If you're anything like us, you don't feel full and satisfied unless you had some kind of meat on your plate for dinner. But eating meat every day can get expensive.
Here are tips for how to stretch the meat budget, and 9 recipes that really make the meat go a long way, letting you enjoy meat more often but still saying within your grocery budget.
Meat is expensive
Meat is an expensive protein, especially if you're trying to buy organic, grass-fed, local beef, or free-range chickens. But it is also so satisfying and actually has a lot of health benefits.
Aside from being rich in protein, chicken and poultry contain a lot of vitamin B12 and choline, both of which promote brain development.
Pork contains a lot of potassium, selenium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, thamin, and zinc. Red mean contains iron, vitamin B12, and zinc.
Meat is usually one of the grocery items that people struggle to afford on a low grocery budget (aside from quality fresh produce). It is one of the first things that gets cut out from grocery lists as people try to reduce the amount of money they spend on groceries.
Stretching the meat budget
These money-saving tips will help you enjoy meat while saving money. You might not be able to implement all these tips all at once, but with time you'll be able to save money on groceries, have a well-stocked freezer full of meat, and get to enjoy some new recipes that you might not have considered lately.
Look for weekly specials
Stock up on meats that are on special or on sale at various stores, then freeze the extra. You'll have bought meat at a good price and will have meat for next week or next month, which means you don't have to buy more meat!
We use this food saver to freeze meats (and leftovers) in smaller portions and keep it fresh. It suctions all the air out of the storage bags so the meat doesn't get freezer burn and doesn't impact the flavor of the rest of the stuff in the fridge. I highly recommend it! Get it here, along with the bags.
If you are well stocked on all kinds of meats in the freezer, you will be able to cook almost any meaty recipe you find without having to go out and buy meat that's NOT on sale just because you were planning on a specific recipe this week.
Pro tip: If you usually shop at one store but another store has a great meat special this week, look into whether they do store pick-up or curbside pick-up for free. This way you don't have to shop at TWO stores, but can do your big shopping trip at one store and then quickly pop by the second store to grab your meat order.
Buy meat in bulk / look for large cuts of meats and freeze
Look for family-sized packages of meat and look for large cuts of meat. As I said above, you can always freeze the extra meat. And did you know you can ask the butcher in most stores to cut the large cuts of meat into smaller pieces??
Never throw out leftover food! If you don't re-purpose the leftovers and you're tired of eating the same thing 3 days in a row, just freeze the leftovers for later.
BAM! "Free" dinner next week when you decide to rummage through the freezer.
Roast a whole chicken
Buying a whole roaster chicken is usually cheaper than buying the equivalent in packaged chicken breasts, chicken thighs, etc. Roasting a chicken is MUCH easier and faster than roasting a turkey.
Roast a whole chicken one night and enjoy the meat for days.
Pro tip: make your own chicken stock from the bones/carcass and save money on chicken stock! Chicken stock freezes well (in freezer-safe containers or storage bags), so you don't have to use it all right away.
Stretching the meat budget with Meatless Monday
OKAY, OKAY, Meatless Monday is the opposite of what we're trying to do here, but think about it... why not do ONE meal ONCE a week with another type of protein? Eggs, beans, quinoa, are all high in protein and usually inexpensive compared to meat.
Make meat the side dish
Look at the updated food "pyramid," which is no longer a pyramid but a plate. Meat and protein are only 1/4 of the plate in a balanced diet. And dairy is floating off to the side somewhere (are we supposed to drink milk with dinner??).
Rethink how you eat meat. Or rather, rethink how much meat you eat. Instead of serving a whole chicken breast, or a whole huge steak with a side of green beans, cut up that meat and plate it nicely.
Make it the star of the show with its flavor, or a sauce, or a marinade, but don't let it take over the whole plate.
Make amazing tacos (you'll be surprised by how little meat you need for a good taco). Fill enchiladas with meat and potatoes. Lots more ideas below!
Use meat as the flavor, not the main event
Along the lines of making meat the side dish, there are also ways to use meat products to flavor the WHOLE dish without using too much meat per serving. Some meats that are great for this are: crumbled bacon and crumbled sausage (a little bit goes a LONG way to flavor whatever you're cooking.)
Below you'll find several recipes that are full of flavor but use less meat, making them really affordable options to enjoy meat while staying within a certain grocery budget.
Combine meat with other ingredients
Continuing with the theme of using less meat... if you're making meatballs, casseroles, salads, bolognese sauce, stuffed peppers, or anything along those lines, use slightly less meat and add other fillers instead.
Grated carrots, mushrooms, onions, and cooked rice make great additions to ground meat in meatballs. They do NOT reduce the flavor, but if you add 25% more veggies or rice to your meatballs, you get 25% more meatballs without using more ground beef.
Bolognese sauce can be made with cooked lentils in addition to meat to bulk up the sauce.
Stuffed peppers can be stuffed with a mixture of meat and cooked rice, or meat and quinoa. A casserole might not need a whole pound of chicken breast - you can probably cut that down to 3/4 lb and save the rest for another meaty meal.
You get the idea!
Below you'll find several recipes that combine meat with other less expensive ingredients but still have that great meaty flavor and texture, so you can make the most of the meat from your grocery store haul!