Less Meat, More Vegetables (and grocery money…)

by Emily from Frugal Living NW on February 16, 2012

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My husband and I are documentary film nerds. We have more on our Netflix queue than new releases. We have watched documentaries on everything from hay bale houses to high wire walkers to quadriplegic rugby teams. There is some strange and fascinating stuff going on in the world. The topics that impact our daily life the most, however, revolve around food.

Watching these documentaries, along with other sources, has changed the way we view and buy and eat our food. One of the biggest changes we have made over the last two years is to significantly cut back on the amount of meat we are eating. It started out as one of our monthly resolutions: Can we go a whole month without eating meat? We did it for a personal challenge and out of curiousity to see if it cut our monthly food bill.

For someone who planned every dinner menu starting with the meat, I knew this was going to be a challenge for me, the cook of the family. For someone who loves eating meat, I knew this was going to be a challenge for my husband. We both worried about feeling full and satisfied without our lifelong companions, Chicken and Beef.

However, once the month wrapped up, we were both hooked. I loved crossing meat off my grocery list entirely and not dealing with it as a part of meal prep. I was buying more from the produce department and nothing from the meat department, which resulted in a definite savings in our grocery budget. I also discovered all kinds of tasty, filling grains, legumes, and vegetables that we rarely, if ever, ate before.

My husband loved the variety and new flavors coming across his plate. For a meat-and-potatoes guy, he didn’t miss the meat part nearly as much as he expected, which surprised both of us. To quote the man himself, “I crave quinoa patties now more than I have ever craved steak in the past.” My husband said that. My husband!

Anyway, I continued the trend by making 1-3 meatless meals each week, and we repeated our meatless month again last year. With more practice and new recipes, it was easier and better. We both felt good eating this way.

Over the next few months, we are planning to move to a vegetable-based diet, eliminating meat as much as possible. If we are both craving hamburgers, no problem. We’ll grill burgers. I just won’t menu plan around meat anymore. We are both looking forward to the change.

I am not trying to convert you to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. I am obviously not a certified dietician or doctor, and this post is not intended to start a food fight. I am just speaking from personal experience and preference, encouraging you to think outside the box, both in your meal planning and grocery shopping.

I am trying to convince you of the merits of meatless meals. For some of you, one time a week might be stretching it. That’s ok; ease yourself into it! For others, you might be ready to bump up the challenge to 2-4 dinners a week. If you stick with it, I am certain you will notice a difference in your grocery budget, if not the variety of foods you are eating.

Here are some documentaries that have challenged us on this topic:

What do you think? Leave a comment!

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren March 23, 2014 at 1:27 pm

We’ve tried doing meatless meals, and once a week is pretty much the max for us. We follow a primal diet, so without meat, our choices for big protein are eggs and avocados LOL. Only so much of that I can eat hehe!


Emily from Frugal Living NW March 23, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Wow, I’m impressed you are able to manage even one meal! Going meatless on a primal diet would be tough. :)


Karyn Franz March 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Wow, its encouraging to read about other families like ours (meat-lovers) that are finding a veggie based diet is still satisfying and delicious. Thanks for all of the great ideas!


Hilfe und Rat um das Thema haustier ratgeber March 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Great info. Lucky me I discovered your blog by accident (stumbleupon).
I’ve book marked it for later!


Jane February 27, 2012 at 8:20 am

Thank you for this post! You have inspired me to try to incorporate some meatless meals into my families diet. I am going to start small with 1-2 meatless meals a week!


karen February 26, 2012 at 10:33 am

I just got this in my email. The food documentary FRESH…you can watch in full for free until Mar 3. I haven’t seen it yet so dont know re the content and all.



Christie February 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I wanted to share that I have been doing the exact same thing in regards to reducing the consumption of meat- I asked for the cookbook Clean Food for Christmas and it is a vegan cookbook which also has a lot of wheat free recipes. I have been wanting to cut back on using meat in our diet and this cookbook gave me a boost in that matter- I had some recipes for meatless dinners but this cookbook makes it really easy to do tasty, filling, meatless meals! Other vegan cookbooks have recipes that seem to take all day. Not the case with Clean Food. We have eaten so many new grains, and I have a whole new set of recipes for tempeh and tofu. And I save a lot of money on not buying meat. Tofu and tempeh last forever, unlike meat that you have to worry about using or freezing. And I don’t have to worry about cross contamination with no raw meat around!


Brittany February 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

I just wanted to say thank you for posting this. Forks over Knives was awesome. My boyfriend and I always talked about how much milk we drank, and if it was healthy or not… but now I know. I can’t wait to show this film to him and eat healthier together.


