'Meating' half way when cooking on a budget

March 08, 2012|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

OK, meat mavens. Don't get your ham hocks in a huff.

I'm not trying to run off with your rump roast.

But, as a being with a passably functional brain, I can't help but notice the gouge that animal protein puts in a grocery bill.

The first time I went as a young adult to buy ground veal for my family's traditional meatball recipe, I thought the butcher had a sort of mad cow disease of his own. I went on to discover the cost of grilling steaks even for a small gathering, or buying enough ground beef for a hearty pot of chili.

I'd always heard that cash-strapped college students ate mac and cheese and spaghetti. A pot of potatoes and vegetables was called "poor man's stew." People in underdeveloped countries ate rice and beans. I began to get the picture — you want to eat cheap, scrap the meat.

Fortunately for me, I'm not a meat lover. I eat it here and there, but I don't typically like a big piece of animal on my plate. Though I might get a hankering for a thick, juicy steak a couple times a year, on an average day, a couple bites of chicken or beef will do me.

I realize this might be unthinkable for the rough 'n' tumble, meat-and-potatoes type. And I am not suggesting a diet of tofu and edamame.But even one meatless dinner a week would boost the bottom line.

Consider this: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of a pound of sirloin is $6.20, compared with 90 cents for a 15-ounce can of beans. So if a family of four replaces a steak dinner costing about $9.30 for 1 1/2 pounds with a fresh bean and vegetable salad — $1.80 for two cans of beans — once a week, they will save $7.50. After a year, that's roughly $400.

If the thought of a meatless meal is too much to bear, how about eating half the meat and twice the veggies? Besides the grocery bill savings, you could arguably reap health benefits and potential savings on medical costs over time.

Chances are you might discover a world of delicious food you've never dreamed of. My family was pleasingly surprised by a meatless three-bean sloppy joe. They are satisfied with a creamy soup, salad and crusty whole grain bread, or a pepper stuffed with rice, corn and beans.

For meatless meal recipes, check out MeatlessMondays .com, a site inspired by presidents Wilson, Truman and Roosevelt urging the nation to go meatless on Mondays during the world wars. The site features dozens of tasty ideas, from roasted root vegetables to enchiladas and lasagna.

Other sites, like, offer eggplant sandwiches, loaded baked potatoes, pastas and a salad pizza.

There will be no swearing off meat here. But I also won't be missing out on other veggie-based meals and the money I save in the process.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

The Herald-Mail Articles