Frugal Ways to Get More Protein as a Vegetarian

by heather

Yes, I Heart Tofu...

Yes, I Heart Tofu...

If you’re like many people who have had to curtail their food budget because of the recession, then chances are you’re eating less meat.

As a vegetarian myself, I see this as a good thing!

If you’re trying to eat less meat to save money, or you’re eating less because of environmental concerns, then you might be feeling a bit over your head. I know I was when I first stopped eating meat. In fact, my first month as a vegetarian was a quiet disaster. But, that’s another post…

Now that I’ve been on the veggie train a few years I’ve learned a few tricks for sneaking more protein in my diet. And, I thought I’d write up a post to share them!

But first, let me lay out why eating less meat is such a great idea…

Advantages To Eating Less Meat

1. Curtailing Your Consumption of Meat Means You’re Not Supporting Animal Cruelty

I promise I will not get on my soapbox about this. I will simply say that factory farms are incredibly cruel places for animals, and their quality of life in these places is horrendous. This is the #1 reason why I stopped eating meat. I just couldn’t in good conscience support the industry once I learned what it was really like.

If you’d like to learn more about what life is like in factory farms, check out PETAs video “Meet Your Meat”.

The video is a very sobering look at where our meat really comes from. If you watch it, I promise you’ll never feel the same.

2. Eating Less Meat Saves Money

When you think about it, meat is probably the most expensive item you put in your shopping cart each week. After all, what’s going to cost more, tofu or steak? Lentils or chicken breasts? Black beans or shaved ham?

Meat’s definitely costly, so you can save big by cutting it out of your diet.

3. Eating Less Meat Helps the Environment

It’s amazing to me how bad large factory farms are for the environment.

Here are a few interesting stats from The Daily Green:

  • Two thirds of beef cows are raised using hormones and steroids. Their bodies can’t fully process all these chemicals, so every time they pee those same chemicals and pharmaceuticals get transferred to the local watershed.
  • It takes 600 gallons of water to raise and produce one hamburger patty.
  • It takes 2 lbs. of grain to produce 1/4 lb. of burger meat. We could feed many more people if we were raising fewer cows.

And, there are many more cool stats in this great article, so if you’d like to learn more on how our meat is negatively affecting the environment, give it a look!

Sneaky, Frugal Ways To Get Protein

If you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian full-time, or just becoming a “flexitarian” (someone who only eats meat occasionally), you might be wondering how you’re going to replace those hamburgers and chicken breasts in your diet.

Well, here are some of the sneaky ways I work protein into my diet. You can compare all of these foods, nutritionally, to a 3.5 ounce chicken breast, which has 30 grams of protein on average.

Cottage Cheese

Did you know that cottage cheese is loaded with protein? Well it is. 4 ounces of cottage cheese has a a whopping 14 grams of protein.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a great, healthy snack (in fact, I’ve got a bag of organic pumpkin seeds on my desk right now: yum!). They’re also very high in protein.

How high? Well, 1/4 cup has 9 grams of protein.


Not only are almonds a great protein source, but they’re also very high in fiber and a great source of Vitamin E.

And what’s the skinny on the protein? 1 cup of almonds has 20 grams of protein.


A and I eat a lot of tofu. Tofu is great because you can make it taste like anything!

One half cup of tofu has almost 20 grams of protein. Yowza!

It’s also cheap. We pay $2.50 for one 14 ounce block of organic firm tofu. Each block contains 40 grams of protein.

We’ll usually get 3-4 hefty servings from one block.


Image courtesy of Wikepedia

Image courtesy of Wikepedia

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is, arguably, one of my most favorite foods. I’ll eat peanut butter on just about anything! It’s cheap, it’s tasty, and it’s good for you.

2 Tablespoons of peanut butter has 7 grams of protein.

Soy Milk

If you’re already buying organic milk, then soy milk is going to be in that same price range of $5-$6 per gallon. While soy milk isn’t exactly frugal (after all, regular milk is a few dollars cheaper) I think it’s well worth the price.

I buy Silk, and it has 7 grams of protein per cup.

Whole Grain Bread

Yep, whole grain bread rocks. The Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Oatmeal bread I buy has 4 grams of protein per slice.



Now because I have a serious problem with the chicken industry, I only buy eggs from local farmers. That way I know I’m getting eggs from happy chickens that are roaming free and aren’t getting injected with bad hormones.

Ok, I’m climbing off my soapbox. Again. Sorry.

Eggs are a great source of protein. One medium sized egg has 6 grams of protein.

My Daily Nibbles

So, you can see how eating a little here and a little there could easily get plenty of protein in your diet.

What do I eat? Well, most of this stuff to be honest. Here’s a sample of my daily nibbles:


1.5 cups Fiber One cereal

1 cup Soy Milk

Total Protein: 13 grams


Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Total Protein: 15 grams


Handful of pumpkin seeds and a piece of fruit

Total Protein: 9 grams


Jumbo shells stuffed with cottage cheese and spinach and tomato sauce (Next time I make this I will take pictures and post the recipe for you all because it’s not only cheap and healthy, but it’s also delicious!)

Small Salad

Total Protein: 25 grams

Other Foods

I left out the glasses of wine and Oreo Cookies since those don’t have any protein to speak of.

