40 Cents a Day

Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part One: Eat More Meatless Meals

1. Eat more meatless meals

“But my husband won’t eat meatless meals!” you say.

If he isn’t bringing home the bacon, you can’t cook it.

I know that sounds harsh, and it isn’t meant to be. I’ve talked with a lot of women who say that they drastically have to cut their food budget, and their husbands are insisting on meat at every meal.

If your income has been cut, you’re going to need to talk to your husband about the grocery budget. You’re going to have to be frank about what you can and cannot afford to eat. Meat is a huge and very expensive part of a grocery budget.

Some meals are easy to make meatless:  Chili, pizza, pasta dishes (think meatless spaghetti or fettuccine alfredo), baked potato bar, and bean burritos. My husband is the one who introduced me to bean burritos. They were a staple meal for us when we were first married, and the first time I stocked up on something in bulk, it was canned refried beans at .33 a can (the grocery manager ordered them for me while they were on sale) so that I could make these. Since then, I’ve learned to cook beans from scratch and make my own refried beans (my children like the beans whole in burritos) and I’ve made some changes to make them even tastier.

Black Bean Burgers 540

You can also substitute for the real thing. No one will think black bean burgers are meat, but they’re quite tasty and still fulfill nutritional needs.

Lentil tacos are another way to go. When we have tacos now, they’re always made with lentils.

If you need to fool the family, however, my meatless chicken fried steak recipe has fooled a lot of readers’ husbands and teen aged sons. I receive a lot of emails about this recipe. They all say, “I served this recipe to my family and my husband/teen aged sons loved it! Afterwards, I told them it was meatless, and they didn’t believe me! We will be making this recipe again.”

When I do buy meat, I have a strict limit on price. I don’t purchase meat over $2 a pound. Keeping my bill below $100 a month, however, has meant keeping that amount lower whenever possible, which means that I usually aim to keep my meat costs below .79 a pound.

Rather than buying meat all the time, I look for when the sales are super low, and I stock up and freeze the meat to use at other times.

What meat can you buy for under .79 a pound? This depends a great deal on where you live, as prices vary widely across the U.S. and certainly around the world, but where I live, I’ve found that I can usually buy:

Whole chickens for .69 to .79 a pound on sale throughout the year (I get the biggest chickens I can find, usually 4-5 pounds).

Ham goes on sale at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and at Easter. (I find the lowest prices at Christmas and Easter).

Turkey in November for Thanksgiving sales (they also go on sale at Easter, but they are usually a bit higher-priced per pound). I will buy as many as I can in November, as these have made up the bulk of our meat supplies for the last several years. I usually cook a turkey every 4-5 weeks.

We then work to stretch our meat purchases as much as possible.

If I cook a whole chicken, we’ll have a little chicken the first night, use the majority of the rest the second night in something, such as enchiladas or stir fry, and I’ll cook the carcass with any remaining meat attached for soup after that.  The meat portions are small, but we each get some, and then it isn’t another meatless meal.

I should mention that I plate out our meals. With many small children, we learned it was easier to cut everything up ahead of time. The bonus is that I can give them lots of vegetables, so I don’t have to worry about anyone not dishing up a vegetable for himself on his plate. Anyone can have seconds after he has eaten what is on his plate, but there are not usually seconds of meat.

We usually slice up our hams on our meat slicer for sandwiches. We’ll have a few meals of ham, some of ham and eggs, and then the rest will be used on pizza (where you don’t need a lot of meat to make everyone happy), for sandwiches (we don’t stuff the meat on sandwiches), and in crepes with cheese.

Turkeys are easy. I use them anywhere I would use chicken. Cooked turkey can be portioned out into freezer bags and used to throw in a lemon dill sauce over rice, in curry, in stir fry, in soups, in enchiladas, in cacciatore, etc. I have also sliced the turkey on my slicer to use for sandwiches, or we have shredded it to use for sandwiches. Lunchmeat at .67 a pound is wonderful!

I like other meats, too, but when ground beef and chuck roast rose from $1.99 a pound on sale to $3.49 a pound on sale, they priced themselves out of my budget. I did not buy any ground beef in 201,1 and I only bought in once in 2012 when a friend pointed out a sale for $1.99 a pound (I was also able to use $10 off on the purchase of it as well thanks to store coupons). I haven’t bought chuck roast since 2010. Pork roast is still on sale here for $1.89 to $1.99 a pound, but much less often than it used to be; I see it that price only about 3 times a year now. It is a much rarer treat for us to cook a pork roast, or to buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts (also on sale for $1.99)  because they are more than double the price of the meats I mentioned above.

In general, I cook 12 turkeys a year, 6-8 hams a year, 8-10 whole chickens a year, a few pork roasts, and some boneless skinless chicken breasts a few times a year. We have meat every week with that, but not every day.

