and beans is cheap, but it does get boring. Do you have an Aldi in your area? Not everything they have is super cheap, but staples seem to be: canned veg, pasta (I stick to whole wheat, and Aldi carries it) and pasta sauce, milk, eggs, yogurt, onions and garlic, possibly other produce (watch the sales). I also tend to pick up bread, peanuts, and cleaning products.

Even expensive health stores can be good sources of bargains: stock up in the bulk section. Steel cut oats, most grains (wheat berries, barley, millet, rices), dried beans, soup bases, some types of nuts… they are generally much cheaper for me to buy a big bag at the spendy health food store than to buy at the grocery store. Not everything in the bulk section will be a good deal, but check prices. This is also a good way to buy just a little bit of a spice if you want to try it in some recipe.

Soup-making is really easy, too, if you have some time, and very cheap.

For fast’n’easy but cheap, peanut butter sandwiches.

Most of the grocery stores in my neighborhood have a sort of “scratch and dent” area in the produce department. I’ve saved a lot there. I’ve also found that smaller latin and asian markets have better prices for less pretty produce. (The apples aren’t waxed or stacked in a pyramid.)

Rice and beans! Not boring, you can spice it up anyhow you want, make some sauce for it, etc. Don’t try to live on ramen noodles, they don’t have any protein or fiber. Buy whole grains.

If you can get it cheap, yes. The stuff I buy I get online for half the cost of the nutrition store but it still works out to about 60 cents a scoop. If you can get it for less without a lot of sugary filler, go for it! Adding a scoop of whey protein to milk is a meal; for something more filling, add a scoop of whey protein to some quick oats or, better yet, steel cuts oats will last you all morning.

Vegetarians generally won’t have trouble getting enough protein in their diet if it is varied, but protein powers are very convenient. Other than peanut butter and milk, which both have significant carb values, other vegetarian protein options (e.g. legumes, eggs, TVP) tend to require more cooking time or foresight.

If you can’t get cheap whey protein in your area or if you hate it, hard boiled eggs might be a good alternative. I wouldn’t eat all of the yolks but I am overweight, YMMV.

I lift weights pretty consistently, and while I’m no hulking brute, I definitely need more protein than the average person. Thankfully, I’ve never been so broke that I needed to stop exercising in order to reduce my calorie requirements.

I just wanted to note that those inexpensive animal products (ground beef, some dairy, and eggs) are all very heavily subsidized, in the US, at least. They’re less expensive because the taxpayer is keeping the price suppressed.

True, and even more true for the vast plethora of wheat, corn, and soybean-based processed products.

I eat 90% animal products and try to buy local and pasture-raised eggs, meat and dairy. While it’s not exactly cheap, it’s less expensive that you would think to go straight to a real farmer.

Excellent advice! I hadn’t thought of that but yes there’s a big Asian marketplace here, it’s called Lee Lee and they have it all - Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, everything in between.

It probably helps that Indian and Thai are now my favorite cuisines. :smiley:

Darn, never heard of it. I could look but I doubt there’s one here. Would be great to get good deals on those kinds of things.

Easy preparation is unfortunately a concern for us because of schedules.