Before I go any further, I need to say this first: I recognize that buying ethically-raised animal products is not something that most people choose to do (or in many cases are even able to do), and that’s perfectly fine with me. I am not a die-hard animal rights activist, nor do I ever plan to become one. It’s not an issue of primary importance to me, and I have zero desire to alienate people based on which type of animal products they choose to buy.
It’s a personal decision, and it’s not a hill I want to die on.
Now that my disclaimer is out of the way and you know where I’m coming from, let’s go on. :)
When and how did I decide to buy ethically-raised animal products?
Around a year ago, I saw a semi-truck with cages crammed full with live chickens stacked several feet high barreling down the highway in the rain, and I vowed to buy ethically-raised animal products whenever possible from then on. It was a pivotal moment for me, and it changed my food purchasing decisions from that day forward.
In almost every way, I do whatever it takes to save money on groceries, but this is one (partial) exception. I buy grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, cage-free eggs, and wild-caught fish. There are potential health benefits of these products, but mostly I do it because I don’t believe animals should be neglected until the day they die. For me, it’s an ethical issue, not primarily a nutritional one.
The only big problem with buying ethically-raised animal products is that it can add a lot of money to your grocery bill. Today, I want to share with you the strategies I use to save money on these big-ticket items on my grocery list.
6 Ways to Save Money on Ethically-Raised Animal Products
1) Shop at Aldi
The first way to save is to shop at Aldi. Their prices for grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, and free-range chicken are unbeatable in my area. I buy all three of these items at Aldi! If you don’t have an Aldi in your area, look into other discount places. Costco or Sam’s Club may have these items for a better deal than most places if you’re willing to buy in bulk.
2) Buy a whole chicken, then cook it in your crockpot, shred it, and freeze it to use later
This is a huge money-saver. A whole free-range chicken at Aldi costs $2.50 a pound as of August 2019. Free-range, boneless, skinless chicken breasts at Aldi are probably double that price! That’s a huge savings, even accounting for the bones and skin you throw away when you cook a whole chicken.
The question is, how do you prepare a whole chicken without a lot of fuss, and how do you use it in the regular recipes you make?
I cook whole chickens in my crockpot and it’s the easiest thing ever. All you do is put the chicken in the pot with the back facing up. You don’t need to add anything to the pot: no liquid, no seasonings, zilch. Cook the chicken on High for 4-4.5 hours with the lid on.
Check the chicken in multiple spots with an instant-read thermometer to be sure that the white meat has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit and the dark meat (legs and thighs) has reached 170 degrees. This is all that matters. Really!
I recently learned that it’s perfectly fine if poultry has a little pink color to it or if the juices don’t run clear as long as the temperature reaches 165-170 degrees, depending on whether it’s white or dark meat. It’s safe, and the meat will be juicier this way! Who knew?!
3) Combine grass-fed ground beef with a plant-based filler
The two main plant-based fillers I use are black beans and finely chopped mushrooms. I combine a pound of grass-fed ground beef with a can of drained and rinsed black beans when we’re having Mexican food (if Jeremy the bean hater lets me). This cuts way down on the cost by stretching our $6 a pound grass-fed beef much farther in tacos and other Mexican meals. The cost of a can of black beans is less than $1, so it brings the cost per serving down significantly.
When we’re having pasta with meat sauce or any other type of Italian or American dish, I finely chop one 8-oz. container of fresh mushrooms and add them to the grass-fed ground beef. The taste is hardly noticeable and even adds a small hint of extra flavor. This works great in spaghetti.
These two strategies save money, but they also have side benefits for health. First, they help reduce our intake of red meat, which aligns with the Mediterranean eating pattern. Reducing red meat intake has been linked with improved heart health and brain health, as well as a lower risk of colon cancer.
Second, these strategies increase our intake of vegetables! Eating lots of vegetables is a huge component of the Mediterranean eating pattern. The fiber from vegetables is great for our digestion and reduces our risk of cardiovascular disease as well.
4) Buy canned or frozen wild-caught salmon instead of fresh
Regularly eating salmon and other fatty fish is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, but they can be pricey, especially when you buy wild-caught varieties. The cheapest way to get wild-caught salmon is to buy it in a can. I buy it at Aldi for about $3 a pound. This is a huge steal, compared to $8 a pound or more for fresh, wild-caught salmon.
The kind of canned salmon I buy at Aldi has the bones and skin in it, so I take these out and throw them away before I make our meal. My favorite way to use canned salmon is in salmon burgers.
Try out these Thai Peanut Salmon Burgers from the Lean Green Bean food blog, but just use canned salmon instead of the fresh salmon fillets called for in the recipe. It’s one of Jeremy’s and my favorite salmon burger recipes!
5) Buy cage-free eggs
The next way to save on ethically-raised animal products is to buy cage-free eggs. This isn’t ideal from an animal welfare perspective, but it’s better than buying regular eggs. I think of it as a middle ground between saving money and eating ethically-raised products.
Cage-free eggs are produced by chickens that aren’t allowed to roam free like free-range chickens, but at least they aren’t confined in tiny, cramped cages for their entire lives. The cost for cage-free eggs is a lot less than the cost of free-range ($2 per dozen for cage-free at my local Aldi vs. $3.50 per dozen for free-range), and you will feel better about buying them.
6) Raise chickens in your backyard
Raising chickens in our backyard is a dream of mine when we own a house someday - if our city allows it. Since we’re not in a place to pursue this option yet, I haven’t done the cost breakdown myself. I’m guessing that raising egg chickens would result in large savings over time compared to buying either cage-free or free-range eggs, even at Aldi.
Another plus of this option is that chickens eat a lot of the food scraps people typically throw away. I love the idea of saving money, reducing waste, and consuming ethically-raised animal products at the same time!
Now you know my top six tips for saving money on ethically-raised animal products! For me, it comes down to where I shop, buying the whole chicken and breaking it down myself, using plant-based fillers to stretch my ground beef, buying canned or frozen salmon, and compromising with cage-free rather than free-range eggs. Someday, I hope to add raising chickens to this list. These strategies make up the sweet spot for us between saving money and buying ethically-raised animal products.
Now I want to hear from you! :) What are your thoughts on these strategies? Do you choose to buy ethically-raised animal products? If you do, how do you save money on them?