Thursday, July 8, 2010

Frugal Meal Planning: Meats

Like everyone else right now, my budget is TIGHT, but despite the crunch on the pocket book, I'm not ready to compromise healthy eating. It's kind of the "pay for the food now or pay the doctor later" kind of a thing. And when you're eating fresh, healthy foods, you can feel like you're feasting like a king even if the food budget is limited.

Photo Credit: duncan

Ways To Cut Costs

Reduce Portion Sizes. Meat is always the budget killer. We don't do casseroles at our house, so it's usually a grilled entree with veggie sides; occasionally some grain. The problem with this is that it seems harder to stretch the meat. Long ago we cut back on our size portions and this has helped tremendously, but if you have growing boys, that's going to be a lot harder to do. So, my mission is to be creative with meat entrees, minus the casserole thing.

Watch For Sales. Today, I'm making fish tacos because I found a great sale on fillets. This is a great way to stretch just a little bit of fish for an entire family. I picked up some wild caught cod at my local grocers for only $3.99/lb. Regularly it runs $7.99/lb. So right off the bat, I'm saving $4.00/lb. Note that the cod is "wild caught". This is so much more healthy for you than farm raised fish. Anytime a wild animal is left to wander "in the wild" as God intended, it's going to eat, forage, or ingest according to the Creator's design. Yes, it may taste a bit "gamey", but that's why it's called wild game! Personally, I don't mind it one bit. Tastes fresh that way to me.

Back to the budget... watch for meat that is marked down for clearance. You may need to go to the store a bit more often and you can't always get something specific. But when you do see a good buy, pick up several packages or pounds and freeze it. I don't get to the store very often, but when I do, I always swing buy the meat section to see what "treasures" I can find. I've snagged beef and chicken this way and never had an issue with the quality. Remember, the store is most likely going to err on the side of caution because of customer service (well, most stores will anyway).  

Buy In Bulk. Another option is to buy in bulk. You can go to a warehouse grocer, such as Costco, but you won't find a lot of grass fed, free range, or organic products (just a few). I recently ordered a half side of Black Angus that was grass fed only. While the cattle were not technically raised "organic", they were not given hormones, grain feed, or other unnecessary things. Most grass fed beef can run anywhere from $4.99/lb. and up. I'm getting mine for $2.60/lb. I'm guessing that it will be almost 50% off in the long run depending on the cut of meat. Yes, I have to run a deep freeze, but if you're sure to purchase the energy saver models, your savings versus costs should still be significant.

Raise You Own. I plan to try raising my own meat chickens this fall. I'm less convinced that this is a money saver, especially since I will be purchasing Freedom Rangers, which take longer to raise and produce less meat. However, I'm hard headed enough that I have to try it myself and see. I really want to get the cost of this down to about $7 per bird and I'll be dancing in the streets! I'll get back to you on this one. (My dad has raised meat goats in the past. In South Texas, nothing beats slow pit smoked cabrito.)

Hunt or Fish. Hunting is as old as mankind and still one of the most economical means of obtaining meat. You can go all out and do the whole "sportsman" thing, but you'll just add to your costs. Or you can purchase a hunting license, find someone you know who'll let you hunt on their property, beg, borrow, or buy an reasonable gun and ammo, and you're set. In my lifetime my family has hunted deer, dove, quail, and boar, but there's also elk and other fowl, and rabbit. (Actually, my dad has done squirrel and rattlesnake, too, but I don't recommend it!). Oh, and we hunted frogs. Yep. Fried frog legs taste a lot like chicken. We ate quite a few over the years. And we also fished a lot growing up. Flounder, catfish, crappi, bass, crabs, and I don't know what else (whatever we could get). The freezer was always full.

The point of this post is to help outside the box - the grocery store box that is. I'd rather pay a little bit for my husband to have some guy time outdoors hunting than to pay the grocery store giants. There can be some additional costs for processing meat if you aren't going to do it yourself, but you can learn this over time as well. 

What do you do to save costs on meat?


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