I used to eat meat free just on Mondays - now I do it several times a week. It saves me a lot of money on grocery bills and is healthy when the vegetarian meals are based on real food and not white flour pasta and neon colored cheese (though I do have my box mac and cheese fix once a month).
Having a number of bean/grain dishes on hand that everyone likes is good for both the budget, not to mention being easy to store long term in emergency supplies (you could easily replace the fresh onion and garlic with dried or use a tiny bit of the Indiana spice known as "Hing" (Asafoetida powder) which you can find at HerbStop and Spices, Inc.
The following dish may not be particularly photogenic but it's one of my favorites, and about 25 cents a serving if you buy your food and spices in bulk.
Dal Bhat - a staple in the Nepalese diet, and something you will likely see for both lunch and dinner in that region It's filling, high in protein and stays with you for hours. It's something I pack for lunch several days a week as it's cheap, surprisingly delicious and very filling, and I can eat it cold or hot depending on where I'm at.
Makes 6-8 servings
2 cups rice
4 cups water
I make mine in my all purpose steamer, 40 minutes and it's perfect.
1 sweet onion chopped
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons minced garlic (or 3 cloves of fresh garlic)
1 cup dry lentils (any variety)
3 cups water
1 - 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes with liquid
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (I used 1 teaspoon and it was wonderfully hot but not painfully so when paired with the rice)
1/2 teaspoon coriander (if you have it, I've made it with and without)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Start rice cooking.
In a Tablespoon of olive oil, saute onion and garlic (or Asafoetida powder) in a large fry pan on medium heat for a couple of minutes (you want the onions soft). Add lentils and dry cook two minutes.
Add water, cover and cook covered on medium for 15-20 minutes.
Stir in spices and tomatoes. Cover and cook covered 20-25 minutes - until lentils are soft and the liquid has been absorbed (medium heat or just enough for a gentle simmer/steam).
Serve on rice with a squeeze of lime juice. It is often garnished with cilantro and chopped red pepper but I usually serve mine with just the lime juice to save time and $$.