I Tried Replacing All Of The Meat In A Week’s Worth Of Meals With Veggies For Less Than $25

by Lauren Turner

Every year, my dad’s side of the family gets a cow. Everyone puts in a little money, and a week later, bundles of oddly shaped parcels take up the majority of our freezer.

No, we don’t have the hookup to some dark web butcher. My grandfather lives on a ranch, and he has the butcher hookup.

This annual beef-breaking has luckily followed me into my adult years — even though I no longer live at home. At this very moment, there is one remaining lump of ground beef in my freezer that was part of a deluxe package from my father (thanks, Dad). It was through this tradition that my love affair with eating meat began. I eat a fair amount of pork and chicken, and red meat (including bison!) usually makes at least one appearance in my weekly meal plan.

But when it comes to bacon, all bets are off. I probably eat two pieces daily. That’s roughly 12 to 15 pieces a week.  (Wait. Is that too much? Guys, am I going to have, like, health problems or something?) I did some research, and the average American consumes 3 pounds of bacon each year!

I spent 45 minutes tracking this down.

The moment I realized how much meat I (along with the rest of the country) was actually putting away, I decided to try adopting a budget vegetarian diet for one week. When I did some research on what I was actually getting into, I found out that the benefits of going meatless can include a lower body weight, a lower risk of heart disease, tons more fiber in your diet, and even a reduced carbon footprint. Those are all gooooood things. But. So are bacon, beef, chicken, and seafood (does seafood actually count as meat, or nah?).

On the flip side, some carnivores defend meat not only for all that healthy protein but also for historical evidence of its benefits. Time wrote of a 2016 study finding that eating meat is one of the reasons we developed into the “modern, verbal, intelligent humans we are.” Basically, about 26 million years ago we began eating meat and realized how much easier to chew (and more filling) meat was than hard, raw root veggies. Have you ever eaten a raw sweet potato? Probably not.


However, I was determined to put my love for bacon aside, temporarily, and adopt a budget vegetarian menu for a week. (Subsequently, my boyfriend was going to adopt it as well. Sorry, dude. But maybe you’ll thank me after?)

Trader Joe's Haul for Under $25

Trader Joe's Haul for Under $25
Courtesy of Author for Little Things

With a loose shopping list — a combination of advice from my meatless friends and the internet — I headed to Trader Joe’s. I thought I’d be able to get the best price on produce there, as opposed to my regular grocery store.

With my chicken-scratched list in hand, I maneuvered the aisles and tried desperately not to go near the bacon or pork shoulder or spatchcocked lemon-roasted chicken that I usually beeline for upon entrance. Instead, I searched for radishes (which I could not find) and pondered over potatoes. I forgot the beets — and didn’t realize until I got home. What good is a grocery list if you don’t even really look at it???

As I got closer to the checkout stand, I started to freak out about how much money I was spending. Not because it was going to be an amount I couldn’t afford, but because I wasn’t totally sure it was going to be under $25. I probably looked like a total weirdo as I stood in line, trying to do math in my head.

The Supplies

The Supplies
Courtesy of Author for Little Things

Here’s what I ended up with:

  • Portabella mushrooms: $3.49
  • Kale: $1.79
  • Hash browns: $1.99
  • Crumbled goat cheese: $2.49
  • Tri-colored quinoa: $3.99
  • Dry toasted pine nuts: $5.99 (These little guys were somehow the most expensive item, WTF?)
  • Bag of six teeny-tiny Hass avocados: $2.69
  • 2 lb. bag of sweet potatoes: $1.79
  • 1 dozen eggs: $1.49
  • Marzano plum tomatoes: $2.79
  • Tomatoes on the vine: $1.99

Total: *drum role please* $27.01

whomp whomp.


Despite going over the budget a little, I thought I had done pretty well for myself. Between my new groceries and some essentials I already had on hand, I was in for a good week of eating. There was no bacon in sight, but since my fridge looked happy, I was happy. On to the first recipe!

