Healthy, Easy, and Inexpensive Flexitarian Meals to Make This Week
Look no further if you're looking for some healthy and delicious meal options for this week. These options are flexitarian, meaning they are suitable for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters. These meals are packed with vitamins and nutrients and easy to make for an easy grab-and-go option ahead of time.
What is a Flexitarian Diet?
A flexitarian diet combines vegetarianism with flexibility. People who follow this diet will derive most nutrients from plant-based options and occasionally partake in animal-based products. Flexitarianism has become very popular in recent years because it is a simple and easy way of eating that is adaptable and does not require any restriction, cutting out of food groups, or calorie counting.
Because flexitarian diets are so easy to follow, people can often stay on them for the long term, and many people will see several health benefits to this eating pattern, including:
- Decreased risk of heart disease, the number 1 killer of US adults
- Weight loss
- Reduced risk of type II diabetes
Eating fewer animal products is also beneficial for the environment since decreased meat consumption can lower your carbon footprint.
Switching to this type of diet may take some getting used to. According to Shena Jaramillo, a registered dietitian, people making the switch should take things slowly. "The primary goal of a flexitarian diet is to be more plant-forward, not completely get rid of meat in the diet. Try starting with a simple meatless Monday, and then working up to additional days per week where you may choose not to consume any animal products."
Jaramillo suggests researching vegan or vegetarian recipes and adding animal-based products in small quantities or experimenting with meat substitutes such as beans, tofu, lentils, or mushrooms. Shena's final recommendation is to "get used to snacking on produce" by buying a veggie tray and challenging yourself to eat it over a few days.
To help you get started with a flexitarian lifestyle, here are some easy, healthy, and inexpensive make-ahead recipes that you can make with or without animal products. These recipes would all work well for either lunch or dinner. We've also included a shopping list and price estimate (based on Amazon Fresh) to give you an idea of your overall spending.
Makes 6 servings
This soup is hearty, delicious, and packed with vitamins and minerals - beta carotene from the carrots, iron, vitamins, and protein from the lentils, and vitamin C from the spinach. It is delicious as a light meal or can be served with quinoa salad (recipe to follow) or bread. A bonus is that you can store it in the freezer for a quick and easy meal later. A great thing about this soup is that you can use up your veggie scraps - add them when you add in the carrots and celery. One type of veggie scrap that works well is broccoli stems - peel and cut into coins or cubes!
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 white onions
3 cloves garlic
4 pieces of celery
1 large can diced tomato
2 cups dry lentils
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 cups spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil in a large soup pot until glassy.
2. Add carrots and celery, sauté until tender, about three minutes.
3. Add the can of tomato, lentils, bay leaves, and oregano and fill the pot with water, about 2/3s full.
4. Let the soup simmer for 2-3 hours, remove bay leaves, then add vinegar and spinach. Add more water if necessary.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Quinoa Greek Salad
Makes about 6 cups of salad
This salad can be made ahead and is great for packed lunches. If you love a classic Greek salad, you'll definitely enjoy this version, and it will keep you full for longer because of the protein and fiber-packed quinoa.
2 cups quinoa
1 small red onion, diced
½ cup Greek olives, chopped
1 English cucumber, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
½ cup feta cheese (or vegan feta substitute)
½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook quinoa according to package instructions.
- Mix cooked quinoa with onion, cucumber, tomatoes, and olives.
- Toss the salad with the dressing ingredients and top with feta.
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Makes 4-6 servings
This recipe for egg-salad style chickpea mash comes from Shena Jaramillo, RD. Shena recommends adding some tuna or chicken if you wish to do so. The recipe is easy and can be made ahead and stored for an easy lunch or snack. The chickpeas and cashews in this recipe are great for satiating your appetite. Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of vitamin B12, which can sometimes be low in people who avoid animal products.
2 cans garbanzo beans drained
2 whole tomatoes, sliced
8 - 12 slices of bread, any type
2 tablespoons dill
4 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 cups cashews, soaked for 1 hour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 cups water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Drain and rinse chickpeas. Save chickpea water to make tasty treats at a later time if desired!
- Blend sauce ingredients for 3 minutes.
- Add sauce to chickpeas and avocado in a medium sized bowl. Mash using a potato masher. Continue to mash until desired consistency is achieved.
- Spread chickpea mix on desired bread choice. Top with tomato and fresh dill.
Zucchini Sausage Pasta
Makes 4-6 servings
This delicious and easy pasta dish takes about 30 minutes to prepare, and comfortably serves 4 to 6 people - perfect for a group or if you want to have leftovers. It can be made completely vegan, or you can use chicken or turkey sausage as a healthy protein source. Like the other recipes, it derives nutrients from the veggies (zucchini and spinach) and lots of vitamin B12 from the nutritional yeast.
