Once in a while someone asks me how I manage to feed our brood (2 adults, 2 teens & 3 elementary-aged kids) and still get the bills paid. I’m proud to say that I have our grocery budget down to $120/wk, including paper/hygeine, and that I can go to $80/wk if I really need to. In the direst of emergency situations I have done $60/wk, but going that low is something I reserve only for those really, really tight weeks.
Honestly, I don’t think people usually like my answer. Sure we’ve done lots of little things, stopped buying pre-packaged food and whatnot, but that doesn’t make nearly as much difference as what I’m about to tell you. The biggest thing we have done to reduce our grocery budget is to drastically reduce our consumption of meat.
There, I said it. If I have $80 to spend on food to feed 7 people 3 meals for 7 days, meat just isn’t going to be on my list.
We’re not vegetarian by any means but when we decide to consume meat we do it as economically as possible. I’m not here to tell you to do what to do, just to let you know how we “do it” and to give you ideas if you’re receptive to them.
1. Meat as an ingredient, not the main feature. Instead of serving a chicken breast with veggies and rice, why not make fried rice, stir fry or a curry? I generally use 2-3 chicken breasts in these dishes, we get plenty of meat but use half of what we would if the chicken was the main feature. Another bonus is that you can make fried rice and stir fry in one pot, bonus!!
2. Buy cheap cuts and use them wisely. Stir fry and fried rice are excellent ways to use cheap cuts of beef, but so is stew and curry. I love cutting cheap cuts of skirt or flank steak against the grain, brown them in oil and spices, and serve them in a tortilla with onions and peppers. The restaurant down the street slaps a fancy name on them and charges $13 a plate. The vegetables stretch the meat out so 1 lb will serve my family and we’ll feel satisfied.
3. Add your own fillers. I don’t buy cheap ground beef, I don’t like the fillers in it and I don’t like the taste, plus the cheap stuff seems to cook down more. (This is my family’s preference, there is nothing wrong with buying cheaper ground beef if it’s what you like, no hate comments/mail, ok?)
TVP – For years I’ve been hearing about adding crumbled TVP (found in the frozen aisle, near the veggie burgers) to stretch ground meat. I can’t vouch for this as I don’t use it (soy allergy in the family) but I imagine there’s a reason why we hear so much about it. It’s kind of expensive though, I recently priced a 1lb bag at $4.95, which really isn’t a savings…
Oatmeal – Oatmeal is a great way to stretch ground beef, especially for meatloaf, tacos and when you are using cheaper ground beef (it soaks up the grease & flavor). It cooks up and is almost unrecognizable in the end product.
Try this: Brown beef for tacos, drain. Pour ½-1 cup of oats into the beef and mix well. Add 1 cup of hot water (more if you use more oats, use your eye), a packet of taco seasoning (or homemade equivalent) and 1 packet of dry ranch dressing mix (or homemade equivalent..you can also skip this ingredient). Simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Use meat in casseroles. I tried this AMAZING beef stroganoff casserole last night. The only change I made to the recipe was to boil an entire bag of egg noodles. I mixed about ⅓ of the noodles with the stroganoff sauce. I poured the remaining noodles into the casserole dish and topped with the stroganoff. It stretched the dish enough to feed 7 of us and have a serving leftover.
5. Substitute other meats. Sometimes ground turkey is cheaper, I can still find it frozen for $1/lb. No, it doesn’t taste quite the same but generally we find it an acceptable alternative. If you don’t like the taste you can try using ½ lb beef and ½ lb turkey, or ground chicken or pork.
Try this: Make spaghetti, baked pasta or lasagna using ground sausage instead of ground beef. I buy rolls of sausage on sale for $2/lb or less (you can often find coupons for name brand) and freeze them. My children LOVE ground sausage in their baked ziti.
6. Skip the meat altogether. Toward the end of the month our meat supply is usually goneso we switch to alternatives. We don’t use soy-based alternatives; we use beans. I generally buy dried beans and cook them in bulk in my slow cookers, then freeze for future use.
Try this: Stuff large, cooked pasta shells with a mixture of beans, cheese and enchilada sauce (or salsa, whatever you have). Cover with a bit of sauce and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.
Try this: Use black beans and rice instead of meat as a taco/enchilada/burrito filling
Try this: Lentil and Rice Salad makes a filling, wholesome meal.
Try this: When making beef stew add extra chunks of potatoes and carrots instead of meat, it’s just as filling.
I could write up a zillion posts about ways to stretch meat or avoid it altogether (maybe I will!)
Do you know of a way to make meat stretch? Share with us!