All the Meat, and Nothing but the Meat

Monday’s Grocery Theory post here, sneaking in just over the wire. So far Grocery Theory posts have introduced a ranking of Austin grocery stores, methods of storing when stocking up, the types of shopping we do and weekly planning.

This week I’ll be posting about meat.  Chicken, fish, beef, lamb, mutton, offal, what have you, this week we’re just going to call it all ‘meat’.  If you’re a vegetarian, this column will be useless to you, and all I can do is promise a similar discussion of vegetables sometime soon. Excepting beets, because holy cow those taste like dirt.

I see two extremes in the purchase of meat. On one side, there is purchasing meat that was sustainably, organically raised by farmers who treat their animals humanely and respectfully.   On the other end is purchasing meat that has been grown by a factory interested in maximizing a profit and that thinks of their product as a commodity.

There is a lot of middle ground, grey area, labeling misconception, and governmental regulation in-between and around those two extremes.  There is organic meat, natural meat, pesticide-free meat, local meat, solution-enhanced meat, free-range meat, grass-fed meat, organically fed meat, water-injected meat and probably a dozen more I haven’t listed.

How to decide what to purchase, when you’ve got more options and price-points than a brain can hold?  For produce, there’s the shortcut I try to follow, The Dirty Dozen, which you have likely read about.  Meat doesn’t have any such clear-cut line, with the exception of the rule about big fish having more mercury than other fish, so it’s good to limit intake of tuna and other large fish.  Other than that, we’re left floundering around (tip your waitresses, we’ll be here all week!).

Large grocers aren’t likely to help us much, as this Washington Post article shows. To sum up:  A grocery store chain decided  to start labeling their meat ‘USDA Graded’. Which seems ok when it’s a nice shiny blue sticker, I guess. But read that sticker, and it means that the USDA graded it, that’s all.  Doesn’t mean it’s Choice or Select, Prime or Dog Food, only that the USDA graded it. The USDA grades nearly all meat sold in the US, so that’s not really a useful label.  Given the store ordinarily sold Select, and had previously labeled packages that way, there’s a conclusion to be drawn, and I leave that as an exercise for you, Dear Reader.

Farmer’s Markets can help us a lot. You’re likely talking to a person integral to the care and butchering of the animal you’re taking home to eat, and like as not they’ll answer anything you want to know regarding the care and feeding of your meal-to be.

We all know the problem here, though. Sing it with me, ~~~Meat for a week from HEB, I say!, at the price  for just one day, at you, my lovely Farmer’s Market~~~. What, you didn’t know ~~~ meant sing? AND you don’t know that tune? I lament. Moving on.

So, somewhere, we have to find a happy middle. One that won’t break the bank, ruin our karma, increase our pesticide load, and will taste good.  Here’s how I break that down, to feel like I’m using our grocery dollars in the best way.

  • Whenever possible, I do buy meat at the farmers market. My budget hasn’t held that room in a while, but I have still purchased ground meat or soup bones, which are usually the least expensive cuts. If you’ve got a family that will eat kidneys/liver, you can sometimes get a deal on those, too. If you have a CSA, I know several in town have a meat option, and I personally have bought 1/4 and 1/2 a cow before. Those were great options, but require investment (for a CSA an ongoing commitment).
  • I never buy anything that’s been 12-15% ‘enhanced’ with a ‘solution’. If I want to brine something, I brine it at home, where I know what I’m doing. I don’t want to pay for water in my meat. Water is heavy and I’m paying by the pound.  This is NEVER in big print on the package, and you need to look. If it seems like a cheap price, there’s often a solution involved. Even ‘Natural’ on the label doesn’t mean there isn’t an injected solution, just that the ingredients in the solution are natural.
  • I buy the biggest, most minimally processed cuts I can. This means briskets, whole chickens, and whole fish.*
  • If certified organic meat is on sale to within a dollar or so of what I might usually pay, I consider it. Am I sure it will not end up leftovers? Can I freeze it and should stock up?
  • If any kind of meat is on sale for less than $1 a lb? I’m considering buying it. Because I have freezer space and that’s cheap. At $2 a lb, I’m thinking about how much I use it, and how likely organic is to come close. Often, I stock up at this price as well.

