How to Make your Meat Budget Stretch While Still Satisfying Everyone
With the price of meat, and everything else constantly rising, it can feel impossible to satisfy the family.
Many have grown up with a meat and 3 veg mentality or meat being the focus of the meal and everything else as sides.
I am not going to suggest you switch to tofu or try lentil burgers because trust me, no matter how much people claim, they do not taste like meat.
Making meat stretch is something I’ve become quite good at due to often feeding men used to large amounts of meat. In my first marriage, I often catered to huge groups of Polynesians.
Growing up, I was in a religion that had numerous events my mum catered for and taught me how.
One of the best compliments has been from heavy meat eaters not realising they’re eating mainly vegetables and saying they need to cut down on the amount of meat they eat.
1. Start Slowly
The key to making meat stretch is knowing what works well, getting meat for cheap, mixing up your meals and ensuring a balanced diet.
If you cut meat right back too fast or have a week of soups, people will feel deprived.
Start with swapping one or two meals or by padding out specific meals with more vegetables and lentils.
I’ll share more on how to do it without it tasting ‘vegetarian’ further down.
2. Look for Reduced Meat
At closing time and sometimes right at opening time, meats are reduced. Always scan the meat section to see what you can find.
I’ve found meats for less than $1 including roast chicken, steaks, stir fry and mince.
Another option is to check out a butcher right before it closes for the week.
Many have a day or two where they are closed so plan your shop.
Lastly, check the specials and buy meat when it is discounted where possible.
3. Buy in Bulk
If you have the space, buying meat in bulk can save you a lot. Speak with your local butcher or look online as many companies now offer this.
You can either choose your own meats in a bulk pack with a discount or buy half an animal with the various cuts.
Pair up with your neighbour or friends if you don’t have the space to store that much meat but still want to get a discount.
4. Be Loyal to Your Butcher
A good butcher who has loyal customers will give you great advice and take care of you.
There are some butchers who aren’t great but overall, I have found a good butcher to be wonderful.
Try a few butchers, get to know them and also look for discounted butchers in your area.
For those in Noosa, Ash’s Village Meats at Noosaville is our favourite for a few reasons.
We tried different butchers in the area but found his meat to be best. Then, when a job came up, my daughter applied and was hired.
They were amazing! She was treated so well, taught a lot, made to feel so welcome and the whole team were just a fantastic bunch of guys.
I am so grateful she had the experience of working with them and so is she.
In Canberra, I can recommend Southland’s Quality Meats which is owned by my little brother.
He has been working as a butcher since he was in high school (and is one of the reasons my daughter was interested in doing it too).
His team are great, the business has been there for years and they have won loads of awards.
Neither Ash’s Village Mears or Southland’s Quality Meats are the cheapest butchers around but in my experience, you are better off paying for better quality and eating less.
Cheap meat is usually fatty, glued together, doesn’t cook as well and is less satisfying.
5. Hide Cheap Veggies
Mince dishes are easy to hide vegetables in if you do it right. Start by grating or chopping the vegetables small then cook them slowly with the mince so they absorb more flavour and using a good sauce or spices.
Some recipe examples include bolognaise which is used for spaghetti and lasagne; Mexican mince dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, burritos etc.
Also recipes such as cabbage rolls, meatballs, homemade burgers and of course soups such as minestrone.
When I cook mince to hide veggies I start by heating some oil and frying onion and garlic for a few minutes until soft and golden brown.
If I am using spices for a curry based dish, I add them now too. Then I add the veggies to soften for a bit then the mince.
I fry it all on a low to medium heat, mixing it so it all gets cooked.
Add the sauce then simmer, stirring occasionally so it all absorbs the flavour.
I’ll share some specific recipes soon but in the meant time, check out 28 recipes for mince to give you some ideas.
6. Use Lentils and Legumes Wisely
Before you roll your eyes, when used right, lentils can be great.
They will absorb the flavour of whatever they are cooked in but you need to allow them time to do that.
Dried lentils need to be rinsed and soaked before use where as canned lentils simply need to be rinsed before being added.
Add lentils fairly early on in the recipe so they have time to absorb more of the flavour.
Lentils work best in curries and mince recipes in my experience.
With legumes such as black beans, broad beans, kidney beans etc.
They go well in mince dishes for Mexican meals to make them stretch further as well as Minestrone soup.
If they are refried or pureed you can hide them in a lot more recipes easier too.
7. Use Smaller Amounts
Most of us are eating bigger portions of everything than is necessary or recommended.
Reduce portion sizes of meat (and meals in general) for a healthier lifestyle.
Bulk it out with vegetables and wait until 20 minutes after a meal before going for more.
Often we think we want more but our body hasn’t started to digest our food yet so we end up overeating.
When reducing meat portions, this is easier in recipes that aren’t a steak and vegetables.
For example, risotto, soups, curries, stews, fried rice, stir-fry etc.
You can reduce the amount of meat used in all those recipes without it effecting the flavour too much.
Chicken schnitzels are a great example of using less meat too.
Cut the meat pieces thinner, tenderise by beating it, coat in four, egg and either breadcrumbs or in our house we like coconut, then fry. Thinner pieces of meat but a family favourite.
8. Slow Cooking
Cheap cuts of meat do well in a slow cooker. In my experience, slow cookers need a lot more spices and flavour than other cooking methods but the meat is delicious.
Pulled meats are great for tacos, nachos, enchiladas, burritos, wraps and a variety of meals.
Stews and casseroles made in the slow cooker can turn tough, cheap meat into melt in your mouth meals.
Fish is great for your health but often not cheap. If anyone in your family loves to fish, it can be a great hobby that also saves you money with meat.
We aim for fish once a week and usually when we go fishing we catch enough for that night and to freeze for later.
Our favourites are salmon and flathead as they are easy to cook and extremely versatile.
Trying doing a BBQ with kebabs, koftas, homemade burgers or cheap chicken such as chicken wings and cook your veggies on the BBQ too.
There’s something about chargrilled that makes everything taste delicious. Take it a step further and do it over the fire as a fun family activity.
I can guarantee, your kids will love nights they get to cook this way and they can be involved easily.
11. Marinate Your Meat
Plain meat cooked isn’t very exciting. Play around with different marinades using various sauces, spices and recipes you find.
It’s amazing what a different it can make to cheap cuts of meat making something you’ve had often such as chicken become a completely different meal.
12. Try International Cuisines
We’ve travelled a lot as a family and have 5 cultures between us so are experienced with different cuisines.
It’s amazing to see how other countries stretch their meat or bulk out meals with vegetables compared to the typical Western diet.
Asian cuisine is particularly good at this from fried rice through to curries.
Many recipes can be done vegetarian or with a minimal amount of meat.
Look up countries you want to travel to and see what some popular recipes are there.
It’s a great way to experience something new as well as reduce your grocery budget.
Be aware though, some call for a variety of spices so check these are flavours you are likely to use in other recipes too and plan your meals accordingly.
For example, we love pho but the spices needed will set you back a bit at first.
Once divided over the many times we make pho it’s not so bad but the upfront cost of buying it all was a bit of a shock.
13. Try Vegetarian
Opt for a few vegetarian meals a week if you can. We love dhal, vegetable curries, stir-fry, frittata, pancakes, wraps, toasties and other simple meals that are cheap.
Alternatively, look at egg based meals for protein instead of so much meat.
What do you do to save money on meat?
Check out 20 meals for leftover sausages, 29 meals for leftover roast chicken and 25 meals for leftover ham for more ideas and recipes.
And these 21 ideas to reduce the cost of groceries.
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