You know that the mass manufactured meat available here in America is horrible, what with its hormones, GMO’s, antibiotics, occasionally horrifying additives (pink slime, anyone?), and other hair-raising issues. But what’s a girl to do when that’s exactly what’s available at the local grocery store… and for half the price (or less) of the good stuff?!
I hear you. That’s exactly why my family has only been enjoying grass-fed meat and dairy products for the past year or two instead of all our lives. The good stuff – pastured, grass-fed, local beef, chicken, pork and other meat & dairy – is pricey to say the least, often twice the cost of its conventional counterparts. Daunting, to be sure!
But it IS possible to work grass-fed meats into your budget, I promise. Here are a few tips that helped me work the healthiest meat possible into my family’s budget. (Keep in mind, by the point I started to add grass-fed pastured meat & dairy into the picture, I’d already gotten to the point where just about everything else we buy is traditional/clean/whole foods and totally from scratch. Removing processed packaged foods from the diet significantly reduces your grocery budget in the first place.)
1. Start small.
Instead of instantly replacing all your conventional meat purchases with the healthier grass-fed variety, start small. Every little bit helps and is a step in the right direction!
Here are a couple ways you could begin incorporating more grass-fed and pastured meats into your grocery budget:
- Start with whole chickens or ground beef. Those tend to be the cheaper options and also more readily available at regular grocery stores.
- Start with one kind of meat. For example, if you normally eat beef, chicken, and pork, choose just one of them to begin your grass-fed experiment. (I vote for beef because it’s the most noticeable improvement in taste and texture, in my opinion.)
- Start with just one package. If all you can afford in a week or a month is one package of grass-fed ground beef, then do just that! Buy everything else conventional for now.
2. Keep your eyes peeled for sales and markdowns.
Before I committed to only purchasing pastured meats, I bought them whenever I could simply by keeping my eyes peeled for deals. They don’t go on sale in the traditional sense very often, but you can frequently find them on markdown in some grocery stores.
In my personal experience, Safeway and Harris Teeter (and occasionally Wegmans) were the stores in my area that most frequently had marked-down grass-fed meat available. I suggest doing some reconnaissance in your area and noting which stores seem to have that type of meat available; also consider asking the butcher when they mark down the meat.
Whole Foods is one store that will have sales on grass-fed meat because they carry more of it than most other grocery stores. So if you live near one, keep an eye on their sales and take advantage of them when they happen.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway… when you find a great deal, STOCK UP to the extent that you can. Clean that store out of their grass-fed, baby!
3. Purchase directly from the farm.
When I say directly from the farm, I mean it literally. Most of the meat I purchase comes directly to me from the farms via their internet ordering systems. I haven’t found that any local store, including Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, has as good a price on their pastured meat as what I’m able to get by ordering directly from local farms. Ordering or purchasing directly from the farm is also cheaper than purchasing at a farmers’ market (I’m assuming the price is higher there because of the overhead costs).
I will say that it has taken a significant amount of internet research and local networking to find the best prices in my area. Most farms don’t spend a lot of money on advertising, and not all of them have an internet presence, so you’ll probably have to do a little digging in your area. Some suggestions for your search:
- Join local email lists and Facebook groups that focus on natural or organic living. With any luck, those folks will already have a directory in the files somewhere with the info you’re seeking. If not, just ask around there.
- Snap up pamphlets at the local library, coffee shop, health food store, etc. Some farms will have printed advertising material posted in such places.
- Ask around your friends. The very first farm I ever ordered from was recommended to me by a local friend.
- Search on localharvest.org. It’s the largest directory for local food that I know of. Also try eatwild.com.
- Use a search engine and google various terms. Searching different terms (grass-fed meat in __your location___, grass-fed delivery, pastured meat, local farms, etc.) will bring up different results and broaden your choices.
If you live in a reasonably rural area, you might be able to save on delivery costs by driving directly to farms and picking up your orders there. The farms I order from are just enough out of my way that it’s worth it for me to order for delivery, but if I lived a few miles closer (and didn’t work full-time) I’d go pick up my orders in person. Also, many farms arrange local pick-up spots that are also cheaper than direct delivery. Take that into consideration when researching pricing.
4. Purchase roasts.
Not only are roasts cheaper per pound than many other cuts of meat, they go farther than most other cuts also, especially if you shred the meat once it’s cooked. A 3-lb roast can last a good 3 meals in my family, and can be disguised creatively so we don’t get tired of it. Once a roast is cooked, you can take a small portion of it, chop or shred it, and add it to pastas, pizzas, casseroles, salads, and sandwiches.
For more tips on sticking to your grocery budget while eating healthy, nourishing foods, be sure to read Your Grocery Budget Toolbox, chock-full of strategies and practical methods for cutting costs without cutting quality.
5. Buy in bulk. Split with friends.
By far the cheapest way to buy pastured meat is to buy in bulk, by which I mean purchasing a whole cow or pig at a time. Most farmers also offer the option of purchasing a half or even quarter cow or pig also. The biggest problem most people have is that they don’t have the storage space (i.e. a big enough freezer) for all that meat, so that’s where your friends come in. This is where it’s helpful to be networking amongst like-minded local folks, so you can organize a bulk meat co-op or join in on one that’s already been organized.
In my area, I can save probably a good $2/lb by purchasing meat in this manner instead of buying individual pieces at a time. Do keep in mind that purchasing in bulk means you get a wide variety of cuts, some of which you may or may not be familiar with.
6. Stretch with less popular cuts, organ meats, bones, etc.
I have to admit this is the part I’m still working on. I haven’t been able to work up my nerve to order cow tongue yet, but I have ordered marrow bones and liver! As I advised above, start where you’re comfortable and work from there. Most people can stomach purchasing bones and using them for broth, so start there if nothing else! You’ll get a lot of bang for very little buck.
One little tip about liver: if you don’t like the taste (we don’t) and prefer not to eat it straight-up, you can grind it in a blender or food processor (Total ick but if I did it, so can you!), freeze it in ice-cube trays and then add a cube or two to ground beef when you brown it. You won’t be able to taste the difference, and it will add extra nutrition to your spaghetti. Not to mention it stretches that pricey ground beef a little!
7. Reduce meat consumption.
If you’re paleo or grain-free, this idea won’t work so well for you, but for everyone else, it’s an option to consider. I have a friend who stretches her ground beef by adding lentils to it, which is a great place to start. You could also try “Meatless Mondays”, or focus on making meat the side dish of your meal and not the main dish. For example, top a salad with it, or mix some chopped meat into a filling pasta dish. I also typically have one dinner a week that is based on fish rather than meat. A well-chosen can of tuna (taking care where it originates, how it’s caught, and how it’s packaged) still costs less than a pound of meat and forms the basis for a nutritious and filling meal.