8 MIN READ

Great Vegetarian Meals Under $5: It’s One-Stop Shopping at Trader Joe’s

A person holds a spoonful of a greek yogurt parfait.
This 3-ingredient Greek yogurt parfait is both simple and inexpensive to make with all of the ingredients bought from Trader Joe's. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder


The first few months I was a vegetarian were rough. I ate a lot of fries, convinced family and friends I was getting enough protein (I wasn’t) and incessantly checked ingredients for hidden animal products.

Four years later, I’ve got it figured out.

To make my meals healthy but still delicious, I include a protein-rich food and always look for an opportunity to incorporate vegetables or fruit in every meal. I’ll be honest — vegetables aren’t really my thing. My family laughs that I’m a vegetarian now because I grew up pushing broccoli off my plate, but I’ve found ways to enjoy and even love it.

Another factor when deciding my meals for the week — cost. I used to spend too much of my budget going all-in on organic vegetables and fancy meat substitutes. Now, I stick to the same basic meals, rotating out foods depending on my mood when I make my shopping list. It also helps to have a Trader Joe’s right now the street.

Thanks to its pricing, it’s affordable to buy healthy, organic vegetarian foods. I’ll gladly brave the too-small parking lot (where I’ve seen three car accidents!) to fill my pantry for the week.

Here are eight of my favorite meals to make after a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s.

Note: The approximate cost per serving assumes you already own some kitchen items, like butter, oil, spices and basic condiments.

Cauliflower Fried “Rice”

While I refuse to give in to cauliflower mashed potatoes, I’m all for substituting white rice with cauliflower rice. Trader Joe’s does the hard part for you — it sells cauliflower that is already “riced” in the frozen vegetable section. Cook the riced cauliflower with minced garlic, ginger, turmeric and salt and pepper.

From there, add your favorite vegetables. I use whatever I have in my fridge, most often carrot, celery and onion. I throw in a scrambled egg for extra protein. If you prefer to use a recipe, this one from Tone It Up is a good one.

Cauliflower fried rice is surprisingly filling, especially when served with tofu for a protein boost. You’ll get several servings of vegetables with this meal and lots of vitamin C from the cauliflower.

Total Cost: $14.94 for 3 servings, or about $4.98 per serving

Masala Vegetable Burgers with Fries

If there’s one thing I miss about eating meat, it’s burgers. The Masala Vegetable Burgers don’t pretend to taste like meat, but they still cure my cravings. These patties are filled with potatoes, carrots, green beans, corn, peppers and Indian spices. Serve on a whole wheat bun for a boost of fiber, and skip the fries in favor of veggies (or veggie fries!) to make the meal healthier.

I load my burger up with a tomato, sauteed onion, mayonnaise and cheese, but it will taste great with whatever toppings you’re craving.

This burger is low in protein (it only has 2 grams on its own; the bun has 5 grams), but it takes care of a vegetable serving or two. It’s naturally high in vitamin A — you’ll get 50% of your daily value from one patty!

Total Cost: $16.34 for 4 servings, or about $4.08 per serving

Roasted Cauliflower with Rice and Pinto Beans

Yes, another cauliflower recipe. But the thing about cauliflower is it’s healthy, delicious and so very affordable. Depending on what you season it with, you can transform the flavor into any cuisine you’re craving.

For this recipe, I cover the cauliflower florets with olive oil, turmeric, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and salt before baking in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is cooked through and crispy. This recipe is similar to how I make mine.

The flavors of the roasted cauliflower go deliciously with rice and pinto beans. Rather than going for plain rice, I like to get a boost of health benefits with Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley — a mix of brown rice, black barley and daikon radish seeds.

Cooked with a teaspoon of butter for some healthy fat, it tastes delicious, and it’s so hearty. The rice alone is free of fat, cholesterol, sugars and sodium while serving up 6 grams of protein and 10% of your daily iron. Together, the rice and pinto beans make a complete protein. Along with the cauliflower, you’ve got a well-rounded meal you can feel good about eating. And it’s under $1 per serving.

Total Cost: $5.97 for 4 servings, or about $1.49 per serving

Greek Yogurt Parfait

Granola is placed on Greek yogurt.
This Greek yogurt parfait only costs $3.04 to make per serving. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Greek yogurt has an unbelievable amount of protein. The 2% fat version has 20 grams in one serving — that goes a long way toward your daily intake. Buy the unflavored Greek yogurt to avoid too much added sugar, but then add honey to sweeten to taste. From there, add your favorite toppings; I recommended blueberries and granola.

