Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saving Money on Main Dishes

I am old fashioned. I plan all my meals around the main dish which is usually meat. My husband loves meat. When he cooks, which is rare, he makes 3 different meats and maybe green beans and a potato.

Meat is the most expensive ingredient in just about every meal. Here are five ways to save money and serve delicious, home cooked, nutritious meals.

1. Buy less expensive cuts of meat.
2. Stock up on meat when it is on sale if you have room in your freezer.
3. Stretch the meat in your main dishes by cooking casseroles, soups, and stir frys.
4. Stretch the meat in your main dishes by adding rice, noodles, and grains to your meat.
5. Have a cheese, egg, or bean main dish meal once a week.

I myself buy inexpensive cuts of meat and use my freezer to stock up when meat is on sale. Steaks, pot roast, turkey, and ham are rare treats and bought only on sale or for special occasions. Here is what I buy and how I use it:

The cheapest cuts of beef are hamburger and round steak. I like to buy huge quantities of lean ground beef and round steak. I make hamburger patties and divide the rest into one pound packages and freeze in separate packages for easy defrosting. Ground beef will keep for 3-4 months and round steak will keep 6-12 months. (Put in freezer bags and wrap with freezer paper or aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn.) Hamburgers, chili, tacos, meatballs, spaghetti, pasta dishes, and casseroles can be made easily from this supply of ground beef. Round steak can be simmered, barbequed, or marinated and it can be made into vegetable soup, pepper steak, stir frys, Swiss steak, or chicken fried steak – there are dozens of recipes to try. Just remember that round steak needs a little tenderizing. Add some vinegar or tomatoes or tenderizer before or during cooking.

Pork chops, sausage, and pork tenderloin are my favorite money savers. Pork chops and pork tenderloin can be frozen for 3-4 months and sausage is good for 1-2 months. Pork chops can be fried, grilled, simmered, or shake and baked. Pork tenderloin is delicious cooked in the oven or crock pot. Sausage can be used in pasta dishes, pizza, breakfast dishes, or cooked with red beans and rice or peppers.

I buy large packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, canned chicken, and rotisserie chicken. It seems like you get more meat for your money than if you bought whole chicken parts unless you find a really good sale on them. Chicken breasts can be frozen for 9 months. There are many, many good chicken recipes. Rotisserie chicken is usually cheaper than roasting your own chicken and the leftovers can be used in soups, salads, sandwiches, and casseroles.

I don’t really care for fish. Once in a while I will buy a few fresh catfish fillets from the grocery store and fry them or eat a can of tuna for lunch. Tuna noodle casserole is a very good money saving main dish.

Cheese and eggs
Pasta dishes, frittatas, pizza, or even breakfast for dinner are all good money saving meals. Eggs cannot be frozen but most cheeses can be frozen for a month or longer.

Beans and rice
To be honest, it is hard to find a bean or rice dish that tastes very good without meat but there are a few.

Lunch Meats
Ham, turkey, and roast beef make good sandwiches but are pretty expensive. Limit purchases of these items and try to eat leftovers, soup, and peanut butter, tuna, or toasted cheese sandwiches if you are trying to save money. Hotdogs are a good value but have little nutritional value so they shouldn’t be served frequently. Cold cuts and hot dogs can be frozen for 2-3 months.

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