We all know meat is expensive.

Yet somehow, most of us just keep buying it and complaining about it. I know I do sometimes.

Today’s blog is about hope. About doing something about the thing we complain about. Here is the solution: do something different. Don’t just keep buying something you hate paying for. Make a change!

Fred and I have been on a tight grocery budget for years as we have been paying down our enormous pile of debt. We only spend $60 a week on food. That means we need to be creative with our protein, especially here in the Great White North where things are more expensive!

We try to do at least one meatless meal per week to cut down on grocery costs. We don’t really like tofu, so we’ve learned to use some things that are a bit tastier for us but still pack a protein kick. Here are some of our favourite meat substitutes so we still have enough protein in our diet to get out of bed in the morning.

Cheese

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 08 40 PM[We aren’t fancy cheese people. Judge our No Name marble cheese all you want, but we like it.]

It seems simple, but cheese is a great protein source, and so good! You can use it to make your own healthier version of Kraft Dinner (Mac and Cheese) or put a pile of it on a baked potato. We also like to put cheese in potato soup, cream cheese in certain chili recipes, and sometimes just eat cheese and crackers. It’s fantastic.

Lentils

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 07 52 PMLentils seem kind of weird, like something hippies would eat. They probably do…they know how to get protein on a budget! Lentils are a great source of protein (25g per 1/2 cup – that is three times more than a cup of whole milk!), and they don’t have much flavour, which means they pick up on the flavour of things around them. The easiest way to get lentils in your diet is in soup or stew – make a big pot of lentil veggie soup and cook up some biscuits to go alongside – cheap and hearty!

Chickpeas

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 10 55 PMI devoted an entire blog to chickpeas where I teach you how I buy chickpeas in a giant bag (for $5), cook them in batches in my crockpot, and use them all the time. Each cup of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) packs 12g of protein. Our favourite ways to use chickpeas are instead of chicken in stir-fry, and to replace some meat in our crockpot chili recipes. You can barely taste them, and they keep you full for hours!

Beans  

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 09 15 PMSimilar to chickpeas, I also buy bags of uncooked beans, cook them in the crockpot, and keep them in freezer for when I need them (this picture is a jar of frozen black beans). Beans have endless possibilities – you can use them on salads, in quesadillas, in chili recipes, or to make a tasty dip for chips or tortillas. If you want to get really creative and unconventional, I’ve heard good reviews of using black beans to make gluten-free brownies or to make your own burger patties. Choose your level of comfort with this magical fruit.

Eggplant

Photo 2016-04-11, 5 10 20 PMThis isn’t my go-to meat substitute, but one I have used before. I bought the eggplant in this picture for $1 and used it in a batch of spaghetti sauce instead of beef. Eggplant has the feeling of being more substantial, and like lentils and chickpeas, soaks up the flavour of whatever is around it. Easiest way to incorporate eggplant in your meal plan is Italian food – spaghetti, lasagna, and other pasta dishes.

These are a just a few of my simple suggestions for meat substitutes. I’d love to hear from you – you’re welcome to leave a comment below to share your own meatless ideas!