1 package whole wheat pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 zucchinis, cut into cubes
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups spinach
Turkey/ Chicken/Meat substitute sausage, chopped
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook pasta according to package instructions.
- Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until fragrant.
- Add zucchini, saute for 5-10 minutes.
- Add the can of diced tomatoes, spinach, nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper to taste.
- In a separate pan, saute the sausage until browned. Add to the sauce.
- Toss the pasta with the sauce and enjoy!
- 3 white onions ($1.50)
- 1 red onion ($0.75)
- 6 cloves of garlic ($2.00)
- 1 package of carrots ($0.89)
- 1 package of celery ($2.29)
- 1 package of spinach ($3.49)
- 3 zucchinis ($4.00)
- 1 English cucumber ($2.00)
- 3 tomatoes ($2.39)
- 1 lime ($0.39)
- Fresh dill ($1.59)
- 1 avocado ($2.11)
- Bay leaves ($4.59)
- 1 package dried lentils ($2.99)
- 2 400g cans of diced tomatoes ($1.29 each)
- Apple cider vinegar ($1.69)
- Olive oil ($7.49)
- Pitted Greek olives ($3.49)
- 1 package quinoa ($5.99)
- 2 cans chickpeas ($0.89 each)
- Nutritional yeast ($2.15)
- 2 cups cashews ($8.39)
- Bread ($4.59)
- Whole wheat pasta ($1.69)
Meat/ Meat Substitutes:
- Turkey/ chicken sausage* (or vegan substitute - we recommend Field Roast) ($6.79)
- 1 package feta cheese (or vegan feta substitute - we recommend Follow Your Heart) ($3.49)
Total Cost: $81.10 for 4 meals serving 4-6 people
Average Meal Cost Per Person: $3.38 if serving 6, $5.07 if serving 4
*Try to source a sausage with fewer ingredients free of nitrates. Applegate Farms is an easy-to-access brand that offers healthier options.
Flexitarian Diet Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
While the flexitarian diet is easy to follow, you might have questions about getting started. We've compiled some of the most common questions about this diet so that you can get quality information in one place.
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What health issues can develop from decreasing the amount of meat in my diet?
According to Shena Jaramillo, RD, "The most common health issues from eating less meat are iron deficiency and potentially B12 deficiency. B12 deficiency is much less common but can be very dangerous. B12 is a vitamin that can ONLY be found in animal products, specifically red meats. However, we don't need to consume much of it. We will be fine if we're having red meat 1-2 times per week. This goes for iron deficiency, as iron is found most abundantly in red meat. Iron can also be found in other food sources such as leafy greens, potatoes, and beans."
What are the symptoms of an iron or B12 deficiency?
Says Jaramillo, "For iron deficiency, we may feel fatigued throughout the day. This is a good indicator that you might need to bump up your iron or try an iron supplement. You can also do a comprehensive metabolic panel blood draw to see if your iron levels are low. The only way to check for a B12 deficiency is through a blood draw. In extreme cases, you may experience loss of motor function, which is not reversible. These symptoms are very uncommon and should not be used to measure whether someone is getting adequate B12."
Are vegan meat substitutes healthy?
Plant-based protein sources can be very healthy and nutritious, and the good news is many meat substitutes are made with plant-based proteins. The following tips should help you choose the most nutritional meat substitutes:
- Look for options made with either pea protein or bean protein. Proteins to eat in moderation include those made from soy protein isolate and wheat gluten.
- Try to cut back on proteins with hard-to-pronounce ingredients.
- Aim for about 10 to 15 grams of protein per serving.
- Keep an eye on saturated fat and sodium contents.
- Try the classics - tofu, tempeh, and beans/lentils.
Adopting a flexitarian diet is an easy way to improve your overall health and the health of the planet. With these easy, healthy, and adaptable recipes, it's easy to plan for a nutritious and delicious week - and best of all, you'll only be spending about $5 per serving!
As you embark on your health journey, don't forget that having access to healthcare is an essential aspect of health and wellbeing. With Mira, you can get access to preventative care, urgent care visits, discounted prescriptions, and even gym access at prices as low as $45 per month!
Dvora is a recent medical graduate and current MPH student who is passionate about women’s health and health equity. She hopes to specialize in Obstetrics and Gynecology and is excited to join the Mira team in empowering people through healthcare. In her spare time she enjoys exercise, reading and spending time with her family and her dog, Dash.