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Save big on sandwich meats

Skip the deli counter. Forget those prefab packs of turkey or ham. There's a better way.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 12, 2012 12:41PM

Logo: School lunch (Stockbyte/SuperStock/SuperStock)Is the cost of your brown-bag lunch getting you down? Here's a way to make those sandwich meats both cheaper and tastier: Roast your own.

"Don't waste your precious grocery money on lunch meat," says Amy Allen Clark in her new book, "The Good Life for Less" (Perigee, $15).

Allen roasts a whole gobbler every two weeks to provide sandwich fillings for her family. "Once you have a turkey sandwich like this, all of that processed lunch meat won't taste as good and you will never go back," says Allen, who blogs at

Equally important: "You'll save between three and seven dollars a pound, depending on your turkey and deli prices."

Not that you have to limit yourself to turkey.

A friend of mine regularly buys on-sale whole or half hams and slices the meat thin for sandwiches. Most of it goes into the freezer. At this time of year you'll see some very good ham prices; even up here in Anchorage it can currently be had for as little as $1.49 a pound.

Spiral-cut hams are pricier but have the advantage of being sliced already. Cutting turkey or ham does take some practice; a very sharp carving knife or an electric knife will make it easier to cut thin slices.

A reader of the Frugal Village website forums reports that the local supermarket will slice half or whole hams for free. Ask if your grocer will do this. (Make sure to get the bone, too, for soup.)

More for your money

Another FV reader says she grills a chicken breast every Sunday, slices it up and makes sandwiches on flatbread with olive-oil mayonnaise, mustard and pickles. "Very healthy: low-fat and no hydrogenated oils."

Frugal tip: Whole birds are cheaper per pound than chicken breasts. Eat the rest of the meat for supper or chop it up for chicken salad, then make soup stock from the bones and defatted pan juices.

Whole turkeys are cheaper than turkey breast, too. Once you've cut off and frozen the cooked breast meat (author Clark keeps it moist by adding chicken broth to the freezer bag), you've got the rest of the bird for meals plus the pan juices and bones to turn into soup stock. Or you could make dark-meat sandwiches, rather than eating that part of the turkey for dinner.

Finally, a reader on The Dollar Stretcher website suggests cooking beef for sandwiches -- either making a larger-than-usual roast with plenty of leftovers, or roasting an extra one in the oven or slow cooker.

"The bonus is that home-cooked roasts do not have the added water and salt of deli meats, so you get more for your money and healthier food as well," she says.

Do you make your own lunch meats? Got any tips to share?

More from MSN Money:

Dec 14, 2012 1:32PM
Meatloaf makes a good sandwich, so does pot roast. Chicken or Turkey, yes, even the dark meat, chop it up finely with the white meat for chicken or turkey salad, if you have too much meat freeze it for another time for a casserole or chicken a-la-king and such. Plus you still have the carcass to cook down for soup (stock freezes well) which you won't get with deli poultry (or something that used to be poultry). Also baked ham, freeze extras for sandwiches later, grind some for ham salad, cook down the bone for soup (throw it in the slow cooker if you work all day). Most does not take more of your time if you consider running to the deli and standing in line plus cost of tastes oh so much better....  ask your Grandmother if you need instructions !!
Dec 12, 2012 8:47PM
Great article. I always enjoy your featured commentary. Keep up the good work.
Dec 13, 2012 5:35AM

As it happens, I have 2 independent markets that sell 'deli ends' for $1.99/lb.  One of them even usually has turkey & ham in different packages.  I cannot buy & cook for that price.


However, the advantage to cooking your own is to control the salt & fat content.  Therefore, I have been known to p[ractice both.

Dec 13, 2012 12:25PM
The reason people buy lunch meat is if you buy a pound at 7.99 your only laying out 7.99 while that 20 lb turkey at $1.99 per pound is $40 and then factor in the cooking costs. Plus your sandwich meat is really only the breast meat. So now your eating turkey sandwich for lunch and the left over other meat for dinner.  The theory is sound but to make it work is a littel more effort.  Frozen "hotel" breast can be bought too but the price on those is a little higher then the whole bird.   
Feb 14, 2013 11:08PM

We bought a wonderful meat slicer over a year ago and I always forget about it. Pork loin is also great for lunch meat and something different that you don't always find with the other deli selections. We really pay way too much for the sliced stuff you find in packages. Now I'm inspired!

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.