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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Frugality (Part V): The Celery Stalks at Midnight

I have been off my game a little lately, we've had an awful lot going on, so please forgive the lateness of this post.

In my fifth installment on frugal living, I will recommend something that we do for religious reasons, but that anyone can do for economic reasons. We eat meatless at least twice a week. Right now, as it is Advent, we are eating meatless three times a week. Vegetables, beans and dairy are all much less expensive than meat. For most people eggs are inexpensive and tasty and a good source of protein.

I have a rather carnivorous husband, so I promised Rich that every meatless meal we ate would include lots of protein from other sources. I believe it is actually easier for him to fast completely than to eat meatless. We do not do an entire vegan day, though there have been a few meals that were vegan. Since we have a great source of fresh eggs, we do eat a lot of eggs on our meatless days. Frittatas, quiches, egg burritos, Eggs in Purgatory, hearty salads with hard boiled eggs, savory egg custards all make it on to our dinner table. Since we still eat dairy, things like the macaroni and cheese we had last night are great tasting and filling, we generally add a salad and some fruit for a full meal. I have gotten pretty creative in the types of meals we eat. Fortunately, our entire family likes all sorts of ethnic foods, so we partake of Arabic food (not surprising), but also Indian, Italian, Pseudo-Mexican as well as real Mexican, even French. Many cultures eat meat sparingly or occasionally, so those cuisines are good to choose from when making vegetarian meals.

I tend to avoid vegetarian by ideology cooks and cookbooks. We do this as a spiritual discipline, but we still want food that tastes good. Since we are trying to avoid most highly processed foods, we don't eat much in the way of fake meat, tofu, TVP, etc. Neither of us is really a fan of those things anyway and in a house full of boys, we don't need all that soy. We are not looking for a meat substitute when we eat this way, either, if we wanted to approximate meat, we'd just go for the real thing. It tastes better than the fake stuff. The processed, substitute meat is also rather expensive. In our religious discipline, fish doesn't count as meat (it has to do with Latin vs Greek in canon law), so occasionally there will be fish on our meatless menus, but I realize that for most people, seafood is more expensive than red meat or poultry.

Except for about three weeks of the year, all of my menus have two or more meatless meals, if you are looking for more concrete examples. Some of the simplest things are tasty, filling and meatless. We eat baked potatoes with cheese sauce and (usually) broccoli along with a salad. My vegetable soup is vegetarian, in fact vegan, we serve it with whole wheat rolls and all of us are satisfied, even Rich.

If you are trying to find more money to give to charity or for feeding the poor, you can take the money you would have used on a more expensive meal and set it aside to give. This can be a great lesson for your children as well, who will learn about money and about helping others. I haven't wanted to get too preachy, or to brag, but we've had a few experiences over the last few months which have impressed upon us how fortunate we are. We have had the opportunity to help a couple families in our area who truly had nothing. It was a great reminder to us of how sheltered we truly are from poverty. I am grateful that my children have not known this kind of poverty and committed to impress upon them the responsibility we have to personally care for the poor, rather than relying on other organizations or people to do it.

We did not start eating this way to save money, but it certainly has helped us do that. We have been able to use that money for us and for others in ways that we had not thought we could before. I hope this helps you do so as well.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not

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Thank you for the vegetarian reminder. I, too, have a husband who would eat steak every meal, if given the option, because he has never been presented with tasty vegetarian options. My current quest is to remove the meat from the center of the plate -- make it spice and seasoning in a chili, or a soup, or stir-fry -- and show him that pasta and veggies are every bit as good as steak. We're getting there.

I also wanted to tell you that I thought I did pretty well on grocery shopping, but last week, I planned out meals and made a list based on the sections of the store I thought the foods would be in -- I'm pretty sure I saved about $20-$30, just by not wandering around and thinking "Oh, right, I need one of those..." every time something colorful caught my eye.

Thank you for these posts. Not all the ideas you present are easy for us to implement, but I'm happy to have the lens to think about these things in a different way.
I'm with you on the fake meat products! We eat a lot of vegetarian main dishes too (this week alone we had pumpkin-bean soup one night and lentil soup the next - bread along with it each time), but when I come across a vegetarian recipe that calls for fake sausage, I just put in real. :)
Kristine, I actually meant to talk about using meat more as an ingredient, as well. I forgot, though, so thank you for saying it for me! If I make chicken divan or if I use ground beef in a sauce I can make about a pound feed our whole family. However, if I use whole pieces of meat or make hamburgers, it takes about four pounds. It makes a big difference. Since we've been trying to eat more locally and seasonally, we end up with lots more vegetables, so I make as much on the side with veggies or in the main dish, which stretches the meat as well as giving us more vegetation which we need.

Jessica, you made me laugh. I do that with fake meat as well. Also I look at Cooking Light and see where they took all the fat out and add it back in. The only low fat things I like are those things which are that way naturally, or in things like sorbet.
I have a number of vegetarian cookbooks (since I eat vegetarian all but a few times a month), and they don't seem have that many fake-meat products. There may be a few with soy, but most of the recipes seem to have beans, lentils, eggs, or cheese.

It could also be that it's only the bean and lentil recipes that look good to me.
I wasn't clear enough. I also own lots of vegetarian cookbooks. I was saying that I tended to avoid vegetarian books that were ideology driven rather than food driven. The thing about soy was a second thought.

In my experience, those books which are driven by ideology tend to have more fake food, not to mention the food lectures. I also have found that, to our tastes at least, the food in ethnic vegetarian books tend to be better. Also ingredient or cooking type specific books, like bean cookery or grilling books. I just got a squash book from the library to find other ways of using our garden bounty. There were several recipes in there, both with and without meat, that looked like they would work for us.
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