Living on a tight budget is hard enough without struggling to feed your family. Instead of struggling, use the ingredients to help stretch a meal or make a meal more filling. Your belly and you wallet will be glad you did!
As my family has grown, my grocery budget has as well. It’s been a bumpy ride at times trying to figure out how to feed my larger family on pretty much the same cost. For the longest time, we were spending hundreds over where I want my grocery budget to be. Luckily, I got it under control. One way I’ve been able to do that is by finding foods that stretch a long way and by finding cheap meal ideas.
Aside from your household expenses such as your rent/mortgage or utility costs, groceries are most often the single most expensive part of a family budget in a normal situation. That cost can seem even more drastic if your family is living on an emergency budget.
What Does It Mean to Stretch Food?
There are quite a few different ways to save money on groceries, but eventually, you will hit a wall on the things you’re doing to save money.
It happens to all of us at some point or another and it usually ends with a few minutes searching for a new method.
The biggest savings I have seen in my grocery budget is by finding foods that stretch or in other words; they fill up your family quicker so you use less overall or have leftovers that you can put to use.
How Do You Stretch Food Longer?
When you add cheap, frugal ingredients to a meal in some way, they make the meal more filling without messing around with expensive ingredients. Your family fills up and you aren’t spending a bunch of extra cash.
It’s a fantastic way to save without your family even being aware that you’re doing it!
They will still eat their fill, the meal will still be nutritious – probably even more so – and your food storage and pantry will last longer.
It may seem counterintuitive to add food to a meal or to change the way you’re eating to save money. After all, you are spending money on the things you’re adding but it really can save.
How to Do You Stretch Meat in a Meal?
Stretching meat in a meal may seem complicated, but adding the foods below will help with it. In fact, if you add more than one – such as with rice and beans – you can often use less meat than you normally would without any loss of comfort and without going to bed hungry.
How you prepare the meat in your recipe will also matter as well. Chicken breasts will stretch farther shredded or diced than they will whole. Your favorite enchilada recipe will feed more people for less than tacos will.
Keeping these two things in mind will make learning how to stretch recipes a lot easier.
How Can I Make Healthy Meals More Filling?
Stretch meals can be a delicate balance. If y ou add too much of an additional ingredient, you could change the flavor of the recipe. If you don’t add enough, the meal won’t be as filling as it could be.
The best way to make healthy meals more filling is to use the ingredients below inas a normal part of the recipe. This way, you know from the start that the recipe is as filling as possible.
Beans are incredibly cheap when you buy them in dry bulk which makes them perfect for adding to a meal to make it seem larger. It doesn’t take a lot of them to stretch a meal since they go so far.
My personal favorite bean to add to meals is dark red kidney beans since they’re easy to cook and are pretty inconspicuous when mixed in with a meal.
Plus, when you add beans to a cheap meal idea, you’ll get the added benefit of a high fiber meal which means your family will eat less and be a little bit healthier than they were before.
Beans are a staple if you’re worried about a possible food shortage. They store incredibly well.
Pasta of any sort is pretty cheap – again when you buy it in bulk – which makes it a great addition to any meal to stretch it. Elbow macaroni or p enne with a batch of homemade pasta sauce or tossed in olive oil with herbs can make a fantastic meal for your family; and of course, you can’t forget the old standby of spaghetti.
I grew up in an incredibly poor home. My mother did not work due to her health issues meaning my Father’s income was the only one they had. She did receive SSI but it was only a couple hundred a month.
Growing up, we ate cheap meals most of the time.Both my mother and father had a habit of adding pasta to things – such as egg noodles in their chili.
By doing so, they stretched the meal so that we all ate our fill on dinner night but also had enough left over for him to take for work the next day.
In my pantry right now is 100 lbs of white rice. Why? Because rice is one of the cheapest foods that stretch a long way period; especially when you buy it in bulk.
Rice can be added to soups, casseroles, stews and more to stretch the meal. It can be eaten plain or spiced up as a side.
Either way, it is a very cheap addition to your pantry and one that will fill up hungry bellies easier.
For us, we love to eat it plain, with cheese or – on days when I can coax her into it – my Emma makes an amazing cheesy zucchini rice. You can stretch the meal for under $2.00 if you do it right and use rice as your main way of stretching.
Like rice, oats are another fantastic way to stretch a meal and yes, I have a few pounds of them in storage too.
Use them to stretch a meatloaf, use them to thicken soups or use them as a way to “extend” breakfast. Oats are very high in fiber which means you will fill up quicker and as a result, eat less.
Not only that, but they’re extremely cheap in bulk. Watch the sale ads and you can often find them for less than $0.50 per pound in bulk. We have both steel cut oats and quick rolled oats in storage. I paid $0.48 per pound for them not too long ago.
Vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables are much more healthy than most people realize.
They’re also a fantastic way to stretch a meal.
Vegetables such as fresh spinach, kale, beans peas, carrots, celery and even cabbage can all be added to meals without changing the flavor of the recipe a whole lot. Plus, you get the added bonus that most of them are fairly cheap.
You can make them even cheaper by growing your own garden and cutting out the middleman. This is possible even if all you can grow is a few things in a kitchen garden.
Seeds such as chia seeds or flax seeds are great fillers for a meal that needs to stretch. Not only are they very high in fiber which makes you feel full faster, but they – along with lentils and chickpeas – can be added to most recipes without changing the flavor.
