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Beef: It's what's cheap for dinner

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By The Staff

According to a recent consumer survey funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, American consumers are actively working to manage their food costs but aren’t sure of the best approach. Sixty percent of respondents are changing purchasing patterns at the supermarket in an attempt to balance their budgets.

“In today’s challenging economic times, consumers should first look for nutrient-rich ingredients that are satisfying, nutritious and easy on the pocket,” says Connie Guttersen, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. One good idea is to pair lean meats with vegetables and whole grains for a variety of dishes, including salads, soups, stews, sandwiches and stir-fry.

According to the MyPyramid Food Guidance System, naturally nutrient-rich foods help people get more essential nutrients in fewer calories. And lean beef is one of the most nutrient-rich protein sources in the diet. It is a naturally rich source of nutrients that fuel a healthy lifestyle, including protein, zinc, vitamin B12, selenium, phosphorous, niacin, vitamin B6, iron and riboflavin.

Beef can be an easy and economical way to “go lean with protein” by selecting one of the 29 cuts of beef that meet government guidelines for lean.

Saving money, navigating the meat case

Planning menus, creating shopping lists and knowing what to look for on the label when buying meat will help consumers stretch their food dollar, without sacrificing the health benefits of a high-quality protein diet.

• Evaluate purchases based on the cost per serving – not just the price per pound. The amount of beef to buy varies with the cut selected. Cooked yields per pound are related to the amount of bone, fat trim and cooking method.

• Match the cut with the cooking method. Matching the beef cut to the appropriate cooking method is the key to moist, tender, flavorful beef. For instance, less-tender steak cuts from the chuck, round, plate and flank (shoulder steak, eye round steak, top round steak, skirt steak, flank steak) are more affordable, but all require a tenderizing marinade before cooking using the grill, broiler or stove top.

• Plan ahead to cook once and dine twice. Preparing a little extra ahead of time is an easy way to create beef dishes that are ready to serve without breaking the bank. A grilled steak tonight easily becomes a key ingredient for tomorrow’s protein-packed salad. Or crumble leftover cooked burgers into chili, pizza or pasta dishes for the next day.

• Explore the versatility of ground beef. A perfect option for many recipe favorites is 95 percent lean ground beef, a convenient and economical way to add protein to a family meal.

• Buy in bulk to realize cost savings. Instead of buying pre-cut meat for kabobs, stew and stir-fry, save money by buying steaks or roasts and cutting into meat cubes or strips.

Another approach is to purchase boneless roasts to cut into steaks. A butcher may be happy to slice them for you without added cost. Plan ahead and freeze cut beef for 6 to 12 months.