Thrifty Vegetarian Meals – A Variety of Flavors For You

Thrifty Vegetarian Meals – A Variety of Flavors For You

Thrifty vegetarian cooking isn’t always about “replacing” the meat in your diet, it is about changing the way you cook to create delicious meals without the use of meat.  I have been a vegetarian for almost 30 years now, and have learned a thing or two in that time.  One thing is, you can definitely replace your meats with vegetarian substitutes like, veggie meat, burgers, tofu or other forms of meat substitutes, but it shouldn’t always be about replacing the meat.  It can simply mean cooking without it.  Replacing it with store bought substitutes can be delicious and I do it often, but these substitutes are not always thrifty, especially when compared to cooking your own beans and grains.

If you can learn to create meals, by combining proteins, you will always have healthy meals, and complete proteins.  One more thing I learned along the way, is that our body’s produce our own protein as well.  We actually need very little to supplement what our body is already producing.  If you are big into body building or things like that, your body will, of course, require more than someone who lives a fairly relaxed life.  Otherwise, it is pretty simple to get the proteins you need, by a little bit of planning to combine more than one protein, to get a complete protein, and by eating healthy.

Grains, legumes and vegetables are the basis of proteins in many places around the world, and there are some really delicious cuisines to choose from, as you can see in my charts below.  I would print out this chart, here, laminate it, and keep it either on my fridge, or on the inside of a cupboard door, perhaps your spice cupboard.  It will make for easy vegetarian meal making!

The class I teach on vegetarian cooking, is a way for you to prepare simple, thrifty and delicious vegetarian one or two dish meals.

The proportions, the spices
Once you get a taste of these….. well you know the rest! Thrifty Vegetarian Meals

Once you get the idea of preparation, you will see just how easily it is done.  Switching out one or two meals a week to save a few dollars will soon become second nature and a delicious habit.

Let’s talk the thrifty part of vegetarian cooking for just a minute.  It really is true, you can save thousands of dollars a year just by switching a few meals over to the meatless cuisine.

I want to do a little math, just for a quick demonstration.  Let’s just say, the average meal using ground beef, will cost approximately $7 just to feed my family the meat in the meal.  Now you may be saying that is not too bad, but let me show you something.  If we only ate one meal a day with meat, and that meat was ground beef, we would be spending $7 x 365 is $2555 each year just to eat one meal of ground beef per day.  Now we all know that isn’t the way it happens, because some other meat options are chicken, roast, pork, sausages, etc.  Most of these are even more expensive than eating ground beef, which is why I chose that.  Okay, back to the math.

I can purchase a 25 lb bag of black beans for $18.  This bag I estimate will give me about 70 meals, give or take.  I also use beans for baking and other things, so I am going to just estimate 70 meals.  These 70 meals costing me $18, for my protein portion.  Let’s say I would use about 6 bags a year, “if” I cooked and ate them every day as well as used them in my baking and salads and such.  So the math to eat them for the entire year is 6 x $18 = $108.  It may even take a bit less if you don’t use it in your baking, you may only use 5 bags.  Seriously $108 per year!  Is there any wonder why most struggling countries and economies, eat them?  Other than the fact that they are really good for you!

Let’s do the math: $2555 less $108 is a savings of $2447 saved in one year because I cook with beans instead of hamburger. Now I am not suggesting that you never cook meat again, but if you want to save some money and be more frugal in your cooking, this is one really large amount of money that you can save.

So now here is my chart for using legumes, grains, and vegetables, with the various mixes of spices to create a huge amount of different flavors and thrifty, healthy meal options.

Eating Vegetarian

The Proportions and Spices!


Grains 40 – 50%

Vegetables 30 – 50%

Legumes 10 – 20%

Rice – all variations

bread and bread products

oatmeal, oats


hot grain cereals




Onions and garlic

carrots – chopped or grated



canned tomatoes






green beans


Lentils – red or green

Beans – black, red, brown, pinto, white, garbanzo, kidney, etc

split peas














lemon juice





bay leaf

mustard seed













bay leaf


lemon juice

red wine vinegar










bay leaf

Soy sauce

rice or wine vinegar






black bean garlic sauce






taco seasonings

The process goes something like this!

Pick what type of meal you want to have.  Either a salad, main dish, soup, casserole, etc.

Pick your spice combination or flavors

Decide which grains, legumes and vegetables you want to use, and go for it.  Create a great meal.  Pretty simple right?


Choose your grain, spices, and main ingredients

  • the grain
  • the spices
  • the oil
  • main vegetables
  • complement with a legume, tofu, etc
  • garnish with light greens, nuts, cheese, etc
  • Heat your oil.  Add in any veggies or condiments you want to cook in the oil – onions, garlic, ginger, chilies, cumin, etc.  Chop and add any other veggies and spices.  Add the legumes and other complements.  Put on the final garnishes.  Done and enjoy!

