Monday, March 30, 2009

Pantry Stocking for Frugal Living, Part Three

Here's the third letter in the series:

Ok, next is meat. I'm working w/ meat right now so it's on my mind.

I forgot to tell you - at the store, bring a calculator (or do it in your head) and keep track of how much you're spending as you go. Only bring in as much cash as you're ok w/ spending that day.

Canned Meat:

10-12 cans of tuna (important). Look for the cheapest brand, and get it packed in water. While the oil-packed tuna has a lot of flavour and nutritive value, it's not as versatile to cook w/. If you see this on sale, stock up on it. One advantage of buying the "off-brand" is that it will still generally come in a 6 ounce can. Most name brands have reduced the size of the can to 5 ounces but are still charging the same amount or more.

Spam. I keep on hand the individual slice packets. These are stupidly expensive, but can be nice to have at the house for rare occasions when you get weird cravings or you have a house guest who likes the stuff. I never buy a whole can, even though it's a better value, because I'll wind up throwing most of it away. That makes the little packets cheaper for me in the long run.

Canned chicken. If you see this on sale, please pick up a couple cans. This can be a lifesaver when you can't afford "real" chicken, or for salads and such.

Miscellaneous canned meats. I usually keep a couple cans of salmon or crab in the house, plus canned sardines for Peter. The salmon and crab are in the house so if I'm entertaining I can throw together some cheap, tasty appetisers that dont' break my bank. If there's specific stuff you like, keep it on hand.

Fresh meat:

Family pack is your friend. Get a package of butcher paper, or some wax paper and freezer bags. Or all three. Buy your meat in large quantities, where they sell it the cheapest. A lot of people don't want to buy 10 pounds of meat in one sitting, because they are only one or two people, but what they don't realise is that they can keep out a half a pound or whatever and portion out, then freeze, the rest and have meat for 1-2 dollars per pound. When I had a large freezer I would buy whatever meat was on sale and portion it out into whatever amount is best for my situation (now I portion for two, instead of one). Pork chops, meat, etc. All can be done this way. It's the best value, ever.

Adding to note: Middle Eastern markets often sell halal meat much more cheaply than the "regular" meat at the normal grocery stores. This meat is killed more humanely and without the assembly line mentality we often find our animals being slaughtered with. So keep that open as an option as well. Kosher meat is another alternative, but usually costs more than "regular" meat.

Two-For-Ones:

Often, stores will try to promote meat (usually sausages) by offering them two packages for the cost of one. This is generally a really great deal, so I get the two packages and toss one in the freezer. Soemtimes you can get really expensive hotdogs and sausages this way. Instead of paying 4 bucks for a package of Hebrew Nationals, you can get 2 for 4 dollars. And so on.

Expired meat:

Ok... no one actually sells expired meat. But what they DO is deeply, deeply discount meat that's supposed to be used that day, or within a couple days. Once I picked up a pound of lamb for 2 or 3 bucks because it was about to expire. Normally that would've cost 7+ dollars. Again, if you're not planning to use it immediately, toss it in the freezer. Added to note: when you thaw it out, use it that first day.

Chicken:

The best values on chicken are whole chickens and leg quarters. A whole chicken can be found on sale for 4-5 dollar (look for whole chicken at $0.89-$1.09 per pound; I won't really buy it more expensive than that) and will provide several meals. A typical chicken, in my house, will be roasted and that will be the first meal. Then I will cut off all the meat from the bones and use the bones to make a chicken stock, which goes to many other meals. The remaining meat I can portion out and freeze, or I can use it to make chicken quesadillas (yum!), chicken salad, chicken casseroles, chicken pot pie (gross), chicken whatever. You should be able to get 3-5 meals out of a whole chicken, MINIMUM (you don't eat enough to get that few meals, really), plus your stock, which can get you other meals cheaply too.

Chicken leg quarters are basically like dealing with a whole chicken, minus the mass. I have the same price guideline for them, and find that generally $1.29/pound is an average, non-sale price for this. Which makes it a cheap, nutritious value even if you can't find it on sale.

Pork: For people who don't eat pork, just skip this section, please

Bacon really is your friend. You can find it pretty cheap, and it travels far. I buy bacon in those huge three pound packs (though I'd buy it in even bigger if I could). When I get it home, I open it up and I grab my wax paper. I pull out three slices of bacon, fold them in half and wrap them in wax paper. Then it goes into my "bacon bag," which is a freezer bag. I portion out all of them (we usually eat 3 slices in a serving, but use whatever portion you find is best for you) and put the bundles of bacon in the bag. Then it goes into the freezer. When I need bacon, I just pull out however many bundles I need. It tends to thaw pretty quickly, too, and I'm never out of bacon. If I wind up w/ a bundle that has a different number than 3 slices (it isn't always divisible by 3, after all), then I just mark that bundle so I know when I pull it out.

Salt pork is a great thing to have on hand. You can pick up a pound for about 2-3 dollars (I try to get it pre-sliced) and a pound will last a long, long time. It's good for flavouring beans, greens, or as a bacon replacement in a pinch.

Ham is awesome if you can get it on sale. Sometimes they have a deal on a pound or so of ham, so I'll get it, slice it, and treat it like the bacon. Good for ham fried rice, breakfast, and all sorts of other good treats.

Other pork should follow the bulk meat rule.

Fats:

Ok, this is a weird one, but I think it's important. Sometimes you buy a bulk piece of meat (roast, usually, is when this happens to me), and when you go to use it, you discover it has a LOT more fat than you thought it did. While it's tempting to get mad and feel ripped off, try not to. This is actually a boon in disguise. What I do when this happens is carefully trim off the excess fat (make sure you don't have meat stuck to it) and put it in a freezer bag. Sometimes I can't afford to buy a new bottle of vegetable oil, but I still have to cook. When that happens, I pull out a piece of fat, render it down into tallow (or lard, or shmaltz. Shmaltz is rendered chicken fat, tallow is rendered beef fat) and I am still able to cook what I needed without having to spend the 5 bucks on a new bottle of oil. Also, it can be nice sometimes when you are out of meat and can't afford more to toss little pieces of fat into soups and whatnot.

That's all for meat right now. You're almost wishing you hadn't asked about cheap living, huh? I promise it's easy. It's a lot of stuff to know, but when you're at the store thinking about it, it'll just feel like common sense.

xoxo,

-a

2 comments:

  1. More wonderful tips!

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  2. Thanks, Mary! I'm glad they're helping!

    ReplyDelete