I thought I had something more complicated, but turns out, that’s it. Organic if it’s on enough of a sale, but really, other than that I shop the loss-leader meat.  I try not to stress about pesticides, because in meat they mostly reside in the fat which is trimmed for most meals.  Excepting bbq, and I’ll just have to ride that out, I guess. I don’t feel great about it, and wish it were different. Thinking about purchases is the first step though!

What are your priorities in meat purchases? Do you only buy organic? Where do you think  the best organic prices are? The whole chickens at Sprouts were the cheapest I’d seen in a while, but I haven’t been watching closely until recently. Is there a Farmer’s Market or CSA that you think is well-priced?

Related links:

This is a clickable list defining terms you might find on labels of meat or produce.  I found it interesting that all of these phrases: No Antibiotic Residues, Antibiotic Free, Drug Free, Chemical Free, No Antibiotic Growth Promotants are not allowed on meat products.

Because I found it while researching this article here’s the link to the USDA grading rules.  I find it interesting because I buy whole chickens often, but haven’t ever noticed the mark. Next time I’ll look.

* In the event I next buy fish, I’ll buy a whole one and report. But if I buy anything at the fish counter, I usually buy shellfish, and my only rule there is it’s got to be from the USA. I’m not even sure why, but I must have read it somewhere. And now so have you, so you should do that too.

Happy Ad Tuesday!

It’s our big day here at Cheepie, and what’s amazing is that the mailman brought the mail before 7pm, and the flyers were included. This hasn’t happened in months. I’ll assume the universe feels I’m a force for good.

There are a few things I want to define going forward, for simplicity’s sake.  From now on “Fiesta limit” will mean you can only buy two packages at that price with a $10 additional purchase requirement, and all others will be at the price I state.I think it makes sense to abbreviate this, and I’ll put it on a page of ‘Things to Know about Cheepie’ as soon as we’ve got more than this one thing.

I’ll also assume you’ve got a Randalls card if you’re going to head over there.  If you’ve got a card aversion, but want the card prices, I’m happy to give you my phone number to key in to get the discount–I get gas points and we bamboozle the Grocery Big Brother!  Generally, I do NOT find Randalls the cheapest on much.  But to get the deals you do need a card. They also have a program called ‘Just for U’ which has you go click on deals you want, and you get them in the store. About once a month they have a ‘free’ item, and I’ve gotten free laundry detergent and other things this way.

Randalls and Sprouts have apples this week at 99c/lb, but HEB wins at 77c/lb.

Apple Wars this week, Winner: HEB.

Fiesta

limes     15/$1

yellow onions     39c/lb

pork shoulder roast       $1.69/lb  (Fiesta limit. $2.89/lb)

chicken breast quarters  99c/lb  (Fiesta limit. $1.99/lb)

large Halloween pumpkins     $3.99/ea

Randalls

tomatoes on the vine    99c/lb

pork shoulder roast or country style ribs     $1.99/lb

BelVita Breakfast biscuits or Keebler Sandwich crackers  $1.67/ea

Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauce, 23.5-24oz      $1/ ea

HEB

granny smith, red/golden delicious apples    77c/lb

Texas grapefruit    5/$1

raspberries, 6oz.   $1.25/ea

County Post drumsticks    $1/lb

Sprouts

beginning this week:

asparagus     $1.49’lb

pineapples       49c/lb

tomatoes on the vine    99c/lb

russet potatoes  33c/lb

carving pumpkins     $3/ea  (only Fri-Sun)

pork or chicken sausage  $2.99/lb (only Fri-Sun)

ending this week:

honeycrisp apples  $1.49/lb

black seedless grapes  99c/lb

green cabbage  33c/lb

yellow onions  3lbs/$1

Stonyfeld Organic Yogurt, 32oz.   2/$5

lamb shoulder chops, grass fed   $2.99lb

Rosie Organic whole chicken    $2.99/lb

bulk raisins    $1.99/lb

vanilla macaroon granola      $1.99/lb

CM

bone-in rib eye, or cowboy steaks     $9.99/lb

I know, it’s odd that I’ve got Central Market up there. It’s because that’s their best price for those steaks, and  those steaks are good. They will freeze well with a vacuum sealer, and you can save them for when your parents come to dinner, or an anniversary, or a football Saturday where a grilled hunk of meat is the only way to assuage the pain of a loss. You could also just eat them tomorrow, because they’re tasty.

