March 5, 2008

Rising Grocery Costs - The Meat of the Matter

Probably no single category takes a bigger chunk of your grocery dollar than meat. As I wrote in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book, "To save money, you MUST reduce serving portions, learn to use cheaper cuts, buy the specials, use substitutes, and comepare the costs of various cuts." That's still good advice.

First servings, both how many times a week (and day) you serve meat (and "meat" includes poultry and fish) and also the size of individual portions served. Do you feel that each meal, or even two meals a day, needs to have a meat base? Rethink! How many times a day/week you serve meat is crucial to saving money. Aside from the farm-table-tradition of meat-and-potatoes, why is meat on the menu? Protein and iron, right? Both are easily and less expensively available from other sources, foods that may also be healthier. One simple example? Thai hot peanut sauce served with whole wheat pasta (recipe follows). If you're not already having at least some meatless meals each week, start now with just one. Beans, brown bread and cole slaw. A spicy and filling African stew, thick with chick peas, squash and richly tempting with fragrant seasongings. The possibilities are endless and delicious!

Thai Hot Peanut Sauce

1/2 c water
1/2 crunchy peanut butter sauce
1 TPSP soy sauce
1 TBSP vinegar
1/2 tsp (or more!) hot red pepper flakes or a dab of Thai chili garlic paste is excellent
1/3 - 1/2 c scallions or chives, finely cut
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced (bottled garlic is fine)
whole wheat pasta

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Setting aside a few scallions or chives for garnish, combine all other ingredients in a small saucespan and heat slowly, stirring to blend. This is a delicious, kid-doing-easy, and inexpensive recipe that truly can be made last-minute.

Next, look at portions of the meats you do serve. The old serving standard of a piece of meat the size of a deck of cards for an adult is still valid. Remind yourself of that by setting a deck of cards in the middle of your supper table for a while. Maybe that will help keep family members from reaching for that second hamburg patty or slice of chicken. If you're the family dinner server, consider limiting what you put on the table. One piece of meatloaf per person instead of the meatloaf itself, too readily available for second servings.

One word of caution here: It's very easy to get in the habit of using cheese, in all its wonderful and tasty forms, as a meat substitute. While many cheeses do offer quality protein, etc. many are also high in saturated fats and should be limitied. As a vegetarian, I can certainly attest to how very tempting cheeses can be! To be honest, after having had a serious sweet tooth all my life, I now find it easier to resist a brownie than a chunk of blue cheese!

In our next visit, let's look at the various cuts of meat and how they might offer savings.


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