A common practice for saving on meat and protein is to buy cheap meat when it's on sale at the supermarket and stock up. While I also advocate for this method of stocking up with a good sale hits, I also like to use other ways to save money on meat because I try to buy as high quality of meat and dairy as possible. Meat is one area where I don’t want to skimp. For me that means purchasing meat from healthy animals raised on pasture and fed a healthy natural diet of grass and possible occasional supplemental grains without resorting to a cheap diet of GMO corn and soy. Animal products grown this way are going to cost more because it takes longer for them to grow and develop. It’s the opposite of fast food. True slow food and oh so good. We aren’t pumping out mass production and possibly sacrificing the health of the animal. We are honoring the animal, allowing them to soak up as much sun and fresh air as possible, which raises vitamin D content, CLA and essential fatty acids. Animals not allowed to graze on pasture, do not contain these great benefits.
If your priorities are not the same as mine, no worries. We all have different life circumstances and different convictions. The "buy meat on sale" principle is still a solid principle that I teach.
To cut down costs of pasture raised animal products though, I purchase them in bulk for a deep discounted price from a local farmer. It's pretty sweet when you can get steaks and roasts for the same price as ground beef per pound. Even still with that great savings, I for one, can not afford to eat pasture raised meat at every single meal, nor do I believe it is necessary for a healthy diet. To still get quality meat in our diets without busting my budget, I often use the “ration and stretch” method for including meat in our meals. Here's how it works:
How to stretch meat and protein to save money
Cook once, use more than once
You first start with a whole chicken that can be roasted in the oven or in the crockpot, and half of it be eaten the first night with vegetables and mashed potatoes and a simple pan gravy made from the drippings. The crucial step is to remove half right off the bat or you might eat the entire chicken.
After dinner I debone the chicken and divide the remainder of the meat into two portions. If I want another chicken dish within the next couple of days, I will keep it in the fridge, otherwise I freeze it to use at a later date. If you use the leftover meat as a secondary portion of the meal instead of the star of the show, you can get two more meals out of the leftover chicken. The bones immediately go in a stockpot or crockpot with leftover veggie scraps and water to cover, and simmered for 12-24 hours to make a highly nutritious stock.
The stock can be used for a meatless soup:
The produce in these dishes are very inexpensive which makes these meals extremely frugal. If you grow your own vegetables like kale, tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, they are practically free!
The leftover chicken can be used for a variety of chicken dishes:
• chicken pot pie
• chicken stir fry
• chicken fried rice
• bbq chicken sandwiches
• chicken tacos
• chicken and dumplings
• chicken salads
• chicken sandwiches
• lettuce wraps
The same method can be used for a large beef or pork roast. Cook the large piece of meat in the crockpot or roast in the oven and serve half the first night. Again, it's delicious with potatoes, gravy, and roasted vegetables or a salad.
The second night, the beef or pork can be shredded and used for any of the following:
• shredded beef/pork tacos or enchiladas
• bbq beef/pork sandwiches
• bbq beef/pork topped baked potatoes
• vegetable beef soup or Mexican pork soup
• panini sandwiches
This method doesn’t just work for meat. It also works for meatless options like assorted beans and lentils. A pot of beans can be stretched multiple ways as well:
• pureed for refried beans
• bean burritos
• beans and rice burrito bowls
• beans and greens soup
• taco salad
Use a Filler
For ground meat, dishes like tacos, meatloaf, meatballs, sloppy Joes, etc can be supplemented with with healthy fillers to stretch them even further. Try adding lentils, beans, rice, oats, or other budget friendly grains or legumes, and I bet your family will hardly notice. If you are a paleo eater, you could supplement with more meaty vegetables like mushrooms or even try using inexpensive offal like liver or heart ground up. I know that may be a bit icky to some, but they are highly nutritious foods with a lot of bang for you buck.
Often when recipes call for a pound of meat in something like a casserole, I use a half pound or ¾ pound and usually still have great results. It may mean that your sauce is a little less meaty or your casserole has a little less bulk, but the taste and yield usually don't suffer as long as you bulk it up with more produce. So for example, when I make a lasagna, I may not use a full pound of meat, but I will add finely chopped mushrooms, shredded zucchini, and shredded carrots to give it more bulk without having to use all of the meat.
Those are my favorite tips for eating quality meat on a budget, and I hope you found them helpful. I'd love to hear from you, so head to the comments section to start the discussion.