Rice or Grain Salads – consist of some of the following – depending on what you like



legumes and beans

garnishes – cheese, nuts, seeds, etc

Vegetables – choose 3 or 4 to make your salad – scallions, parsley, cherry tomatoes, peppers, radishes, carrots grated, zucchini grated or chopped, celery chopped, peas, corn, cucumber, etc

Grains include – rice of any kind, bulghur, pasta, quinoa, etc

Beans – pintos, kidney, red, black, lentils, chickpeas, etc.  Proportions should be about 3 or 4 to 1 – grains to beans

The spices, the proportions
The possibilities are endless! Thrifty vegetarian meals.

Stews and Soups – with beans as the main

1. Cook beans thoroughly and rinse well.  Add fresh water, bring to a boil, and add spices.  Spices could include things like seasonings, bouillons, gingers, etc.

2. Add some vegetables – including diced tomatoes.  They make a nice base with the spices. Potatoes, beets, squash, corn, peas, carrots, etc.

3. Saute onions, garlic, condiments like that and add to the soup or stew base.

4. Add any garnishes – cheese, make dumplings, taco chips, etc

Rice, Veggies and Diced Tomatoes – Spices Indian

1 cup rice of your choice

1 1/2 c water

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp turmeric

salt and pepper

1 medium onion chopped

1 stalk celery chopped

1 zucchini chopped

1 small can diced tomatoes

small amount of oil and/or butter

1/2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds

1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Cook rice as usual, with turmeric added.  While the rice is cooking, heat the oil or butter.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds.  When they start to slightly pop, add the garlic and let cook another minute.  Add the onion and celery and saute.  Add zucchini and cook until slightly soft.  Add tomatoes and heat through.  Stir in the cooked rice and cook for 3 minutes to blend flavors.  Serve immediately.  For a variation you could add in 1/2 cup cooked lentils or red beans.

Rice and Veggies Mexicano – Spices Mexican

2 – 4 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp chili cup up – depending on how hot you want it

2 cloves garlic

1 onion chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1/2 tsp oregano

1l2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper

3 cups cooked rice

1 tbsp lime or lemon juice

scallions or parsley to garnish

eggplants, corn, or beans optional

Saute the chili in the oil as it heats.  Add garlic and saute another minute, then add the onion, celery and spices and aute until onion is transparent  Add eggplant, beans, corn, or others and saute until tender.  Stir in the cooked rice and heat.  Just before serving add lime juice and stir in garnish.  Variations:  saute bell peppers or anaheim peppers or other vegetables, add in black beans, add a small can of diced tomatoes for a saucier dish.

Rice with Pinto Beans and Veggies – spices oriental

canola oil or other

2 tsp chopped ginger

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 med onion chopped

1 sweet pepper chopped

1 stalk celery chopped

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp basil

1 small can diced tomatoes

2 cups cooked pinto beans drained and rinsed

3 cups cooked rice

1 – 2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar or to taste

Saute the ginger and garlic in the oil.  Add onion and cook until transparent.  Add peppers and cook until soft.  Add tomatoes and heat, then add the pinto beans.  Add rice and heat.  When hot, add soy sauce and vinegar.  Heat through a few minutes and then serve warm.  Variations:  omit soy sauce and vinegar and add a savory or Mediterranean variety of spices with lemon juice.  Add other vegetables like zucchini or grated carrots

Quinoa Patties – spices Mediterranean

1 cup quinoa

2 c water

1/2 tsp salt

oil for frying

1/2 tsp basil

1/2 tsp oregano

1 tsp thyme

3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced

salt to taste

3 eggs – can substitute mashed potatoes as a binding agent

options: avocado, sliced tomato, feta cheese, salsa

Cook quinoa as you would cook rice.  When cool, mix with eggs or potatoes, salt and spices.  Heat oil on low.  Create patties from mix and fry in the oil on each side until golden brown and crunchy.  Serve with optional garnishes or eat plain.

Quinoa Casserole – spices savory

4 cups cooked quinoa

2 small eggs

1 small zucchini

1 yellow pepper

1 tomato

1 onion

1 tbsp rosemary

1 tsp each sage, thyme, salt

grated cheese for topping

Saute garlic and onion in oil.  Add spices, zucchini and pepper and saute.  Add tomato.  Cook 5 minutes.  Add to cooked quinoa and mix.  Put in an oiled casserole dish and cover with foil.  Bake at 350 for 30 – 45 min.  Serve and enjoy.

Quinoa Veggie Salad

2 cups cooked quinoa

1 c frozen peas

1 c frozen corn

3 – 4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp dried dill

1/2 tsp salt

6 – 8 scallions chopped

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 – 4 tbsp red wine vinegar

Put frozen veggies in a bowl.  Add hot quinoa and mix well.  Add other ingredients, stir and adjust seasonings according to tastes.  Variations:  Use rice, or add cooked cooled black, brown, or red beans, – try a different spice mix.

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