This Greek yogurt parfait is perfect for breakfast, lunch, snacks — whenever. It resembles a dessert but is seriously protein-packed, and it even has a serving of fruit.

Total Cost: $3.04 per serving

Kale and Chickpea Salad

A bowl of a kale and chickpea salad.
The ingredients for this kale and chickpea salad can be found at Trader Joe's. The total cost per serving is only $2.76. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

There’s a reason this is the only salad on a list of vegetarian foods — it takes a lot for me to love a salad. This one, however, has me licking the bowl clean. Kale has *mixed reviews* but I think the key is in how you prepare it. Before I dress the salad, I painstakingly go through the leaves to remove hard stems. After rinsing, I add a small spoonful of olive oil and gently massage the kale to break it down and remove bitterness. You’re going to want to start with more kale than you want to end up with, because after you’re done massaging it will shrink to nearly half its size.

Now, the best part. I pour Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing, a creamy Greek dressing, over my bowl (not too much!). Stir to combine. Then top with chickpeas and shredded parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Now, enjoy the best salad you’ve ever had.

  • Organic Kale: $2.29
  • Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing: $2.29
  • Organic Chickpeas: 99 cents
  • Shredded Parmesan: $5.49

Total Cost: $11.06 for 4 servings, or about $2.76 per serving

Tofu and Gyoza

Sriracha baked tofu and gyoza only cost $3.17 to make per serving.
This sriracha baked tofu and gyoza only cost $3.84 per serving to make. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

This is an easy meal to make, but it still packs protein and vegetable servings. It’s the ultimate lazy dinner meal — you can make it in the microwave in under four minutes. If you’re like my mom and asking, “What’s gyoza?” I’ll tell you what I told her. It’s like a thin ravioli stuffed with shredded vegetables. This one has cabbage, carrots, radish, and onions.

Eat with Trader Joe’s Sriracha Baked Tofu for protein and to make it a full meal. Once cooked, you can top the gyoza with coconut aminos (a soy-free soy sauce alternative!) and minced garlic.

Beware of the gyoza’s high sodium content — especially if you’re adding soy sauce. But because it has carrots inside, it’s a good source of vitamin A. This meal will give you 15 grams of protein per serving.

Total Cost: $7.68 for 2 servings, or about $3.84 per serving

Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Potato

I am a recent convert to brussels sprouts, and with the right recipe, brussels sprouts are something I actually crave. Pour maple syrup and soy sauce (or coconut aminos sauce) over the brussels sprouts and then oven-bake until they’re crispy (about 25 minutes at 400 degrees). Once they’re done, add a sprinkling of goat cheese. The creaminess of the cheese complements the crunchy, sweet flavor of the glazed brussels sprouts perfectly.

This meal is surprisingly filling, so I just add a baked sweet potato to enhance the sweet flavor and add some diversity to my plate, plus a huge dose of vitamins. If sweet potatoes aren’t your thing, cook these brussels sprouts as a side and add to your other favorite meals.

Total Cost: $7.07 for 4 servings, or about $1.77 per serving

Honorable Mention: Paneer Tikka Masala and Naan Bread

Paneer Tikka Masala is a budget friendly dish.
All of the ingredients for this budget-friendly paneer tikka masala dish can be found at Trader Joe's. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

I’m going to be honest — this isn’t the most healthy lunch in the world, but it is the most delicious. Whenever it’s cooking, someone is bound to note how good it smells, and it’s cooking a lot — my work fridge is packed with these, since so many people eat them.

Watch your sodium on days you make these — like most frozen foods, the Paneer Tikka Masala contains an unhealthy amount. Besides that, it’s a nice treat packed with health-benefiting spices, spinach and 10 grams of protein from the paneer.

It heats up quickly in the microwave and is good to have on hand for emergency lunch situations. The paneer tikka masala alone isn’t usually enough to keep me full through dinner, so I crisp up garlic naan bread in the oven (another 7 grams of protein, and a good source of fiber!). This meal is FAST and comes in under $5.

  • Paneer Tikka Masala: $2.99
  • 1 Garlic Naan Bread: 50 cents

Total Cost: $3.49 per serving

Joline Buscemi is a content marketer and writer living in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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