Grocery bills get ever more stressful this time of year. Supermarkets bombard us with specials ($50 Moet and Chandon, anyone?) so we end up buying more than we need for the holiday season.
Despite the environmental effects, New Zealand families still heavily rely on meat for their meals. It's a mainstay on most Kiwi dinner tables and also forms a big chunk of the household weekly spend.
A lot of us accept the high price of meat – despite the fact there's probably a farm within 20 minutes of your house – as "the way it has always been". Though it wouldn't hurt, you don't have to become a weekday vegetarian to start saving money on meat. Here's how to get your animal protein a little cheaper.
Bulk meals out with meatballs
Make your weekly meat purchase go the distance by making meatballs that are only actually 50 per cent animal protein. Meatballs don't have to be unhealthy and full of white starches, either – breadcrumbs aren't the only things you can use to bulk them up.
You can use oats, vegetables like beetroot and kumara, even canned chickpeas to make up the other half of the mix. They usually taste more delicious than pure meatballs alone.
Don't get fixed on a particular animal
If you're following a recipe, most people will use the particular animal stipulated on the page. This might come at a cost if there are no good specials on that meat. Just because a recipe is for lamb – a higher priced meat – doesn't mean you can't substitute it out for a cheaper alternative.
Buy reduced price meat and freeze it immediately
Keep you eye out for those yellow stickers. Every supermarket has specials on various kinds of meat when it's about to expire. If you buy meat that only has one day left of its "best before", snap it up at a discount and freeze it immediately. Pork will last about six months, and chicken, sheep and beef will last between nine and 12.
Buy cheap cuts and learn how to use them
New Zealanders are fixated on high-quality meat, and that's a bad thing when it comes to your wallet. A lot of recipes don't require the premium meat we often end up buying, particularly when you're using recipes from other regions of the world.
Most require slower cooking to reach peak taste, and you'll find many meals from places like the Middle East and parts of Europe (even France, not everything French is five-star!) only require cheap cuts. All you need to do is learn how to marinate, braise, and tenderise properly to fully enjoy them.
Talk to your butcher
Butchers are often owner-operators and have complete license to sell you meat at a reduced price on the spot. This doesn't mean you should go into your local and barter on advertised prices. Rather, walk straight up to the butcher, tell him/her you're on a budget,
and ask what meat they have that's still edible but otherwise is about to be thrown out. You can pick up good bargains this way, and the butcher can also tell you exactly how to cook it.
Trim meat off yourself
Yes it's easier to buy pre-cut chicken for a stir-fry, butterflied lamb, or pre-made hamburger patties. But it costs you extra because you're paying for someone else to do something you can easily do yourself. Buy plain and simple cuts of meat (or whole animals like chickens) and trim the meat off as appropriate at home. Any how-to concerns are easily rectified by YouTube videos.
Save your bones
Stock is required for many recipes and it's silly to buy it ready-made. Store-bought doesn't taste real most of the time anyway. Save the bones from all your meat and boil them down with water, salt, celery and herbs to make a broth.
If you freeze it in single-servings (e.g. use old hummus or other dip containers) you can just throw the iced version directly in your hot pan next time you need it. Within minutes you'll have juicy, real stock that cost you almost nothing.