If you are trying to save money at the grocery store, reducing your meat intake is a bankable strategy.
Meats, poultry and fish hogged about 20.5% of Americans’ grocery bills in 2020, according to federal data. And it’s not getting any cheaper.
Overall, the prices of meats, poultry and fish were up 11.9% in October 2021 compared with a year prior. The prices of some types of meat — including beef and veal, and bacon products — rose by more than 20% during that 12-month period.
Better health is a bonus when you cut back meat consumption. Red and processed meats in particular bring a higher risk for heart disease, cancer and other serious illness.
Here are easy ways to reduce your meat intake without giving it up.
1. Eat meat less often
Although no “safe” amount of meat consumption has been established, less is better. Keep your intake to 3 ounces per meal, two to three times a week at most, the Harvard Health Newsletter says.
“7 Ways to Slice the Price of Red Meat, Pork and Poultry” has more ways to save money when meat prices are high.
2. Substitute protein-dense alternatives
To keep costs down, rely more on high-protein foods you probably already enjoy.
Eat a bit more than 7 grams of protein daily for each 20 pounds of your body weight. (For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, aim for 49 grams of protein daily.)
Among the best foods for low-fat, high-quality protein are:
- Fresh edamame (9 grams of protein per serving)
- Cooked lentils (9 grams)
- Plain, fat-free Greek yogurt (11 grams)
- Water-packed canned tuna (20 grams)
We’ve got more high-protein alternatives in “Is Meat About to Disappear From Your Grocery Store?”
3. Eat smaller meat portions
Instead of using meat as the star of the dinner plate, make it a side dish and serve veggies, grains, beans and pasta as the centerpiece. Asian cuisines model this approach, creating delicious dishes with small bits of meat.
4. Try fake meats
Even before the pandemic meat shortages, so-called alternative meats were having a moment.
Vegetarian meat substitutes have a long history, but newer products try to mimic meat, not just replace it. They aspire to look, taste and feel like meat.
Outside of occasional deals, the price for meat alternatives is still usually not cheaper than real meat. But both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods continue to scale up production and lower prices. Beyond Meat’s goal is to have a lower price than meat competitors for at least one type of meat by 2024, a spokeswoman recently told CNBC.
The newer meat substitutes typically combine plant proteins with other plant-based ingredients. Some use jackfruit (“mimics the texture of pulled pork,” says Women’s Health magazine). Others use tofu, beans or wheat-based seitan.
Among Women’s Health’s list of the best vegan and vegetarian meat substitutes are Field Roast Grain Meat Sausages, Garden Chick’n Nuggets and Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon.
Don’t forget the burgers. One of the most-hyped: Beyond Burger, made of peas, rice protein, vegetable oils, beet juice (for color) and potato starch, among other ingredients. It is “a plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef. It has all the juicy, meaty deliciousness of a traditional burger,” promises the maker.
5. Eat more beans
Black beans, chickpeas and their fellow legume lentils are all excellent sources of protein while being significantly cheaper than meat. They’re also healthier, thanks to their lower fat and cholesterol content, the Mayo Clinic notes. On top of that, they’re a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
For great ideas, check out our story, “Beans 101: A Guide to Enjoying the Stockpile Staple.”
6. Don’t forget about texture
It’s not always important to replicate the texture of beef. But do give a dish enough textural variety and interest to make it satisfying.
In sauces, soups and other dishes, use diced fresh mushrooms, sweet red peppers, celery, carrots or zucchini for chewy texture.
Add texturized soy protein or grated zucchini to add bulk to meatballs, meatloaf and other dishes calling for ground beef, chicken or turkey.
7. Turn to turkey
One of the easiest ways to cut down on beef is to use ground turkey as a substitute in recipes. Turkey is healthier than beef — although less healthy than fish, which can be harder to substitute.
Ground turkey breast meat has a texture similar to ground beef and the mild flavor fits easily into many familiar foods. Just amp up the seasonings a bit.
For hamburgers, start the transition with a 50/50 mix of turkey and beef. Eliminate the beef as you become accustomed to the change.
8. Find a new favorite burger
Half the battle of reducing your meat intake is finding a favorite go-to burger that doesn’t involve red meat.
A few options:
- At Allrecipes, 2,600 reader-reviewers give 4.5 (of 5) stars to this simple recipe for “Actually Delicious Turkey Burgers.”
- Bon Appetit Magazine grills an entire Portobello mushroom cap (or a fat slice of eggplant) along with sweet peppers for its “burger,” dressing it with pesto mayonnaise and provolone cheese. Readers give it 4 out of 5 stars.
- The Spruce Eats offers what it considers “The 11 Best Veggie Burgers Recipes“
- Cooking Light shares “21 Recipes for Extra Flavorful Plant-Based Burgers“