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 Aussies 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 in terms of cost. A nice porterhouse steak for four can cost $28 for the protein alone. Even own brand sausages can cost more than $15kg. There are heaps of sneaky supermarket saving tricks to help you cut costs.
Think for yourself to slim down the protein on your plate
Here in Australia we’re taught that protein comes from the meat element of meat and three veg. That’s 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 porterhouse is $28kg at Coles. Dried chickpeas are $5.90kg at the same supermarket and weigh much more when cooked.
Tips 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 local Asian supermarket (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. All over the world, meat and dairy lobby groups do an amazing job convincing us that we need a huge hunk of meat on our plate in order to be healthy. Most Aussies actually eat more than enough protein. Compare us to the Japanese, who use meat more as a garnish. So take those lovely portions of porterhouse 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. We often don’t think of egg and cheese or even yoghurts centre-of-plate for our 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.
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. Of vegetable protein, only soy and quinoa is complete. 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 brisket or corned silverside 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. It can save the environment as well. I’m wading into emotive territory here. Yet 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 taste.com.au, or PETA’s recipe archive.
Not everyone can give up their meat. If not, give a thought to being flexitarian. That’s a flexible vegetarian or even vegan. That’s someone who eats a mostly plant-based diet with the occasional lapse.