If someone told you there was one secret to losing weight, improving your health and keeping more of your money in the bank, would you be curious?
Believe it or not, there is one thing you can do to both improve your overall health outcomes and reduce your family food budget. That one thing is:
Reduce the amount of meat your family consumes.
Really. When I look at our food budget, it is obvious when we have a meat-heavy week and when we have a lighter week. Meat is expensive to produce and expensive to purchase. And reducing the amount of meat we eat in our diet has contributed to some major improvements in our weight and health statistics.
Am I telling you to become a vegetarian? No, and for the record, I am not a vegetarian, although I do love plant-based meals. And not all vegetarian fare is healthy (see: French Fries and Funnel Cake). Reducing the amount of animal protein you consume is not the same as eliminating it. You could try one night a week and move it to two or maybe three. How do you do this without a family riot? Here are some suggestions!
Reduce! Use smaller amounts of meat combined with lots of vegetables.
For centuries, humans used meat primarily as a seasoning for vegetables and other carbohydrates like grains. The concept of the large roast dinner (roast beef, full ham, steak and potatoes) came primarily after WWII, when war rations were lifted and middle class Americans suddenly had access to factory farmed (less expensive) meat. Before that, home cooks were creative in stretching a little bit of meat a long way. Actually, most of the rest of the world still does. How do you do that? Here are some ideas:
- Stir fry—protein + vegetables + rice
- Stews—protein + vegetables + potatoes
- Pizza—protein + vegetables + dough
- Casseroles—protein + vegetables + noodles + sauce
Go Meatless and Fun!
Meatless Monday has taken off in homes, hospitals, schools and corporate cafeterias across the country. Going meatless can be a fun challenge! Think your family won’t eat a vegetarian entrée? Check out these ideas:
Family Pizza Contest—We make our own whole wheat crust and family members can make their own special (often secret) pizza using ingredients from the farmer’s market. Once the pizzas are cooked we convene for a pizza tasting and vote for the best pizza. There is always a good time and often a lot of smack talk among contestants. Usually we are surprised—kale on pizza? Yes!
Salad-Palooza—Sometimes family members (especially younger members) just want to have some control over their situation. We shred some fresh lettuce and cut up small bowls of all kinds of vegetables and toppings. Then, everyone makes their own salad their way. No judging. Some of our favorite topics include broccoli, chopped cucumber, chopped red peppers, hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, shredded cheese, olives, and dried fruit. This is a great way to get rid of small amounts of leftover vegetables as well!
Rediscover a favorite—You probably already eat some vegetarian dishes and just didn’t think of them that way. Seeing them in a new light not only makes going meatless seem less intimidating, but it also makes us appreciate some foods we don’t often think about. These familiar dishes are all meatless (although they do involve dairy):
- Spaghetti with marinara sauce
- Grilled cheese and tomato soup
- Corn and potato chowder
- Macaroni and cheese
- Peanut butter (or almond butter) and jelly sandwiches
- Refried bean burritos and guacamole
- Homemade or vegetarian egg rolls
Find Something New—With all the food porn on Pinterest, have your family search for vegetarian dishes that are beautiful and look delicious. Then make them! Again with the control, children aren’t asked very often to choose what everyone eats. They may really get a kick out of it. You could even make the person who chose the dish a dinner ambassador or some other honor. If you have teenagers, let THEM make dinner (you will be surprised).
Go with Stealth—Just don’t tell them. You don’t have to make a big production over going meatless. Sometimes I wait until everyone is finished eating and announced, “Hey, isn’t that amazing–that was a VEGETARIAN dinner!” At first, we had some surprised looks, now it’s just funny.
Use Unusual Cuts of Meat
Steaks, roasts and chops can be a bit pricey. But what about oxtail, shanks, hangar steaks or cheeks? There are cuts of meat that traditionally are underused and much less expensive to buy. Why? Some require longer cooking times and other cuts have just gone out of popularity with the rise of the steak. With a little love, these can be some of the most delicious meals around. Braised Beef Shank Ragu is one of our all-time favorites and makes the most of a less popular (and often less expensive) cut. Don’t know what to try? Ask your farmer or butcher. Anyone selling meat at your farmer’s market will know and will be able to give you some great recipes (and, there’s always Pinterest, right?).