Friday, June 24, 2011

Get More Bang for Your Food Budget Buck Part IV: Augmenting Recipes in a Cost Effective Manner

Beef up your Main Courses with Veg
We hear it all the time on television, the Internet, and in the news: Americans consume far too few fruits and vegetables, while consuming way too much meat (particularly red meat). This problem contributes to a multitude of health problems ranging from obesity, heart problems, cancer, and ultimately, death. It’s not a pretty picture.

Aside from the health problems related to over consuming meat, the cost can be staggering. I was shopping for ground round (beef) the other day and it was $5 a pound. In Texas. Where there are more cows than people. I can't even imagine what they are paying in...say...New York. This got me thinking, how can I cut back on using meat without hearing this:

This is going to take a bit of ingenuity. I'm not a fan of "sneaky" cooking; I think it only leads to trouble. I know I'm not a mother yet, but I believe, in my heart, that open communication about food will lead your children into making better choices on their own. When you sneak in ingredients to familiar foods, the taste will be altered to some degree, kids will comment on how the food tastes "funny", and will feel manipulated when it comes out that you slipped spinach into their brownies or brussel sprouts into their macaroni and cheese. When you are upfront and honest with your family about trying something new, you may get initially rebuffed, but curiosity may get the best of them. I could go on heaps on my opinions regarding kids and food battles, but I am going to save that for another time. Let's get back on topic.

There are several recipes you can beef up with veg that are totally legitimate. (I've got to find another term for beefed up! LOL) I think pasta dishes really lend themselves to this because the sauces really permeate the vegetables, giving the impression that they are integral to the dish as opposed to competing with it. Some of my favorite vegetables to add to pasta dishes are squash, zucchini, and eggplant. Let's look at two plates of spaghetti below. Which looks more appetizing?

Option A

Option B

I'm going to hope you chose Option B. This choice is not only better for you, it uses less meat AND will be more filling because it contains a lot of vegetable fiber. Squash, Zucchini, and Eggplants have a very firm flesh that really lends itself being a meat substitute. In saucy recipes I usually dice it into small pieces and let it simmer in my tomato sauce while I attend to other parts of the meal. They absorb a lot of the tomato flavor and have a good toothy feel.

Let's tackle another one. A classic crowd pleaser for decades: Lasagna! When we think of lasagna, we typically think of 4 things: Tons of Meat, cheese, sauce, and pasta. Truth be told, ANYTHING can go in a lasagna. Lasagna simply means "to stack". This is a great meal to have kids help out with because they help by sprinkling in the ingredients that you have laid out. By helping to prepare the meal, they are more engaged, and will be more likely to consume what is made. When it comes to cooking mise en place very important, but for lasagna, it is wicked important. When putting a veg layer in, I generally use veg that is cut into thin disks. This helps the layers stay nice and flat. Alternate meat and veg layers and you will find that you need 1/2 the meat you normally do, but you have managed to put in 3-4 squash, zucchinis, or 1-2 eggplants. I've even used cucumbers once (by accident) and it gave the final taste a bright, summery flavor. Chopped spinach leaves can be dispersed sparingly throughout for a hint of color.

Let's do one more. Let's talk about some of those casserole type meals like Pot Pies. Whenever I am making my chicken pot pie, shepherd's pie, or soups/stews, I ALWAYS throw in more veg than recipes typically call for. For example, my beloved Julia's recipe for Beef Bourguignon (beef stew) calls for only 1 carrot. Honey, please. People are already expect there to be vegetables in these types of dishes, so why not add a little more? They add a color, brightness, and flavor. Adding an extra couple of carrots or 1/2 cup of peas while pulling out 1/4 lb of meat isn't going to throw off the balance of these meals. If you cooked every single day, in one week you would have saved almost 2 lbs. of meat. At the rate that I listed above, that's almost $10.

What other recipes could you (legitimately) beef up with veg? Let me hear your ideas!

Are you making any changes you that you have read about? What did you do, how much did you save, and what did you learn? Tell me about it in the comments!

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