The grand entry of this series of blog posts prooooobably would have made a lot more sense if I posted my ‘food philosophies’ post first… Oh well. Tada! Here is my first Real Food on a Budget post. Once I post the food philosophies one, I will come back here and put a pretty linky link to it and it will all make so much more sense and everything will be right in the world.
IN A NUTSHELL: We eat a very small amount of grains, and when we do eat grains we eat only refined grains (woah, don’t freak out, I’ll explain it all later!), we eat loooots of grass-fed and free range meat and free range eggs, and fruit and veg, hardly any nuts or seeds, lots of dairy….
Now that that’s out of the way (for now), let’s focus on the meat part!
Because when you are grain free/low grain/paleo/primal/GAPS/whatever-you-are, you do tend to replace grains with more meat. And meat is more expensive than grains. Which sucks. Sorry, guys. I’m not going to lead you into some parallel universe in which meat is cheaper than grains. I would if I could. The fact of the matter is, the price of carbohydrates has reduced over the years while the price of proteins has increased. The biggest reason is because protein drives us. Not just us, but pretty much the entire animal kingdom. I was reading a really interesting chapter in a book recently, discussing scientific studies that relate to protein vs carbohydrates/energy consumption. In several studies, across several animal species, reasearchers found the same pattern of food-seeking behaviour; that each species had its own ideal protein consumption level, and that members of that species would repeatedly eat to meet that ideal protein level regardless of food available at the time, and regardless of simultaneous energy consumption. The thing is, proteins and carbs are bundled up together in natural foods (we’re talking here about a piece of fruit for example, rather than meat and three veg or a casserole, because these studies involved animals like rats and monkeys), but they’re bundled up in different quantities. For example, one type of fruit might have way more carbs relative to protein than another type of fruit. So, when animals had access to really energy rich (high carb) foods with lower protein levels, they were observed to way over-consume on carbs just to meet their protein requirements. And then sometimes, when the available foods had lower carb levels relative to protein, they would way under-consume on carbs to avoid over-consuming on protein. Protein is key. For sure, these studies were done on animals and not humans, so you can’t unequivocally say the same pattern is true for us. But to me, it seems so common sense, so instinctual, across a range of animals… And obviously the big protein-selling-corporation-guys think so too, because they have jacked up prices of protein while the big carb-selling-corporation-guys have reduced carb prices.
So, we’re still stuck on that one basic premise that we unfortunately can’t change – protein is expensive. Meat is expensive.
It’s up to us to get smart, to find ways to save our precious money. Because hey, even if you eat grains three times a day (please don’t do that), meat is still expensive. Even if you don’t consume as much meat as is recommended on diets like paleo/primal/GAPS, meat is still expensive. And we can all use a little extra pocket money, can’t we?
So here are my tips….
- Find a good butcher who sells grass fed, free range meat. A good butcher will have specials, a good butcher will have a reliable product. A good butcher will be able to tell you which cuts are cheapest and how to cook with the cheapest cuts. Ideally, find a butcher who sells meat that he farms himself (one less middleman generally means it will be cheaper, and your butcher is telling it like it is rather than how he has been told by the farmer that it is).
- Build a relationship with your butcher (no cheeky comments, ladies!). Shop with your butcher regularly, have conversations about how awesome the roast was on the weekend and how much the kids loved the sausages; become a ‘regular’. You might just find that you start to get little discounts here and there, or extras thrown in (free stock bones, anyone?). You will also get to know more about your butcher’s beliefs and therefore the meat that you are walking out the door with.
- Tell your friends about your awesome butcher. Okay, this one doesn’t benefit you, but your friends and your butcher will benefit, and we’re not on this beautiful planet alone.
- Get a chest freezer. This is something I did only a few months ago, and I can’t believe it took me so long! You can stock up on specials, and always have something on hand without sacrificing space in your normal freezer. And it will help hugely with number 5…
- Buy a side or a quarter of an animal. Per kilo, it is much cheaper than buying the individual cuts. Some butchers might even throw in the offal for free if you ask reeeeeally nicely. You can ask your butcher to butcher it for you, or you can take the whole hog (hahaha, bad pun, but I just had to do it) home with you and give it a whirl yourself. Another bonus? You force yourself to get creative in the kitchen! You will be cooking with cuts you haven’t cooked with before. That’s really exciting to crazy people like me!
- Visit the farm where your meat is raised, if you can. If you’re lucky enough to have a butcher who raises their own meat, that is. No cost benefit here, just more knowledge for you and peace of mind that what you’re buying is what you think it is.
- Read, read, read. There are so many recipes out there for using the ‘offcuts’. My favourite book for these things is the River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Not just for recipes or cooking techniques, but it is a hugely detailed and comprehensive meat bible. It tells you literally everything you want to know about meat (including how it is raised and the resulting meat, the best type of packaging, etc). I can’t recommend it enough.
- Save your bones. Sometimes you can’t get stock bones for free. Shame. Start a bag or container in your chest freezer for bones. When you have T bone steaks for dinner, add your bones to the bag. Cutlets, ribs, anything with a bone. Chuck them all in the bag and, when you have enough bones, make stock or bone broth. Has everyone eaten off their bones, caveman-style? Don’t stress. They go in my pot anyway. The way I see it, they’re going to boiled up anyway and any germies will get killed off then. But also, more power to your immune system.
- Buy meat nearing the use by date. Use your nose. You’ll save lots of money buying stuff that’s 20-30% off because it is nearing the end of it’s shelf life.
- Compromise. I buy meat that is not certified organic, because I buy meat from a butcher that I trust, who raises his own free range and grass fed beef and lamb. He meets the basic needs of organic certification, but hasn’t gone through the process.
- Investigate. Be loyal to your butcher, but not if it’s not working for you. Look into all the other options, and as new options come up, look into those too. Ask questions, get a real feel for each meat provider you come across and compare prices. I have done this, and still do, but find myself going back to the same butcher for various reasons (money, ethics, antibiotic use, packaging, and even just my gut feeling about one butcher I shopped with briefly).
The thing about good meat is that you don’t actually need much of it. Well-raised, well-matured, and well-packaged meat will taste far superior to the conventional stuff from Coles or Woolies. You will be more satisfied on a smaller amount because the flavour will be stronger and the nutritional value will be far better. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall goes into quite a bit of detail on this point in his River Cottage Meat Book. It’s fascinating stuff. So you will save money in buying more expensive meat, because you just won’t need as much of it.
Meat doesn’t have to be as expensive as it can very easily be. You just have to be committed. 🙂
What are your tips for saving money on meat?