This year I only have had 8 turkeys to work with, but we found some amazing deals on chicken (.19 a pound! ) so we have still had plenty of meat, for even less!

When I do have meals with meat, it makes my cost for meals for the day over $3 (My goal is to keep the cost for 3 meals a day plus a snack to $3 total for all 9 of us). I can serve meals with meat that are over $3, as long as other days in the month I can feed us all for $1 to $2 a day. Having lots of meatless meals makes the meat meals possible.

Simply using less meat in a recipe (such a meat sauce for spaghetti) will also cut your costs. Combine that with several meatless meals a week and you’ll see a huge difference in your grocery bill!

What meatless meals go over best with your family?

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26 Comments

  1. How do u cook with tofu? I tried, even bought a video, but can’t get it down 🙁 I learned hard tofu is for when u want it like a meat and soft is for baking, etc. I learned to dry it before cooking also but I am horrible with using spices. I would love to go back to being a vegetarian but if not, even replacing some of our meat meals with tofu and just using the fish/meat my husband hunts is fine.

  2. Thanks Becky (and Miri)…I am making every effort to use this time wisely. I am channeling my inner frugality, making everything from scratch, and paying much closer attention to prices. I will definitely be stocking up my pantry so that I’m prepared for the time and money crunch that Fall will bring.

  3. Sakura is my daughter’s name too! I don’t come across it often. I have gestational diabetes and can’t really eat grains without it spiking my blood sugar. This includes whole grains, pastas, baked goods or even potato products. It is really difficult because if I can’t control it I can’t birth at home with a midwife, but more importantly it puts my baby at risk. I appreciate advice for those of us in this boat. So many people are diabetic and grain based meals seem to contribute to this epidemic.

  4. I buy ground pork @ Winco $1.99 lb. You can make a burger, tostadas, burritos,enchiladas Etc. also making homemade tortillas is fast & inexpensive. We also eat lots of beans & rice, meatless, pasta & lentils. Where do you buy your liquid smoke?

  5. The meatless meals that my husband requests over and over are black beans and rice, red beans and rice, lentil onion soup, ratatouille, and vegetarian chili. We tried several veg. chili recipes before we found one worthy of being called chili. Now it is a much loved dish. It was published in Better Homes and Gardens in the late 70’s or early 80’s. It is a forgiving recipe and is roughly: In large pot in 2T. olive oil, saute a large chopped onion, large chopped green bell pepper, and two stalks chopped celery. Add 28 oz. canned tomatoes, can of Rotel tomatoes, and a can or equal of pinto beans and one of dark red kidney beans, all undrained, and a large coarsely grated carrot, and about a pound of diced zucchini. Season with 1/2 t. salt, 1/4 t. red pepper flakes, 1t. oregano. Simmer covered at least thirty minutes. Serve topped with cheese, accompanied by garlic toast or corn bread.

  6. Marilyn, obviously Brandy has a lovely talent with plating, and photography as well, plus she has a lovely home; I enjoy the pictures she shares. We live in a basement, but we keep it clean as our way of it being ‘lovely’…..we have NO money for upgrades or decorating at all, our food storage/pantry is in one end of the living room with a floor to ceiling curtain across the entire front of it; but we are able to keep up on needed home repairs thank goodness!! I strive to balance meals with colorful inexpensive/on sale or garden vegetables when possible. And I also plate our meals as Brandy suggests. When planning, I think of ‘balance’….. which on our small budget is a huge huge challenge. So if we have Boston Baked Beans, I put the baked beans in a bowl, then the bowl on dinner plate….add a homemade muffin or bread to plate and ‘color’ it with fresh carrot sticks sort of in a small fan by the muffin/bread. I figure if it looks as attractive and colorful as possible (I am not that great at being artistic and creative), then it’ll be more appetizing to eat!!Setting the table ahead….not ‘fancy’ as we have simple white Corelle dishware, also helps things look nicer. A few ideas I’ve done: slice a carrot lengthwise with a peeler….put them in ice cold water to ‘curl’, then use as a garnish. Make a ‘rose’ with a radish for each plate. Green pepper cut in rings; a ring on each serving. Parsley sprigs. We grow large leaf basil in a pot in our kitchen, use that for garnish or as lettuce on sandwich. Homegrown sprouts as garnish…..we sprout what we have: wheat and lentils….but the sprouts can be ‘greened up’ by putting in light or sunny place after sprouted to length. A few celery slices or celery leaves/tops on a soup. If we have tomatoes, they can be cut into wedges, not all the way through, set cut tomato on a small plate, drizzle with olive oil/herbs as a side salad. Small dots/dollops of sour cream or yogurt on tomato soup (we make our own tomato soup from tomato sauce…when done, it tastes just like any tomato soup) and then put a knife through the dots to make a design. I know these are not too creative, but at least I try!!!

