The $10 Vegetarian Dinner Challenge: 4 Delicious Meals That Won’t Break the Bank

published Jul 21, 2022
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four dishes for the budged vegetarian ongreen tile
Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Greg Lofts; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez Hart

Come mid-summer, it seems you can’t walk a mile without tripping over some vegetable at the height of ripeness: Markets burst with bushels of zucchini, eggplant of all shapes and sizes, and bulbous tomatoes as far as the eye can see. 

I don’t know about you, but peak-season produce makes me want to stuff my fridge — and later, my dinner plate — to the gills with vibrant veg, price be damned. OK, reality check. I shouldn’t spend a week’s pay on snap peas, but it is possible to cram recipes with seasonal produce affordably. Better yet, keeping things vegetarian is actually a win for the wallet. In fact, it’s more than possible to put together four-serving vegetarian meals for less than $10 total. Gather some good vegetables; stock up on budget-friendly staples like rice, pasta, lentils, tofu, and yogurt; then meet our four new favorite vegetarian dinners.

Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Greg Lofts; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez Hart

Joy Cho takes pantry pasta to the next level in her Creamy Roasted Garlic Pasta with Zucchini and Corn. She sautés grated zucchini and garlic until sticky and caramelized, then stirs in sweet corn kernels and a glug of cream. These vegetables are nearly always accessible at your local supermarket (opt for frozen corn if it’s not summertime), but are more affordable right now, when they’re in-season and plentiful.

Get the recipe: Creamy Roasted Garlic Pasta with Zucchini and Corn

Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Greg Lofts; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez Hart

Speaking of produce, Jessica Romanowski has cauliflower on the brain. We’re talking Curry-Spiced Cauliflower with Saucy Lentils. Plain yogurt is one of the most budget-friendly fridge staples: Not only does it work in both sweet and savory dishes, but it also stays fresh for weeks, meaning you can buy bigger (aka cheaper) containers and dole out the ingredient as needed. Yogurt actually does double-duty here — tossed with the cauliflower pre-roast (along with curry powder and tart dry cherries) to form a tenderizing crust, as well as mixed with fresh garlic and lime into a sauce to drizzle over the final dish. 

Get the recipe: Curry-Spiced Cauliflower with Saucy Lentils

Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Greg Lofts; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez Hart

When Mary Fawzy thinks about an affordable meatless protein, she looks to tofu. The trick to helping the star of her Tofu Shawarma Pita Wraps take on a chewier, meaty texture? Freeze the tofu, then defrost and cook. The tofu is then tossed in a familiar spice blend and baked. (No one will miss the lamb!) Fill the wraps with a fresh tomato-onion salad and drizzle with tahini dressing.

Get the recipe: Tofu Shawarma Pita Wraps

Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Greg Lofts; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez Hart

Rebecca Firkser (that’s me — hi!) starts with cooked beans (dry beans are cheapest, but canned won’t break the bank either) to make the Grain Salad with Use-It-All-Up Pesto. The base of the pesto comes from the tops of whatever veggies you decide to roast (radishes, carrots, and/or beets). Blend those greens with herbs — parsley, cilantro, dill, whatever you can find — and sunflower seeds to create the verdant green sauce. Cook the veg until just cooked, and toss with the pesto and brown rice.

Get the recipe: Grain Salad with Use-It-All-Up Pesto