How to stretch your meat budget without sacrificing flavour. Explore techniques and recipes for using meat as a flavour accent.
Meat is often the most expensive part of the budget.
And if you are feeding a family of meat lovers, who don’t want to eat vegetarian all the time (like my husband and teenage son), you can stretch your meat budget by using meat as a flavour accent – a supporting player that adds depth and richness to a meal, rather than the star of the plate (I’m looking at you, meat and three veg).
By using meat sparingly, we can stretch our grocery budget further and keep the meat lovers in the family happy.
Budget-Friendly Meat Choices for Flavour Accent
When it comes to choosing budget-friendly meat options for flavour accents, there are several choices that can add loads of taste without breaking the bank.
- Bacon and ham
- Flavoured sausages
- Mince (ground meat)
- Chicken thighs
- Offal like liver, kidneys, etc.
Thanks to its smokey, salty goodness, bacon (and ham) are versatile ingredients that infuses dishes with tonnes of flavour. A small amount of crispy bacon can elevate salads, pasta dishes, risotto, potato dishes, egg dishes, pizza, or even roast veggies, providing a burst of flavour in every bite.
I usually buy the 1kg bulk pack to save money and freeze it in portions of 2 and 4 rashes, ready to add to any meal. It defrosts quickly, making it a great last-minute meal option.
Packets of ‘cooking bacon’, which is kind of a mix of off-cuts, is even cheaper and is ideal for adding to meals.
Meal ideas that use bacon or ham as a flavour enhancer include:
- Pea and ham soup (uses ham or bacon bones, even cheaper!)
- Ham and cheese muffins
- Pantry staple pasta with bacon
- Roast vegetable frittata (a vegetarian recipe that you can add bacon to)
- Speedy pizzas
Flavoured sausages, like Italian sausages or Chorizo, can add a huge punch of flavour to a meal, and you only need a little. Even regular sausages can be stretched but still add heaps of flavour by cutting them into small pieces and adding them to a stew or casserole.
Meal ideas to stretch sausages include:
Mince (Ground meat)
Mince is versatile and can easily be ‘bulked up’ with beans, lentils, vegetables, pasta, or rice and stretched across multiple meals.
Whether it’s ground beef, turkey, or chicken, a modest portion of seasoned and browned mince can be used to create hearty chilli, flavourful meatballs, or satisfying tacos.
The recipes below are all where you can reduce the amount of mince, substituting for more vegetables, beans, or grains.
Chicken thighs are a budget-friendly cut that offers excellent flavour and tenderness. They can add richness to dishes like curries, stir-fries, or casseroles that can be made using mostly vegetables to reduce costs.
Here are some chicken recipes that stretch a little bit of chicken to flavour a full family meal:
Offal is not everyone’s favourite food. But it’s a cheap way to add meat to a meal. Some ideas include:
- Lambs fry and bacon
- Steak and kidney pie
- Bán Mì (Vietnamese Rolls with paté – I absolutely love these, and Recipe Tin Eats is my favourite food blog)
By seeking out sales or buying in bulk, you can find discounted cuts of meat that still deliver incredible taste. You can create delicious and satisfying meals on a budget using these budget-friendly meat choices as flavour accents rather than the main attraction.
You might also like: Cheap Cuts of Meat – What to Buy and How to Cook it
Techniques for Maximising Meat Flavour
While we want every dish we cook to be delicious, when using meat as a flavour accent, we want to extract the maximum flavour we can. There are several techniques you can use to do so.
The first is rendering the meat fat. Rendering involves slowly cooking the meat to melt and release its rich, flavourful fats. This process intensifies the meat’s taste and adds a delicious depth to your dishes.
Rendering fat can add flavour to roast and sauteed vegetables, potato dishes, egg dishes, soups, stews, casseroles, and grain and legume dishes.
Another technique is browning the meat to caramelise it and develop those browned bits that form at the bottom of the pan. Those bottom-of-the-pan bits are a flavour powerhouse that can be deglazed with liquids like stock or wine, creating a rich, concentrated sauce that elevates stews and casseroles.
Slow cooking methods, such as braising or stewing, are excellent for tough cuts of meat. The low and slow cooking process breaks down the meat’s collagen, resulting in tender, succulent pieces that infuse a stew or casserole with flavour.
Using meat-based stocks as a flavour booster creates a rich, savoury base that can be used as a foundation for soups, stews, and sauces.
Finally, herbs, spices, and seasonings enhance meat flavours, creating hearty, full-flavoured meals with less meat.
With these techniques, you can maximise the flavour potential of even small amounts of meat.
Smart Meal Planning Strategies
Smart meal planning is a key strategy for stretching your meat.
You can plan to incorporate leftovers from previous meals into your meal plan, ensuring no meat goes to waste. For example, if you roasted a whole chicken earlier in the week, you can repurpose the leftover meat by adding it to a salad, stir-fry, or soup.
Another effective approach is to stretch meat across multiple meals by using it strategically. For instance, if you’re planning a dish with a small amount of mince, you can plan further meals in the week to use up the rest of the mince.
This way, the meat becomes a flavorful accent that enhances the overall taste without dominating the dish.
Additionally, consider planning meatless meals or incorporating more plant-based proteins into your weekly menu. This reduces your reliance on meat, diversifies your diet, and saves money.
By adopting these smart meal planning strategies, you can make your meals more economical, sustainable, and delicious.
You might also like: 6 Ways to Save Money on Meat
Save Money on the Groceries eBook
For more ways to save money on groceries, check out the eBook Plan Cook Save: How to Eat Well When Money is Tight and Time is Short.
*Learn how to set the right grocery budget for your circumstances.
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*Discover a meal planning strategy that will only take you a couple of minutes a week but will save you hours.
By using meat as a flavour accent, you can create delicious and budget-friendly meals that will satisfy the most passionate of meat lovers in your family while still saving money.