In order to follow a healthy vegetarian diet, it’s important to buy the healthiest, freshest food items to stock your pantry and refrigerator. Finding these items is easy with a little know-how, but there is always a slightly higher price to pay for quality vegetarian foods – the old adage seems to hold true, “you get what you pay for”.

If you can afford it, it’s definitively worth the jump to higher quality food, as it’s hard to put a price on health. To put it in historical perspective, in 1950 Americans were spending roughly a 25% of their disposable income on grocery food items, where as in 2008 we spent about 9%. By spending a little extra on food, you’ll reap the benefits of tastier, more wholesome food.

There are places, though, where you can find healthy foods at a reasonable price. Here’s a list of the best places to find the best vegetarian foods:

Farmers’ Market

If you’re fortunate enough to have a farmers’ market in your area, try taking advantage of it. Food items span the grocery spectrum, from fresh fruits and vegetables to grains and honey. More often than not, the fruit and vegetable vendors will be local farmers, who are looking to provide consumers with food directly, rather than going through middlemen, like retail and restaurant sales. Most of the time this produce will be harvested the day of the market, so it will be at its peak freshness, and will keep in your kitchen longer than produce bought from the store. You can also feel good knowing that you are supporting your local economy more directly by purchasing goods from local businesses, helping out your community at large.

U-Pick Farms

If you feel like spending a day outside, why not go to a farm and pick your own produce? You’ll get to enjoy the (hopefully) sunny skies, breather fresh air, and gather your own fruits and vegetables in the fields. This way, you’ll know exactly where you food is coming from and it will be absolutely fresh and delicious – granted it’s grown properly. One of the best benefits of U-Pick operations is that the price for you is greatly reduced, as the farm does not have to pay for the labor to harvest and distribute it. In peak season, you can find organic U-Pick blue berries for as low as $4 a pound! If you pick in bulk, you can also bring some home to freeze for future use. You can also find farms that will let you go in the fields to pick summer squash, beans, tomatoes, apples, oranges, and pretty much any other common piece of produce you can think of. U-Pick farms are highly underutilized, so go discover this little secret and get cheap, healthy produce!

Co-ops

Most major cities have at least one grocery cooperative, if not a few. These are grocery stores that are owned and operated by the people who shop there. Often times, some of the people who shop there will work a shift every week or month, thereby reducing the price of goods for everyone who shops there, as they don’t have to pay for that labor. Since these stores are ran by the people who shop there, they tend to carry local, organic produce and other locally produced food items, when available. Co-ops are a great place to find all sorts of unique vegetarian foods that are sure to expand your culinary vocabulary, as well as satiate your taste buds!

Local Bakeries

Whole grains are essential to the vegetarian diet, and we eat lots of them! Having a healthy, dependable, and cheap source of bread is a great resource for any vegetarian. In most cities you’ll be able to find small bakeries that specialize in healthy, whole grain breads made on site. The bread is fresh and delicious, locally made, and will generally cost you $3 or so for a sizeable loaf.

Health Food Stores

The best known health food store is Whole Foods, which provides a supermarket worth of products that are focused on good, healthy foods. These stores are great for their convenience, but can quickly burn a hole in your pocket. If you’re looking for good food, this is the spot, but look out for some of the other alternatives before defaulting to the most visible ones, like Whole Foods.

Supermarkets

Most of us do our shopping at supermarkets for good reason – it’s cheap and convenient. There are plenty of vegetarian products that are offered in the main stream these days, so you’ll be able to find thinks like tofu, fake meats, and fake cheeses, if you so desire. I like to do my shopping at my local co-op, and then head over to the supermarket for some of the products I either can’t find there, or can’t afford.