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Healthy Meals: Eating Meatless Saves Money

December 2010

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Department
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

As the cost of living rises, food costs also increase and make it difficult for those on limited incomes to eat a healthful diet. It is a challenge to serve healthy meals on a budget, but with careful planning, you can eat better for less. Meatless meals, in general, are cheaper to prepare than those that contain animal protein in the form of meat, poultry, or fish. One way to save money is to serve these foods fewer times each week.

A plant-based diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, bean/legumes, and nuts which are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. These foods tend to be lower in calories and have less total fat as compared to animal-based foods. They also contain less saturated fat and cholesterol in their pre-cooked or raw state. Choosing healthy recipes and cooking methods will ensure that the food prepared is low in calories and healthful.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a study of 500,000 adults found that those who ate 4 ounces of red meat or more daily (over 10 years) were 30 percent more likely to die of any cause. Eating processed meats such as sausage, bologna, and luncheon meats also increased the risk of death. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish decreased their risk of death.

How much protein does an adult need each day? This varies according to height, weight, and age. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, adults need between 50-175 grams per day. About 10-35 percent of the total calories eaten should come from protein food sources. Here are some examples:

Large Egg: has 6 grams of protein and costs $ 2.20 per dozen so one egg costs 18 cents per serving.

Milk: a cup of milk has about 8 grams of protein. At $ 2.85 a half gallon that is 18 cents
per cup for one serving.

Cottage Cheese: a pound container is about $ 2.50 costing about 5 cents per gram of protein or 63 cents for a 4 ounce portion or one serving.

Tofu: a pound costs $ 2.00 with one gram of protein costing 6 cents and 4 ounces or one serving costing 50 cents.

When your meals include meat, fish, or poultry, watch the amount you consume for a serving of 3 ounces. Figure the serving to be about the size of a deck of cards and it should not take up more than one quarter of your dinner plate. Veggies and fruits should cover half your plate and whole grains should fill one quarter of the plate.

By eating meatless meals several times a week, you can reduce your calories, saturated fat, and blood cholesterol levels. Start with planning several meatless meals per week such as lasagna. Italian foods, chili, macaroni and cheese, salads, and casseroles with tofu or nut fillings taste good and can be prepared without animal protein. Stir-fried mixed dishes also can be meatless. Remember, beans and legumes are great sources of plant protein. Other dishes such as burritos and tacos can be made with vegetarian beans rather than refried and will be healthier for the family. Small changes in your diet will pay big dividends for your health. Start taking small steps today and you will be making healthy changes for the new year.