"Paleo" Meat On A Budget

The Paleo diet places a huge emphasis on the quality of the food you are eating – how it was raised or grown is important for optimal health and the health of the planet. When it comes to choosing Paleo proteins, grass-fed and pastured meats cost more than their conventional counterparts. That’s just the way it is. There is hope that as the demand for grass-fed meats continues to grow the prices will continue to come down. In the meantime, however, fitting ethically raised proteins into both your diets and your budget may require a little forethought and creativity.

Tips For Buying Pastured Protein On A Budget

Explore New Cuts

Meat is a huge expense, and usually the source of the most sticker shock when creating your Paleo food budget.

It can be difficult to save money if the only pastured and grass-fed meat you are 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.

Some less conventional types of pastured or grass-fed animals can save you a lot and give you many more options for healthy grass-fed meat sources. Rabbit, bison, elk, deer, yearling goat, ostrich, or alligator might initially make you cringe, but when prepared correctly, can be quite delicious.

Additionally, there are many parts of the animal that Westerners simply disregard altogether. North Americans tend to consume the “muscle” meats and forget that the remaining parts of the animal are loaded with nutrition and are often much more affordable. Organ meats like liver and kidneys are much less expensive and incredibly nutrient-dense and can be pureed into ground meat dishes if you are averse to the taste, texture or smell.

The shanks, ribs, tails, feet, necks and backs make great soups! These gelatinous parts of the animal provide a wonderfully healing component. Knuckle bones are another option. And don’t forget the bone marrow, considered a delicacy in France, it tastes delicious roasted.

Premium cuts like chicken breast come with a premium price tag. Luckily, the leaner cuts are usually the pricier ones. Consider switching your chicken breast recipes for recipes using tenders, drumsticks, or thighs, or mixing the cuts of meat in a dish. Likewise, plan to make meals that call for cheaper cuts like ground beef or less expensive meats like pork as opposed to steak every night.

While a cheaper price is a huge benefit, these less expensive cuts are also loaded with lots of flavor. Slow-braised lamb shanks are typically more flavorful than lamb chops, and the deep taste of chicken thighs way surpasses chicken breasts. These cuts also stand up to longer cooking times and are more difficult to dry out.  

Keep It Local

There is no better way to know how your food is raised than by buying it straight from the farmer, or from a service that works with the farmer. When you buy from the supermarket, the meat has passed through many distribution channels with each step in the process having a price. That adds up to extra costs for you, the consumer.

Most farmers will sell portions of an animal ranging from a quarter to full. Rarely will they go smaller than a quarter, but it never hurts to ask. Alternately you can also bring a friend with you to split the costs and the meat. If freezer space is not something you have much of, consider rounding up some friends and creating your own co-op where you divide the meat up between you. This not only drives cost down for you, but gets grass-fed meat in the hands of more people.

You can find local farmers through farmers’ market or online. This affords you the opportunity to get to know the farmer, plan to visit the farm and taste the meat without committing to buying a full portion. Most local farmers and ranchers LOVE to talk to customers so I guarantee you will be making new friends for life!

If you don’t have a local farmer’s market, ask your friends, look online or even talk to the local butcher. While the butcher seems an unlikely place, many are willing to give a discount for buying in bulk.

One thing to remember when buying a portion of an animal is that the weight quoted is the animal’s hanging weight before being butchered into parts and cuts. You will lose one-third to one-half of the quoted weight in processing. Despite the lost weight, it is still more cost effective to fill your freezer this way than with store-bought meat. An added bonus is you get to decide how you want the meat processed, including how thick your steaks are.

Eat Seasonally

Much like vegetables, pastured meat is raised and slaughtered seasonally. While you can buy any type of meat year-round, purchasing in season can save you up to 50%.

Your location will determine when each season is.

  • Farmers generally slaughter lambs after a couple of months foraging on tender spring grasses.
  • The beef season is generally after the fall season’s first cold spell, which is when the flies die off and leave the cows to peacefully graze on late-fall grasses.
  • Pork season is in the late fall after the pigs feed on late-season fruits and nuts.
  • Chicken season comes in the spring because eggs are more plentiful, which means new chicks will arrive soon.

Shop the Sales

Buying meat on sale is one of the easiest (and most obvious) ways to save on well-raised meat. Scour your local supermarket or butcher flyers for weekly specials and stock up when the prices drop.

Demand, holidays and food trends play integral parts in driving costs up or down. Change of season is also a good opportunity for a sale,

Food trends also drive meat prices. While chicken breasts are still expensive compared to dark meat, they are much cheaper today than they were 10 years ago. Farmers are producing more breasts, and pastured chicken prices have fallen.

Holidays also affect meat prices. The price of organic turkey drops up to 40% at Thanksgiving and climbs back to regular prices for the rest of the year with an occasional small drop around Christmas. The best time of year to stock up on ham is at Easter and Christmas, when prices can drop by as much as 60%. Good beef steaks and ground meats, such turkey, chicken and hamburger, are all cheaper around the Fourth of July.

Add Meaty Veggies

The Paleo diet includes lots of organically grown vegetables and you can make your meat go further in a recipe by adding complementary meaty vegetables.

Vegetables that blend well with meats include eggplant, zucchini, squash, carrots and, of course, onions. Think of adding these to your favorite chili, soup or stew for added taste, texture, phytonutrients and fiber!

Cottage pie is another easy recipe using meat and vegetables. Simply combine 1 pound of stew lamb or beef, with 1 pound of mushrooms and 1 pound of vegetables, such as carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms, all chopped the same size in a rich gravy made with bone broth and flavored with red wine and fresh herbs. Place the mixture in a casserole dish and top it with freshly made or leftover mashed root vegetables (my personal favorite is a mixture of rutabaga, turnip and celery root). Bake until bubbly and serve it with a side salad for a complete meal.

Shop Online

Not everyone is fortunate enough to live in an area with easy access to a myriad of health food stores, grass-fed ranches, fantastic CSAs (community supported agriculture) or urban homesteaders and community gardens where you can access high quality food.

Depending on where you live, you may not have easy access to local grass-fed meats, or it may be very limited and far outside your grocery budget.

Although buying locally when possible is ideal, buying healthy, real food online and that includes grass-fed and pastured meats is a viable and cost-effective option.

The folks over at Butcher Box have passion for delivering healthy meats to people across the country no matter where they live. They are making grass-fed meats more affordable than you can find locally while introducing interesting new cuts to the home cook.  ButcherBox’s goal is to make grass-fed beef more accessible than ever before and they are focused on providing 100% grass-fed beef, organic chicken and heritage breed pork products delivered right to your door, on a schedule of your choosing. Prices are going to vary, but on average it works out to under $6.50 per meal. Their beef is 100% grass-fed and finished. There are no antibiotics or hormones ever used and NONE of their meat comes from feedlots.

They also offer free shipping within the contiguous 48 states. The meat is flash frozen at the peak of freshness, packed with dry ice, and shipped directly to your door each month. Visit ButcherBox  to learn more about their service and your options.

Budget, availability, amount of meat you consume, and your nutritional needs and those of your family are going to vary greatly. The cost of sourcing well-raised, pastured proteins may appear to require a little more upfront expense than their ‘standardly raised’ counterparts, but there are plenty of ways to make it affordable and doable. Consider it an investment in yourself, your health and your future! 

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