With the cost of living soaring and meat prices rising by more than 10% in the past few weeks alone and no respite in sight, it may be time to change our eating habits. For the sake of our wallets and our health.
The average Brit eats 185 pounds or 84kg of meat a year*. About twice as much as we should to safeguard our health. There have been many initiatives to try to get people to eat less meat, from Meat Free Mondays to Veganuary, with varying degrees of success. But maybe now is the time to re-evaluate the veggie options.
I am not a vegetarian, but my diet is very vegetable heavy. Red meat doesn’t agree with me at all so I eat little to none. Chicken and pork are fine, but I can take them or leave them. So over the past 15 years I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to find good, interesting vegetarian recipes that will be truly delicious. I have discovered not only some lovely meals but also how brilliant they can be for your budget.
Even now, a 1kg bag of lentils can cost as little as £2. Market stalls offer bowls of veg for £1 each. If you meal plan and get creative, a little money goes a long way. This week I bought a bag of mini potatoes for £1 and a bag of spinach for £1.50. So far these two ingredients have gone into five separate meals. From a Nicoise salad to a veggie frittata and I am still going. If you start by looking at what you will eat for the week before setting out to the supermarket, you can really make some savings and revolutionise your weekly shop.
Think about how a staple ingredient - such as butternut squash - can be used in different dishes to make it stretch. For example, why not make a lentil chili with roasted squash bites, a squash risotto and some lovely soup? That’s three meals and once you have the plan in place, just go with what you fancy on the day - a good way to reduce waste and outgoings.
Similarly, if you have some veg that is on its last legs, stick it in the freezer and when you have circa 2kgs stored, turn them into a stock? Just make sure to avoid anything too bitter such as cabbage or aubergine.
Food and flavour has evolved so dramatically in the past decade in Britain. We have easy access to the most exotic spices and ingredients which we maybe hadn’t heard of a few years ago. Think how it’s now perfectly normal to have za’atar or ras el hanout in your cupboard. We have come a long way from throwing in a Bouquet Garnis and thinking that’s adventurous! Take inspiration from the Middle East and Asia to ramp up the taste sensation and fill your table with belly-bursting, budget-shrinking dinners!
My favourite vegetarian cookbook is Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. Each dish is a full meal, rather than a series of side dishes that you have to put together. The Thug Kitchen offer tasty Tex-Mex vegan dishes with an irreverent delivery. And there is so much online to take inspiration from. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Here are a few of my own (delicious, if I say so myself…) vegetarian creations to get you started.
*Bill Bryson, The Body: A Guide for Occupants