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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Q & A Time: Debunking The Vegetarian Myth

Just recently, I received a comment on one of my blog posts from Chantelle, asking me the following question:

"Does your family eat meat? I can't imagine only spending $35 per week. There are 5 in our family. We eat meat at most dinners and I send lunch with one of my kids EVERY DAY and the other 2 3 days a week..."

Thanks for this great question, Chantelle! : ) Honestly, there is so much I want to say, I couldn't possibly answer it in one reply comment! I also thought this information would be useful to other readers, so I decided to make it a Q & A post.

First off, let me preface my answer by stressing something that I always mention (and feel is extremely important): You have to do what is best for you and your family. Every single family is different. Many of you live in different regions, have different available stores to shop at, have different numbers and ages of children living in your household, have different dietary needs, have different schedules, and so much more! I can't stress this enough. Do not compare yourself with other families. I've done it too often in the past, and I finally realized that my family is not exactly the same as other families.

Second off, having said that, I will tell you that if you are just now diving into the world of budgeting, couponing, bargain hunting, and saving will get easier, and you will save more and more as you go. A year ago, I found myself reading a blog about a mom who fed a family of 4 on $35 a week (all household supplies and toiletries included). I couldn't fathom it. I wanted to do it, but I just couldn't make it happen. So I worked with what I had, and I set our grocery budget at about $60 for the 2 of us. Now, after a year of couponing (and much more experience and learning), I find that $35 is a budget we are easily able to stay under each week. Just keep at it. Focus on saving a little bit in the beginning, and before you know it, you'll be upset when you walk out of the store not having saved at least twice as much as you spent.

Chantelle, the $35 grocery budget is for only 2 of us - me and my husband. Our dinners usually feed 4 people, though, as we use leftovers for lunch the next day. You have 3 children, so your budget might need to be a little bit more. We are also lucky enough to live by a Publix, which in my opinion is the best grocery store in the world when it comes to saving money. I can easily walk out of the store paying $20 for over $100 worth of groceries. That's just Publix, though. Also, your region plays a huge role. For example, the blogging mom I told you about who I compared myself to a year ago - she lives out West, where groceries are the cheapest you can get them. If you live in Florida, California, or up North, your grocery bill might be as much as twice that of somebody living out West!

Now on to the Vegetarian part. No, we do not buy meat. We used to, though, and you might be surprised when I tell you this...I honestly find it much harder to stay within our designated grocery budget on a vegetarian diet.

Any time somebody hears that we don't buy meat, they immediately say, "Oh, well that's how you're able to stay on such a small budget. No wonder. That would be impossible if you bought meat. I knew it couldn't be that easy."

Take it from somebody who has couponed/budgeted while on both a meat diet and now a vegetarian diet. The meat diet makes budgeting a million times easier. Let me explain...

It is no task at all to throw together a meal when you eat meat. Simply cook a specific type of meat in some way (there are hundreds of ways to cook meat, different marinades to experiment with, different breadings and sauces for meats, etc.) There is enough diversity in how you prepare and cook meat to last you a life time. So now you have your main part of the meal - the meat. Then, all you do is add a side dish or two, maybe a salad, or some bread...and Viola! Your meal is ready.

To a couponer and bargain hunter, this is a dream. Most side dishes can be bought (or made from scratch) for practically free. Whether it be frozen or canned veggies, rice, couscous, potatoes, pasta, or a great casserole made from can grab these items from week to week at that rock bottom price, without paying very much out of pocket.

For example, right now...I have a pantry and freezer full of all the items mentioned above, plus boxes full of these items to donate to the food pantry. If I want to whip up a side dish, I probably can with what I have on hand. I might have to buy a couple items. If I wanted to make my corn casserole, I have everything I need! If I wanted to make green been casserole, I have everything I need except fried onions. If I want to make mashed potatoes, I have everything I need. If I want side veggies, I have bags of them in the freezer.