Kait February 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

Thanks for doing this segment! My family eats some meat (chicken and fish), but our diet is primarily vegetarian. I find it is easier to eat high quality, local, seasonal foods on a budget when you cut down on the amount of meat in your diet. I’m always looking for new recipe ideas, so I’m excited for your posts!


Kris R. February 17, 2012 at 9:28 am

All ~

The Forks Over Knives documentary changed our minds about how we eat 2 months ago. We’re a very average American family (suburban living, 2 kids, a dog, 2 cats and a fish) and I still giggle at the fact that we’re moving quickly toward being Vegans and LOVE how all the food tastes! We feel great too. We’re transitioning over slowly … I tend to be an “all or nothing” type person, so I’ve had to be disciplined to just chill out and let myself learn as I go. Whole Foods still freaks me out (I fell like I’m shopping in a foreign country! There are so many products I’ve never seen before!), so my M.O. has been to choose 1 or 2 recipes a week and give them a try. If we like them, I put them in a cookbook I’m building of new healthy recipes (you can buy cookbook binders at Costco for $12.00, or at bookstores as well).

I can recommend two web sites to you that we’ve found most helpful as we’ve been getting started:


The Engine 2 site even builds a shopping list for you! Under the dinner recipes, check out the Pasta Primavera – IT’S SO GOOD!!!

If any of you are interested, I’d love to start a Facebook Group of people from this site who are moving toward healthy eating, as I’ve found this string of comments so encouraging, helpful and just, FUN. Love my NW peeps!


~ Kris


Bette Jane February 16, 2012 at 9:45 pm

This makes me so happy! And it does so not only because I’m a passionate vegetarian, but because I used to be a (and know many) indifferent-and-pretty-lazy-meat-eater. Your points on the benefits of meatless eating is an excellent way to view it: as a plus instead of a minus!
Thank you!
Bette Jane


Kris R. February 17, 2012 at 9:29 am

Well said! It makes me happy too! 😀


Anna Christensen February 16, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for this post. It’s a subject very dear to my heart. Another documentary you must watch is “Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” (Just type it in to YouTube and watch.) It is very eye-opening and poignant because a lot of the great coupons out there are from the companies that are using forced/slave/child labor in Africa. We need to be aware of how our dollars are affecting others around the world, not just how much we can save our own bucks. :)


Lilypad February 17, 2012 at 9:12 am

I heard about this issue a few years ago and we started buying Fair Trade, organic chocolate instead of Hershey’s. We also stopped buying Nestle products because they encourage women in 3rd world countries to buy their formula instead of breastfeeding. My son (10) is now the one who reads product labels at Halloween and determines if we can buy any of the standard packaged candy to give out to trick-or-treaters. He gets really mad about this issue!


Kris R. February 17, 2012 at 9:35 am

Love the Fair Trade concept and you must be so proud of your son. Good job teaching him, Mom! I wonder where Hershey’s falls on this issue? I’ll have to look into that ….

I’ve always bought Hershey’s with pride because I visited the Hershey School a few years ago. The story is AMAZING, as is the town and it’s history. What that man did for the town he built and for orphans is inspiring to the point of chills. Just outstanding. :) Milton’s legacy is still channging lives, andI think 30% of what we spend on Hershey’s candy still goes to the school to support the kids.

Here’s a link to the school: http://www.mhs-pa.org/ … makes for some good reading! :)


Maleesa February 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I just love this post! I became a vegan at 7 years old (am now 24) and I would never go back. I am an obsessive documentary watcher as well, and all of the title’s mentioned are great.


Becca February 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm

My family stopped eating meat and drinking cows milk about 6 months ago after seeing several of the documentaries you mentioned, and doing a bunch of follow-up research and reading. We had no idea all these years where our food was coming from, and were horrified when we learned the truth about what the industry was doing to our planet and how meat products were adversely affecting our health. We all feel terrific and we’ve saved so much money at the grocery store since then! We don’t miss the meat at all and also love almond milk which we can frequently find coupons for!


Joana February 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Wow, it was like you were reading my mind. Me and my husband have watched the same documentaries on netflix but never did anything about it. Well, something finally clicked last week when we watched Forks over Knives. I went to the groceries and bought kale among other things and used coupons to buy tofu….. Tofu… Unbelievable. We’ll still eat the meat we have in the freezer because I di not believe in throwing away food but Zaycon will probably not see another order from me. We’ll eat meet 3 times a week till it’s all gone and then it is likely we will switch to a vegan diet for good.


