Friday, June 17, 2011

saving money while eating healthy: meat/poultry/fish

in part one, i shared my tips on saving money on produce. today i am going to focus on meat and other animal proteins, which i see to be a foundation of a healthy diet.


meat (and by "meat", i include fish and poultry) is one of those categories that i really wont compromise that much on.  because of that, it can be one of the pricier things in our budget, but there are lots of ways that i save money even in the midst of that.

what do i look for when i buy meat?

meat has a lot of potential for nutrient density if it is quality, and a lot of potential for bacterial contamination and high chemical concentration if it is not quality.  though it is much more expensive, my research has led me to believe it is worth the investment to buy organic meat, for a few reasons:

1. bacterial contamination (including salmonella in poultry and e. coli in beef) is much lower in organic meat (source).

2. organic meat, and especially pasture-raised meat is significantly higher in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin e, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins (source). (this is also true of factory farmed vs. wild caught fish)

3. in general, organic meat animals are much more humanely treated than conventional animals.  i know that God gave humans the earth and told us to subdue it, and i know that he has given us animals for the purpose (among other things) of eating them, but i also know that abusing them does not please him.  any account you read about a typical factory farm is disgusting: animals are given no room to exercise or roam, they are literally fed garbage (including food scrapings from restaurants and old expired potato chips... even though all science points to the fact that cows should ONLY be eating grass), and they often stand in excrement up to their knees.  not only is this bad for the animals, but do you really want to be eating something that lived in its own excrement?  this is also the reason that animals are given so many antibiotics, because they are unhealthy to begin with, and then they live so close together that disease spreads very easily (antibiotics... another thing i prefer not to eat with my meat!).

4. artificial hormones in meat are linked to breast cancer and early puberty (source).  not something that i want for myself or my children.

5. people usually only think of pesticides when it comes to produce, but conventional meat can have much higher concentrations of pesticides.  this is because the animals absorb the pesticides (and other chemicals) from their feed and it accumulates in their bodily tissue (meat and fat).  its like the saying "you are what you eat"... except that "you are what you eat eats"!

there is a lot more i could write about this topic, but if you want to read more, i recommend as a great resource for more info on this topic.

long story short, i will only buy organic meat.  i also avoid cured meat (ie hot dogs, lunch meat, sausage) that contain nitrates, which have been linked to birth defects, cancer and thyroid dysfunction.

how do i save money on meat?

since there are rarely coupons for meat (and much less often for organic meat!) there are several strategies that i use to save money on meat:

*stock up during sales.  recently, i was able to buy organic, grass-fed ground beef for an amazing price (cheaper than the price of conventional beef!).  Now about a fourth of our freezer is filled with ground beef (i bought about 30 pounds!).  i also do this with fish, and sometimes poultry.

*cook and use whole chickens, rather than just certain cuts (like the american favorite: boneless, skinless breast meat).  not only is this cheaper (for organic chicken, about $2.50/lb for a whole chicken vs. $7.99/lb for boneless, skinless breast) but it is also healthier to get the nutrients from all parts of the chicken, you can make homemade bone broth, and it is also better stewardship (and better for the environment) to use all of the chicken, rather than select parts. to learn more tips on using whole chickens, read here.

*i haven't been able to do this myself (due to a lack of farms in my area) but buying meat direct in bulk from a farmer can save a lot of money.  the other advantage to this is that you can ask lots of questions to your farmer about the living conditions of the animal.  many beef farmers offer the option to buy 1/4 or 1/8 of a cow.  other farmers will offer a discount to buy multiple (something like 10 or more) whole chickens. has a great listing of farmers who sell directly their pastured meat.

*canned fish is nearly always cheaper than fresh or frozen.  though i still buy fresh/frozen fish because of my concerns with BPA in the can lining, it does save us a lot of money to eat canned about half the time when eating fish.  with the canned fish i make things like salmon burgers, tuna melts, tuna avocado salad and salmon salad.  canned fish is also great because we always have plenty available (thanks to my bulk purchases!) and it doesn't require any defrosting or cooking.  make sure to look for "wild caught" on the label of the can. (side note: wild caught canned salmon is pretty low in mercury, but canned tuna has more.  pregnant women like me should eat about one can or less of tuna per week, and stick to chunk light tuna rather than solid white albacore tuna.  chunk light is cheaper anyways... score!)

*stretch the meat.  these days, we rarely eat whole cuts of meat.  instead, i usually make dishes where i can more easily stretch the meat by chopping it in small pieces (ie tacos, stir fry, etc.).  Beans are a great way to stretch meat, since they are high in protein and offer a similar texture (in a dish like chili or burritos).  vegetables cut up in really small pieces are another way to stretch meat (such as in meatloaf, meatballs or homemade sausage).  some people also use grains (like rice or bread crumbs) to stretch meat, but i try to avoid this because of the low nutrient content of grains.

*make one meatless meal per week.  though i am not like some people who believe that going meatless is healthier, it definitely is much cheaper.  some of my meatless meal faves are black bean soup, bean and cheese burritos, sloppy lentils and egg frittatas (the three recipes i linked to are also crock-pot recipes, making them a time saver as well as a money saver!).  eggs and beans are the foundation of most of our meatless meals.  beans are especially frugal and are great because you can usually use bone broth in some way in any recipe that calls for beans, which give a meaty taste to the dish without actually using meat (great for hubbys who prefer meat in all of their meals!).

what do you look for when you buy meat?  how do you save money while doing so?

go on to part three, about dairy and eggs...

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