How Meatless Mondays Can Cut Your Grocery Budget and Keep Your Family Healthy

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Tofu nuggets are dipped into a honey mustard dipping sauce.
Are you trying to eat less meat while saving money? Try making these tofu nuggets instead of chicken nuggets. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

You may have already heard that Meatless Monday is good for your health and the health of the planet. The global movement, which the Center for a Livable Future and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health created, challenges people to go meat-free each Monday to reduce their risk of disease, fight obesity and reduce their carbon footprint.

But participating in Meatless Mondays can do more than trim your waist and your impact on the environment; it can also help your wallet. After all, meat can be expensive, especially compared to fruits and vegetables. Going meat-free for one day a week can teach you some great tricks to keep your grocery budget low.

Here are 10 simple swaps you can make to get started today.

*Prices are averages for my local area and could vary by region.

1. Tofu to Replace Chicken Breast

Tofu is marinated in dill pickle juice before being fried to make tofu nuggets.

Marinate tofu in dill pickle juice before frying to make tofu nuggets. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Tofu is one of the most versatile meat substitutes. Made from condensed soy milk, it has a soft, mushy texture and not much natural taste, which means you can make it fit a ton of different recipes. Grill it, fry it, bake it, cover it in breading or top it with sauce or press it to make it denser and chewier. You can prepare tofu to mimic chicken, fish, pork and more so it fits a wide array of recipes. It’s low in calories, has zero cholesterol, and is packed with protein, iron and calcium.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Tofu costs just $1.82 per pound versus chicken at $3.29 per pound for boneless breast.

2. Tempeh instead of Mahimahi

Made from cooked, fermented soybeans, tempeh has a firmer, meatier texture than tofu and can be easier to digest than other protein substitutes like legumes. It’s a good source of fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium and iron.

With a slightly sweet, nutty taste on its own, tempeh can be baked, grilled, stir-fried and more, and will absorb whatever flavors you cook it in. When you use it wisely, it can be comparable if not slightly cheaper than other meats per pound — and it’s healthier.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Tempeh costs $3.98 per pound, whereas mahimahi costs $14.99 per pound.

3. Texturized Vegetable Protein as Bacon

Also made from soy, TVP is sold in a variety of forms, from flakes to chunks to nuggets. It’s relatively cheap and high in protein, and it can mimic everything from stewed beef to bacon bits. Since it’s dehydrated, it’s also great at absorbing whatever spices and seasonings you cook it in. About 2 cups of dried TVP crumbles is equal to about a pound of bacon or ground beef.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Two cups of dry TVP costs just $1.09 per pound (Bob’s Red Mill TVP), while bacon rings in at $5.74 per pound.

4. Seitan for Pork Dishes

Seitan is made from wheat gluten, so gluten-sensitive folks should skip this option. It’s low in cholesterol, carbs and calories, and high in protein. With a savory taste and a nice meaty texture, it’s great in Asian dishes and as a pork alternative. It’s also easy to cook. Just please don’t pronounce it like the evil deity: It’s “say-TAN,” not “Satan.”

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Two cups of dry wheat gluten will run $1.53, but pork checks in at $2.63 per pound.

5. Lentils Instead of Ground Beef

A bowl of vegan shepherd's pie with lentils, tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery and topped with sweet potatoes is served for dinner.

Lentils are a great meat replacement for many dishes, including this lentil and sweet potato shepherd’s pie. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

High in fiber, protein and magnesium, lentils are hearty, easy to cook and are a great replacement for ground beef. They also come in a wide variety of colors, texture and flavors, and work well in both cold and hot recipes. For a filling, flexible and affordable meat alternative, they’re definitely worth keeping in your pantry.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Dry lentils cost just 24 cents per cup, while ground beef is $3.59 per pound.

6. Black Beans and Chickpeas for Chili

With so many varieties to choose from, we could do a whole list on beans and legumes themselves. High in protein and fiber, they work great in chili, salads, burgers and more. Check out black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans to start, then branch out into more exotic options like adzuki beans.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Dry black beans run $1.99 per pound and canned chickpeas are just 80 cents per pound. Ground beef, on the other hand, costs $3.59 per pound.

7. Walnuts for Your Burgers

Protein powerhouses, nuts can add meatiness to vegan or vegetarian burgers, loaves and more. They’re also great sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as heart-healthy fats that lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol. They can, however, be high in calories and fat, so be sure to intersperse nut-heavy recipes with those that are lower in calories and fat for a more balanced diet. Nuts can also be pricy, but these recipes actually only call for ¼  to ½ cup of nuts per serving.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Chopped walnuts cost $1.85 per cup, whereas ground beef is $3.59 per pound.

8. Eggplant as Meatballs

With a rich taste and texture, eggplant makes a yummy substitute for beef. Try it to make meatballs, burgers or pasta dishes like the classic eggplant parmesan. It’s loaded with fiber and antioxidants to help your heart and brain.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Eggplants cost $1.79 each, whereas a pound of ground beef will run $3.59.

9. Mushrooms Disguised as Steak

Mushrooms are a good meat substitute thanks to their earthy flavor and hearty texture. They’re nutrient rich, cheaper than processed meat alternatives and low in calories. Unfortunately, they’re not as strong a protein source as other substitutes on this list. Try them in pot pies, ground up as a salisbury steak or use a portobello as a hearty steak burger.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Two portobello mushroom caps, which cost $3.69, can replace one steak priced at $6.13 per pound.

10. Cauliflower as Taco Meat

Cauliflower may not be the best source of protein, but it makes a great dish to compliment the other swaps on this list. Mash it instead of potatoes, turn it into rice or use it as a pizza dough to boost the nutritional value of your meals and cut carbs. Or get adventurous and try it in place of meat in taco recipes, stir fries or meatballs.

Recipes to try:

Cost savings:

Cauliflower runs just $2.79 per head versus $3.95 per pound for ground beef.

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

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