Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where's the beef?

Previously I covered various ways to shop for fruits and veggies, this week we’re moving on to meat.   Meat is an item that I plan for differently from my fruits and vegetables.  I have a basic meal plan of which meat I’m going to serve which days and I shop based on that, whereas with vegetables I start with what I have/what’s in season and plug that into my meal plan.
As with vegetables, there are a few different methods for purchasing meat depending on your priorities.
Method One-Grocery Store
Sketch out a basic meal plan for which meat you will eat over a two to three month time period.  (I have a basic two week rotating meal plan that I change out with the seasons, example below.) Start watching the prices of meat at the grocery store when you shop or look at the ads.  When a particular kind (that you actually eat) goes on sale, buy enough for two-three months (most items go on sale about every 12 weeks) and freeze what you won’t use in the next couple of days.  It will take you a little bit of time to build up a stockpile of meat in the freezer, so at first you might spend more as you are buying what you need for a week or two plus what you will need for three months of what is on sale. Eventually you won’t need to pay full price for meat, unless you’re in a pinch.
Advantages to this method overall is the cost.  However, I don’t use this method because of the quality of meat that you find at the grocery store.  Do your research.  Whether or not you have opinions regarding animal cruelty, I have qualms with eating meat that came from sickly animals because of my own health.
Method Two-Coop
Just as there are coops for produce, there are also coops that you can join for purchasing natural or organic meat.  Normally the coop host places an order every month or two months, and you pick up your order on a set day.  With this method, you also need to plan for your family’s needs over a period of time.  By purchasing with a group of people directly from the farmer, you have the opportunity to purchase higher quality, healthier meat at a lower price than you can purchase it at the grocery store. 
Method Three-Meat Market/ Rancher
A meat market or the rancher himself can also provide the opportunity to purchase higher quality meat than you find at the store.  Some ranchers sell their meat directly to customers via phone or internet or have a store set up for purchases.  You may have to make a drive to purchase as most ranches are not within large cities, or you can ask about their delivery options.  Many farmers have websites where you can read about their products and their story before making the trek.  It is also pretty common for large purchases to receive a discount. You may even be able to get a friend to split a large purchase with you.
Saving $$$$$
Tip #1-Cut back on meat
Higher quality meat does cost more than sale prices at the grocery store.  We help curb those costs by not eating meat every day.  Yes, our kids are healthy and eat very well.  Meat is not the only source of protein and studies have shown that it is healthier to eat less meat than is typical in the American diet.  If eating less meat is scary to you, try eating one meal a week without meat and see how you like it. 
Tip #2-Menu planning
Below is my menu plan which I refer to as my Dog Days menu. It is really really hot here, and I do not want to heat up my house any more than I have to.  Saturday’s and Sunday’s meal can be cooked on the grill. The others can be made in the crock pot or do not require much cooking. Make your own salad night is one of my kid’s favorites. Not included below is that we eat salad and/or other vegetables with every meal. (Monday is the only one I’ve ever made up a name for prior to this post, but I didn’t want the other days to feel left out. And I know the table is off centered, I just don't know how to fix it!)
Sizzling Saturday
Super Sunday
Meatless Monday
Tasty Tuesday
Wacky Wednesday
Veggie Thursday
Fun Friday
Pineapple Teriyaki Burgers or plain burgers on whole wheat buns
Beef Kabobs
Make your own salad night
BBQ Chicken
(crock pot)
Southwest Bean Salad
(Cold dish made from leftover or canned black beans.)
Hummus & Veggies
(Hummus can be made in advance.)
Fruit & Waffles
(Waffles can be premade and frozen.  Reheat in toaster.)
Brats & Dogs on whole wheat buns (This is kind of a cheat meal. Pick hot dogs without MSG, etc.)
Chicken Fajitas
Black Beans (crock pot) & Rice (can be premade)
Chicken Burritos
(Use leftovers from fajitas and black beans.)
Fish and/or Curried Brown Rice (can use leftover brown rice)
Stuffed Peppers
(You can use leftovers or get creative with the stuffing.)
(This is use it up or toss it night before coop pick up.)

Because I get my vegetables from a coop, I tweak it as needed.  For example, if I didn’t get peppers in the coop pick up, I’ll do grilled chicken instead of fajitas, and will cook the vegetable I have in some way instead of making stuffed peppers.  And sometimes we go out or to friends or family one night.  This just gives me a starting point so I’m not recreating the wheel every single week, and I know that I have enough food on hand for the week. 
Tip #3:
Always look ahead to the next day’s dinner before you go to bed in case you need to pull something from the freezer or prep food for the crock pot.  When school is in session, we look ahead at our meal plan and pre-make some items to save us time during the week. It may seem like more work, but once you get in a groove, planning ahead saves you so much time and money in the long run! (Less last minute stops at the store or drive-thru!)