Is your food bill out of control? It could be that big lump of protein on your plate
Protein – at least the meaty versions – is expensive. And research indicates that we’re obsessed with protein, to our detriment. Most Kiwis spend far too much on that protein, by not eating and shopping consciously.
It’s simple to cut the cost of a plate of food radically. First off, not all protein is created equal when it comes to cost. A nice sirloin steak for four can cost $25 before you even add veges to the plate. Even own brand sausages can cost more than $20kg.
Think for yourself to slim down the protein on your plate
Here in New Zealand we’re conditioned to believe that protein comes from the meat element of meat and three veg. Fine if your wallet and arteries can afford it. But there are tasty alternatives that cost several times less.
Let’s get one thing straight: I love a good steak. But the vegans have it right. A medium priced steak such as sirloin is $32.99kg at Countdown. Dried chickpeas are $6.60kg at the same supermarket and weigh much more when cooked. This is one of many sneaky tricks to cut down your shopping bill.
How to slim down your protein, your plate and your budget
Cost that plate. Observe your dinners for a week and work out the cost per plate of your protein. That’s pretty easy if it’s meat. If you are spending more than $3 a plate you have a lot of work to do. In our house it’s more like $1.50 to $2 most nights. In our house we sometimes buy tofu from the Chinese shop (hint, it’s way nicer than the supermarket and costs half as much). The whole family can be fed for $4 of protein and that isn’t a typo.
Cut that lump. The New Zealand Meat Board has done an amazing job since 1922 of convincing us Kiwis that you need a huge hunk of meat on your plate in order to be healthy. Most Kiwis eat more than enough protein. Just look at the Japanese who use meat more as a garnish. So take those lovely portions of sirloin steak from the supermarkets and cut them in half and bulk the meal out with more vegetable on the plate. That’s going to make you and your wallet more healthy. If you want to get technical. Consider the cost per gram of protein; 100g of cooked chickpeas contain approximately 19g of protein and chicken 24g.
Go eggs and cheese. Kiwis don’t think of egg and cheese or even yoghurts centre-of-plate for their dinner. But these protein sources cost less than most meat cuts and are quick and easy to cook. Try an egg curry for one meal a week. According to the Egg Producers Federation (which obviously has a vested interest) the cost per gram of protein from eggs starts at 4c, chicken breast is 7.4c and rump steak 7.9c. Two eggs contain around 11g protein.
Eat vegetable proteins. Beans, lentils, chick peas, peanut butter, whole nuts, egg pasta, wholegrain bread, rice, couscous, and broccoli are all good sources of protein. Forget all that 1980s nonsense about incomplete proteins. But it’s easy to get enough protein from non-meat sources by eating a variety of foods including cheese , eggs, or pulses. If you don’t want to give up meat, go for cheaper cuts such as corned beef and learn how to cook them.
Mix it up. Instead of cooking a kilo of gravy beef or mince for your stew or curry, use 400 grams and make it more filling by adding chick peas, lentils or kidney beans and a whole heap of grated vegetable. The basic taste will remain the same, but it will cost less to cook.
Give a thought for the environment. Vegetable protein saves cash, for sure, but it can save the environment as well. You can find plenty of research that shows meat production is far less efficient, and according to the Oxford Martin School, widespread adoption of veganism would see emissions fall by about 70 per cent.
To get yourself started on cutting the cost of protein on your plate by having a meatless Monday. Plan the meal in advance. Ask friends for recipes, or check out a site such as bite.co.nz,or the Vegan Society recipe archive.
Not everyone can give up their meat. If not, give some thought to being flexitarian – that’s a flexible vegetarian or even vegan, i.e. someone who eats a mostly plant-based diet with the occasional lapse.
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