My confession: During our early years of marriage, Marshall and I never once thought about where our food was coming from. We had ZERO idea we would one day run our very own farm raising livestock. And, we had ZERO idea it was important to know where our food was coming from—that it actually made a difference in our health as well as the sustainability of our country's farmland.
The early, carefree days. Pre-kids and pre-farming.
Then everything changed.
One evening at a meal, a friend casually offered, "I think you should care about what you eat." Humorously, Marshall was adamantly resistant to the idea at first. However, one thing led to another and our eyes were slowly opened to a whole new way of consuming food and shopping. It was not only a logical transformation from the new information we were learning, but there was a compelling theological argument that ultimately won us over.
This same friend who got us thinking about where our food comes from told us he wanted to homestead and farm. We thought he was crazy for saying that and told him so, producing several different arguments against his statement. The irony is obvious: A few years later we decided to start our own grass-based, sustainable farming business. It's funny how you often end up in places least expected in life.
Our family photos now often include farm animals.
The point in sharing a bit of mine and Marshall's history with you? When we first decided we wanted to include pasture-raised meats in our meal planning, we were new to the concept and dirt poor. Literally. We'd just made a career change and were living off our meager savings and "odd jobs" for a season. It required us to be creative and resourceful.
We realize it takes a lot of planning and sacrifice to eat products from trustworthy sources. We've lived it and wanted to share the 3 most helpful strategies our family implemented when we started our journey of eating pasture-raised meats.
1. Reduce the amount of meat eaten weekly.
- I try to plan 3-4 meals per week that included meat.
- For the other nights, I try to incorporate leftovers or have a vegetarian night. There are a lot of great recipes out there for hearty meals without meat. A few ideas include: homemade pizza, quiche, vegetarian chili, salad w/couscous or quinoa, or vegetarian tacos.
- My favorite meatless meal is a rice bowl with beans, any and every veggie you want (tomatoes & peppers are my favorite to include), topped with avocado, feta or cheddar cheese and sauce of choice (chipotle or yumm sauce are my top picks).
2. Make meat the garnish instead of the centerpiece of meals.
- Sometimes using meat as the main item on a menu is the right choice—like salted roast chicken, pan-fried steaks with butter, or spiced pork shoulder meals. But other nights, it helps me to get more bang for my buck by simply garnishing a dish with meat. Some ideas include:
- Garnish salads with leftover chicken, pork shoulder or steak to turn it into a protein-rich, filling meal. I love a taco salad with leftover spiced pork shoulder!
- Make a one-dish meal using sausage or bacon to garnish roasted vegetables. My favorite version: Roast chopped regular and sweet potatoes, beets, broccoli, & edamame on a baking tray for 30 min. at 375 degrees. Then pull tray out, sprinkle veggies with garlic salt, drizzle with BBQ sauce and add grated cheddar cheese. Garnish with browned sausage crumbles and put back in oven for final 10 min. of baking time--this is easily one of my top choice dinners!
- Make spaghetti sauce to include only half the meat you'd normally use and add broccoli or mixed veggies for a new spin on the meal.
- Prepare vegetable or bean based soups, and garnish with meat on top for an extra bit of fun and flavor. I love two bean kale soup with a bit of sausage thrown in on top.
We used Jowl Bacon to garnish this crepe filled with brie & apple slices.
3. Use Everything!
- One of the very first times I bought just one pasture-raised whole chicken at a farmers market, it cost me $36! I was not expecting that, but pretended to not be surprised and paid the kind farmer the amount due. I quickly learned the incredible value of learning to cook using every last part of the piece of meat at hand to get the most from the products I purchased.
- Click here to find simple recipes for making chicken broth and beef broth with leftover bones. It's not only nourishing but allows you to get more value from your purchase. I typically get at least 3.5 quarts of broth per batch, which is at minimum a $17.50 value if purchasing the same quality stock from the store. Plus, it's always handy to have on hand!
- Be creative in using leftovers! Even if I have just a small amount of meat leftover from a meal, I will save it to use in a soup or casserole and will use extra vegetables to balance it.
A recent batch of chicken broth I made in the crock pot.
Perhaps the best advice is to remember to not put pressure on yourself to have the perfect buying or eating habits. It's easy to feel like you have to do it all or do nothing at all. Start small and then make changes as seems best--but beware you may want to become farmers (we never saw it coming ;-) Seriously though, starting small is the best advice there is and then you can wisely and intentionally add on from there.
Our Budget Meat Package was created with just that in mind. Check it out if you're looking for a place to start.
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