by guest blogger, Katie Short from Farm Girl Natural Foods
Fairly frequently over the years I have heard that while people prefer grass-fed and pastured meats, they simply can’t afford to eat them all the time. They often only purchase these pricier meats just for special occasions, relying more often on cheaper, lower quality options.
Just as often these people are surprised to hear that while I grow meat animals for a living, I don’t eat very much meat. That probably sounds crazy, and maybe it is a little. I love meat and it is included in nearly every meal of the day. But while delicious, I know very intimately how dang expensive it can be. [Here's a post I wrote on why you should pay more for grass-fed meats.]
If I wasn’t the grower, we couldn’t afford to buy such high quality grass-fed and pasture-raised animal products and it’s taken me years to learn how to eat in line with local and “organic” ideals while not breaking the bank.
In this light, I thought it might be fun to share some of my experience in living with less meat. Of course, this doesn’t mean depriving my family of meat when we would have otherwise enjoyed a boatload of it. Through a combination of tricks, we feel like we’re eating just as much meat as before when we’re actually spending less and eating about 2/3 as much of it. I am not claiming any level of expertise here; just passing along some things I’ve found work for my family and would love to hear your tips and ideas too.
1. More flavor
-First, I double the seasoning in nearly every recipe. Studies have shown that we often eat until our senses are satisfied as much, if not more than our stomachs. To this end, if there’s more flavor in the meal, we will likely feel satiated literally eating less of it. Experimentation is key here since it might take a little while to find just how much extra spice is still tasty and not overloaded.
-One of the great things about our meats (and those of many other local producers) is that it’s more flavorful, often more lean, and more healthful than it’s grocery store counter part. In a practical way, this means that each pound of meat can go further. In adding flavor and protein to a meal, our sausage can be just as satisfying in smaller quantities partly because there’s literally more meat per lb and partly because the flavors are so much better. Where I used to use a whole package for a meaty spaghetti sauce or veggie hash, I can now get away with just half a pound and we don’t even notice the difference. That’s two meals per pound where there would have been only one.
2. Mixing in other proteins
-Another trick is mixing in high quality whole grains and beans for added substance. Among my favorites are quinoa and lentils. These are both relatively new in my pantry and I’m totally in love with them, though for different reasons. Quinoa is quick to cook, has a stellar nutritional profile, and makes a fantastic substitute for rice and pasta in all my regular dishes. Since it’s high in protein and fiber, its also very filling and can make a meal that’s light on meat feel more substantial in your mouth and in your belly. About once a week I make a big pot of quinoa, which keeps well in the fridge for use over the next few days. I’ve even substituted it for pasta in lasagna with great success.
Lentils are my other go to. These guys come in an almost infinite array of varieties, which I am just beginning to explore. Like quinoa, they can be relatively quick to cook (much faster than other beans) and add a really nice heartiness. I especially like lentils mixed in stews and stir-fries. They’re also great mashed and mixed into burger meat. Both lentils and quinoa are readily available and are only marginally more expensive Certified Organic.
3. The two-meal rule
-Finally, I have an unofficial rule that every package of meat has to last for at least two meals. For sausage and ground meat, I usually brown the whole package and set half of it aside in the fridge for later in the week. Roasts make a great initial meal but also make fantastic left-over sandwiches, tacos, and when chopped “beef-up” a veggie stir fry nicely. Of course the bones and juices left from a roast, especially a crock pot roast, are the start of killer stock. I often save those by freezing it all in used yogurt tubs for a time when all the other stock ingredients (celery, carrots, etc) are readily available locally. Whole chickens can be 3 or even 4 meals if every scrap is saved this way.
-The essence here is not just thinking, “I’ll cook extra and save the leftovers for later” but planning from the outset to use that item for multiple meals.
-The big exceptions to this rule are pork chops and steaks. Unless either is ridiculously large, it’s pretty hard to have any leftover from a ratio of one steak per person. For this reason, we tend to save steaks and chops for more special meals when a little bit of luxury seems warranted. We still eat them, just not as often.
Here’s a link to the simplest and best basic quinoa recipe I’ve found yet. It’s just basic quinoa but it’s a great place to start. Julie has a yummy side dish recipe for quinoa, feta and chard here. Quinoa is one of the easiest grains to sprout which boosts the nutritional content even more (how to sprout quinoa here).
And my favorite meat-stretching recipes? Well, my all time favorite is the carnitas recipe found here at Real Food Little Rock. I make that one about once a week and use the left over pork for many meals, from pulled pork sandwiches to pizza.
Otherwise, this is my go-to 30-min skillet dinner. Serves 4. For an Asian flair, try sesame oil, ground beef or mild sausage, and toss in a handful of plain peanuts.
2-3 tbl coconut oil, olive oil, or lard
1 onion, diced
a couple cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped fine
Vegetables! These are all great options: A Half bunch of kale, ½ head cabbage chopped, a cup of purple hull peas, large handful of green beans, one yellow or zephyr squash sliced, diced eggplant, any tomatoes. The more variety, the better.
½ lb sausage, Cajun, chorizo, and jalapeno are all good options.
2 cups quinoa, whole wheat couscous, lentils, or precooked rice.
1. Begin preparing your quinoa or other base grain/pasta/bean.
2. Heat a heavy skillet (I use an extra large cast iron one) over medium heat. Add the oil and brown the sausage. I usually cook a whole package and set at least half aside for another meal.
3. Once evenly cooked through, remove the meat leaving any sausage grease and oil that may have accumulated in the pan- remember, this is antioxidant-rich healthy fat from happy pastured animals. It will boost the flavor of your whole dish while passing along great omegas and micronutrients. Now add onions and garlic and brown gently. If you are including eggplant, I recommend adding it now since it can take a little longer than other veggies.
4. After a couple minutes, add all the other, and toss. Cook for 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally.
5. Toss in your cooked sausage and stir.
6. Add half of your quinoa or lentils or couscous or whatever it is you have been preparing, reserving the rest for another time. I like to add it directly to the mix in the skillet and toss together, but you may prefer to serve your stir-fry over the top of your grains. Salt to taste and serve.