Surviving a meat shortage: shopping advice for meat lovers, from vegetarians

Brian Acton


Brian Acton

Brian Acton

Contributing Writer

Brian Acton is a contributing writer at Policygenius who covers personal finance, insurance, and other topics.

Published May 14, 2020|4 min read

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As meat processing plants shut down and supply chains are disrupted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, industry experts and government agencies are warning of a potential national meat shortage. Customers may see higher prices and even purchase limits at many grocery chains across the country.

To save money and make sure there’s enough supplies for everyone, it’s not a bad idea for meat lovers to temporarily reduce their consumption. And if you were looking for a good excuse to eat less meat — for health or environmental reasons, for example — now is a good time to start.

Reducing the meat in your diet can be challenging for lifetime meat eaters. So we turned to the professionals for advice: Vegetarians have already been meat-free for years and have plenty of tips. Here’s grocery shopping advice for meat lovers, from vegetarians.

Make gradual changes

Eliminating meat from your diet, or reducing it significantly, can be difficult to attempt all at once. Gradual reductions and small lifestyle adjustments are more manageable when you’re just getting started.

“Transition slowly into it,” said Kelly Foster, a nutrition health coach who follows a plant-based diet. She recommends small changes like substituting red meat for poultry, reducing meat portion sizes and increasing non-meat side dish portions to make up the difference.

You can also try to stop eating meat a few days a week, said Brigette Young, CEO of The Modern Muse and vegetarian for over 20 years. “It’s so much easier to make a small change than a grand, sweeping change. I recommend trying to skip meat at breakfast or lunch, specifically. You’ll probably feel a little more light and energetic than usual, provided you’re still eating reasonably healthy — not just a big bowl of pasta,” she said.

Swap meat out of your favorite recipes

Learning an entire cookbook’s worth of new recipes can be overwhelming. Instead, use substitutes and create vegetable-based versions of your favorite recipes.

“Make a list of your family’s favorite meals. You can always find a recipe version that doesn’t contain meat,” said Stephanie Mantilla, a plant-based eater and creator of the plant-based parenting blog Mommysaurus. “The simplest change is to start incorporating more beans and lentils … by making these easy substitutions you can still meet your protein requirements.”

Easy substitutions include using mushrooms instead of meat in lasagna, using black beans and corn instead of beef or chicken in tacos and cooking vegetarian chilis and soups. There are also premade options, including vegetarian versions of chicken, meatballs and deli meat, said Young.

Plan out your shopping list

Showing up at the grocery store without a plan could cause you to fall back into old, meat-buying habits. Planning out your meatless meals ahead of time and buying exactly what’s in the recipe will help. Once you get comfortable with cooking meatless dishes, you’ll have more confidence to experiment. Try searching online, or via YouTube, for new recipes and step-by-step instructions.

often takes the fear and mystery out of the process because you can see the finished product and also easily follow the recipe directions,” said Foster.

If you order groceries instead, we’ve got hacks on how to get your delivery on time.

Shop smart

There are several ways to save money while grocery shopping.

Buy in bulk

“Bulk sections in the grocery store tend to be much cheaper than buying in the aisles. Items to buy in bulk would be rice, beans and lentils — pantry staples. Also, go for the produce that will last longer in the fridge.” said Foster.

Buy in season

Mantilla recommends buying produce that’s in season, which is typically much cheaper. For example, peaches are more affordable in the summertime, while you’ll pay a premium for them in winter.

Buy frozen

“Don't snub the frozen foods aisle. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh since they're flash-frozen soon after being picked,” said Mantilla. Frozen produce will last longer without spoiling and can easily be used across multiple meals.

Here are 50 more ways to save while grocery shopping.

Start a garden

Combine going meatless with a relaxing hobby — gardening.

You don’t need a ton of outdoor space to start a garden. Even if you only have a balcony, you can grow vegetables like tomatoes, herbs, peppers and chilis in containers. It’s a great project if you recently have found yourself with a lot more time on your hands.

“There's also the option to grow your own produce. I grow the produce that costs the most in grocery stores. For example, my small garden includes organic heirloom tomato variety, organic zucchini, and fresh basil. One pound of heirloom tomatoes at the grocery store can easily cost $6. By growing your own, you'll be saving the most money,” said Mantilla.

Image: Rainier Ridao