Beyond Ramen: Saving on Meats & Protein on a Student Budget

meatsWhole animal protein is an important part of many students’ diets, but unfortunately it’s also one of the most expensive parts. Here are a couple ways you can save a few bucks on the weekly grocery bill without resorting to only eating ramen noodles.

Be flexible – eat what is on sale

This probably goes unsaid, but you should always check the flyer to see what the weekly specials on meats are. Grocery stores often cycle through different types of meat, and aligning your weekly diet with the store specials can save quite a bit of money. Sure, you might get a little bored of chicken breast by the end of the week, but next week is pork chops, and ground beef the week after. By the time chicken breast goes on sale again you’ll appreciate the change-up. This has the pleasant side effect of forcing you to explore new recipes with new meats, expanding your culinary capabilities.

Buy in bulk and save for later

You can often get a lower $/kg by buying meats in a bulk, or “Club Pack” format. Further, if you don’t want the store flyer to dictate your meat consumption, you can hedge your bets by freezing some of the meat for later. It’s always important to check the price though, since sometimes the large packages offer the same price as smaller portions.

Buy unprocessed

You’re going to pay a premium for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and this premium often exceeds the difference in lean meat by weight compared to bone-in chicken breasts with skin. Sure, it may take marginally longer to prepare when you’re cooking, but less processed meats can actually taste more flavorful and less dry when cooked, with the skin trapping in moisture and the bone giving the meat flavour.

Instead of buying marinated pork chops, try buying a whole pork shoulder and throwing it into the slow cooker with some vegetables. Within hours the connecting tissue will have melted away, leaving you with a stew of flavorful and tender pork chunks, at a much lower cost than pre-prepared meats.

Buy less popular cuts

Recently the boneless skinless chicken breast has become extraordinarily popular (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-04-07/features/ct-food-0402-chicken-pieces-20100407_1_chicken-wings-skinless-chicken-breast-boneless) in restaurants and home recipes. Chickens only have two breasts, so prices rise due to simple supply and demand economics. You can get a better value for your buck by purchasing less popular parts of the bird such as thighs or legs. If you are feeling adventurous, consider trying less popular meat such as lamb or duck when they are on sale.

Buy meat on quick sale

When meats approach their expiry date, many grocery stores mark them down as much as 50% to encourage sales and prevent spoilage. These “quick sale” prices let you snag perfectly good meat for significant discounts, as long as you cook or freeze them soon after buying.

As with most things, you pay a premium on convenience and flexibility. With store sales you are essentially trading your meal flexibility for lower costs. If you follow sales schedules, buy less popular cuts, and grab meat reduced for quick sale, you can easily cut your meat costs in half while maintaining a protein-rich diet.