Kris R. February 17, 2012 at 9:37 am

I can totally relate with you! :)


Katie February 16, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Skinny B***** is a great book. I’m a meat lover, but it makes a great argument for going vegan or even vegetarian. While it is marketed as a diet book, it is a humorous yet informative book worth reading if you’d like to know what’s really in your food.


HollyG February 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Michael Pollan’s book “Omnivore’s Dilemma” is also fantastic and if you’re interested in expanded your interest into water as a basic human right, “Tapped” and “Flow” are both really good.


Meghan February 16, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I’m afraid to watch Food Inc! Would love to hear more about your favorite veggie recipes that you have tried.


Mae February 16, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Thank you! I love the topic of food and I love documentaries too… so can’t wait to check out your links. With popcorn, my usual of course. Awesome !!


Bre February 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

We watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and were curious. We went out and bought a juicer and for a week did nothing but juice, and we felt FANTASTIC! We’ve been doing primarily 2 juices a day and a healthy, mostly vegatable, dinner. This week, stress has gotten the better of me and I’ve eaten some crummy stuff. Lemme tell ya, I feel TERRIBLE! I am going to start this weekend on an ALL juice diet again. I know for a lot of people that sounds insane (watch the video), but I truly felt so wonderful having purged my system of all the “crud” that was in it. My husband and I are going to shoot for doing nothing but juice for 30 days and see what happens!


LE February 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm

For transitions – (hubby big meat eater, me a veggie) I recommend the Morningstar Farms items in the freezer section. For example, they have a bag of ‘veggie’ ground beef replacer. So I just use it in a ‘regular’ recipe like for enchiladas or sloppy joes, and it has been great. Hubby now prefers their Breakfast Strips & Sausage Links to the meat varieties. We’re now trying to move more ‘vegan’ – but having this stuff in my back pocket helps me have confidence about providing meals family & friends who are meat eaters can still enjoy…


Lilypad February 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I’m so excited to see this post. I have been a vegetarian for 7 years—I’m mostly vegan but I do eat a little bit of cheese or yogurt now and then. My son (10) eats 95% vegetarian, and has eaten this way all of his life. (He occasionally has tuna and shrimp. He’s never had a real hamburger or chicken nuggets and is grossed out by the thought.) My husband is a meat eater but happily eats the vegetarian food that I cook at home. Because we save so much eating this way, when he’s got the craving for a steak, he’s able to afford a grass-fed one, and that’s much better for his health and the environment than CAFO (grain-fed factory farm) meat any day. I suggest that your readers check out vegetarian cookbooks from their local library, that way they can get new recipes without spending a fortune on books. A few vegan authors I recommend are Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Lindsay Nixon, and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. The Moosewood Collective and Mollie Katzen also have many great recipes. Also, “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer is excellent read. Thank you for opening your readers’ minds on this topic.


Emily February 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Yes, the library is an awesome resource where you can give cookbooks a test-run before buying. I had a huge stack of bookmarked (library) cookbooks on my dining room table when we did our meatless months. A huge help in the inspiration department!


Leticia February 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I love watching food documentaries. I have seen them all. Every time I eat meat. The movie pops into my head.. The Gerson Miracle is one that I like best.. The beautiful mind, and dying to have know are good also.. We are tying to eat less meat. But it’s hard for my husband not to have meat. We are carnavors.. But hopefully little by little we will be eating less meat..


Shelby February 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I would love to hear what recipes you are using! My husband and I have talked about cutting meat out, but wouldn’t even know what to cook or what searches to do for recipes.


stacy February 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm

A super cool NW Vegan blog is http://www.peasandthankyou.com, my family loves all her recipes!


Kris February 17, 2012 at 9:11 am

Yay! Thank you for posting this! :)


Kala February 16, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Hi, my name is Kala and I too am a documentary junkie…ah feels good to get that off my chest! :). I do not eat meat, and I don’t like fish. I will say for those willing to cut meat (and I think EVERYONE should) it is very important to remember that you can eat no meat and not eat healthy…a plant based diet is difficult but rewarding to maintain. I absolutely love the new creations in my kitchen because of more variety of produce minus meat but it takes a lot of time to retrain your shopping habits. I am also striving to do as much ‘from scratch’ as possible to avoid unnecessary preservatives and such. Again, it’s a work in progress.
Thanks for posting this. Everyone can benefit from plant based eating! Thanks for your encouragement in this!


Sara February 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm

More than individual recipes, I need meal planning. Anyone have good meatless (or nearly) meal plans?


