Here's what you can eat on a budget instead of processed meat

There are still affordable protein options you can pack for lunch.
There are still affordable protein options you can pack for lunch.

On 4 March 2018 it was announced that the current Listeriosis outbreak has been linked to an Enterprise food facility in Polokwane and Germiston, and a Rainbow Chicken facility in the Free State.

Polony and other ready-to-eat meat products have been pulled from the shelves of shops nationwide.

This is a blow for many lower- to middle-income households since these meat products are budget-friendly sources of protein.

And not only is the Listeriosis outbreak a reason for people to be wary of these products, but processed meats are also linked to several other health risks, including heart disease and cancer.

A staple for many

Many dietitians and nutrition experts are vehemently opposed to the consumption of polony, ready-to-eat sausages and cold meat cuts due to high cholesterol and sodium content and proven health risk.

Even if we are aware of the potentially dangerous ingredients, this doesn’t change the fact that these are a popular lunchbox filler for many people who can’t afford other kinds of meat.

The withdrawal of these meat products can have a negative effect on our economy as well, as neighbouring countries are now banning imports of processed meats from South Africa.

What now?

What other sources of protein can people include in their meals if money is tight? “The good news is that there are many cost-effective food options that are far more nutritious than processed meats,” says Nicola Walters, a nutritionist at Nutritional Solutions.

Nutritious alternatives to processed meats that are lower in fat and salt include:

  • Canned or fresh sardines
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned pilchards
  • Canned or fresh mackerel
  • Canned or dried beans (baked beans, sugar beans, kidney beans)
  • Canned or dried lentils
  • Canned or dried chickpeas

Combine the above options with vegetables that are either fresh (seasonal is more affordable) or frozen to make filling stews and soups.

The best part about these options is that while they are high in protein, they do not contain high levels of saturated fats. This means they are lower in energy and therefore better for the waistline and heart health. Beans, lentils and chickpeas are also a source of fibre which is very important for good gut health and immune function.

If tinned legumes are out of your price range, shop for the dry varieties and prepare according to the instructions on the package. These products are real bang for your buck and don't contain added preservatives, sugar and sodium.

The Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch gives the following additional advice on how to curb your consumption of processed lunch meats without foregoing the taste:

  • Choose affordable, fresh protein options such as mince or stew meat.
  • Make the meat in your dishes go further by adding kidney beans, mixed beans, lentils or even baked beans.
  • When cooking mince, add soy, lentils, beans, oat bran and/or vegetables to bulk it up. You can also add beans, lentils, potatoes and other veggies to stews, casseroles and curries. Mix mashed, cooked dried beans with mince or fish to make meat loaf, fish cakes or meatballs.
  • Tinned fish, such as pilchards and tuna, is usually cheaper than fresh fish. Choose fish tinned in brine instead of oil. Frozen fish also tends to be cheaper than fresh fish, so always compare prices. Making your own fishcakes with pilchards can be very economical.
  • Buy whole chicken and cut it up into portions to freeze for later use. Whole chicken is cheaper than pre-cut chicken pieces. Remember to remove the skin and all excess fat if you're avoiding fat. No time for cooking? Buy a rotisserie chicken and use the leftover meat for sandwiches – ensuring that any leftovers are refrigerated properly, kept in an airtight container and consumed while still fresh. 

Still unsure what to do without processed meats? Dietitian Tebogo Mokgothadi shows us an example of an affordable lunch in the following video:

Image credit: iStock 

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