How to Save Money on Meat (While Still Eating the Best Quality)
Everyone deserves to eat nutrient-rich meats that are free of chemicals and raised in their natural environment. Sometimes these meats cost a bit more than meats raised in a different system, but they can still be an affordable option for families. You'll reap the benefits of better flavour, increased nutrition, feeling good after you eat, and feeling good about what you're eating (your purchase this quality of meat is your vote in support of meat raised in truly sustainable, ethical and regenerative systems, plus a vote of support for your local farms). Switching to naturally-raised meats is worthwhile on several levels, but can be a challenge unless you know how to adapt to this new method of buying meat. Here are my top 10 tips for making it work to provide the best-quality meats for your family.
Buy in bulk.
Perhaps the biggest shift when buying naturally-raised meats is finding out that the farmer sends the meat for processing only a couple or few times per year. Therefore, that's your chance to get in on the opportunity, and that's when meat is available in bulk.
It helps you (and it helps the farmer) to stock up on meats when they're available. Farmers can offer a price break when meat is purchased right after the processing time as a whole animal (eg, lamb or goat), 1/2 or 1/4 animal (beef or pork), or bundles of poultry (with multiple birds purchased at once). When you stock your freezer, you have the security of having several months worth of meat available to you for countless meal options, and you save by purchasing the whole variety of cuts instead of buying them individually.
Buy the cheaper cuts that are less well-known.
When you do buy cuts individually, skip the expensive cuts, and choose the ones that have a lower price per pound (and often have more flavour). If you need help to figure out which cuts to select and how to cook them - ask your farmer!
For pork: look for hocks, shoulder chops, shoulder roasts, soup bones, neck bones, jowls, tails, etc. For beef: look for brisket, shoulder roasts, meaty bones, neck bones, oxtail, etc. For chickens: look for chicken bones (including the feet, if available!), legs
To cook these meats, reclaim the domestic skills of braising and roasting, learn to use a slow cooker, pressure cooker or electric oven - and you'll be on your way to some incredibly delicious meals, with a depth of flavour that the more expensive cuts cannot match. Meaty bones are the basis of rich and delicious meals. More info on this topic coming in the near future!
Use the Bones. And the Fat. (All of it!)
Did you know that when you eat meat with a broth made from the bones that your body is able to assimilate more nutrition from the meat? The proteins in broth are called "protein sparers", creating complete proteins with the meat. Therefore, less meat is required to meet your body's nutritional needs.
What a delicious way to get more nutrition (and eat less meat)! The possibilities for making soups are stews are endless. No wonder soups and stews made with real bone broth are so satisfying.
On a similar note... did you know that fat contains critical nutrients that are important to eat WITH meat, in order to receive the benefit of ALL the nutrients in the meat? In other words, when we eat fat with our meat (the fat that is usually discarded or trimmed away), we do not require as much meat in a meal.
When animals are raised naturally, their fat does not contain harmful chemical residues, and are very rich sources of clean nutrition. Fats also add so much flavour to foods. I know there has been a phobia of fat because of media attention on ultra-processed and man-made "fats" that were said to be "healthier". Thankfully, there is now a tremendous amount of evidence backing up the traditional consumption of healthy animal fats.
In addition to using the fat that is on and in meats, use the lard (from pork), tallow (from beef, lamb and goat), schmalz (from poultry) and all the drippings / pan juices from any meat you cook. Save these, right to the last drop, and use them in soups, when cooking your vegetables, when making any kind of casserole or lasagna or meat pie, and especially for gravies and sauces. Delish.
(Same deal: save all your bacon fat, and use it in other meals, or in salad dressings.)
Buy Fresh (versus Cured) Meats
Side pork is cheaper than bacon (but exactly the same cut) - cure or salt your own bacon. Ground pork is cheaper than sausage - add your own custom seasonings and make sausage patties. Roasts are cheaper than hams. There's definitely a place for cured and processed meats (and seriously - they are SO delicious!). It's not that we have to forego all cured meats, but they can be enjoyed on special occasions when you're stretching your budget.
