Do you enjoy savory meat dishes but don’t want to spend the extra money on expensive cuts? Want more plant-based meals, but still like the full flavor of meat?Do you want to make budget-friendly dinners that can be made ahead of time and served for multiple meals throughout the week?
Here’s our take on having it all and still working within a tight budget. We’ve also included a new Slow Cooked Herb Roast recipe and meal plan below. Let us know how you work meat or plant-based proteins into your family meals!
Pick Your Protein
On the nights you plan to serve meat with dinner, the best way to reduce your food cost is to choose less expensive cuts of meat. While ground meats are inexpensive, they can get boring if overused.
Regardless of which type of meat you choose, there is always a less expensive cut. These less expensive options are often the fattier cuts (which we love) or the tougher cuts, which work well when slow cooked. We’ll show you how to maximize the benefits of the fat and cook them to tender perfection!
Chicken on a Budget
An inexpensive rotisserie chicken is an easy way to have an already-made protein while saving time in the kitchen. Beware though. Stores tend to use smaller birds for rotisseries, making them more pricey per pound than you think. Roasting your own chicken once a week is a nice option. It saves money and reduces time spent preparing meals throughout the week.
As for cheaper cuts of chicken, the drumstick is king. Use them on their own or as leg quarters with the thighs. These fattier cuts are more satisfying, less expensive, and more flavorful. Keep things interesting by varying the sauces and spice mixtures you use to cook them.
- In Always Delicious, we made an On-a-Budget Chicken Leg recipe (p. 116). Just add sauce and bake.
- There are a variety of 5-minute sauces in both books to choose from. Pour sauce over meat and bake until cooked through.
- Try our Ranchero Baked Chicken (AH p. 257).
- Make a big batch of All-Purpose Seasoned Salt spice mix (AD p. 283). You can use it for everything from meatballs to chicken. Just mix in or sprinkle on top before baking.
- Herb-Roasted Chicken Thighs recipe in Always Hungry? (p. 241) is a quick, easy and delicious alternative to cooking a whole chicken. Make a big batch and use leftovers in salads, wraps (see keto-friendly tortilla), stir-frys, or casseroles.
Budget-Friendly Dinners Using Inexpensive Roasts
While ground meat is inexpensive, it can get boring. How about preparing your budget-friendly dinners with a few inexpensive meat roasts? They feed a large number of people with little effort and cost. Our recipe below makes use of either beef chuck roast, pork shoulder roast, or lamb shoulder roast. All are fattier, lower-cost cuts.
Slow-cooking or pressure cooking with rich flavors transforms fattier, tougher cuts into tasty, tender, and juicy meals. These are not just your run of the mill pot roast dinners. We’ll even show you a less expensive way to extend the flavor, increase the protein content, and support your health as you do it.
Reduce Meat Costs by Mixing in Plant-Based Proteins
For most people, the easiest way to decrease their food budget is by eating plant-based meals a few nights per week. This is a great solution for many families and is also a good way to add variety to your diet. Have you tried all of our vegetarian options yet?
Before you dismiss it, consider that tofu is one of the most versatile proteins available. It is inexpensive and easy to use. When people first think of tofu, they think of a bland, boring plant-based protein. Although tofu’s bland flavor profile may seem like a disadvantage at first – it can actually be used to your benefit! Because tofu is bland and naturally absorbent, it will takes on any flavor you are cooking with. Therefore, you can add any flavor profile you wish! The key to finding your fit with tofu is to season it thoroughly with flavors you love. Use it to extend everything from your ground meats to your roasts and shredded meats or even eggs.
Both Always Hungry? and Always Delicious offer Vegetarian Variations at the end of most meat recipes. Take a look at a few of them like the Tempeh Shepherd’s Pie (AH p.238), Thai Peanut Tempeh or Tofu (AH p. 258), Marinara Primavera (AH p. 234), Smoke-Dried Tomato Seitan (AD p. 73), Salmon Salad (AH p. 254), or one of our all-time favorites, our Black Bean Tofu Hash (AH p.222)
Budget-Friendly Dinners Using Your Leftovers
Once you’ve chosen a cut of meat and prepared it in your slow cooker, you might find that you have quite a bit of fat left over at the bottom. Toss in a pound or two of tofu cubes with some extra herbs and salt, add a bit of water or wine as needed, and simmer for 15 minutes or more. You’ll be amazed how much flavor the tofu soaks up! It’s an absolutely delicious and fully satisfying way to double the value of your meat. Get two meals for the price of one! That’s a smart way to make some delicious budget-friendly dinners.
If you cook bacon, use the leftover fat as a base for a tofu dish. The smoky flavor of bacon with permeate the tofu and enhance whatever herbs and spices you add.
This also works by starting out with using less meat in a recipe and adding tofu. That way you can buy smaller cuts of meat and still have enough to feed the whole family. Remember that tofu soaks up more flavor, so increase your herbs, spices, and salt to accommodate the tofu in your recipes. For the recipe below, see the Variation for directions to accomplish this.
Herb Roasted Lamb or BeefChef Dawn Ludwig
- Slow cooker OR pressure cooker
- 2.5 lbs boneless shoulder roast (lamb shoulder or beef chuck; if using beef chuck, increase to 2.75 pounds to account for lower fat content)
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp sage
- 1 cup red or white wine (we used white, but red would work)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground pepper
- Heat the olive oil in a pressure cooker on the sauté setting or in a stovetop-safe slow cooker insert, Dutch oven, or slow cooker over medium heat.
- Add the herbs and stir for a few seconds until fragrant.
- Place the roast in the oil and cook, turning regularly, until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 to 10 minutes total.
- Add the wine and water. Pressure cook for 70 minutes. (If using a slow cooker on low, cook on low for 8 hours or medium for 4 to 5. If using a Dutch oven, cover and simmer over low heat for about 2 hours).
- The roast will become juicy and tender, resembling an almost stew-like consistency. The meat will be tender enough to easily shred as you stir it. This allows the juices to be distributed back into the meat. Truly delicious!