This is part of our 5-part series on how to save money on real food. Hope you enjoy, and be sure to share how you save money in the comments below!
Organic, pastured and humanely raised meat doesn’t come cheap. In fact, it can be the biggest expense in your shopping cart. Finding ways to save money on grass fed meat can make a huge impact on your food budget.
As someone who is both frugal and unwilling to compromise much on quality, I know how hard it can be to find pastured and grass fed meat sources that don’t blow the budget. Luckily, there are some really great ways to save while continuing to feed your family healthy and nutritious meals. In this post, I’ll share how to save money on healthy food, as it pertains to pastured and grass fed meat.
Eat less meat
It’s an obvious suggestion but a great place to start. Meat is expensive, especially grass fed meat, so eating less of it can save a lot of money. Here are some ideas for reducing the amount of grass fed meat you need to buy each week:
- Find vegetarian recipes that your family loves and mix them in throughout the week.
- Treat meat as a side dish instead of a main course. Make your main dish focus on veggies, starches, nuts/seeds, and healthy grains if you eat.
- Make your meat stretch by adding beans to a pound of ground beef for tacos or make meatloaf and meatballs that include pureed veggies.
- Experiment with ethnic food. There are many tasty ethnic dishes that use little or no meat but are full of flavor and protein. Dishes such as paella, tabbouleh, falafel and hummus, red beans and rice, etc.
Be open to new tastes
It’s difficult to save money if the only pastured and grass fed meat you’re willing to eat is chicken breasts and filet mignon. On the other hand, if you are open to chicken thighs and wings, or ground beef, roasts, pork, and lamb, then you have many more (less expensive) options.
Also, if you’re willing to give them a try, less conventional pastured or grass fed meat can save you a lot and give you many more options for healthy grass fed meat sources. For example: rabbit, bison, elk, deer, yearling goat, ostrich, or alligator. Some of these suggestions might make you cringe, but many people eat them and really enjoy them!
Eat nose to tail
Additionally, there are many parts of the animal that we simply disregard altogether. Americans tend to eat just the “muscle” meats and forget that the remaining parts of the animal are loaded with nutrition and are often much cheaper. Organ meats like liver and kidneys are much less expensive and incredibly nutrient-dense. For those that don’t like the taste, you can puree into ground meat dishes.
The shanks, ribs, tails, feet, necks and backs make great soups! They are some of the most gelatinous parts of the animal, which is a wonderfully healing component. Knuckle bones are another option. And don’t forget the bone marrow, considered a delicacy in France, it tastes delicious spread on sprouted toast.
Grind or cut your own pastured or grass fed meat
A whole chicken, per pound, costs less than the individual parts. Therefore, being your own butcher can save you a lot on the price of your meat. Chopping up a whole chicken is pretty straightforward (you can find a great tutorial here).
You can also grind your own ground beef or meatloaf mix. If you have a Kitchenaid mixer you can purchase a grinding attachment. There are also many stand-alone grinders from old-fashioned hand crank styles to large electric grinders.
Buy a whole animal directly from the farmer
Buying a whole, half or quarter animal directly from the source is a great way to save on pastured and grass fed meat. However, part of the cost savings is buying the animal before processing, which bypasses the USDA meat inspection that assigns a grade (prime vs. select for example). So if this is important to you, you may want to pay a little extra to buy grass fed meat already processed (which you can still save on, keep reading!).
How do I find local sources of grass fed meat?
Check websites like localharvest.org, eatwild.com, realmilk.com and eatwellguide.org where you can find local farms, Farmer’s Markets and CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture). Tell your friends and neighbors that you’re looking. Ask farmers at the farmers market if they sell in bulk. Ask your local butcher or Co-op. If you live in a rural area it should be pretty simple to find a supplier. If you live in the city you may have to travel a bit to find a good source of pastured and grass fed meat.
What’s the process of buying a side of beef or pig?
Most places offer their customers a quarter, a half or a whole cow (or steer) or a half or whole pig.
When you buy a quarter cow you will either be sharing a half cow with another customer or you will be buying either the front or back end. You’ll want to verify what you are buying with your supplier since different cuts come from different parts of the cow.
When the animal is sent for processing you’ll be asked how you would like it cut. There are different cuts you can choose for each part of the animal. For example the hind leg of a cow or steer is called the “round”. Round roasts, round steaks, London broil sirloin tip roast and sirloin tip center steak all come from this part so you can choose which cuts you prefer.
You will also want to specify how you want your grass fed meat packaged: how many steaks per package, how large you would like your roasts, butcher paper or vacuum sealing (if it’s an option).
Typically you will pay the farmer for the grass fed meat and then you will pay the separate processing fee when you pick it up at the butcher.
Share bulk purchases with friends
If you’re not interested in investing in such a large amount of beef you have some options. You could share a quarter or half cow with a friend or two. That way you get the benefit of lower cost but without needing to store it all yourself or investing hundreds of dollars up front.
Buying a whole animal is sometimes cheaper than buying a half or quarter so going in with a group of people is a great way to get the most for your money.
Buy grass fed meat from the farmer at a Farmer’s Market
You can also buy individual cuts at a Farmer’s Market. You will pay a little bit more than you would if you bought a side of beef but you won’t be investing as much upfront and you can buy the cuts your family likes best. Also you may be able to get lamb, pork, chicken or other pastured or grassfed meat for a variety of meat that is still cheaper than comparable meat from the grocery store. Ask if you can get a discount if you are planning on buying a lot of different cuts at once.
You may want to ask if the farm has a meat CSA. Though a meat CSA is a great way to get a variety of pastured meat for a lower cost you will probably have little or no say in what cuts of meat you receive. On the other hand, you won’t have to store a years worth of meat yourself, so you will have to weigh your options with your families needs.
Buy in bulk from the grocer
Stock up when pastured and gras fed meat is on sale. My local grocery store has a sale on organic meat about once a year so I buy as much as I can afford when that sale comes around. Also, look for manager’s special stickers. You can usually get a dollar or more off of the price because the sell by date is approaching. Just be sure to stick it in the freezer or cook it right away.
Embrace hunting or fishing
Taking up hunting or fishing is a great way to get healthy meat for practically free. If hunting or fishing isn’t your cup of tea then consider finding someone who does enjoy it and offer to trade or barter for their surplus venison or fish (it’s illegal to sell game in the U.S). Ask around for hunters who you may be able to make a deal with. Check craigslist for hunters who are trying to clear out last year’s meat before this years season starts.
Questions to ask
As with all food purchases, make sure you investigate your sources to be sure they meet your standards. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What breeds of cattle do you have?
- What do the animals eat?
- How much time are they on pasture vs. eating hay?
- Are they are fed or injected with antibiotics or hormones?
- How are your animals finished?
- Are they ever confined?
- What are your field management practices/sustainable agriculture practices?
How about you?
How do you save money buying pastured and gras fed meats? Share with us in the comments below so we can learn from each other.