Karen February 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thanks for the docu recs. Some I have not heard of before now. If you google you might be able to find many of these online for free viewing.

We have always eaten meat more as a side or seasoning to meals instead of the main event but I have been moving more and more to doing away with it for the most part. Mostly to save money and for health reasons but even though I love the taste of meat it is starting to gross me out. I used to hate beans but recently have started to crave them.

Please do share you quinoa patties recipe! :-) And I could use help in the veggie dept with ideas too.


Emily P February 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I’d love to see an “Ultimate Guide” to vegetarian meals! As a former vegetarian (beans were easiest on my college budget) I try as hard as possible to introduce vegetarian recipes into my family’s diet whenever I can, but they’re not biting (excuse the pun.) I definitely need to find some “ease into it” meals to serve them.


Emily February 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I agree! I think most of us have to ease into big changes like this. Hey, this has been a 2 year process for my husband and I. We like to take change nice and sloooow.

I think the key to making vegetarian meals work is 1) lots of flavor & variety and 2) filling options (legumes, tortillas/flatbread and grains have been key for us).


holly February 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm

this is great! I have been “shocking” my husband with doc. about health for some time now but it was Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead that finally got him on board. My only problem is that we were both raised in meat eating households and I have no clue how to start replacing meat with other items. Could you post recipes or the sort? Please.


stacy February 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Sing it Sister :)


Brittany February 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Recipes, please!!!


Lisa February 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I totally agree with ya! My husband has been vegan for 5 months and has lost 30 pounds. He was a person who ate meat at every meal. He doesn’t miss meat at all and feels so much better. One of our daughters is vegetarian and the remaining 3 of us only eat meat a couple times a month. My cousin just passed on to me this suggestion: Replace flaxseed for eggs in baking. To replace one egg, bring 3T. of water to a boil, add 1 T. ground flaxseed & reduce to a simmer, stirring until it reaches an egg white consistency, which is about 2 minutes.


Raquella February 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Food, Inc. changed my family’s life! My husband and I were astonished about the food we were putting into our bodies. It felt like we were putting our children’s in harms way with all the overly-processed, cheap foods (especially the meat products), and we were! While we are still in the process of changing our way a life, we only purchase grass-fed, pasture raised/free-range meats & eggs. We try to eat as natural as possible, avoiding ingredients we don’t know. In turn, we don’t really eat out anymore because most restaurants use products we no longer eat. So, though healthier food is more expensive, we have actually saved a bit of money because we rarely go out to eat. And we fell so much better!


Melody February 16, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I agree! We have increased our grocery budget due to the changes we’ve made, but we’ve also saved in unexpected areas. Not going out as much is a big one. I also feel like I’m spending less time scouring sales, clipping coupons, etc which is money saved in my book.


Melody February 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

We are total documentary nerds too. We got a free trial of Netflix awhile back and watched Food Inc, King Corn and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Food Inc quite literally, changed the way we shop, eat and think about food. Someone also recommended the book Real Food as another great resource.

Thanks for the good read. I need to work some more meatless options in to our menu, not just when I forget to defrost something. :)


Debbie February 16, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I’d love to learn the recipe for quinoa patties!


Mark February 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Great article. My wife and switched 7 months ago and it is fun, delicious and easy. Quinoa patties are easy. We just mix with red peppers, garlic spices and black beans. I also use oatmeal in mine. What ever tastes good to you. If you are interested the link I provided has some killer qurky recipes and insights.

I have never been much of a meat eater and my wife was. We do not miss it all. Well sometimes I crave steamed clams.


Kelleigh @ Kelleigh Ratzlaff Designs February 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Mark, I’d love to see some of your recipes!


Josh February 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I love food documentaries and Forks Over Knives is a fantastic one!

I would also check out Vegucated and SuperCharge Me.

SuperCharge me can be watched online or downloaded (download the larger AVI file because it’s better quality) at: http://www.archive.org/details/Supercharge_Me_Thirty_Days_Raw

Also, Simply Raw, but I don’t think it’s available online.


Emily February 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Quinoa patties? That sounds excellent! What are they? Do you have a recipe?


Emily February 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I make Heidi Swanson’s quinoa patties. I was planning to post the recipe next week as she doesn’t have it on her site.

Speaking of her site, it’s one of the first vegetarian cooking blogs that got me super excited about the possibilities of a veg-based diet. http://www.101cookbooks.com Don’t be intimidated by the recipes or ingredients. They are open to interpretation/substitutions.


Libby Sellers February 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Thank you for posting the blog address. Would love suggestions of recipes to try


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