Fiesta has potatoes at 39c/lb, but that’s not the winner so I’m not listing it. It’s six cents, but I feel like the main list needs to be the lowest prices on that for the week. So I’m sticking to it. If you think there’s a more useful way to deal, let me know.

This week I’ll be getting limes, pork shoulder, apples and grapefruit. What do you think you’ll buy?

Cheep cheep!

The Weekly Meal Plan Meets Real Life

Growing up, Wednesday was Prince Spaghetti Day. If you are approximately my age, and grew up in approximately New Jersey, you might remember this ad:

And yes, for the purposes of this post, Boston is approximately Jersey.

In our house, though, Wednesday was bowling night, which meant it was Fun Food Night, which meant pizza, sub sandwiches from the little shop, or McD’s/Burger King/Arthur Treacher’s. Beyond bowling night, I don’t remember any other schedule of meals. My mom will likely comment here, saying, “How can you not know that Monday was meatloaf? And Friday was fishsticks?”  But I honestly don’t remember, while still knowing my mom’s meatloaf is still my favorite. I do remember dinner was every night at 6pm, which I cannot imagine pulling together. Mom, you rock!

I recently borrowed a book from a friend called The Family Dinner.  It’s written by Laurie David, and I was initially very skeptical of a book about family dinner being written by the wife of a famous funny guy who also has a full-time cook.  As one is (hell-o Jennifer Seinfeld, putting spinach in brownies isn’t the same as healthy eating!).

The whole book has a magazine feel to it, with many quotes from famous friends, and many, many text boxes saying fun things like, “Gardein, a new substitute for chicken, is made from soy, wheat, and peas and is a great source of protein.”  Once I started though, I kept on reading, because she was addressing something I worry about. My house rarely eats dinner all at the same time, and if we do it’s still rarely together. This led me to the weekly meal plan. I figured if I had a plan, I could save the time spent wondering what to make, and put it toward yelling at the kids to wipe the paint off the table and get it set for dinner.

This plan didn’t lead to 7 nights a week of family dinner, of course, and I can’t always stick to the plan. Having the general framework set up does help, though. I know that if I don’t have anything to put on a tortilla on Tuesday, I’ve got to shop or re-think.  If there is a meeting Thursday night, I know the kids need healthy supplements to the box of mac and cheese Big Sister will make.

Here’s my plan. First my basic framework for a dinner:  each dinner has a protein, starch, fruit, raw vegetable, cooked vegetable.  I try to make sure that there’s something each of us likes with each meal, but as the kids get older I worry less about this.  I don’t list the entire meal, because it’s flexible, depending on what’s on sale.

  • Mon: fried rice and soup/red beans and rice
  • Tue: Taco Tuesday
  • Wed: Prince Spaghetti Day
  • Thur: Refrigerator Buffet 
  • Fri: Pizza Night, or Meat on Grill

Monday and Thursday are the days I work on using leftovers. Refrigerator Buffet is simple–all the leftovers go out on the counter, and we fix plates. The kids love it, because they’ve got lots of choices, and I love it because it’s frugal and I don’t cook.  Mondays are also a leftover day, but upcycled.  I make fried rice with whatever meat and vegetables are left from a weekend of food, and use others to make a soup of some sort.  If the leftovers don’t seem like they’ll be good that way, they go in a pot with beans and get served on rice.  This way, I minimize waste as well as that urge to pick up take out!

If you’ve got a plan, post it in the comments. Unless you have a monthly plan. Don’t type that in, just give us a link. You have things to do.

Cheep Cheep!

Raisins? Oats? Roll ’em up!

Bulk raisins are on sale at Sprouts this week, and I’ve got a great way for you to use them.

With raisins on sale this week, and rolled oats last week, I thought I’d share one of our family staples. Despite my love of all hot breakfast cereals, none of my kids want anything to do with oatmeal. It’s possible I fed them too much when they were babies, since that powdery oatmeal was so easy to mix with water, formula or breastmilk and airplane right into baby faces. So now they’re all done with oatmeal, and yet, I buy rolled oats when they are on sale.

A friend posted this on Facebook years ago, and my kids still get happy when I roll them up. We’ve done many variations, but most commonly I go ahead and toss raisins in.  The original recipe my friend posted has several more variations–cranberry pistachio and almond joy, for example.

