When you don't have much time and need to put a meal on the table, there are several vegetarian and vegan staples on which you can rely to get the job done. All of the below meal suggestions take no longer than a half hour of active work to prepare, and none call for any exotic ingredients that will send you running to the store in a panic. Finally, all make use of budget items. They may not be the most creative or the fanciest dishes, but per serving, they'll cost you much less than eating out or even buying convenience foods.
Quick, Simple, and Cheap Vegetarian Meals
Keep in mind that even if you don't have the exact ingredients on hand for the following recipes, you can still make most of them with what you do have in your pantry and fridge. For example, pasta primavera works just as well with fresh farmers' market basil and chopped spinach as it does with Parmesan and roasted veggies.
Try the below pasta primavera recipe, which serves about six, based on a version from the Food Network:
- 1 lb. pasta noodles, such as penne or farfalle
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 zucchini, cut into cubes
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 bell pepper, sliced
- 2 large tomatoes or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/2 c. fresh basil or 2 tsp. dried basil
- 2 tsp. dried Italian herbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3/4 c. Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, toss all of the cut vegetables except the tomatoes with half the olive oil and all of the dried herbs, salt, and pepper. Coat a baking sheet with aluminum foil, place the vegetables on the sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes.
- While the veggies are roasting, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the noodles, toss them with the vegetables and the remaining 2 T. olive oil, and sprinkle cheese onto each plate before serving.
Beans and Rice
You can use canned beans or packaged rice to make the below vegetarian classic, which serves four to six, but it will be even more affordable if you buy dry beans and rice in bulk and cook them yourself.
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 c. uncooked rice
- 2 c. vegetable broth or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 3 c. black beans, canned or cooked and drained
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic. Saute for 5 to 8 minutes or until transparent and beginning to brown. Add the rice, and continue sauteing for about 2 minutes.
- Pour in the vegetable broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pot, and cook over very low heat for 18 to 20 minutes.
- Mix in the spices and black beans before serving.
Simple Vegetable Stock
This savory stock recipe makes about 6 cups of broth. It isn't a full meal by itself, but it's a money-saver since it's made from such economical veggies, and it provides an excellent, flavorful base for any homemade soup or stew. You can even use it to boil vegetables for added flavor.
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 large onion
- 2 celery stalks
- 3 carrots
- 6 green onion shoots
- 1 small garlic bulb
- Handful of fresh parsley
- 1 large bay leaf
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 qt. water
- Chop all of the vegetables into large hunks. Peel the garlic cloves, but keep them whole.
- Heat the oil in a large stock pot. Add the veggies, garlic, parsley, and bay leaf. Saute the mixture for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the salt and the water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the broth uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Strain the broth before using it.
More Quick Tips
Remember, making quick and affordable meals isn't supposed to be stressful! Simply work with what you have, use a bit of creativity, and enjoy the process of discovering new dishes and cooking techniques. To cut costs on your grocery bill every week, keep in mind that it might be cheaper to buy in bulk, choose seasonal produce, shop at the farmers' market, make large-batch meals, and join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) group so you can have fresh, economical, and delicious fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season.