How to Eat Grassfed, Free-Range Meat on a Small Budget
The cheapskate in me would love to be a vegetarian. Meat is expensive. But burgers are awesome, so my inner cheapskate and carnivore learn to make peace.
Several years ago, after some good books and a revealing documentary, we made sustainably-sourced meat a priority in our small budget. In this carnivorous edition of Build Your Frugal Healthy Pantry, I want to share some of the most frugal ways to eat grass-fed, free-range meat. (Psst – if you missed the post on our Cheapest, Healthiest Grains, check it here.)
We purchase grassfed beef in 50-pound batches from a farmer for $5/lb. This is the cheapest, easiest option we’ve found, and the taste is incredible – store beef tastes like dog food now.
For the sake of simplicity and frugality I generally only buy ground beef. It’s the cheapest cut offered by this farmer, and it’s incredibly versatile. Like I said… burgers are my favorite. We save roasts or steaks for an occasional treat.
If you don’t have a local source, Trader Joes, Costco, and Aldi have grassfed ground beef at comparable prices.
If you’re passionate about sustainability, I encourage you to make friends at the farmers markets. Ask if they have deals for buying in bulk or how they recommend getting the best deal with their products. Farmers want happy, returning customers so they’re usually willing to help.
To capitalize on money and health, I buy two kinds of eggs:
- Ultra-cheap from Aldi – like $.69/dozen
- Local from chickens that run free, eat non-GMO feed, and get pedicures and massages – $5/dozen
That’s a huge pendulum swing. But there’s a method to my madness. FDA guidelines concerning how eggs are labeled “free-range” and “organic” make me question the quality of grocery store organic eggs versus cheap eggs.
If I pay good money for good eggs, I want a GOOD egg – and to support chicken pedicures. So I buy from local farms or neighbors with chickens.
That’s not a philosophy for everyone, but it works for me. I will add that Costco has organic eggs for $2.29/dozen, which is by far the best price I’ve seen for organic eggs.
Sometimes farmers will let you buy eggs in bulk for a discount. Since eggs last a really long time in the fridge, this is an easy way to save money on quality eggs.
I have a harder time buying local chicken. In my area, a locally-sourced whole chicken costs $4-5/lb. Since whole chickens are mostly bones, that makes chicken really expensive.
Here are my guidelines to balance health and cost:
- Whole birds from the farmer’s market – They are delicious, super easy to cook, and sustainable.
- Easy Crockpot Bone Broth – I dump the leftover bones and skin in my crockpot with water and a spoonful of apple cider vinegar. 6 Hours later, we have bone broth.
- If I want boneless, skinless – I usually buy thighs instead of breasts. Significantly less expensive, as versatile as breasts, and more flavorful and tender. Win.
- Sale – A sale in my world is less than $1.70/lb for breasts or less than $1/lb. for other cuts.
- Rotisserie chicken – Possibly the most brilliant thing grocery stores do outside of stationing candy around the diabetic foods aisle (GRRR). I buy these occasionally to save us from pizza delivery breakdown.
Quite often, farmers have discount packs for bulk poultry purchases. If you only want a specific cut you can usually work something out with them.
Fish is easy, fairly healthy, and since I don’t live on the coast it’s one thing I always buy from the store. We buy salmon and tilapia from Aldi’s freezer section, tuna from the canned goods. Did you know Aldi has sustainable policies on their fish?
For the most part, we stick to simple, wholesome food at home. However, we also like hot dogs and bacon.
- Hot dogs – we buy beef hot dogs (delish), and the best price I found is at Costco.
- Kielbasa – Aldi’s turkey kielbasa is delicious (although it has questionable ingredients – balance, friends, balance).
- Lunchmeat – I mostly avoid this because it’s expensive and so nutritionally blah. For $6/lb. you can buy smashed, chicken/ham sheets… or a steak. Hmmm. But if it’s summer and I want a picnic and the nostalgia of a turkey and cheese sandwich, I buy Aldi’s nitrate-free lunch meat. It’s cheaper than most name brands, and it doesn’t have some of the chemicals.
What I Avoid
Most other cured or processed meat and chicken-nugget type food. It’s handy in a pinch, but then I’m buying convenience – not nutrition or even taste in most cases. If I want to maximize my money and health, they don’t accomplish that.
What Should You Buy?
What you eat and how you spend your money is an individual decision. If you need to maximize cost, find an Aldi RIGHT NOW. Aldi prices are 30-50% lower than your average grocery store. They have admirable policies on quality, exchanges, and a huge organic selection. If it’s an hour’s drive from you, bring a cooler and clear space in the freezer. In my opinion, it’s worth the gas.
If you are passionate about sustainability while sustaining your budget, bulk buying is the way to go.
If you’re like me and don’t have a separate freezer, try splitting bulk purchases amongst friends. This has worked for me for nearly 10 years of bulk purchases.
My inner vegetarian wants to make quality meat a priority, and the cheapskate in me is willing to eat ground beef and whole chickens in the name of balancing the budget. It works for us, helps us eat the food we love, nourishes our bodies, and saves as much money as possible.
I’d love to hear what you do to save money on meat. How do you find the best deals or source quality meat?