Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Frugal Food: The Truth About Protein

I have come to the conclusion that people are obsessed with protein. And not just any protein, but high cost meat and fish proteins. When I talk about frugal food or the fun things I do with the vegetables from my Community Shared Agriculture vegetables, I usually get the same response: "That's so great, but what about the protein?". In addition to a full meal people expect me to throw a chicken drumstick on the plate. Why?

It seems that people really do believe you must consume a piece of chicken or a a steak every night to get enough protein. Another popular statement is that there is "no way my husband will be full unless there is meat or chicken". There is no way we can cut costs on meat, because "we need it for dinner every night." I seem to be rare in the fact that I do not want a piece of juicy protein every night. The though of eating meat every night actually upsets my stomach a little. Who needs all of that heavy protein? Not me, and according to a 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, not most U.S. citizens either.

The study reports that the average person is currently consuming about double the amount of protein their body requires per day. The National institutes of Health explains that by eating 2-3 small servings of a protein rich food per day most people can meet their daily protein requirement.

Examples of single protein servings include:
1 egg
2 TBs of peanut butter
2-3 ounces of meat, poultry or fish
1/2 cup cooked dried beans

Most of us are serving way more than that with our meat meals. But why? Eating too much red meat can lead to heart disease and cancer and the jury is still out on the effects of massive animal protein consumption on the environment. Plus for many of us, it is cutting into our wallets.

While I agree that proteins like chicken are sometimes the easiest things to make for a busy mom, they are not always the most cost effective. I buy my meat on sale, and even then it can sometimes cost more than a meal made without meat. (This is very regionally dependent. In some areas meat is extremely cheap and fresh produce is hard to find. Not so in my location/ And if you keep kosher like me, meat almost always costs more than other items, except for cheese).

I am not saying you should begin a diet of rice and beans for all your protein needs (I can all ready hear people screaming about how their husbands will react to that) but I am suggesting minimizing the massive amounts of protein we consume.

Some Ideas:
Stretch Your Proteins: Everybody has heard of how stir fries allow you to make a meal with less meat. I understand that your family may be bored of them. But there are other ways to stretch a protein. My favorites are shredding meat into salads - like chicken ceasar salad, or using meat in pasta dishes. Chicken and spaghetti, introduced to me by my SIL, is a favorite with children and adults. (Recipe to come in a separate post). Use less ground meat, and more salads in dishes like tacos. This has the benefit of cutting down on excess protein, while increasing consumption of an item that most Americans are not geting enough of - vegetables. Your husband still gets his meat fix, with about half or a third of the amount of meat consumed per portion.

Get Creative: We all know beans, when combined with rice, have all your protein needs. This does not have to mean a bowl of brown rice with some kidney beans thrown on top. Legumes are a wonderful addition to many dishes and can be culinary delights. I personally love red lentil soup, black bean soup, and vegetarian chilli. I also find that many red lentil dishes - like Mujedrah (red lentils with frizzled onions, served over rice) - are big hits with the meat eating men. Do you want these recipes? Stay tuned! The trick to answering your next question - soaking your beans overnight will eliminate their tendency to produce gas, while preserving their nutritional value.

Go Slow: Try one night a week without meat. "Meatless Monday" has become a popular fixture in many households. We get our CSA share on Monday and enjoy creating a variety of vegetarian dishes with it. Thse do not need to include cheese. Once your family sees they can enjoy a meal without meat or chicken you can try phasing in more things.

Do Not Waste Meat: This helps the environment, and your wallet. If a meat dish goes uneaten, repurpose the leftovers. Chicken frames, with some meat left on them, make an outrageously good soup. It doesn't matter what you cooked them in orignially - it just enhances the soup flavour. My husband may have convinced me to marry him with his awesome chicken soup. You know what it is made from? The leftover "carcass" from when his fmaily goes to his grandmother for dinner. She throws them in the freezer for us, and would otherwise be throwing them out, so it's a win-win all around. Using leftovers in new ways is just plain common budgeting sense.

You Don't Have to Eat Tofu: Start reading nutrition labels and you will find that tofu and seitan are not your only meat-less options when it comes to protein. Neither are beans. Chickpeas are great. So are many vegetables and fruits and eggs. My personal favorites are nut proteins. Nuts like almonds also contain nut fats which are really great for you. Try some almond butter on your sandwich. It's great, and it's giving you a lot of protein.



Anonymous said...

Very nice blog. My family only necessarily eats meat on Friday night for shabbat and the leftovers on Sunday night. While we occasionally have a meat meal on Wednesday, we don't ever have meat for lunches or for the other dinners. Instead, we make pasta (Lasagna with cheese, ravioli, pasta with pesto or sauce), or blintz souffle or veggie chili or veggie tacos or breakfast for dinner (pancakes, eggs, etc.). We have many other Dairy meals, as well. I think the desire for meat at every meal is a combination of family history and a little drop of laziness, since it is easier to grill some chicken than to make a veggie stirfry.

Harleth said...

Anonymous, I think your family tradition probably also makes those Shabbat meals really special and really likavod shabbat!

I love breakfast for dinner! We had french toast (annd Greek Salad) tonight.

Post a Comment