The "hamburger society" is in for an even ruder awakening than it experienced in 1978, if the American Meat Institute's predictions are on target.

According to AMI's president, Richard Lyng, by the end of 1979, ground beef, once a cheap substitute for those who could not afford sirloin steak, will cost as much assirloin steak did at the beginning of 1978.

The National Cattlemen's Association has taken strong exception to Lyng's predicition and issued the following statement: "the meat supply is such that we see no basis whatsoever for scare-type speculation that hamburger prices may average 40 to 50 cents per pound hinger in 1979."

At a press conference last week Lyng, who heads the trade association for meat processors, predicted that ground beef, which sells for $1.39 a pound now, will cost 40 to 50 cents more by the end of this year. He also predicted that the price of more expensive cuts of meat would not rise as sharply. He forecast an increase of perhaps 20 cents a pound during 1979.

It isn't often that trade associations in related industries disagree in public. The cattlemen, apparently fear a consumer backlash to higher prices and are anxious to forestall the kind of behaviour the public exhibited in the early 70s.

When beff prices began to rise in 1973, and the public boycotted the beff counter, prices fell. Some cattle raisers went out of business or liquidated their breeding stocks. The reeders, old cows and bulls, became hamburger; so the liquidation resulted in a glut of ground beef and low prices.Now that the oversupply of old cows and bulls has dried up, the supply of hamburger meat has, too. Hence the increasingly high prices.

As a result, yearly per capita consumption of beef is expected to drop to a nine-year low, 113 pounds a year. That's more than 16 pounds below the 1976 high. Overall consumption of red meat and poultry is expected to be at a four-year low.

The last time this happened, a meat extender called textured vegetable protein began to appear in packages on grocery shelves and was mixed in with ground beef sold at the meat counter. It has all but disappeared as a separate product on the shelves or as a ground beef stretcher, though it is used increasingly as a cheap substitute in prepared foods.

But before the 1970s and textured vegetable protein, there was another meat shortage. It was called rationing and it took place during World War II. Clever cooks found natural ways to make a single pound of ground beef serve six or more people. Ground beef was combined with oatmeal, breadcrumbs and rice for meatloaf, meatballs and hamburgers. It was mixed with lots of noodles or potatoes, carrots, onions, green peppers, providing additional nutrents found in whole foods.

Many nutritionists believe Americans eat far more meat than they need and much more fat than is good for them. They consider the high cost of m meat a blessing in disguise, and hope that people will turn to vegetables and whole grains as alternatives.

Ground beef dishes, complete with stretchers, have much to recommend them: most of them freeze very well, so they can be prepared in double or triple quantities, cutting down dramatically on preparation time and offering the convenience of prepared meals at a later date. Furthermore, ground beef adapts well to almost any cuisine and casseroles calling for ground beef usually require the beef to be browned first, making it possible to drain off as much fat as desired.

Whether the cattlemen or the American Meat Institute are correct, consumers might as well take care of themselves. Here are some "old fashioned" ways to make that ground beef at steak prices go further:

ZUCCHINI GROUND BEEF CASSEROLE

(6 servings) 1 pound ground beef 2 cups zucchini cubes 1 cup chopped onion 1 clove garlic, minced 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese 1 cup cooked macaroni 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon chili powder Salt and pepper to taste

Saute beef unitl it begins to brown. Drain off fat as desired an add zucchini, onion and garlic. Continue cooking until onion is soft. Add cheese, macaroni and seasonings. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until cheese is metled and vegetables are cooked.

This dish may be prepared up to the point of simmering. Refrigerate and when ready to serve, follow simmering directions.

STUFFED PEPPERS

(8 servings) 8 medium green peppers 1 pound ground beef 2 cups cooked rice 1 egg, slightly beaten 1/2 cup cottage cheese 1/4 cup chili sauce 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 1 teaspoon dry mustard Salt and pepper to taste

Slice tops off peppers and remove seeds. Place peppers in boiling water and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Drain thorughly. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients and spoon into peppers. Place peppers in shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, until peppers are tender.

This dish may be prepared ahead, up to the point of baking, and refrigerated. To serve, follow baking directions.

CRANBERRY MEATLOAF

(6 servings) 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1/4 cup cranberry sauce 1 pound ground beef 6 tablespoons milk 6 tablespoons cracker crumbs 1 egg Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons diced onion 2 bay leaves

Spread sugar over bottom of greased loaf pan. Mash cranberry sauce and spread over sugar. Combine remaining ingredients, except bay leaves. Pack mixture gently into apn over cranberry sauce. Place bay leaves on top and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

May be frozen or refrigerated before baking.If frozen, defrost before baking.

STUFFED MEATLOAF

(10 servings) 1 1/2 pounds ground beef 1/2 cup chopped green peper 3/4 cup chopped onion Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 cup white bread crumbs 1/2 cup milk 2 eggs 2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs 1/2 cup chopped celery 1/2 cup chopped nuts, walnuts or pecans 3/4 cup water or beef stock

Combine beef, green pepper, 1/2 cup onion, salt and pepper to taste, Worecstershire sauce, white bread crumbs, milk and one egg; mix well. Place 1/2 of mixture in bottom of loaf pan. Combine remaining ingredients and palce on top of meat mixture. Top with remaining meat mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

May be prepared ahead and refrigerated or frozen until serving time. If frozen, defrost before baking.

TAMALE PIE

(6 servings) 3 cups boiling water Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup yellow cornmeal 1 pound ground beef 1/2 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup diced green pepper 1 tablespoon chili powder 4 medium tomatoes, sliced Green pepper rings

Combine boiling water and salt to taste in saucepan. Gradually stir in the cornmeal, stirring to prevent lumping. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly.

Mean while brown beef, onion and green pepper. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add chili powder. Place half of the cornmeal in a 10-inch pie pan. Press into bottom and sides of pan. Cover with a layer of sliced tomatoes, then with meat mixture. Top with toes and a few green remaining cornmeal. Garnish witn 3 or 4 slices of tomatoes and a few green pepper rings. Bake at 375 degrees about 25 minutes.

This recipes may be refrigerated or frozen before baking. To serve, if frozen, defrost, continue with baking directions.