When you look for these seeds at the grocery store, buy ground flax seeds and whole chia seeds. Buying them in this manner allows your body to absorb as much nutrition from them as possible.
You might be surprised at how much simply adding water to a meal can stretch it.
If you’re having a thick stew, add a bit of water to thin the broth and make it into a soup.
Not only that, but having a glass of water before you eat will make you feel fuller and cause you to eat less without feeling deprived and without being deprived of nutrition.
Ahhh! The power of cheese! Cheese is not only full of tasty, tasty goodness, but it is fantastic for stretching a meal!
Shred it, slice it, dice it, chunk it or eat it plain, but add it to your meals to make them seem larger.
If you are worried about storing it, freeze dried cheese like what Legacy Foods offers is a great option.
Plus your family will have the addition of the extra calcium in the meal!
Just the other night, I made my Shepherd’s Pie recipe for Steve. It is one that he requests on a regular basis. On the side, I served a salad and homemade crusty bread.
Bread – especially homemade bread – is incredibly delicious and very filling when added to a meal along side butter.
I may eat gluten free myself, but that doesn’t mean I am above serving my family the bread they love right now.
I grew up with bread and butter on the side of pretty much everything so it only makes sense to me to add it at meal time! If you want to save even more, buy a bread machine or a few bread pans and start making your own homemade bread.
Tortillas – both corn and flour – are a constant in my home not only because they’re tasty but because they can help a meal seem larger than it is.
They can seriously be used for anything! Dip them, spread cheese or meat on them or whatever!
Because they’re so versatile, they’re a great addition to a meal when you’re looking for.
I like to get creative to see how I can add them to the recipe itself and if I can’t, I’ll serve them on the side.
Eggs are another really versatile food that can be used to stretch a or expand a meal. If things are really tough, you can just make the eggs themselves a meal; even if its dinner. Add a little bit of leftover meats, some garlic and onion powder, salt, pepper and whatever veggies you have on and and you’ve got a filling and yummy breakfast scramble or omelet for the family.
If the eggs aren’t enough, add a bowl of oatmeal with it on the side. Oatmeal and oats are great for helping to fill you up since they are so high in fiber.
When adding them to a meal, you’re also adding an additional protein source to the recipe. This is a great way to sneak in some extra nutrition for picky eaters!
There is a reason that our ancestors ate so many potatoes. They’re cheap, easy and they stretch. Adding your favorite mashed potato recipe as a side dish or even using potatoes as one of the ingredients in your main dish can be a great way to make a meal more filling without too much of an added cost.
For instance, instead of thickening your soups or stews with cornstarch, instant mashed potato flakes can be used. It won’t change the flavor of your soup and will bulk it more than cornstarch will. This works especially well with ground beef or ground turkey based soups.
Eat Simpler Meals
One of my favorite meals growing up was what my family calls “Johnny Marzetti.”
It is still one of my favorites and gluten free or not; I would probably drive the 2 days home if my Aunt Tina would promise to make it for me when I got there.
I can make it myself of course, but I’m sure you will agree that some things will never taste quite as good as they do when your family makes it.
This simple meal consists of hamburger, egg noodles, tomatoes and tomato sauce, kidney beans and cheddar cheese and a few seasonings. It might not sound great, but take my word for it that it is.
Even better? It’s amazing in taste and incredibly cheap meal to make. The entire dish can be made to feed a huge family – my Aunt regularly feeds 10 or more – in one baking dish for under $10.00 for the entire meal.
Eating simply does not mean filling up on convenience foods. It means eating a simple meal with simple ingredients that is made from scratch. These will help you not only stretch your meal but also help you stretch your grocery budget as well.
Eat on smaller plates
We live in a society that thinks we need huge portions to be healthy and full, but the truth is that we don’t.
In fact, if you’ve ever seen a diabetic plate, you already know that smaller portions are what is recommended for a healthy diabetic diet. You may not be diabetic but the idea of eating on a smaller plate is one of my favorite ways to save money on groceries.
By eating on a smaller plate, you essentially trick your brain into thinking that you’ve had a lot of food. Your brain doesn’t “see” the smaller plate. Instead, it sees a full plate of food and it takes less to fill you up!
Start with a salad
Going along with adding vegetables to stretch a meal, starting your meal with a salad is also a great idea.
Not only does it begin your meal in a healthy way, but it also helps your family to feel more full quicker. As we’ve already discussed, when your family feels full quicker, they eat less and by default, you spend less.
Make soup or stew
Soups or stews should be high on your recipe lists when you’re looking for ways to save money on groceries.
The absolute best soup recipes are cheap to make, they’re filling and they usually make a lot so that you’ll have leftovers available for the next day.
We live in Texas so we don’t do soups or stews in the summer, but during the fall, winter and spring, we eat soup or stew at least once a week.
Want to hear something that you may find odd? My family doesn’t eat fried chicken very often.
It has nothing to do with keeping healthy because we love fried chicken. It is simply because fried chicken is such an expensive meal.
For what I would spend making one fried chicken meal, I can make two casseroles or two of my favorite slow cooker recipes.
It isn’t only fried chicken that is like this. There are a lot of other meals that are common on a menu plans that are more expensive than making a soup, stew or casserole.
If you’re looking for ways to save money on groceries, take a look at your menu and cut back any meals that seem budget friendly but really aren’t.
Well there you have it. 17 foods that stretch and ways to stretch your meals. Do you have any other foods that stretch a long way that I may have missed?