Recipe 1: Kale and Tomatoes Substituted for Beef or Turkey

Recipe 1: Kale and Tomatoes Substituted for Beef or Turkey
Courtesy of Author for Little Things

Typically, because it’s easy and warm, I make some form of pasta. My pasta picks range from penne to farfalle and, lately, angel hair. And since we’re lucky enough to usually have a ton of ground beef on hand, our noodles are often doused in red meat sauce, occasionally pesto, and whatever veggies we have on hand.

This week would be different (obvi). Here’s what I used:
  • Grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 box angel hair pasta (already on hand)
  • 1 1/2 cups kale, rough chopped
  • 1 can pasta sauce (already on hand)
  • 1 clove of garlic (already on hand)
  • Goat cheese, crumbled

When it was all done, I had a healthy helping and packed away a few containers for lunches. I was full afterward, and I didn’t expect that. So far, so green.

Recipe 2: Tomatoes Substituted for Bacon

Recipe 2: Tomatoes Substituted for Bacon
Courtesy of Author for Little Things

An easy breakfast that I enjoy on a weekly basis is avocado toast with an egg on top. Sometimes I fry it, sometimes I scramble it, and I’ve even been known to slice a boiled egg on top. But always, ALWAYS, I add meat — either a slice or two of bacon, some fried ham, or even turkey breast.

I love breakfast. Like, I don’t care to go to brunch because I’m so picky about my eggs and bacon —and pretty much everything else I eat before noon.

So I was nervous attempting this recipe. A friend had recommended topping my avocado toast with some sliced radishes, but since I couldn’t find those, that didn’t happen. TBH, I was a little freaked out by this anyway, since radishes aren’t really a part of my diet and couldn’t be more different from bacon.

Another friend suggested adding something simple, like sliced tomatoes. Since I love tomatoes (and they’re cheap), that’s the direction I went.

Here are the ingredients I used for this recipe:
  • 1 slice of toast (already had this)
  • 1/2 avocado, mashed with salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, prepared to taste
  • 1/2 tomato, sliced

Reaction to Recipe 2

Reaction to Recipe 2
Courtesy of Author for Little Things

No matter how good it looked, I missed the bacon.

Where da bacon? Why I no have bacon? DID I  really SIGN UP FOR THIS???

Despite my efforts, the breakfast that I usually adore just didn’t taste the same. Plus, the freakin’ tomato seeds kept squirting all over the place. I stuffed it into my mouth, grabbed my lunch, and headed on my meatless way.

That said, it was surprisingly filling, while still being light. I was impressed.

Recipes 3 and 4: The Bases

Recipes 3 and 4: The Bases

I’m a big fan of meal prepping. I have busy days and even busier nights, so making multiple meals at one time saves me stress later. Tonight, I decided to make both of the salads that I’m going to use for dinner and lunches this week.

Here’s which ingredients I used for this hearty couscous salad:
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes, diced, and cooked until soft
  • 1 box couscous (already owned)
  • 1 cup kale, massaged with lemon vin
  • Pine nuts, to taste
Here’s what I used in the light quinoa recipe:
  • 1 cup kale, massaged in lemon vin
  • 1 cup quinoa, dry
  • 2 cups veggie broth
  • Pine nuts, to taste
  • Goat cheese, to taste

Recipe 3: Sweet Potato and Kale Substituted for Chicken

Recipe 3: Sweet Potato and Kale Substituted for Chicken
Courtesy of Author for Little Things

Now that I’m a real adult and am not limited to Rice-A-Roni on a daily basis, I can expand my starch interests to things like couscous. The pearled kind is my favorite. It gives me a total umami sensation that overwhelms me when paired with juicy chicken or pork. I wasn’t sure how the sweet potato would measure up.