Sample Daily Total: 62 grams

This is actually quite a bit of protein. WebMD suggests that adult women need, on average, 46 grams per day, and adult men need 56 grams.

Last Word…

Do you have any vegetarian tips you’d like to share with me and other readers? Do you have any amazing recipes you’d like to pass along?

If so, send them in! I’d love to add some more variety to my diet, and I’m sure other readers would too.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more on becoming a vegetarian, or find some recipes for cutting meat out of your diet a few times per week?

1. You can order a free vegetarian starter kit from Click here to go to the form.

2. Check out Cheap Healthy Good’s recipe page. This blog is fantastic, and they’ve got a ton of meatless, frugal recipes on their site.

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Going Meatless on Monday « An Exercise in Frugality
August 31, 2009 at 3:13 pm


Kristin August 18, 2009 at 1:47 am

I’m sending this article to dh. Is A a veg too? I find it hard to purchase more veggies and beans because I’m the only one who eats them. I hate letting produce go bad. Lately I’ve been drinking more rice milk and almond milk (I LOVE it, but it’s SO expensive!). I thought I read somewhere that Silk slyly removed the USDA label off the container so there’s no more Organic Silk. 🙁 Do you have some good tofu recipes? I tried making a tofu lasagna but it didn’t turn out very well (could have been that it was my first time ever using it and my second time ever eating it… lol)

Kate August 18, 2009 at 2:31 am

Great post! There are also health benefits to not eating meat – like reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol.

My favorite vegetarian meals of recent are taco salad (black beans, veggies and salsa) and a hummus and veggies omelet (a double protein punch).

heather August 18, 2009 at 7:51 am

@Kristin- Yep, Andrew is a veg too.

I didn’t know that about Silk; thanks for the update!

As far as recipes go, here are a few of my favorites:
1. Tandoori Style Tofu Kebobs

2. Quinoa Soup w/Avacado and Corn
This one doesn’t call for tofu but I add it in anyways. This is also excellent with brown rice if you can’t find quinoa (just make sure you use less broth). And you can also add cheese, jalapenos, and sour cream at the very end. Super YUM!

I also make lasagna with portabella mushrooms. I haven’t tried it ever with tofu, but it seems as if it would fall apart! Portabellas don’t have any protein, but they do have a thick, meaty texture, and when they’re made in a lasagna they’re super delicious.

@Kate- Yeah, I should have touched on the health benefits! 🙂

I love taco salads! I’ll have to try your hummus omelet; I’ve never even heard of that but it sounds divine. I bet with some tomatoes and olives thrown in it would be yummaliscious too.

karen August 18, 2009 at 8:09 am

I know this might freak you out if you haven’t had tofu before but the best way we eat tofu is to eat it without cooking it. Yep. You can eat tofu out of the box – straight up. Japanese (and they know about tofu) eats it without cooking it. Chinese quickly steams it and eats it warm. Either way is great. It’s easy and very delicious.

But you have to have something with it so here is a simple sauce to dip it in.

Tofu sauce
5 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 tbp finely chopped up scallions
1 tsp minced ginger

1 tbsp Bonito (Optional – shaved fish flakes – found in Japanese grocery store)

You can pour the sauce over the tofu block or dip the tofu cubes in the sauce, whichever way you’d like. Japanese restaurants serve cold tofu cubes on ice cubes.

But if you can’t stomach raw tofu, you can slice them about 1/4″ thick, dab the water off and brown each sides in hot oil. Put them on a plate and pour the above sauce over them.

Hope you’ll try it and let me know what you think. 🙂

heather August 18, 2009 at 8:13 am


Thanks for the sauce recipe! I’ve always cooked my tofu, never had it raw, but I’m definitely going to give it a try. I’ve got a block in the fridge right now…might have to try it at lunch.

Thanks so much for the tip!

Liz McKibbon August 18, 2009 at 11:26 am

A tofu ricotta is really easy to make, and you can use it just like you were using regular ricotta in lasagna. I’ve posted a recipe to my recipe catalog here:

Also, a super easy marinate is just lime juice and garlic. Slice the tofu about 1/2 in thick and marinate for a half hour or longer. All you have to do is saute in a pan for a few minutes… or (my fav) throw on the grill until just warmed up and grilled.

While I do eat my fair share of tofu and soy products, I just wanted to say that from an ecological perspective, soy is not always the best choice. Because it is one of the biggest government subsidized crops (along with corn), it encourages farmers to grow entire fields of soybeans. Farmers that would normally be growing vegetables and participating in biodiversity, are instead severely depleting the land of vital nutrients gained through crop rotation. Sorry to be on MY soapbox here, but something to consider when eating tofu.

Love the blog, by the way.

Michele August 20, 2009 at 4:15 am

Great tips! One of my favorite, frugal sources of protein is seitan, aka wheat gluten. You can either make it from scratch with nothing but flour and water, buy powdered seitan and mix /broth or water, or purchase prepared flavored seitan from health food stores. It’s cheap, very healthy, and it absorbs flavor much like tofu!

Kristin September 11, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Wow, guys. I just got two comments (out of three) on my blog flaming me about how terrible soy/tofu is for you! 🙁 Yikes! Any opinions?

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