How To Cut Your Meat Bill

When grocery bills run high, shoppers often start looking for ways to cut back on their meat consumption. These tips might help.

Unloading your grocery cart at the checkout line, you wait uneasily for the cashier to present the damages. She does, and you wince. Pulling out your checkbook, you see that the balance is less than you thought.

"Can I put a few things back?" you ask tentatively?

She nods impatiently as the customer waiting behind you groans. Immediately you reach for the meat items, because they are typically the largest and most expensive part of the grocery budget.

This scenario provides an illustration of the situation in which many shoppers find themselves. In trying to follow or even reduce a grocery budget, it becomes necessary to cut back on the amount of meat purchased each time. If you would like to reduce your spending on meat products, these tips might be of interest:

1. Follow the food pyramid. The American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association, among other health-conscious groups, can provide valuable information about the role that meat should play in a typical person's diet. Contrary to popular belief, meat should not be the dominant item at every meal. Rather, use meat as a side dish or minor protein addition to save calories and restrict fat intake.

2. Make a grocery budget. Don't let impulse dictate your shopping strategies. Take time to make a budget for monthly grocery purchases, then follow it conscientiously. Obviously you may need to make relatively small adjustments when you shop for chicken and the store is fresh out, or the price is too high. But overall, you should be able to estimate how much money you will spend on meat. Make a point of not exceeding your budget.

3. Plan dinner menus. Don't let dinner "just happen." Instead, make at least a week's worth of menus as you plan a grocery list. You need not include meat at every supper or dinner. Try meatless meals with entrees like grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs, pancakes, or salad. Don't make meat the king of the table. Demote it to a servile role.

4. Keep an eye on restaurant portion sizes. Many restaurants offer portions that are two or three times as large as they used to be twenty years ago. While some folks use the available doggy bags for leftovers, others feel under compulsion to clean their plates or compete with Fido for the rest later that night. Order smaller portions of meat when you dine out. Or select a meat-based appetizer, like chicken strips, as your main meat item and surround it with veggie side dishes. Your bill is bound to be lower.

5. Serve smaller portions at home. Learn the art of cooking and serving less meat at a meal. Instead of piling half a pound of meat on a plate, opt for a quarter pound instead. With tasty seasonings and hearty side dishes, family members may not even notice.

6. Buy less expensive cuts of meat. While "choice" is generally believed to be best, go for "prime" occasionally. Better yet, buy regular hamburger instead of ground round, and after browning it, drain the grease before eating. You'll save money and fat calories.

You don't have to spend hours plotting ways of saving money on your meat bill. In general, eat less meat, serve or order smaller portions, and treat meat as a side or an appetizer. Your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

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