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Meal planning – on a budget – can be frustrating when you have fussy kids. You get stuck in a meal rut of what they will and won’t eat. So I’m trying some “new” recipes this week using meat as the main event with just a few veggies. As opposed to my usual one-pot style meals with lots of veggies. You know, the unpopular frugal meals with ingredients that are touching each other. I usually don’t buy a lot of meat, or try to stretch it thinly where I can. I guess this stems from a childhood where money was tight, and my granny always made a tiny bit of beef go round about 10 of us. Meat is on the menu 4 times this week, which in theory, could get expensive. So I want to share how I save money, and how you can save money on your meat, making your food go further.
Honey and Lemon Chicken with Garlicky Green Beans with Noodles
Beef Stroganoff with Gigli
Fish fingers, Chips and Salad
Vegetarian Sausages with Mash, Peas and Onion Gravy
Save Money on Your Meat
Beef is on the above menu twice, and it isn’t cheap. Also, the above two dishes require a cut of steak that’s going to be pleasant on the palate and easy on the teeth (especially where children are concerned). Usually, my go-to cheap cut for beef is “stewing steak”, which needs to be cooked slowly to tenderise the meat.
But I needed something that would still be a crowd-pleaser when cooked quickly. Rib-eye and sirloin aren’t an option when you’re trying to keep costs down. Rump isn’t that much cheaper and I’m not sure it would supply the required result anyway.
Enter flank skirt steak.
Named skirt because when you hold it up, it hangs like a skirt. Apparently the key is to cut it along the grain, rather than against the grain, to maximise tenderness in cooking. The problem is that most supermarkets don’t tend to name the different types of cut when it comes to the meat in the fridges, so it’s often guess work.
Which is why I like to use the butcher. I wanted to use my local butcher and was prepared to take a special trip away from the supermarket. However, I decided to check out the meat counter at Tesco while I was doing my shopping, and was pleased to discover they had skirt steak there for £0.95 per 100g.
I asked for 600g and asked the butcher to split it into two lots of 300g for my two meals. After weighing it out, the whole lot came to £5.65 – so £2.83 for each meal option.
The result of using a cheaper cut of steak
The first meal of Beef with Black Bean Sauce and Egg Fried Rice went down pretty well. The girls didn’t eat their vegetables, but they did eat the beef and the rice (good enough for me as they eat plenty of fruit throughout the day). First of all, I sliced it thinly along the grain. After frying off the broccoli and peppers with some garlic, I flash-cooked the steak to seal it. I’ve read that you shouldn’t over-cook it as it can stiffen the meat, making it tough. I added the sauce, then placed the whole dish in the oven to keep warm while I made the rice. The result? Delicious, tender strips of beef, happy, satisfied tummies and one relieved mother!
There are other cheaper cuts of steak which are perfect for different meal types. One of my favourites for when we fancy a little treat is to ask the butcher for flat iron, or feather, steak. It’s a cut from the shoulder blade which has a sinew down the middle, and you need to ask the butcher to remove that. But the result is a beautiful, tender piece of meat that is perfect for a traditional steak and chips. And it’s a fraction of the price of fillet.
It’s worth speaking to your local butcher next time you go shopping, to ask what cheaper cuts they can recommend for a particular dish. A good butcher could also tell you how to cook it to get the best result.
When it comes to chicken, I’m quite wary of what I’m buying – I don’t like the idea of chicken that’s been pumped full of hormones and water – so I won’t buy cheap. I’d prefer to buy organic but it’s a lot more expensive, so I generally go for the middle-range, or boneless and skinless chicken thigh. Chicken thigh is a lot cheaper than breast meat, but if I do buy breast meat, I buy a big pack and split it.
This week I bought a pack of chicken breasts for £5.50 from the supermarket, which was conveniently packaged in two separate detachable packs. If they’d been packaged as one, I’d have split the pack three ways.
I don’t feel great about buying pre-packaged food due to the amount of plastic and the effect on the environment. Sometimes I visit our local butcher, where I can get a pack of 8 chicken breasts for £10 (£2.50 per portion of 2 breasts). Not only is it better for the economy to buy local, it’s also using less packaging.
It’s worth considering thigh meat if you don’t already. As well as being cheaper, it doesn’t tend to dry out like breast meat can. When cooked in a stew or a curry, it comes out beautifully soft and tender.
But there’s more to life than chicken
I love chicken, but it’s good to mix things up a bit.
Minced beef is another product I buy in bulk. I split the pack into two or three (depending on my budget and the size of the pack I’ve bought), use one, and put the rest in the freezer. Sometimes I add red lentils to bulk out a meal. They soften well, tend to go unnoticed in a meal and add extra protein.
We also split large joints of meat that are on offer. I’ll often use the leftovers in other recipes, like chicken in special fried rice, or a home-made chicken pie. Another favourite is a beef curry using leftover slow-cooked brisket.
A pork shoulder joint makes fantastic pulled pork when cooked slowly. It simply falls apart and melts in your mouth. The flavoursome leftover meat can then be used in a variety of dishes.
Pork mince or turkey mince make great burgers with the addition of apple or carrot for a touch of hidden veg. They also make a good meat alternative for bolognese, and are cheaper and healthier (turkey is leaner) than ground beef.
Ultimately, it’s all about experimenting and finding what works for you and your family. But hopefully this has given you some ideas to mix up your own meal plan on a budget. With a little forward thought (and a lot of patience), there are plenty of ways to save money on meat when meal planning.