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Dec 5, 2012 04:18 PM

vegetarians: how do you keep your grocery bill down?

We are trying to save $ on our grocery bills. We cook vegetarian about 99% of the time. I have a lot of time, so I cook and bake from scratch most of the time. I try to buy seasonal produce and support small local producers for milk, butter, eggs, bread and coffee beans. I'm a sucker for ethnic grocery stores. But we seem to spend so much! Any advice?

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  1. I think being vegetarian already should save a lot (even if you're supporting small, local producers). I think eating low on the food chain and avoiding packaged / premade products is the secret here (lots of rice, whole grains, and legumes), but it doesn't sound like you're buying a lot of packaged food to start with.

    The other thing is just to avoid waste - try to think of creative ways to use up leftover cooked food, as well as to use or preserve unused ingredients.

    In a lot of ways, the better question is why aren't other people spending a *larger* portion of their income on raw ingredients. Percentage-wise, from what I've heard, we spend less on food than people did years ago, partially because the industrial food system keeps costs low.

    If you enjoy baking, you could bake big batches of bread rather than buying it, and freeze it (slicing first, if you like).

    1 Reply
    1. From a vegetarian college student:

      Buy dried beans rather than canned. If you're a quinoa person, Costco recently started selling a 5lb bag of organic quinoa for about the same price as a 1lb package of the Red Mill version in grocery stores. Costco has gotten much better recently at stocking organic, local, and fair trade products and has many vegetarian-friendly options.

      Another option is to find ways to integrate tofu into your dishes. As a dense protein, it fills you up quickly, and at $2.50 for a pound of organic you get a lot for your money. Add in any number of sauces and veggies and you have a complete meal that can be different every time.

      1. Stop trying to support small local producers.

        Economies of scale is more than just economic theory, it's more often than not a fiscal windfall for the consumer.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Agree. If cost is your concern, the smaller and more local you get, the more expensive it is. It is often less resource efficient than larger or distant (yes, even foreign) producers.

          Also, buy dry beans rather than canned, grow your own herbs (easier and higher yield than veggies), buy in bulk on sale and freeze (may need 2nd freezer), and make your own bread

          1. re: mrfood16

            the electric bill associated with a second freezer wiped out all the savings and more.
            i got rid of the freezer once i crunched the numbers.
            not to mention, that much of the food, like practically all the pasta dishes, really didn't taste that good after freezing.

        2. Avoid the faux soy processed meat replacements. They're often as expensive or even more expensive than real meat per pound. Tofu is economical, nutritious, and healthy.

          It's excellent that you have lots of time and like to cook and bake from scratch. You can learn how to make your own vegetarian protein sources like seitan easily. Once you have some basic spices in rotation you can cook ethnic very cheaply.

          The freezer is your best friend. Make large amounts of everything and freeze it for later. Consider baking your own bread. A loaf of my favorite at Whole Foods is over $5. I can make the same thing once I have all the ingredients for under a dollar. Buy in bulk. Compare the cost of packaged items over what's in bulk. You can even get a lot of organic items this way. It's much cheaper. Buy dried beans, legumes, and lentils instead of canned. Take care that the pantry moths don't destroy your food supply by keeping dried foods in the refrigerator or freezer if you can.

          Grow your own vegetables if you're able to and can them to get you through the winter. Eat simple food. Make entire meals around vegetables. Often you just need a little bit of seasoning and nothing fancy. Be wary of anything prepared, ready to go, and packaged up all nice and neat for you. You can even make your own gourmet vinegars for pennies.

          When you start with this way of thinking you'll see lots of opportunities to still eat well, but to do it for a fraction of what you're spending now. This seems to be a topic of interest these days and I plan to begin exploring it in detail on my vegetarian and vegan blog at Good luck!

          1. Animal products are relatively expensive, especially local and organic. Reduce cheese and eggs and you'll also reduce your grocery bill and medical bill