I’m listing the ingredients below in ‘parts’, because I find it easier to vary it when I think of it that way. The link above is more like an ordinary recipe. You can substitute any other ‘butter’ for peanut butter, just keep in mind if it’s runnier, because you’ll need less, and maybe less sweetener, too.   These keep well, I’ve heard, but I haven’t had any last long enough to find out.

  • 4 parts rolled oats
  • 1 part coconut flakes
  • 1 part peanut butter
  • 1 part ground flax seed
  • 1 part chocolate chips
  • 1 part other thing you like: almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds, things like that.
  • a bit less than 1 part honey or agave nectar, depending on what else you’ve added

You basically need enough honey to make the stuff stick together. So start with some, and stir it in. It’ll be ok, they’ll eat them no matter what, really.

I’m working up to having a variation of these always available to wean my kids off granola bars. At least until I start making granola bars.

Cheep Cheep!

Happy Ad Tuesday!

It’s apple war season. In summer it’s corn, now it’s apples. I’d been all set to call Sprouts the winner with their price for Galas, but as often happens, HEB wins by 22 cents! That’s in part how they win the loyalty they’ve got, they’ve got better spies seeing what the others will put on sale and then they do their 11 cent or 22 cent under cut. So smart!  HEB has the cheapest apples this week.

In round two, though, we’ve got Sprouts winning, with the 28 cent undercut on Honeycrisp. It’s basically a matter of what kind of apple you like. Which lately is a tough call. I recently bought a Diva apple. Because if I’m any kind of diva, it’s a grocery diva, so it seemed like destiny. The kids ate it, naturally, but they assured me it was good.

HEB

Gala apples or Bartlett pears    77c/lb

blackberries, 6oz.    $1.25

vine tomatoes      47c/lb

hot house (english) cucumbers    77c/ea

split chicken breasts    $1.47/lb  (this means bone-in, to be clear)

candy corn, 6.5oz     98c/ea

Randalls

corn   8/$1

pears     99c/lb

Barilla pasta, 12-16oz.     79c/ea

Lucerne yogurt, 32oz.   $1.99/ea

Sprouts

beginning this week:

honeycrisp apples  $1.49/lb

black seedless grapes  99c/lb

green cabbage  33c/lb

yellow onions  3lbs/$1

Stonyfeld Organic Yogurt, 32oz.   2/$5

lamb shoulder chops, grass fed   $2.99lb              

Rosie Organic whole chicken    $2.99/lb

bulk raisins    $1.99/lb

vanilla macaroon granola      $1.99/lb

ending tomorrow:

whole seedless watermelon                 $1.99 ea

peaches and pears                                  99c/lb

gala and granny smith apples                  99c/lb

boneless skinless chicken thighs          $1.99/lb

bulk oats (quick, steel cut, or rolled)        69c/lb

Fiesta

boneless skinless chicken breasts     $1.99/lb (2 packages with additional $10 purchase. $3.79/lb further purchases)

pineapples    $1.99/ea

pomegranates      $1.49/ea

red or gold potatoes, 5lb sack      $1.88/ea

celery    88c/ea

A couple of notes:

I included a few things I don’t usually, namely the grass-fed lamb chops and  the organic chicken at Sprouts. They’re on the list because lamb is rarely that cheap, even shanks go for $4.99 these days. So take a look–they aren’t rib chops, and are not pretty, but they are lamb and you might feel like you could make them work in a recipe your family likes. For certified organic antibiotic and hormone free chicken, $2.99/lb is as cheap as it gets.

Sprouts also has Honduran Organic coffee for buy one at $9.99, get one free for 12oz packages. Depending on how you get your caffeine, you might be interested in that. CM generally has at least a few types regularly available for $9.99/lb, but I’m not sure that price extends to organics, and I’ve never seen them do a BOGO. Cheepie will check!

HEB  has candy corn for 98c/6.5oz sack. I only post this because I know some crazy people have a thing about candy corn. Which is inexplicable, because candy corn is like anti-candy, just the worst. But if you want some, there you go, it’s all piled up at HEB in front of all  the real candy, just for you. You nutter.

This week all the flyers are all about Halloween candy, which I refuse to recap until it’s at least more than two hours into October.  Do you have a secret cheap candy source? In the past, I’m a mess, in the store at the last minute wondering if it’s wrong to ONLY have Smarties (answer: technically no, but I feel guilty not offering a choice).  If you’ve got a great source, please share.

Until the next time, Cheep Cheep!