No matter where you live, it happens every time you wheel your grocery cart into the check-out line. You’re buying the same things, but your total keeps creeping up. There’s no denying it: Food is much more expensive these days.
It doesn’t really matter if it’s a pandemic-era supply chain problem or blast-from-the-past inflation. Fruit and veggie prices are up a bit. Meat, though? Chicken, beef, turkey, and pork are all carrying much higher price tags right now. That can make it significantly harder to feed your family when you’re watching your budget.
Yes, it’s stressful. Stop and take a deep breath, though. Even if it’s the norm for you, there’s no rule saying you need to eat meat at every meal — or even every day. You’ll be happy to know there are some easy ways to reduce your family’s meat intake. Try these five options to put some money back in your pocket.
1. Check Out Plant-Based Protein
When you talk about a healthy diet, you hear a lot about lean protein. That’s not just chicken or fish, though. Plant-based protein can give you the nutrition you need for often times less money. Soy-based products such as tofu and tempeh are two of the most popular options. If you’re unsure you’ll like them, don’t wrinkle your nose just yet.
Choose the extra-firm variety and add it to chili or stew. Bake it in the oven and use it to top salads. Just be sure to season these plant-based protein sources well. With the right spices or sauces, you’ll easily fool your tongue.
Protein shakes are another great choice. Adding protein powder to your smoothies is a quick, easy way to meet your family’s daily protein needs. With a variety of flavors available, including vanilla, chocolate, or peanut butter, you can get creative. You can even pretend you’re running your own milkshake parlor!
2. Pick a Meatless Day
No one is saying you must give meat up cold turkey (pun intended, of course). You can choose to start small and back off one day at a time. Maybe it’s Tuesday or perhaps it’s Saturday. Select one day during the week and make it meatless. It’s an easy way to dip your toe into a less meaty lifestyle.
For those days when meat is a no-go, plan your recipes carefully. Choose ones that include vegetables you really enjoy. Pasta can be very filling, so think about adding in some noodles. Whatever you select, focus on big, bold flavors. The happier your taste buds are, the more satisfied you’ll feel. That makes it much easier to avoid any meat cravings.
3. Lean Into Lentils
These small, flat little legumes are often overlooked and are definitely underrated. They’re a frequent side dish in many cuisines, and they can be a super meat substitute if you give them the chance. Cook them in some low-sodium vegetable broth to maximize their flavor, then put them to work.
Substitute cooked lentils for a portion of the meat you use in some of your favorite recipes. If your family loves lasagna, trade out half the ground beef for brown or green lentils. Then, load up on a bunch of other veggies. Mushrooms, onions, zucchini, and squash are fantastic, healthy options for rounding out a dish that’s less meat-heavy.
4. Focus on What You’re Adding
It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that there’s less — or no — meat in your meals. Flip the script in your head and concentrate on all the yummy things you’re adding. You can fill that dinner plate real estate with tons of veggie options. The great news is veggies are bulky, so your tummy will feel happily full.
For example, mix it up on homemade pizza night. Instead of piling on the pepperoni or sausage, load up on spinach, olives, peppers, and broccoli. Alternatively, let pasta come to your meal-time rescue yet again. If you loved mac and cheese as a kid, you probably still do as an adult. It’s an easy, go-to dish that can also meet your protein needs.
The point is you have tons of meat-free options. When you realize all that’s available, you’re less likely to miss the meat.
5. Plan Ahead and Get Creative
If meatless cooking is a new thing for you, the thought may make you nervous. You may think you’re doomed to bland bowls of boiled Brussel sprouts or spoonfuls of brown rice. Think again. Vegetarian cooking is filled with flavor. It just takes a bit of mindfulness and preparation.
The most important thing is to keep your meals balanced. Pick your protein (maybe tofu or beans), and start building. Does your family love cheese? Consider veggie tacos with chunky butternut squash topped with cotija cheese crumbles one night. Think about basil pesto pasta with sauteed and seasoned extra-firm tofu for another meal. You can even liven up a tomato sandwich with smashed avocado, garlic salt, and black pepper.
While exploring plant-based options like tofu and beans is great for variety, it’s important to remember the unique benefits of farm-fresh meats. By purchasing directly from farms, consumers not only support local agriculture but also receive meats of superior quality and taste. This approach not only ensures a balanced diet but also connects you directly with the source of your food, allowing for a deeper understanding and appreciation of what you consume.” according to Peit “Rancher” Stofberg, CEO of We Speak Meat.
Take the time to plan, and you’ll find some amazing recipes. You could even discover your family’s new favorite go-to meals!
Going meatless — or even cutting back — may not be your No. 1 choice. There’s no denying it, though. Trying to put meat on the table every day could be squeezing your budget. Thankfully, there are delicious ways to work around the rising costs.
Go online, search for some new, exciting recipes, and give these tips a try. After a while, you may find you don’t even miss having meat on the plate. Bon appetit!