So, what about the meat, you might ask??? Simple. You just stock up when it's at that rock bottom price. Just like any other item, there is a specific target price that you should shoot for when buying specific types of meat. For example, back when we cooked with meat, I would never buy chicken unless it was under $2/lb, and most of the time I waited until it was $1.49/lb. I would buy many many packages within my designated grocery budget for that week, and portion them out into serving-sized baggies to freeze! When I wanted to cook meat in a meal, I simply took the baggie out the night before to thaw in the refrigerator. It's very easy to buy meat and stay within a budget. You just have to learn the price, and stock up when it is cheapest. Here is a pretty good guide to some stock-up prices for meats.

Cooking Vegetarian, though? It involves buying TONS (okay, not literally) of produce each week. Produce is expensive, and there's not really a way to get around it. The prices do drop on certain items, depending on the time of year, but it's still tough. Luckily, I have a Publix to shop at. I can use overage from other coupons, and competitor coupons such as $5/$25 purchase or $3 off produce purchase. That helps quite a bit.

Now, we do eat seafood, so that helps vary it a bit. Here's the costly part of cooking vegetarian, though. When you make a vegetarian meal, you have to use produce and many different items just to make the main part of the meal (which would be simply a piece of meat on a meat-based diet!). So instead of pulling out that chicken breast that I paid about $.50 for and adding a few sides that I got for pennies...I have to buy zucchini, tomatoes, red bell peppers, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, and celery for one vegetable curry that I might make as a meal. Then, I have to think about sides - salad, bread, more veggies, rice, etc. Or take my very favorite casserole main dish that I used to make - Ritzy Chicken. Take the chicken out of that, and there's no meal - just a sloppy mess of liquids and bread crumbs. Meat makes a meal. Vegetarian cooking requires creativity (something that this science brain does not have very much of!)

Just like anything else, though, I've learned how to make it work on our budget. I know what to buy when, how long certain produce items last in the fridge, what items I can still get for pennies to plan meals around (such as potatoes, onions, canned tomato sauces, spices, curry pastes, tortillas, rice, veggies, couscous, garlic, cheeses, coconut milk, frozen veggies to use in meals, etc.) I can still plan the majority of our meals each week around what we have on hand. I'm usually only picking up a few produce items that I need to make the meals work.

If you're interested in what our weekly meals looks like, you can go HERE to see my menu plan every Monday for the past 3 months or so!

Thanks for reading. I know this was a long one, but I just wanted to shed a little light on the subject of budgeting for both a meat and vegetarian diet. The first notion people always have is that vegetarians can cut costs so much more easily, but you've heard it from the source - that is a myth!

Just remember, no matter what your situation or preferences, you can still save on something in some area. Just start small! =)

What about you? What obstacles do you have to overcome when planning meals at your house and sticking to a budget? Health preferences, allergies, diets, etc? I'd love to hear!

I'm not one to express my political and social views on this blog, but if you are interested in knowing why we're Vegetarians, here are just a few links you can check out (I am not judgmental of those who eat meat. These are just our convictions):

Down To Earth: End Hunger
Earthoria: Global Hunger
Go Veg: World Hunger
Go Veg: World Hunger/Animal Agriculture
The Animal Spirit: World Hunger
IVU: Hunger



Blogger Beth and Brad said...

My sister lived with my husband and I for three months over the summer and she has celiac disease (which means she cannot have gluten, which is wheat). That presented some challenges for me! However, I learned how to cook without gluten. I have noticed that there are not very many coupons out for gluten free items... anyone know of any good places to find some?

December 9, 2009 at 10:41 AM  
Blogger Meagan said...

Thanks for sharing, Beth! =)

December 9, 2009 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger kaoldt said...

So how does one save on produce? I honestly haven't come across many coupons for produce. Yes, there's sales but I'm getting spoiled. I want sales AND coupons!!!

December 13, 2009 at 12:16 AM  
Blogger Meagan said...

I'm going to be doing a guest post on I Heart Publix's blog here in the next couple of weeks. It will be all about saving on produce. I'll announce it on here, so stay tuned for that! =)

December 13, 2009 at 12:32 AM  

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