The Budget-Friendly Vegetarian

Are you following a plant-based diet and think that one needs to use many expensive ingredients in order to balance out the diet?

… Not necessarily!

One of the best part’s about being vegetarian is that one does not need to buy meat / chicken / fish: the most expensive components of a typical Western / Ethnic diet! 

All you need do is follow a few basic dietary rules and guidelines to ensure that your diet is balanced, and then start experimenting with cheap sources of protein – and voila! – you will have saved approximately R1000 on your monthly food budget. Apart from the savings to your budget, your health will improve and you will have made a direct contribution to improving the environment.


1.Think about protein – Build your meals around your protein sources (low in fat) e.g. Beans, nuts, peas, soy products, lentils and rice. Be relaxed about protein – if your diet is varied and you are taking in enough essential amino acids your protein needs should be met

2. Make simple changes – many meat containing dishes can be made vegetarian:

  • Pasta with pesto sauce or primavera
  • Veggie pizza
  • Vegetable lasagna
  • Tofu vegetable stir fry
  • Bean burritos
  • Veggie burgers

(Just watch the fat intake/content if you are on a weight reduction diet)

3. Choose nuts – add nuts to salads, eat them as a snack or in main dishes as replacements for meat and poultry. Choose nuts and seeds high in Vitamin E – sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts

4. Be aware of fat – Mostly avoid foods high in fat. Eating too much full cream milk, cheese and yoghurt may raise the saturated fat content of your diet and displace fibre-rich foods. Even vegetarians can get too much fat if their diet contains excessive amounts of nuts, oils, processed foods, sweets, margarine, eggs or salad dressings.

5. Aim for variety – Wheat and rice are the most popular grains but there are many others such as barley, rye, buckwheat, millet, corn, sorghum and oats.

6. Think Fibre – your diet with lots of whole grains and adequate fruits and vegetables has the enormous advantage of being very high in fibre which is excellent for overall good health.

Aim for +/- 30g fibre / day: this can be obtained from 1 cup low fat muesli + 2 slices whole-wheat bread + ½ cup baked beans + 1 jacket potato + 30g dried apricots.

7. Think Omega-3 – include 2 servings daily of foods rich in Omega-3 fats

Vegetarian diets are usually higher in Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3 fatty acids.

Diets low in fish, eggs or algae are low in Omega 3 essential fatty acids (needed for cardiovascular health and brain and eye development).

It is a good idea to take an Omega-3 supplement derived from microalgae.

Take in plenty of good sources of omega 3 such as flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil and soy.

8. Think Vitamin B12 – include at least 3 servings daily of foods rich in Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is not present in plant food – so you must obtain it from dairy products, eggs or a vitamin B12 supplement. Some vitamin B12 can be found in fortified breakfast cereals or soya milk

9. 5 A Day– Aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables / day: be sure to get a variety of colour & type, E.g. orange (carrots or oranges), green (beans or peas), yellow (sweetcorn/squash).

Prevent “the Great Escape” of water-soluble vitamins from fruit and vegetables:

  • Do not soak (rinse quickly under running water); leave peel on where possible
  • Do not chop before washing
  • Dry (in salad spinner for leafy veggies) immediately afterwards to remove excess water
  • Peas & beans can be washed before being shelled
  • Some veggies need not be washed (mushrooms & red/green peppers) – wipe clean with a damp cloth
  • Do not defrost frozen veggies before cooking as the goodness drains off during thawing
  • Do not add salt to veggies while cooking as salt draws off extra moisture, which dissolves nutrients
  • Don’t add bicarb during cooking – it doubles the rate of Vitamin B loss
  • Don’t throw away leftover vegetable water. Use immediately for a drink (add soup stock or Marmite) or in soups and sauces.
  • Microwaving retains a high proportion of vitamins and minerals

10. Invest in a good South African vegetarian cook book – “Versatile Vegetarian Recipes” by Hilda Lategan / “The Vegetarian Kitchen” by Mellissa Bushby


MEALSTARCH CHOICES: (¼ of the plate)
-These must be Low GI
PROTEIN SOURCES: (palm-size portion)
-Low fat choices & preparation methods

Eat within an hour after waking
• Soya Life instant porridge
• Wholewheat Pronutro
• All Bran Hi-Fibre / Fibre Plus / Shredded Bran
• Muesli (low fat) + lots of bran, dried fruit & nuts etc
• Oat Bran , raw / Digestive Bran
• Mealie meal porridge/phutu: stiff/crumbly, cooled
• Oats-so-easy, natural
Any bread with lots of added whole kernels, crushed wheat, oats &/or oat bran:
• Any branded Low GI breads
• Volkorn rye bread / sunflower seed whole grain rye bread / sourdough rye bread; Pumpernickel bread
• Fruit and seed loaf
• Low fat dairy for lacto-vegetarians
• Soya milk
• Beans and legumes – detailed list below
• Eggs: 2-3/week for ovo-vegetarians – any way but not fried
• Cheeses: low fat (<5g fat/por.) for lacto-vegetarians
• Quorn products – no crumbs
• Fry’s products – no crumbs
• Tofu