However, I did spend a year eating a paleo diet before being paleo was a Thing, so eating sweet potatoes does not bother me. (One of my favorite recipes is one I picked up while eating like a caveman: bacon-wrapped sweet potatoes, proving that meat + sweet potatoes = ❤️)


Courtesy of Author for Little Things

Sometimes I like to add a little crunch, which is where the pine nuts come in. (I try to always have pine nuts on hand for pesto, anyway.)

I thought the combination with the gooey couscous would be nice, and I was right. It was the perfect touch.

Don’t you just love it when you’re right?



Recipe 4: Kale and Pine Nuts Substituted for Chicken or Turkey

Recipe 4: Kale and Pine Nuts Substituted for Chicken or Turkey
Courtesy of Author for Little Things

I was imagining what bacon would add to this recipe before I even attempted it. Is that terrible?

Without my favorite meat, it turned out to be pretty bland, but it was dense enough to keep me sated. I swapped veggie broth for water when preparing the quinoa, which helped give it some extra flavor, too.

One thing I like about this recipe is how it is easy to eat on the go. I can warm it up and sneak bites at stop lights, if I’m in a rush.

Courtesy of Author for Little Things

You’re probably thinking that I’m going a little heavy on the kale, but let me tell you something: A few years ago, I made kale brownies and they killed. I am one of the few people who actually enjoy the cruciferous green (I believe that most people just pretend to like it). Pro tip: Kale likes to be massaged, not unlike the average American woman (except me, I’m far too ticklish).

When you massage the kale with some sort of dressing, it loosens up and isn’t as tough. You could say the same of a tired mom on a Wednesday night.

A Few Plant-Based Breakfasts

A Few Plant-Based Breakfasts
Courtesy of Author for little Things

For the most part, my breakfasts stayed pretty simple. It was a hectic week, due to this veggie-only meal experiment, but I was glad to have so much food, with little preparation needed.

One morning, I had a redo of the tomato-egg-avocado toast. I scrambled the egg, ditched the toast, and added some frozen Trader Joe’s hash browns. The reality of how amazing these hash browns are is killing me. I want to tell everyone about them. (I know they don’t really count as a veggie, but I needed something tasty to get my day started.)

Another morning, I ended up eating some leftover pasta with a piece of plain avocado toast. I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I liked it.

Recipe 5: Portabella Mushrooms Substituted for Beef, Bison, Turkey, Chicken, Meatball, Bacon, Etc.

Recipe 5: Portabella Mushrooms Substituted for Beef, Bison, Turkey, Chicken, Meatball, Bacon, Etc.

I was the most excited for this recipe. I love mushrooms. I could eat them every day. My boyfriend, on the other hand, not so much.

Here’s what I used for these mushroom naan burgers:
  • 1 to 2 portabella mushrooms, washed and brushed with oil and salt and pepper
  • 1 to 2 pieces garlic naan (already had)
  • 1/3 cup kale, massaged in lemon vin and pan-toasted
  • Goat cheese, mayo, hummus, sriracha (pretty much anything else you want to season with)


Courtesy of Author for Little Things

While the mushrooms were baking in a 400-degree oven, I warmed up the massaged kale and popped the naan into the toaster oven. I coated the naan in toppings: for me, a smear of hummus, mayo, and sriracha. For him, mayo, mustard, and sriracha. We both got some kale and our respective cheeses. Then came the “burgers.”

Courtesy of Author for Little Things

I was stoked about these. They looked and smelled amazing. And I was hungry.

I inhaled mine. The juice from the mushroom still dripped down my hands, though I let it drain a bit. The naan was amazing, and the goat cheese added nicely to the flavor profile.

I looked over to see my boyfriend picking at his plate. He’s usually the type to eat anything, but he was avoiding the mushroom at all costs. Oh well, more for me.


Reflection on Meat-Free Meals

Reflection on Meat-Free Meals

I am her. She is me. I can eat both beef and greens. But if I want to save the Earth, I know what I’m to do. Incorporate more budget vegetarian meals into my diet, some of them old, some of them new.

Plus, getting more veggies into my diet can’t be a bad thing.