Cheap Vegetarian Protein Sources To Eat Plant-Based on a Budget

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Whether you want to eat plant based on a budget or just want to save money on groceries, these cheap vegetarian protein sources will help.

tofu, nuts, seeds, broccoli plant based protein
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Want to reduce your grocery budget by hundreds of dollars a year and eat better than ever?

Then ditch the meat. Or at least reduce how much you eat. 

A study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition compared a government-recommended meal plan with a plant-based meal plan and calculated the savings to be at least $750 a year (this is an American study).

What’s more, the vegetarian meal plan had 25 more servings of vegetables a week.

If there’s one thing that most diets can agree on, it’s that eating less meat and more veggies is better for your health.

As well as better for your wallet.

For the record, I’m not a vegetarian. And you don’t have to give up meat completely to save money on groceries if you don’t want to. I’ll be covering ways to save on meat in the next article.

But most of us tend to eat too much meat and can benefit from eating less.

How do you get enough protein without eating meat?

And if you’re used to serving meat at each meal, what do you eat on meat-free nights?

Protein Refresher – How Much Do You Need?

Protein is a macronutrient like fat and carbohydrates, which means we need relatively large amounts compared to micronutrients like vitamins.

Unlike fats and carbohydrates, however, protein can’t be stored, so it’s important to eat enough protein on a daily basis.

Protein is important for repairing tissue, making hormones and enzymes and is an important building block of bone, muscle, cartilage, skin and blood.

As far as diet goes, protein stabilises blood sugar and leaves you feeling fuller for longer.

How much protein should you be eating each day?

It is generally recommended that you eat 0.8 – 1 gram of protein per 1 kilogram of body weight each day. This is about 55g for the average male and 45g per day for the average female at a healthy weight.

To give you an idea of what that looks like, there are about 15 grams of protein in 1 cup of cooked kidney beans.

While animal products are an efficient way to eat protein, you don’t need to eat them to get your daily dose.

You can get all the protein you need on a vegetarian or vegan diet.

The key is to eat:

  • Whole foods like whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts etc.
  • Eat a variety of these each day

If you’re eating a variety of whole foods each day, you’ll be getting your required protein.

5 Excellent Frugal Plant-Based Protein Sources

While all plants contain protein, some are better sources than others. As long as you’re eating a wide variety of vegetables and whole grains, you’ll have your protein needs covered.

Here are some of the best sources of plant-based protein.

1. Beans and Legumes

Yet again, beans and legumes come up trumps in a frugal diet!

They are high in protein, making them an excellent non-meat source of protein; plus, they are loaded with fibre, keeping you feeling fuller for longer.

Check out the first post in this series for ideas for cooking with beans. You can cook and freeze beans to make dried beans as convenient as tinned. And to save money on electricity, you can cook beans in a DIY thermal cooker.

Frozen green peas are an excellent cheap source of both fibre and protein, with about 6 grams of protein per 100 grams. They can be thrown into stews, pasta dishes, curries, rice, or eaten as a side.

2. Soy Products

While the jury is still deciding whether soy is healthy or not (there’s a big difference between eating whole food forms of soy and eating processed soy derivatives that you find in most processed foods), it is a tried and true source of non-meat protein.

The best soy products come in the form of edamame, tofu, and tempeh.

Edamame – young soybeans, usually sold still in their pods – can be found in the frozen vegetable section of the supermarket. Boil the pods in water but don’t eat the pods, just the beans inside. Edamame also comes dry-roasted for snacking on.

Tofu usually comes in varying forms of hardness and is either fresh (usually) or fried.

You can also get it pre-marinated, which means you can enjoy plenty of flavour in your meal without having to buy extra ingredients.

Silken and soft tofu is good for making sauces, dips and vegan ‘cream’.

Firm and Extra Firm are good for frying, baking, and steaming and are used in curries, stir-fries, scrambled or as ‘steaks’.

Because it doesn’t have a distinct flavour of its own, it takes on the flavour of whatever sauce you pair it with, so it tastes wonderful marinated. I found this tofu stir fry on Pinterest the other day and gave it a try – it’s a great way to prep and cook tofu, and it was delicious as well.

Tempeh is also made from soy, but it has been fermented, which means it’s more easily digested. I found it at Coles but not Woolworths for around $4 for 300g.

Tempeh is firm with a textured, nutty ‘mushroomy’ flavour, making it a popular meat substitute.

Not sure what to do with Tempeh? Here are 16 ideas to get you started.

3. Nuts and Seeds

Frugal nuts that are high in protein are peanuts and peanut butter (ok, they are technically a legume).

One of the cheaper tree nuts that are high in protein is almonds. Save money on almond products by making your own at home. Check out how to make your own almond milk, almond meal and almond butter.

High protein seeds include pumpkin seeds, which are great added to baking or homemade toasted muesli.

Sesame seeds are also high in protein and are great eaten as tahini paste. Couple it with chickpeas (also a good source of protein) for a healthy hummus, add a spoonful to your smoothie or make a tahini dressing for a protein boost to your next salad.

4. Whole grains

All whole grains include some amount of protein, but there is one grain that stands out.

Quinoa is a ‘complete’ protein. While it’s more expensive than other grains, it’s a whole lot cheaper than most meat, so you come out on top.

You can substitute rice with quinoa in most dishes – you can even cook it in the rice cooker.

Some quinoa recipes from the blog include quinoa and bean patties, enchilada casserole, roast balsamic veggies and quinoa.

Quinoa isn’t the only grain that has a lot of protein. Oats contain about 14 grams of protein per 100g, making a bowl of porridge a great way to start the day.

5. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast made from a single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. It is also a vegan source of vitamin B12, which is a nutrient that’s hard to get without supplements if you don’t eat any animal products.

It has a strong ‘cheesy’ flavour giving a savoury richness to vegan savoury dishes. If you’re wondering what to do with it, here are some ideas.

While the upfront cost is not cheap, its strong flavour means a little bit goes a long way.

Other Vegetarian Protein Sources

While the following food items are not plant-based (so not suitable for vegans), if you’re vegetarian, they can be great protein-rich additions to a budget plant-based diet.

1. Dairy Foods

Dairy foods can be a great source of protein. While all dairy is high in protein, some great sources include:

  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek Yoghurt
  • Paneer
  • Cheese

2. Eggs

With about 13 grams of protein per 100g, eggs add a lot of protein to the diet. They are also cheap and versatile, with many ways to make them.

Boil, fry, scramble, or poach. Have a omelete, frittata, quiche.

Making Veggie Meals Appealing to Die-Hard Carnivores

Is your partner a steak-and-potatoes kind of person?

My husband is.

It can be challenging introducing vegetarian meals to your meat-loving family.

Here are some tips for eating more plant-based meals while keeping your meat lovers happy.

  • Start with just one meal a week – a meatless Monday, for instance.
  • You don’t need to go from steak to raw vegan – start with an egg-based frittata or a creamy mushroom pasta.
  • Umami is the forgotten ‘taste’ (like bitter or sweet or salty). Meat has an umami taste, so up the umami of your vegetarian meal with flavours like soy sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, and toasted nuts or seeds.
  • Give your dishes lots of flavour with herbs and spices, so it doesn’t matter that there’s no meat. These vegetarian nachos are always a winner in our house.
  • Make your vegetarian meal hearty and filling with plenty of fibre and plant-based protein.

Eating less meat is one step to take to reduce your grocery budget and eating healthy at the same time. These cheap vegetarian protein sources will help you stay full and satisfied without breaking the bank.

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