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How to cut your meat bill.

July 23, 2010

Now, when many people read this post title, they will cringe.  I can feel my husband cringing from his office just with me thinking this thought. I have over time developed strategies to trick him into thinking that he is eating a significantly larger amount of meat than he actually does.  No, this does not have to do with utilizing factory made meat substitutes or lower quality meat cuts than you would ordinarily purchase.  It has to do with, beans/legumes and spices.

In an average dinner meal, I will use 1/2 pound of meat.  I am not a fan of the idea that if I simply don’t make meat the center of my meal, the main dish if you will, that everyone will be happy.  This will not fly and I would have a better chance of a sale by telling my spouse that we will be having raw entrails for dinner.    My spouse in particular would be very unhappy, and this is even with all the assorted starters, delectable side dishes, and scrumptious desserts that I prepare.  So first of all, know your diners.  For whatever reason, some members of your household will need to be introduced slowly to the influx of beans and legumes – else there will be mutiny, either theirs or their digestive tracts.  So start slowly.

Now, we do still serve roasts, hamburgers, and chicken breasts with some regularity.  But in their stead I have developed a rotating meal plan, I strive for 3 nights of vegetarian dinners, 2 nights of meat based dinners and 1 night of fish.  One evening I serve leftovers, if there are any, or it’s a fend for yourself type of evening, often resulting in us heading over the in-laws.

My simple plan:

  • Know what your family likes to eat. No one likes to waste money.  Don’t go out and buy three pounds of organic free range chicken livers because they provide great bang for the buck.  Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and for what it’s worth, they were thrown away.  Introduce variety slowly by making simple substitutes in your recipes.  Use 3/4 the amount of meat and substitute with 1/4 of beans.  Build up to the 1/2 and 1/2 proportion that we find works really well.
  • Know your prices locally for meat. Depending on what type of meats you are buying, commercially raised (readily available at most markets), humanely raised (Whole Foods generally carries this as their store brand), grass fed/free range (available at Costco, smaller selections at most grocery stores), or organically raised (not always widely available, but many grocers do carry it, in addition to higher end markets).  Yes, some overlap does exist amongst the above categories.  Your prices will vary drastically, from as little as $.99 a pound to upwards of $10 a pound.  For example, boneless skinless chicken breasts will regularly go on sale for $1.68 here.  Organic boneless skinless is never below $6.50 per pound in my area.
  • Start simple: with dry or canned (dry and home rehydrated preferred) chickpeas AKA garbanzos, black beans, great northern beans, and kidney beans.  Branch out after the family has become accustomed.
  • Introduce protein in other ways.  Jump out of the box.  Some tasty ideas are a bean based soup as a starter, a bean dip, a bean spread in your sandwich, sneaking pureed beans into baked goods, or in the case of my eldest child theft of freshly cooked beans as mama makes them.

The old stand by’s:

  • Add oatmeal to your burgers or meatloaf.
  • Add rice crumbs to your meatballs, they absorb the fat and make some amazingly tender meatballs.
  • In chilis, add stock and reduce the amount of meat called for by the recipe.  Adding extra beans and a little cheese goes a long way.
  • Pay attention to your preparation methods.  Some recipes/meals require that you utilize more meat than necessary for a visual effect (think BBQ chicken breasts versus chicken pot pie).
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