Previously I ranted about budget-meat versus local and sustainably raised meats. I’m not going to rehash the topic–but you can read that post here if you are so inclined. Basically my point was that if you’re truly committed to avoiding the factory farmed meats offered at the grocery store, there are ways to eat sustainably produced meats with a clear conscience while still maintaining your budget. I’ve come up with ten great tips that we use in the Runamuk homestead to stretch our meat-budget, and I’m going to share them with you in hopes that you too will make the effort to make the commitment to protect nature, promote sustainability, and take a stand against the inhumane treatment of animals in the commercial farming business.
1. Buy in bulk/stock up on sales.
If your local butcher or natural foods store offers a monthly meat package, this is a great option for families. Look for weekly and seasonal sales to take advantage of and stock up. Or consider buying a side of beef or half a pig. Perhaps you have family or friends that might split the cost and the meat with you.
2. Ground meats.
Ground beef, pork, or chicken are a great way to stretch your dollar. Use ground meats in casseroles, pasta dishes like spaghetti, fajitas, tacos, pizza, calzones, meatloaf and meatballs, the possibilities are endless.
3. Learn to like legumes.
Add beans to ground meats to double the volume. Beans assume the flavor of whatever they are cooked with and can be hidden in ground meats to accustom your meat-lovers to the taste. When your family learn to like the legumes it opens the door for many more money-saving meals, such as beans and rice, bean burritos, vegetarian-style soups and casseroles. But don’t stop at beans! Lentils are another high-protein legume that is also low in calories. Don’t be afraid to try new foods!
4. Go meatless.
Make “Meatless Monday” an honored ritual in your household. If your family are devout carnivores (like my husband Keith)–start small, with a meat-less spaghetti, or a homemade macaroni and cheese–something familiar. Then as the idea of meat-less dishes sinks in, take the opportunity to try new vegetarian dishes on Meatless Monday. Eventually you will be able to incorporate more meatless meals into your diet, and stretch your meat-budget even further.
5. Stick to portion-size recommendations.
Many Americans eat far more meat than their bodies actually need. The United States Department of Agriculture’s suggested serving size for cooked meat is between 2 and 3 ounces per person. About the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap. And the ratio of vegetable and grains to meat should always outnumber the meat on your plate. Keep that in mind when planning your meals.
6. Make a plan–and stick to it!
This is easier said than done in my world. With two growing boys and a husband with a high metabolism who has a constant craving for meat–things can and do go missing. Making a plan helps with the budgeting of the freezer stores, as well as saving time trying to figure out the proverbial “What’s for dinner?”–and I’ve found that labeling ingredients needed for particular dishes helps keep them on-hand until I’m ready to make a meal. Also creative stashing in cupboards and the deep recesses of the refrigerator helps to hide them at snack-time.
7. Plan for left-overs.
When you cook a roast and find yourself with left-over meats, think ahead to tomorrow and plan for other dishes. Fajitas, casseroles, soups, pizzas and calzones are all great ways to make good use of left-over meats while stretching your budget. Also, try left-over meats in stir-fries, on shish-ka-bobs, and on salads.
8. Use meat as an accent ingredient.
Think of meat as a condiment–a way to add flavor to your main dish. This mind-set will help you to utilize your meats more sparingly.
9. Crumble away.
When cooking ground meats, continue to break it up until the meat reaches the size of bacon-bits. Usually people stop at the chunk stage, but you can achieve even further savings by breaking it up even more. And this methods also helps in using meat as a flavoring and accent ingredient–rather than the highlight of the meal.
10. Dice your meat.
Boneless cuts of chicken are an inexpensive purchase. Dicing it to bits and using it in soups, casseroles, on pizza, in fajitas and the like, makes great use of a powerful saving strategy.