  7. I like to thank the animals for their lives and meat, and always ask God to bless them no matter what, but especially if they were not treated properly while alive. It is my opinion that they willingly give, but many are not treated with any respect, for which I greatly mourn for them. And as stated elsewhere, we like to thank God at every meal and ask Him to cleanse the food we eat…..we do our best with the money we have.

  8. Kathleen, perhaps mentioned by others…..but when I began thinking of meat more as a ‘flavoring’ instead of centering the meal around meat, it opened up new horizons for our menus. I grew up in a home where meat was often the star of the meal, so this was a huge shift for me and took time to make a change!!

  9. Glad to.1. Peel and thinly slice 2 lbs. of Spanish onions. In large kettle, saute onion and 2 large cloves of garlic, minced, in 1/4 olive oil until golden, but not brown.2. Add 1 c. dry brown lentils, 2 c. coarsely grated carrots, 1 t. thyme, 1 bay leaf, 3 c. beef broth. Simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.3. Add 1 c. dry red wine or chicken broth (I’ve always used the broth) and simmer 5 more minutes. Adjust seasonings, including adding salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf.Served topped with grated cheese.

  10. Another advantage to plating is fewer dishes. In a small home like ours, it’s not many steps from the stove to the table. I normally don’t use serving dishes unless we have company.

  11. Janet, what I wrote is the original recipe, but I realized that I actually use about 4 cups of beef broth and 2 cups of chicken broth for the lentil onion soup.

  12. Paula, thank you for sharing the recipe…..it sounds heavenly. I have walla walla onions and carrots from garden that we can use!!Will be making it this week. We love lentils. Your recipe fits into our tight budget!!

  13. We use meat as a flavoring. I buy 2 slices of bacon for something or 1/4 lb. of hot italian sausage, etc. If I use just a little bit of meat, it goes a long way and everyone is happy. I try to make meatless meals that they like, like hummus and homemade pita bread, spanakopita, etc. I find that recipes from other countries have some wonderful spices in them and you don’t miss the meat at all.

  14. It is funny how we, as a people, have looked at beans and rice as a food for poor people, yet it is a healthier choice. The same goes for whole wheat, brown sugar and molasses. When you have more money, you buy more meat and sweets and they are the things that aren’t as good for you!

  15. Made the soup yesterday…..it is DELISH…..I suggest to others that you try Paula’s recipe, it was filling and yummy. We served it with homemade roasted garlic mashed potatoes on the side (a friend gave us red potatoes from their garden).

  16. It’s wonderful you can buy good meat from farmers. However, we have bought from farmers around here and got burned. The chicken was very greasy, and we could get it only frozen, not fresh. We were not thrilled with the quality. One farmer’s eggs had red spots in them (eggs were almost ready to be hatched) and the other farmer’s eggs were not much better. We can get good quality eggs at the store (with coupon and sale) that look and taste better.

  17. We eat venison and wild pork. We have learned to do our own butchering and processing. Feral hogs are everywhere in rural Texas, and there is no hunting season for hogs. Farmers and ranchers are glad to get rid of them because they tear up their fields. We stick to female pigs at about 125 to 150 pounds. They are not gamey, very little fat, and we can’t really tell the difference in flavor from store bought. The only cost is for the packaging we use for the freezer. I really can’t even imagine what it is like to have so many children, but I do know that there is always someplace to cut. Most people just don’t even try. Most haven’t really figured out that there is a big difference between needs and wants.

  18. Our family’s favorite meatless meals are butternut gnocchi (basically just squash & flour– if you grow your own it’s virtually free), tamale pie, and quiche (we raise our own chickens, Costco’s cheese used to be $2/lb, so again, very cheap). We love your chicken-fried-steak-minus-the-hen recipe. Now we have 3 that are gluten intolerant, and certified GF oats are pricey, so we don’t make it as often, but it sure is tasty! I think you are amazing and inspiring Brandy! Thank you for sharing your world with us!

  19. One thing that is fairly inexpensive that we like pretty well is lentils boiled in water with salt and chopped onion spread over homemade whole wheat bread toast that has a thin spread of fat free cottage cheese on it. A baked sweet potato and a slice of canned pineapple canned in its own juice is a nice addition, but it does add to the cost. We eat this for breakfast usually, but we have eaten it for dinner, also. I usually figure food costs based on how much nutrition I am getting for my money, so I stick to whole grain and avoid white bread, tortillas, crackers, regular pasta, and refined cereal like Cream of Wheat. In other words, if a food is refined with little nutrition, I try to look for something with more nutritional goodies for my money. Nutritionally speaking, white flour products are bankrupt and really a waste of money. I never fed our children snacks because I don’t think eating between meals is healthy, and we never ate meat, and it saved money that could be used to fill out regular meals. We tended to spend extra money on fruit. Now we save in that we do not need high blood pressure medication and cholesterol lowering drugs. I am now in my 60s, and I do not need to take any medications.

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