Save Money on Meat

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

I know from personal experience that eating a diet rich in protein helps to keep me strong and slim.  However, you don’t have to be a “meat-atarian” to get the slimming results of protein.  According to Robert Ferguson, creator of Diet Free Life (the healthy eating plan that I’ve followed for over three years), if you’re getting 15 to 30 grams of protein with each meal, you’re on track.

With that being said, I’m going to give you some strategies to save money on your protein purchases.  The price of meat is definitely NOT getting any cheaper and eating grass-fed and organic is downright expensive!  Three things to keep in mind: buy on sale, eat less meat, and occasionally go meatless.

Buy on Sale

I have a tendency to create my monthly meal plans around what I’ve recently scored on sale at the grocery store.  I also check out what’s marked down in the meat department.  If it’s something that looks fine but has an imminent expiration date, I’ll either cook it up right away or freeze it.  The crock pot is definitely a good friend of mine because it makes cheaper cuts of meat taste delicious and fall right off the bone.  I purchase the vast majority of my chicken with the bone in because I get more for my money.  I frequently cook a whole chicken in the crock pot and make several meals out of it.  For example, tonight Nick and I are going to have rosemary chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy with broccoli.  I’ll shred the leftover dark meat and mix it with BBQ sauce and send Nick to work with BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries for lunch.  As for the remaining white meat, I’ll use it later in the week for my Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  Also, ask if there’s a discount if you buy in bulk.  I recently bought chicken thighs from a local farm and they gave me a discount since I purchased 10 pounds (and froze most of it).

Eat Less Meat

Most Americans eat larger servings of meat than their bodies actually need.  You can painlessly cut the amount of meat in a dish without sacrificing taste or feeling hungry.  For example, when I make spaghetti and meat sauce, I can easily cut back on the amount of ground turkey (or beef) and add a package of fresh mushrooms (washed and sliced) to the meat while it’s cooking.  Mushrooms have a meaty taste and are rich in protein, so it’s not really noticeable that the amount of turkey has been decreased. If you don’t like mushrooms, you can sub in your choice of zucchini, onions, bell peppers, or eggplant.  You can also do this with black beans or leftover brown rice when making tacos or burritos.  This will allow you to stretch a pound of ground meat over two meals instead of just one.  Be creative!  You also add corn, pinto and other beans, quinoa, barley, and other grains or vegetables to stretch your meat.

Occasionally Go Meatless

Yes, you can get enough protein from non-meat sources!  It seems there’s been a surge in the popularity of “Meatless Mondays.”  Don’t believe me?  Just search “Meatless Monday” on Pinterest and see the thousands upon thousands of recipes that pop up!  With delicious sounding recipes like Lentil Chili, Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchiladas, Mushroom Fajitas, and Spinach & Ricotta Pasta, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything at all!  Some of my personal vegetarian favorites are Black Bean Chili and Easy Cheesy Casserole.  I also can’t wait to try this Sweet Potato Salad recipe!

If you have any other tips for saving money on your meat purchases, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Meal Planning Monday ~ Veggies – Fresh, Frozen, or Canned?

           We all know that we should eat our veggies.  However, there’s plenty of debate over the merits of canned, frozen, and freshly picked vegetables.  Personally, I think that each of these methods has their place in every cook’s kitchen.  Let’s explore the pros and cons of each.

            Canned ~ The big plus side of canned vegetables is their long shelf-life.  You can stock up on canned corn, beans, and peas when there’s a good sale.  Chances are, you’ll use them before they expire.  It’s hard to argue with the convenience factor of canned vegetables.  No chopping carrots, peeling tomatoes, or soaking beans, which can be your saving grace on busy week nights.  On a regular basis, I use canned black beans, diced tomatoes, corn, and artichokes.  However, because of the canning process, you’re typically not getting as many nutrients as you would if you had the same vegetable fresh or frozen.  There has definitely been an increase in popularity in home canning, especially of garden-grown veggies.  I think this is great, because there are fewer preservatives when you can your own veggies.

            Frozen ~ These vegetables are typically flash frozen at the peak of ripeness.  This may mean that they have as many nutrients (maybe even more) as fresh veggies.  If you have a decent size freezer, you can stock up on frozen veggies when you find a great deal.  Frozen veggies will typically keep six month to a year.  Just keep in mind that freezing vegetables does not stop breakdown of nutrients, it just slows it WAY down.  There are some veggies that I prefer frozen.  I use frozen spinach in quite a few of my recipes.  It’s cheaper and easier than buying fresh spinach, which I reserve for my salads.  I also buy vegetable medleys and stew veggies in the freezer section.  If a certain vegetable is out of season, buying frozen is a good alternative.

            Fresh ~ Most people would agree that fresh is best!  There is nothing like a fresh tomato in July…  but you usually can’t find a tasty one in February, which makes me sad. :(  Eating fresh vegetables (especially those in-season and locally grown) will give you the best bang for your nutritional buck.  I’m loving the fresh asparagus that is on sale all over town right now!  We’re eating it once or twice a week.  I also recently purchased a large bag of English peas in the pod from my co-op.  They were very tasty in yesterday’s beef stew, but time-consuming to remove from the shell.

        Some veggies are just a pain to prepare fresh!  Nick and I found that out with artichokes.  Let me tell you, they are high-maintenance to boil, pick apart, and eat!  Next time I make my spinach and artichoke dip, I will stick to the ones in a jar or can.  The big downside to fresh veggies is their limited shelf life.  I usually try to restrain myself at the co-op, because if I buy more than we can eat in a week, it will go bad and end up in the trash – which is not a good thing!

            No matter how you like your veggies – fresh, frozen, canned, or a combination of all three – be sure to eat up!  Vegetables are full of fiber and lots of great vitamins and minerals.  Here is my Meal Plan for the week.

