Friday, January 30, 2015

Saving Money on Ground Beef - Taco Meat Recipe

Meat is often the most expensive part of any meal, especially if you try to buy high quality organic grass fed ground beef like us. Even after shopping around we still pay $4.99/lb at Costco, but we looking into buying part of a cow from a local farmer (post to come!).  An easy way we have found to save money on meat is simply to use less with each meal. Meals with meat as an ingredient such as chicken noodle soup, lasagna, or enchiladas use a lot less meat than a meat centered dish such as steak, pork chops, or marinated chicken. You can easily decreased your grocery bill by replacing one meat-centered meal a week with a vegetable or bean-centered dish.

Another method to reduce your meat budget is to stretch your meat! Not with artificial fillers like many fast food restaurants, but instead with wholesome legumes such as lentils. The easiest example of this is with taco meat. After cooking our ground beef we add cooked lentils and then season them both with taco seasoning. Most people can hardly tell the difference which we observed when we cook tacos for a group of young adults at a weekend retreat. Cooking for 40 people on a small non-profit budget teaches you to be frugal!

The ratio of meat to lentils is up to you and can easily be adjusted. For those that are not used to lentils we recommend starting with 75% meat to 25% lentils and transitioning to 50/50 (we go even further and usually use 75% lentils to only 25% meat). With anything, change can be hard so gradually transitioning to more lentils is usually better. When you first start eating more beans and lentils you may notice increased flatulence (farting! lol). The good news is that your body adjusts within two weeks. So that old saying schoolyard saying - Beans, beans...

.. is only half true! Even if you only cut your meat from 100% to 75% your price will be greatly reduced.

For those that need proof: Let’s figure a family of 4 (two adults and two children) are going to be eating tacos for dinner. To be generous we will estimate that each person will eat 1/2lb of taco meat.
4 people X ½ lb =2 lbs
2lb meat x $5/lb= $10 meat

If you replace 50% of the meat with lentils which usually cost less than $2 for a 1lb bag (5 cups cooked) you can cut your cost by $4.20.
50% meat= 2 cups (1lb)
50% lentils= 2 cups cooked lentils

with lentils being $2 for 1lb bag or 5 cups cooked
$2/5 cups= $0.40/cup

Total total of “taco meat” (50% meat 50% lentils)= $5.80
Total Savings using 50/50 “taco meat”= $4.20
(Of course bigger families would save even more!)

Still not convinced? Let’s pretend you make our “taco meat” once a month you would save $50.40/year. That is not including using lentils in enchiladas, burritos, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, sloppy Joe's, Shepard's pie, etc.

  1. Rinse lentils in a strainer
  2. Cover with water in a saucepan or pot (use the same one you plan to cook them in to save dishes)
  3. Soak overnight on the counter
  4. Drain and cover with water again
  5. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20- 30 minutes or until soft. Drain any remaining water.
No time to soak or forgot to plan ahead: Follow the same directions but increase cook time to 30-45 minutes.

How to Cook Lentils (Dry and NOT Soaked)
  1. Rinse lentils in a strainer
  2. Cover with water in a saucepan or pot
  3. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until soft. Drain any remaining water.

Time Saving Tips (Time is Money!)
When cooking lentils you can cooked the whole bag and freeze in two cup portions for using later. Two cups of frozen lentils quickly thaw when placed in the pan with cooked ground beef. Make sure you have enough seasoning (link) for both the lentils and beef after they are mix together. If it becomes too dry add some water you saved after draining cooked lentils.

Save even more money by making your own taco seasoning. I make a triple batch of the spicy version and save it in an airtight container. Here is the recipe for homemade taco seasoning(link):

Taco Seasoning

2 TBSP chili powder (spicy version: 2 1/2 TBSP)
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp crushed red pepper or cayenne (spicy version: ½ tsp cayenne)

Directions: Mix together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months. If you want a spicy version add more of the chili powder and cayenne pepper. Those that do not like spicy feel free to reduce chili powder and cayenne or completely leave out.  To make a smoky version add smoked paprika instead of sweet paprika.

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