It’s been another horrible week for families on a budget as yet more cheap beef products have been found to contain horse meat. And not just a little bit of horse meat, but up to 100%.
Whether you’re comfortable eating horse or not, that’s a worrying lack of transparency and consumer protection. If the retailer can’t guarantee that what it says on the packet is what’s inside, then it’s hard to trust any of its food safety claims.
I’m a vegetarian but, as the main household shopper, I buy meat for my husband and son. I’ve been looking at ways consumers can keep the price down without eating meat that’s been padded out with rusk, water, other animal proteins – or vast chunks of horse.
Talk to your butcher
I’ve consistently found that my local market is cheaper than the supermarket, and this has been true for meat and fish as well as veg.
Not only does the meat tend to be cheaper it’s also more likely to be local, which can only be good. My local market has several butchers, so there’s quite a lot of choice.
The butcher and fishmonger I most often use both regard me with a bemused tolerance when I explain that I’m vegetarian and out of my depth. But they are always happy to steer me towards the cheaper options when I ask, and explain how best to cook them.
If your cooking skills are limited to chicken breasts and prime beef mince, then talking to your butcher or fishmonger can really save you money.
Look for cheaper alternatives
Alongside your local outlets, I’ve found some supermarket meat and fish counters can also advise you on cooking the cheaper, less popular products.
They should be able to provide guidance on how to substitute meat in your favourite dishes with suitable and cheaper alternatives.
For instance, swapping chicken for less expensive turkey will save you money and when you’re cooking a sauce-based dish, such as a curry, you really can’t taste the difference.
In the UK we seem to have lost our appetite for offal, so it’s still much cheaper than other meats.
And you can get really inventive with this cheap meat; many gastro-pubs now serve offal-based dishes because they are tasty and unusual. Offal is cheaper and it’s far more environmentally friendly to use up the whole carcass.
The most commonly sold offal is probably liver and kidneys, as these are easy to cook. However, your local butcher will probably have more exciting choices, like hearts, tails and even brains. Again, a butcher will have a wealth of knowledge on preparing and enjoying offal dishes.
Check out the BBC’s offal recipes for some inspiration – there’s even a pig’s head and offal ravioli. There’s also a fantastic guide to offal on the Guardian website.
Interestingly, my mother buys offal to make dog food with and says that she saves money and her dog eats better, so you can save money on more than just the human meals.
Cook it yourself
So far, the horsey meat has been found in processed food and meals. The simple way to avoid that is to make your own lasagnes, cottage pies and other meals from scratch.
Frustratingly, this can often be more expensive than buying a ready-made dish. For example, an 800g beef lasagne for two costs £2 at ASDA, so that’s £1 a head. Whereas buying the ingredients separately can cost far more; 500g of British beef alone costs £2 from the same supermarket.
The trick here is to buy in bulk and take advantage of special offers. Many supermarkets have discounts if you buy more than one pack of meat or fish at a time.
You can either then freeze those extra packs, or make extra portions of your meal and freeze them. Cook once, eat twice is a great way to save time and money.
Offset the cost with vegetarian days
As a sop to my vegetarianism, this is actually what we do in our house. I prefer to buy UK-reared, high welfare meat and fish for my family, and it doesn’t come cheap.
When I do buy meat in supermarkets, I look out for the RSPCA’s ‘Freedom Food’ logo. That ensures that the animals have been reared, transported and slaughtered according to the RSPCA’s welfare standards.
Of course, high welfare standards come at a higher cost. For example, Sainsbury’s standard British chicken fillets cost £9.78 per kilogram. But the Freedom Food-endorsed fillets cost £12 a kilogram – that’s over a fifth more.
However, by not eating meat for two or three days a week, we offset that cost. So if you want to eat higher quality meat without hiking your food bill, this is worth considering.
There are some great vegetarian recipes online; the BBC’s GoodFood website is a good place to start.
Do you buy budget meat? Has the horse meat scandal upset you? How do you keep the cost of meat down? Share your experiences with other readers using the comments below.