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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.
Foods that Stretch a Long Way
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 over the past two years – since we combined our families – is by finding foods that stretch.
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How does adding foods that stretch work?
When you add them to a meal in some way, they make the meal seem larger. 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.
Meals that Stretch
It may seem counter-intuitive 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.
The other reason to stockpile foods that stretch and foods that last a long time is that they allow you to make cheap pantry meals and cheap freezer meals.
In any situation, those are a great thing to have, but if you are the type to prepare for an emergency, they are even more important to have.
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How Meals that Stretch Save You Money
For instance, you could cook a doubled recipe using hamburger to stretch your meal. If you do that though, you’ll be paying for twice the meat.
Or, you could use one of the methods on this list. Even though you’re adding food, you’re adding a food that costs considerably less.
This is especially important to pay attention to in any emergency situation. If you do not know when you will be able to get to the store next, you need to work on building an emergency food supply AND find foods that stretch to help your storage last.
Learning which foods stretch a long way is not a new tip. In fact, it is one of the frugal living tips from the Great Depression. Folks have been using it to save for decades.
Most of the food items on this list are frugal pantry staples you should keep on hand anyhow which means you should already have them in your pantry.
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Easy Ways to Stretch a Meal
In addition to foods that stretch a long way, I’ve also added a few ways that don’t include adding extra foods.
These ways work for anyone so if you can’t do an addition for some reason such as a special diet, you’ll still be able to save.
As I mentioned earlier, we use all of these ways to save money on groceries – both the additions and the other ways – in our home and they have helped me cut my grocery bill by one-third at the very least.
Some I use daily and others I only pull out of my pocket when my grocery budget is tight. Either way though, you can bet that I’m using them when I need to and you should be as well.
Cheap Foods to Survive a Food Shortage
Side Note: This post was originally written in early 2019 and originally published in July 2019. At the time, I only had my suspicions that we would begin to see food shortages over the next year or so.
Now, in March 2020, we are very much at that point – no matter what the cause.
I am leaving the original part of the post below. I think you need to see what others saw coming long before most people did.
These foods that will stretch will help you if you take the time to build a supply like you need. And yes, there is still time – no matter how empty store shelves are right now.
The original part of the post where I discussed it in early 2019:
It may seem crazy, but I have seen a lot of talk lately about a possible food shortage. They happen every year in one place or another and with the weather in late 2018/early 2019, some are starting to notice shortages at their stores.
I’ve noticed a few extra bare shelves at my own stores.
These cheap meal ideas and meals that stretch are not only great for saving money.
In the event that a shortage ever did actually happen, they would help your family make it through the short months.
Cheap Foods That Feed a Large Group of People
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.
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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.
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.
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Making Cheap Meal Ideas with Foods that Stretch a Long Way
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 (as mentioned earlier), 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.
If you don’t have access to fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables are a good replacement.
You can make them even cheaper by growing your own garden and cutting out the middle man.
Potatoes are another great -and cheap! – food that stretches a long way. They’re also a great addition to your pantry if you happen to be worried about a food shortage.
Use them as a side, chunk them up and add them to your soup or stew or dice them and mix them into a casserole as part of the main dish! The instant versions can be used to add bulk or to thicken soups.
They’re super cheap to grow yourself from scraps. If growing them is not an option, they’re still pretty cheap at the stores. Be sure to buy in bulk since a 50# bag is most likely going to be cheaper than a 10# bag.
Keep potatoes in a cool, dark place and they will last a vastly long time. Much longer than most people realize.
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!
Ways to Make a Meal More Filling
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.
Adding Flaxseed is one of my favorite ways to stretch a cheap meal because there are so many benefits to adding flaxseed to your diet.
When you pick up Flaxseed to use in your meals, make certain to buy ground flax. Our bodies can’t digest flax when it is in seed form so you won’t get the nutritional benefits unless it is ground.
Chia seed is another healthy addition that will stretch your meals.
When you buy chia seeds, you can buy whole or ground and still get the nutritional benefits.
It’s great for making a meatloaf, soup or other quick meal seem larger than it is and because it is so healthy for you, you can add it without worrying about depriving your family.
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.
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?
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