A lot of people mistakenly assume my family is vegetarian. I can understand why they would think that though; we eat vegetarian meals about 80% of the time. My Pinterest meal planning board is full of dishes with lentils, black beans, and chickpeas. We eat meat based dishes one or two nights a week. Eating meat so infrequently allows us to afford to maintain our commitment to buying grass fed, organic, and mostly local meat, dairy and eggs. The average American eats 5.2lbs of meat per week; our family of 2.75 (my 13 month old eats about 3/4 of a portion) eats between 0.5-2lbs of meat per week, depending on the meal plan. I made this delicious polenta tart and included about 1/2 cup cooked ground beef in the topping, but that small amount of meat brought a heartier feel and bigger flavor to that night's dinner. We have the occasional meatloaf, and I can't wait to try this recipe for quinoa chicken nuggets tonight, but our meat based meals are the exception not the rule.
Dried beans and legumes are an incredibly cheap source of protein, and make up the bulk of our protein consumption. I received an Instant Pot pressure cooker for Christmas, and this has brought our grocery bill down even further because I can cook dried beans in 25 minutes instead of having to remember to soak them the day before. The price for a can of cooked beans is $1.99 for the generic organic brand at our local grocery store. That's about 2 cups of beans. A pound of organic dried beans is $1.69, and that makes about 8 cups of beans. Budget wise, it's a no brainer to get dried beans if you have a good system for remembering to soak them, but honestly before getting a pressure cooker I bought canned beans because I am just not that organized. There are so many dishes people think of as meaty dishes like tacos, chili, pasta with sauce, curries and stir fries, that are just as delicious with beans or lentils. You can also take a recipe, for example bolognese pasta sauce, and cut the amount of ground beef in half and sub in lentils for the other half. This kind of half and half substitution makes meat heavy dishes more attainable on a slim budget, and all the taste and nutrition remains intact.
I also do a lot of vegan substitutions in my baking. Flax eggs instead of chicken eggs, and coconut oil instead of butter are my go to budget options since I do a ton of baking. A dozen local free range eggs can be more than $5, so I prefer to save our eggs for breakfast time scrambled or fried, and keep a bag of flax meal around to make a quick flax egg whenever I need it for baking. Same goes for local grass fed butter, it's not cheap stuff, but I can get a giant jar of organic virgin coconut oil at Costco for $17 and it lasts me a few months. Coconut oil is a one to one substitution with butter, so it's an easy swap to make and one you don't notice in most baked goods. These vegan cinnamon rolls are amazing and a really affordable treat/gift/method of payment for favors. I will share the recipe in a post soon! (edited to add, here it is!)
I'd like to think our family eats really well, and for the most part we make choices with our food that I am pretty comfortable with from an environmental, moral, and budget standpoint. We are always working to do better; we're getting our own laying hens this spring and working on reducing our one time use plastic. How do you work to reconcile your morals and your budget?
If you would like more information on all the reasons to reduce your meat intake, this TED Talk by New York Times food Columnist Mark Bittman is a great place to start!