Add 2-3 servings/meal of fresh vegetables
As per above list
• Provita, Original and Multigrain
• Oat cakes
• Tortilla, wheat / corn
• Pearled Wheat, pearled barley
• Pasta (durum wheat)
• Sweet potato
• Mealies (corn): fresh/frozen /canned
• Rice: basmati / brown / wild / white
• Couscous, cooked
• Samp & beans, cooked
• Rice noodles, cooked
• Chapatti (Roti, low fat), maize / corn
• Baby and new potatoes
• Legumes: all dried & canned beans,
peas, chickpeas, lentils, pea dahl & baked
• Pea soup / Bean soup / Lentil soup
• Falafels
• Peanut butter
• Lentil lasagna
• Soya mince
• Couscous salad with chickpeas, robot peppers, feta, balsamic and olive oil
• Fry's patties, strips, sausages
• Quorn – not crumbed
• Soya stews and patties
SNACKS• All fresh fruit
• Unsweetened canned fruit
• Small quantities: dried fruit/ raisins (20-30g)
• Digestive biscuits, plain
• Homemade popcorn (air-popped)
• Bars and rusks with lots of seeds, nuts (< 5g fat; <5g sugar; <300kJ/bar or rusk)
• Lentil dahl
• 30g nuts / seeds
• 2Tbs peanut butter
• Low fat yoghurt / cheese for lacto-vegetarians


Nutritional values and how to use them

BEANS AND LEGUMES are the cheapest and healthiest source of protein.

Despite differences in color and taste, all legumes have a similar nutritional value. A serving of beans contains no cholesterol, excellent protein value, lots of complex carbohydrates, and virtually zero fat. In addition, beans are a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and digestive health promoting fibre.

Cooking Instructions

Beans will cook more evenly, tenderly and in less time if they have been soaked first.

To soak beans overnight:

Rinse and cover with cold water. Leave to stand overnight.

Quick soak:

Cover beans with water (about 2 cm above the beans), microwave for 3 minutes on high and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Then cook as described below.

Cooking Method:

Rinse well, cover with water and simmer gently for an hour and 45 minutes.

BLACK-EYED BEANS½ cup = 90g cooked:
7g protein
436kJ / 100kCal
13g carbohydrate
6g fibre
250 ml (1 cup) raw beans make 550 ml (2 ¼ cups) cooked beans. One serving is usually 125 ml (1/2 cup) cooked beans. Salt and any acidic ingredients should only be added to the beans about three quarters of the way through cooking, as these ingredients can lengthen cooking time or prevent softening.Black-eyed beans are delicious in an aromatic vegetarian curry, can be blended into a spicy bean dip or added into rice or couscous for extra flavour and nutritional benefit.
(also known as garbanzo beans)

An excellent nutritional choice and are high in fibre and protein.. They are also considered more digestible than most other beans.
They have a very low glycemic index.
½ cup = 90g cooked:
7g protein
436kJ / 100kCal
13g carbohydrate
6g fibre
Soak overnight, Discard the water and simmer for 1 ½ hours.

If you use canned chick peas, drain and rinse well to get rid of the brine
Chick peas can be used whole in salads or ground up to make hummus.
They can be used warm in soups, vegetable stews, vegetarian curries and casseroles
Whole soybeans are an excellent source of protein and dietary fibre where soya protein is considered the only natural non-animal complete source of protein. Soya has recently attracted a lot of attention because of its ability to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and can be used in soups, curries, and stews.
1/3 cup cooked:
7g protein
334kJ / 80kCal
6g carbohydrate
4g essential fats
2g fibre
Soya Beans are an excellent source of protein, with a firm and nutty flesh that stands up well to re-heating. Simmer for 3 – 4 hoursDelicious added to stir fries and soups.
Lentils are legumes that have a rich nutty flavour and are much quicker to cook than any other legume as they do not require soaking. Lentils are extremely versatile and absorb flavours well.
Lentils are highly nutritious and are a good source of fibre, B vitamins and protein and are also a low GI food.
½ cup = 90g cooked:
8g protein
438kJ / 100kCal
11g carbohydrate
7g fibre
0.3g fat
50 ml (1 cup) raw brown lentils makes 550 ml (2 ¼ cups) cooked brown lentils. One serving is usually 125 ml (1/2 cup) cooked brown lentils.
Cooking Instructions
Cover with water, Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes
They are delicious served as a salad, in a thick warm soup, in spicy vegetarian curries, bolognaise or lasagnas.

Lentils add lots of flavour and some protein to all kinds of dishes, from soups to salads. Combine with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, parsley and garlic as a salad or puree with cumin, grated ginger and turmeric for an Indian dahl.
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