Monday ~ Cilantro Lime Shrimp with black bean and corn salad.  I’ll be using canned beans and corn for this recipe.

Tuesday ~ Turkey and gravy in the crockpot served with mashed potatoes and the remainder of my fresh peas from the co-op.  Kroger had Honeysuckle marinated turkey breasts on sale last week, buy-one-get-one-free.  I froze one of them for later.  I’ll toss the turkey breasts in the crock pot with a jar of gravy for an easy meal.

Wednesday ~ Roasted Salmon with sesame garlic roasted asparagus.  I make garlic roasted asparagus quite a bit, but never with sesame seeds, so I’m going to give it a try this week.

Thursday ~ BBQ chicken with parmesan potatoes and cauliflower with cheese.

Friday ~ Breakfast for dinner!  I’m making my broccoli cheddar frittata with hash browns and some fresh fruit.

Saturday ~ Sometimes I make my Spinach & Artichoke dip with two cans of chicken in it and call it a meal!  My hubby LOVES it.

Sunday ~ Foil packets on the grill with chicken, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, onions, and asparagus.

 

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

  • One 12-ounce jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • One 10-ounce box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • ½ cup of reduced-fat cream cheese
  • ¾ cup of reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
  • Pita chips or tortilla chips for dipping

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure that spinach is thoroughly drained of excess water.  (I do this by putting it in a colander and pressing paper towels down on it to remove as much water as possible.)  Mix all ingredients (except chips) until well blended in a bowl.  Spread into a small oven-safe baking dish.  Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until the top begins to turn golden and bubble.  Serve warm with chips.  (If you are unable to find marinated artichoke hearts, you can use a can of artichokes drained, and add a tablespoon of Italian dressing.)

Meal Planning Monday – Being a Label Detective

           There’s a coupon myth floating around out there that if you’re a Coupon Queen you’re probably feeding your family a lot of unhealthy processed and packaged foods.  Anyone that knows me will tell you that it is possible for someone to be a Health Nut and a Coupon Queen, because I am definitely both!  (In fact, certain friends tease me about my health-conscience ways, especially my vitamin consumption.)  I want to save money on food with coupons, but not at the expense of my family’s health. 

            I hope you know by now that there are a lot of healthier alternatives out there when it comes to prepackaged foods – brown rice, whole grain cereals and granola bars, organic frozen dinners, etc.  However, there are some things that seem healthy, but once you read the label you may be in for a shock!

            I’m sure you have heard that things like excess sodium, hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup aren’t good for you.  These food additives can sabotage your efforts to get and stay slim and healthy.  Unfortunately, these cheap additives make you hungry for more, which is why many food manufacturers add them to their products.  I discovered something interesting this week when I was making my famous “Cheap and Easy Chili” for a church potluck dinner (see recipe at the end of this post.) 

            Chili beans and chili-ready tomatoes are key ingredients in my chili.  When they go on sale, I definitely use my coupons and stockpile enough to make several batches of it.  I’m “brand-flexible” on what kind of beans and tomatoes I’ll use because I can save more money that way.  Meaning that I don’t care which brand I use – I just buy whichever one is on sale with coupons.  As I was pulling the cans out of the panty, I noticed that one brand of chili beans (Brooks) had corn syrup on the label, but the other (Bush’s) did not.  The same thing was true for the chili-ready tomatoes.  The Del Monte tomatoes had corn syrup but the Red Gold did not.  I guess I’m not going to get to be as brand-flexible as I’d like.  Cruising through my pantry I also realized that my favorite “healthy” rice, Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, Brown and Wild rice has almost 700 mgs of sodium per serving!  (Fortunately the plain brown rice has less than 100 mgs.)  I also found out that some of my hubby’s favorite snack foods have hydrogenated oils or corn syrup, or both.  I’ll be searching for some healthier alternatives this week at the grocery store.

            Now, I’m not a nutritionist, but I just want to call attention to the fact that it does benefit us to read labels and understand what we’re putting in our bodies.  Most experts agree that natural ingredients are a healthier choice than man-made ones.  Here at CCQ , we definitely want to save money, but we also want to be healthy and happy.  I challenge you to put on your “label detective” hat this week and really take a good look at what you’re really feeding your family.  Here’s is what’s on my Meal Plan this week:

 

Monday ~ Beef Stew in the Crockpot. 

Tuesday ~ Turkey Stroganoff with whole wheat egg noodles and peas. 

Wednesday ~ Oven Fried Chicken, potatoes, and mixed veggies. 

Thursday ~ FFY (Fend for Yourself Night).  I’ll be golfing with my Mom so I’ll probably eat a sandwich or Kashi frozen dinner before hitting the links. 

Friday ~ Pasta with Italian Chicken Sausage and salad 

Saturday ~ Chicken and Steak on the grill with corn on the cob.

 Sunday ~ Cheap & Easy Turkey Chili

 

Cheap & Easy Turkey Chili

1 pound of ground turkey (or lean ground beef) 

1 Tbs of olive oil

3 cans of Red Gold chili ready tomatoes (14 oz.)

1 can of Mild Bush’s chili beans (14 oz.)

2 cans of Hot Bush’s chili beans (14 oz.)

1 Tbs of ground cumin

Red pepper flakes, optional

Shredded cheddar cheese

 

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pan.  Brown the ground turkey (or beef) and drain.  Add the beans and tomatoes (undrained) and the cumin.  Bring to a boil, then turn down on low and let it simmer for 20 minutes.  Serve with a shake or two of red pepper flakes and top with the shredded cheddar.  You can easily double the recipe to serve a large crowd.  If you don’t like your chili too spicy, use two cans of mild beans, and one of the hot beans, skipping the red pepper flakes.