9 Meatless Meals That Can Save You Money

The cost of food is going up, but plant-food prices aren’t spiking as high as meat and poultry

peanut butter toast Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

You’ve probably heard that swapping some of the meat you eat with plant proteins, vegetables, whole grains, and fruit has a number of health benefits—from lowering heart disease risk to weight loss. You might not realize, though, that it can be better for your budget, too.

The price of food eaten at home has risen 8.6 percent overall in the past year, the largest 12-month increase in over 40 years, according to the latest Consumer Price Index Report.

Some of the biggest hikes have been for poultry, eggs, and some dairy products. Comparing February 2021 to February 2022, beef is up by 16.2 percent, pork by 14 percent, chicken by 13.2 percent, eggs by 11 percent, and milk and lunch meat by 11.2 percent. Grains, produce, and beans are up too, but not by as much.

So you can save some money and do your body a favor by exploring more plant-based meals. To help, we came up with nine easy-to-make meatless dishes, three ideas each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

You can either swap them in for some meals where you’d usually eat meat or use them to stretch the meat you buy. For instance, instead of eating a 6-ounce chicken breast and a small side of veggies, throw 3 ounces of cooked chicken into the Quinoa Chickpea Tabbouli, below. Or instead of a burger, cook a smaller amount of ground beef and add it to the Super-Easy Tacos. (You can also use cow’s milk in place of plant milk in recipes that call for it if you prefer.) Each recipe makes one serving; double the recipes to serve two.

Breakfasts

Banana Berry Toast (pictured above)
Toast two pieces of 100-percent whole-grain bread. Spread with 1½ Tbsp. almond butter. Slice ½ banana and three strawberries. Decorate toast with alternating rows of banana and strawberries.
Per serving: 360 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 46 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 14 g sugars, 13 g protein, 310 mg sodium.

More on Healthy Eating

Carrot Cake Oatmeal
Boil 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Add ½ cup rolled oats and 1 medium shredded carrot. Allow mixture to thicken, and stir. Add ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. vanilla extract, and ⅓ cup unsweetened soy milk. Simmer until desired thickness is reached. Top with ¼ cup toasted walnut pieces.
Per serving: 370 calories, 21 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 39 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 12 g protein, 70 mg sodium.

Tropical Chia Pudding
Combine 2 Tbsp. chia seeds and ½ cup soy milk in a sealable container. Whisk well. Let sit 5 minutes; whisk again. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, stir and top with 1 Tbsp. shredded unsweetened coconut, ⅓ cup cubed mango, and ¼ cup slivered almonds.
Per serving: 380 calories, 26 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 31 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 13 g sugars, 14 g protein, 50 mg sodium.

quinoa receipe

Photo: John/Walsh Consumer Reports Photo: John/Walsh Consumer Reports

Lunches

Quinoa Chickpea Tabbouleh (pictured above)
Cook ¼ cup of quinoa according to package directions. Toss in a bowl with ½ cup chopped tomato, ½ cup chopped cucumber, ¼ cup chopped parsley, ½ cup drained and rinsed canned low-sodium chickpeas, 2 tsp. olive oil, and 2 tsp. lemon juice.
Per serving: 370 calories, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 50 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 14 g protein, 180 mg sodium.

Unwrapped Veggie Sushi
Cook ¼ cup of brown rice according to package directions. Sprinkle with ¼ tsp. apple cider vinegar. Place in a bowl and top with ¼ cup shredded carrot, ¼ cup chopped cucumber, ½ small sliced avocado, and ½ cup frozen shelled edamame heated in a microwave. Top with 2 roasted seaweed snack slices cut thinly.
Per serving: 410 calories, 19 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 52 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 13 g protein, 35 mg sodium.

Loaded Sweet Potato
Bake or microwave 1 medium sweet potato. Microwave 1½ cups baby spinach for 30 seconds, until wilted. Slice potato and stuff with spinach and about 20 roasted chickpea snacks. Top with ¼ cup plain hummus and 5 additional roasted chickpeas. Sprinkle with ½ tsp. smoked paprika.
Per serving: 290 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 44 g carbs, 13 g fiber, 7 g sugars, 12 g protein, 440 mg sodium.

Two tacos on a plate

Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

Dinners

Super-Easy Tacos (pictured above)
Place two 6-inch corn tortillas onto a plate, gently warmed on the stove, if desired. Distribute evenly between the tortillas: ½ cup drained and rinsed canned low-sodium black beans; ½ cup frozen corn (heated in a microwave); ½ avocado, sliced; and 2 Tbsp. salsa. Squeeze a lime wedge over tacos.
Per serving: 430 calories, 17 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 65 g carbs, 20 g fiber, 12 g sugars, 14 g protein, 410 mg sodium.

Peanutty Tofu Bowl
Cook ¼ cup farro according to package directions. Put into a serving bowl. Top with ½ cup shredded red cabbage, ¼ cup sliced red bell pepper, and ⅓ cup cubed firm tofu. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 Tbsp. peanut butter, 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, ¾ tsp. low-sodium soy sauce, ¾ tsp. maple syrup, and a pinch of red pepper flakes; add warm water to thin. Drizzle sauce over farro mixture and top with 2 Tbsp. each fresh chopped scallions and mint.
Per serving: 320 calories, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 45 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 15 g protein, 270 mg sodium.

Tomato and Olive Pasta
Cook 2 ounces whole-wheat pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add 1 crushed garlic clove and sauté for 30 seconds. Add 2 medium chopped tomatoes and ⅓ cup drained and rinsed canned low-sodium cannellini beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, until tomatoes have softened. Stir in 2 Tbsp. chopped black olives. Toss cooked pasta with tomato mixture. Top with 1 Tbsp. chopped basil or parsley.
Per serving: 460 calories, 17 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 67 g carbs, 13 g fiber, 9 g sugars, 16 g protein, 370 mg sodium.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Consumer Reports On Health


Rachel Meltzer Warren

Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RD, is a freelance writer based in the New York area who contributes to Consumer Reports on food and nutrition topics.