Save Money by Trying a Plant-Based Meal

Inflation is impacting the price of everything from clothing to gas to food. As you try to keep expenses in check, consider adding a few plant-based proteins to your weekly menu. Beef, chicken and fish often cost 4 times as much as the plant-based protein alternatives. Consider adding a lunch or dinner a few times a week to help your budget. The health benefits are also worthwhile-lower fat, higher fiber, and added nutrients. Lentils and beans are also shelf stable, which allows you to keep a supply on hand. Here are three delicious, plant-based options that include lentils, beans, or tofu.

Lentils are legumes that are considered a superfood. Lentils are loaded with protein, fiber (32% of your daily requirement), iron, B vitamins, folate and potassium. They are also very low in fat. Studies show eating lentils can help lower cholesterol. Purchase dried lentils and cook them in water or broth (or a combination). Cooked lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. Dried lentils can store on the shelf for months. Lentils supply around 12 grams of protein in a half cup serving. At under $1 per serving, this plant-based protein is kind to your wallet.

Try making a batch of lentils (follow the cooking instructions on the package) and use the cooked lentils as you would ground beef in your pasta. Use a whole grain pasta, add steamed or sauteed broccoli and mushrooms. Lentils, combined with the whole grain pasta, supplies a similar high- quality protein as meat. This simple plant-based meal will satisfy your hunger, provide a good serving of protein without the fat and leave you with a few dollars for tomorrow. Use the leftover, cooked lentils in salads, soups or tacos.

Beans are another great plant-based protein to create a meal around. Beans are also a good source of protein, fiber, antioxidants, iron and potassium. They are satiating to help control hunger. For those worried about gassiness associated with beans, rinsing them in running water for about 30 seconds can help reduce this issue. A can of black beans has about 3 servings and cost less than $1.25 per serving. Black beans serve up around 7.6 grams of protein per ½ cup serving. Make tacos with black beans and sweet potatoes (or whatever veggie you have on hand). Dice the sweet potato, spray with olive oil, and sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, and coriander. Roast the sweet potatoes in the oven or air fryer. until they are crispy. While the sweet potatoes cook, sauté a little onion, add the black beans along with a little squeeze of lime. Serve the tacos on corn tortillas with avocado, and your favorite salsa. Leftovers are great the next day.

Tofu is made from soybeans and is another great source of affordable, plant-based protein. It is also high in fiber, calcium, and contains antioxidant phytochemicals. Studies show it is an anti-inflammatory food. Tofu costs around $1 per serving and offers 14 grams of protein. Tofu itself doesn’t have much of a taste. The beauty of tofu is that it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook or combine it with.

Tofu comes in various consistencies-silken, firm and extra firm. Try the extra firm for a healthy stir fry. Remove the tofu from the container and drain off the liquid. Use a tofu press, or place tofu on a plate with another plate on top to drain off the excess liquid. It cooks up best when it is dry. Cut the dry tofu into cubes and marinate with low- sodium soy sauce, lime, maple syrup or honey, and a little siracha (hot sauce). Marinate for 30 – 60 minutes. Sauté your favorite vegetables in a little olive oil, adding broth, when more liquid is needed. Add the tofu and marinade after the veggies are nearly cooked. Keep the veggies crisp by avoiding over cooking. Serve the stir fry over brown rice, quinoa (for added protein), or cauliflower rice for added veggies. Sprinkle some ground nuts on top for a little added protein and healthy fat.

These meals are all delicious, easy to make, nutritious, low in fat and very affordable. Give a plant-based protein a try by making lentil pasta, black bean tacos, and a tofu stir fry.

by Christy Coughlin, Wellness Coach