My grandparents were dairy farmers. Every year at Christmas, they gave each of their children a side of beef. Growing up, we had little money, and sometimes no other groceries to speak of, but we always had a ton of frozen beef. I took for granted that there would be meat at every meal.
After I got married and began food shopping for my family, I was shocked at the cost of meat. I found that I couldn’t afford many of the meats that I grew up eating, such as beef roast, which I absolutely loved with horseradish and potatoes. At $3.49/lb, it just didn’t fit into my limited budget.
For a while, we experimented with lacto-ovo vegetarianism, but we only lasted about a year. My husband and I both love vegetables, but we hated most of the meat “substitutes,” such as TVP and tofu. We missed the texture and flavor of real meat, and we decided that we’d be much happier eating less-meat meals, instead of no-meat meals.
I developed some rules for the purchase and use of meat, which allow me to stay within my budget, and still enjoy delicious, satisfying meals:
1) I only buy meats that are $2.00/lb or less. I can regularly buy whole turkey breasts for $1.84/lb, bone-in chicken breasts for 99 cents/lb, and 80% lean ground beef for $1.49-$1.69/lb. My one exception is beef roast. It simply cannot be purchased at this price, ever.
2) I use meat as an ingredient, instead of the main course. For example, when I purchase a 3 lb beef roast at $3.49/lb, I cook it in my slow cooker until it’s very tender. When it’s done, I cut it into three equal pieces. We eat one piece with horseradish, and lots of carrots and potatoes. I cut the other two pieces in half, to make four, 1/2 lb portions. These are delicious in soups and stews, or in gravy over mashed potatoes. This cuts the cost per meal to only $2.10, or about 50 cents per person. This way, I get to enjoy the flavors I love without breaking the bank.
3) If a recipe calls for a pound of meat, I use only 3/4 pound. When I bring home a 10 lb family pack of ground beef, I immediately divide it into 3/4 lb portions, using a dietary scale. By doing this, I get 13 meals from one family pack, instead of only 10. Trust me, you’ll never miss that 1/4 pound, particularly in casseroles and soups. You can sometimes use only 1/2 pound in recipes that have many ingredients, because there’s plenty of filler.
4) I cook all meats in my slow cooker. This allows me to purchase cheaper cuts and bone-in poultry, because the slow, steam cooking makes meats very tender. The bones are a cinch to remove, and even tough cuts of meat are juicy and flavorful.
5) We don’t get all of our meat from the store. My father-in-law is a fisherman, and my dad is a deer hunter. From them, we get lean, ground venison and fresh fish. At first, I had no idea how to cook these meats, some of which I had never heard of. Fortunately, the internet makes it possible to get cooking instructions for just about anything. I’ve learned that ground venison can be used as a ground beef substitute in almost any dish, with no discernible difference in taste. Cobia, black bass, and grouper are absolutely delicious when cooked properly. A little research goes a long way.
5) We get protein from sources other than meat. Once a week, I make toast and omelets, or scrambled eggs with cheese, and we have breakfast for supper. Sometimes we have grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup. Beans are also a great source of protein, and we eat them often. Baked beans and cornbread, and black bean chili are family favorites.
6) We’ve found a meat substitute that we actually like. It’s a combination of equal parts lentils and bulgur wheat. You simmer 1 part of this mixture with two parts water or chicken broth until the liquid is absorbed. It’s quick and easy, tastes good, and the texture is very similar to ground beef. In fact, it’s so similar that I sometimes use it to stretch ground beef in casseroles, tacos or chili. We especially like it in enchiladas, but it can also be made into patties by adding eggs, bread crumbs and spices.
I plan to make lentil-bulgur enchiladas for supper tonight, so I’ll share this recipe with you. Give it a try–you’ll be surprised at how much you like it!
2 1/2 C water
1/2 C lentils
1/2 C bulgur wheat
1 pkt taco seasoning
2 C shredded cheddar cheese, divided
8 flour tortillas
1 (10.5 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
1 C milk
1/2 C salsa
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a medium saucepan, combine water, lentils and bulgur. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid is absorbed (about 15-20 minutes). Stir in taco seasoning.
-Put 2 T of lentil mixture in each tortilla. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Roll up, and place seam side down in a greased 9×13 baking dish.
-Combine sauce ingredients in medium saucepan. Heat through, and pour over enchiladas. Top with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.
-Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Serve with sour cream.