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Beef me up: The healthy alternatives to cheap processed meat

Veggie burger

Following recent health concerns over cheap processed meat, you might think twice about buying it. So how can you avoid it, and still eat well for less?

In a recent health report, eating processed meat was linked to lower life expectancy.

And horsemeat has been found in some processed food, resulting in those products being withdrawn. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that all processed beef products are safe to eat.

But if you want to consider something else for dinner, here are three alternative ways to eat well on a budget.

1. Try different cuts of meat

Beef cuts: BBC Food Cheaper cuts of meat such as chuck, skirt, leg and flank need cooking for longer but are full of flavour

Looking for cheaper alternatives to processed meat does not necessarily mean that you have to compromise on quality, explains Matthew Pennington, chef at The Ethicurean restaurant in the Mendip hills.

Matthew and his brother Ian regularly cook with lesser favoured, cheaper cuts of meat without the need for any expensive equipment.

"We have beef chuck, blade, shin and brisket, destined for different dishes, all of which are top menu sellers during the resurgence for eating nostalgic Great British cuisine.

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"Ox tongue, brined and slow-cooked makes its way into parsley, swede and cider vinegar salad, beef brisket is a Sunday staple with milk polenta and winter pickles, neither of which are costly."

Pork is also an extremely versatile meat explains Mr Pennington. He recommends slow roasting pork belly, bones and trotters in cider and stock vegetables overnight.

If you're on a budget, you can often find good quality cuts of meat more cheaply by shopping at the end of the day says Lucy Turnbull, a dietician from The British Dietetic Association (BDA).

"Usually cheaper beef cuts such as braising steaks need longer to cook because they are a bit tougher.

"It's also important to trim away the visible fat to keep it healthy."

But if you prefer sticking to your traditional burger and chips, you could try making your own.

Chef Tom Hunt recommends buying British beef from your local butcher and asking questions about its provenance such as the breed of cattle from which it was sourced.

"To make a simple burger, first season the beef with some salt and pepper, then shape and fry for 3-5 minutes each side," he says.

"For a similar price you can assure its quality."

2. Go veggie

Research by Dr Louise Aston at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health suggests that reducing our consumption of processed and red meat would lower the average risk of diabetes in the UK by 3.2% for females and 4.9% for males, and the average risk of colorectal cancer would reduce by 12.2% in males and 7.7% in females.

"People often get very set in their ways and cooking how their parents cooked," says Ms Turnbull.

"But it's worth trying out new recipes and experimenting with meat free alternatives."

Alternative protein sources such as beans and soy provide a good source of nutrients without the need for buying meat.

"For things like a vegetarian chilli or soups and stews, you can grind up beans and use them to make burgers or use them as meat alternatives for vegetarian lasagne," explains Ms Turnbull.

Or you could try making a falafel burger, a favourite in Mr Hunt's restaurant Poco.

To make two burgers, he suggests draining a can of chickpeas and mixing in some cumin and coriander, adding some finely chopped garlic, two tablespoons of plain flour and then some chopped nuts.

"Mash together until thoroughly mixed. Shape into two big burgers and fry gently being careful so they hold together.

Red lentil soup: BBC Food Making soup with leftover vegetables is a good way to eat healthily on a budget

"Serve with fresh spinach or chard, a delicious seasonal winter green."

Making a hearty soup from a veg stock is also a good lunch option during the week, as it can be easily frozen and reused.

Chefs Ian and Matthew Pennington recommend making a stock base for soup using onion, carrots, celeriac or celery, boiling with water and then seasoning with salt and cider vinegar.

You can then experiment by adding different spices depending on the vegetables that you can find in season.

"Squash suits curried spices, celeriac suits apple, parsnip suits honey & hazel, beetroot suits star anise, kohlrabi suits cumin, courgette suits mint," they explain.

3. Make seafood go further

Seafood needn't be expensive particularly if you are willing to eat shellfish.

"Shellfish is one of the planet's most perfect foods which contains high amounts of omega-3s and zinc," says Mr Pennington.

"It's inexpensive and one of the fastest of foods to prepare. Cider and tarragon mussels anyone?"

You could also consider alternatives to your standard fillet of cod or haddock.

"While you are at the fishmongers, keep an eye out for monkfish cheeks as they are cheap compared to the tail," says Mr Pennington.

Mussels Mussels are one of the most environmentally sound types of fish or shellfish available

"Ling is as delicious as cod, a third of the price, native and sustainable."

A good way to make your seafood go further is to bulk up a stew, soup or curry with vegetables suggests chef Nathan Outlaw.

"Take a fish like grey mullet. It's a nice chunky fish, very similar to sea bass so it can handle big flavours.

"So if you're into curries or pastas with strong sauces it's ideal."

You could also try planning your weekly meals around one main portion of meat or fish, which is a good way to save money without compromising on quality.

"If you try and save money when it comes to good quality fish, you usually end up with something that's not very nice," says Mr Outlaw.

"I would rather have fish and meat one day of the week and then eat vegetables or risottos the rest of the week - that way you can afford to eat good quality fish."

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