Use some of the organ meats, sometimes
By weight, the organ meats are the most nutrient-rich of any of the meats. If you're looking for nutrient value for your dollar - this is the ultimate!
I know that organ meats are not a favourite in our culture, but that's because we've gotten away from the traditional practice of eating them. On the road to eating organ meats, half the journey is overcoming the cultural norm of shunning these nutritious cuts, and the other half is learning how to prepare them so that they taste good (there are ways!).
The easiest way to integrate organ meats into your family's diet is to grind them or cut them finely (either before or after cooking them), and then mix them with other ground or shredded meat in whatever you're cooking: soup, lasagna, burgers, etc. Eating organ meats is a case of "a little, often, is better than a lot at once". When the organ meats are mixed with other meats like this, the flavour is not noticeable, but they still pack a nutritional punch.
Cook with Beans and Lentils
There are other protein sources besides meat, and they pair well with meats in a wide variety of dishes! Beans and lentils are not complete sources of protein... and beyond the vague topic of protein, they lack many of the vitamins, essential fats and other nutrients found in meat. Therefore, they are not a substitute for meat, but they play well together in many ways.
Add beans or lentils + a smaller quantity of meat to chili, stews, soups, lasagnas, pot pies, quesadillas, tacos, curries, sandwiches, fried rice, stuffed peppers, and to so many other dishes...
Serve dishes with meat cut into smaller pieces
If you're economizing on your meat purchases, cut meat into pieces before or after cooking, instead of serving large portions of meat. For example, cook meat strips or chunks in a stir-fry with lots of vegetables. Or, add leftover diced meats to chili, stews, soups, lasagnas, pot pies, quesadillas, tacos, curries, salads, sandwiches, etc. Cutting or shredding it into smaller pieces will stretch it a lot further.
Bulk up your meal with vegetables, and a starchy side such as potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.
Learn to "piece" a chicken and other poultry
It's cheaper to buy whole birds, but that doesn't mean you have to cook them all whole! Learn the simple techniques to cut a whole bird into the various pieces (breast, thighs, drumsticks, wings, soup bones), and cook the pieces separately in different meals.
Or, if you want to barbecue chicken, but don't want to cut the bird into pieces, learn the spatchcock technique, and barbecue your whole bird in a fraction of the time it would take to cook it otherwise.
Plan for Leftovers for Quick and Easy Meals
Cooking a whole chicken is cheaper, easier, and faster (less hands-on time, plus a time-saver compared to cooking the equivalent amount of chicken in pieces for a few meals). Plan for a meal with roast chicken, then use the leftovers in so many ways. A blog post (soon) will be dedicated to this, because there's so much good stuff to say on this topic alone!
It's the same idea for large cuts of beef or pork or lamb. Cook a roast or ham, and use leftovers for other meals. Cook a whole turkey or duck and use the leftovers in future meals. If you can't use all the leftovers within a day or two (or, want some variation in your weekly meals), simply freeze meal-sized portions for a very healthy and convenient fast food.
Eat Less Meat
Seriously! The expectation in our culture (generally speaking) is for a much larger serving size of meat than we really need. Many people over-eat meat without realizing it, which also translates to spending more on meat than necessary.
The best solution is to make vegetables the star of your meal, instead of meat. You'll feel better for it, and you'll benefit from a wider array of nutrition that's found by eating a variety of vegetables with your meal.
Bonus tip: Buy the best quality meat for its nutrient value. Not only will you likely feel more satisfied after your meal, but an added bonus is that when you cook good-quality, pasture-raised meats from a local farmer, there is very little shrinkage of the meat. I often forget about this, until I'm reminded by someone cooking this meat for the first time, and they can't believe that it doesn't cook down to nothing in the pan or on the grill!
In conclusion, it's worthwhile for all of us to buy the best meat and it can definitely work while sticking to a budget. We may need to alter our meat-eating habits, but eating clean meat will leave us feeling nourished and energized (instead of sluggish), and the succulent flavours satisfy our taste buds with what they crave.