When was the last time you opened a cookbook? I have gone from using recipe books, to finding recipes online. If I’m completely honest, it’s usually all from Pinterest! To the creator of Pinterest, I tip my hat to you. These recipes can be easily tweaked to help stretch your meal and save money.
The recipes I find are geared towards feeding a family of 2 to 6 people. Why does that matter to me (and you)? If you’ve followed our blog, you know by now that a recipe for 2 to 6 people just won’t make the cut in our household. With 7 hungry tummies, usually a visitor or two, and a love for leftovers, I need our meals to be bigger and beefier. I also don’t want to be stuck using every pot or pan in our cupboard in an effort to cook enough food to feed my adorable crowd. Less mess is best!
As our family grew from 3 to presently 7, I learned a few tricks on how to stretch our meal without breaking the bank and adding more meat. It’s not difficult to stretch your meal if you know a few tricks. Don’t get me wrong—I love meat! Chicken, pork, beef, fish, yummmmmm. But let’s be honest, meat is getting more expensive, not less. Our need for protein hasn’t changed. If anything, it continues to increase as my kids grow!
As I mentioned before, I don’t want to use every dish in our cupboard just to make a meal for my family. Figuring out how to stretch your meal shouldn’t involve making a six-course supper every night of the week. Rolls, pasta, rice, cut fruit, side salads, and breadsticks are all great additions. They are just that, though, additions. They’re not actually stretching your main course. In this post, we will go over real ways to stretch your meal. Your main course will be beefed up without having to add extra beef.
5 Clever Tips on How to Stretch Your Meal Without Purchasing More Meat
1. Stretch your meal with inexpensive fillers.
What are inexpensive fillers? An inexpensive filler is a food that is relatively cheap to buy, multifunctional for different recipes, and easily adapts to the recipe’s flavor so that they are unnoticed when added to stretch your meal. I’ll give you a quick list and suggestions on when to use them.
- Shredded zucchini
- Red kidney beans
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Quick oats
- Frozen vegetables
- Diced vegetables (including potatoes)
- Canned tomatoes
The shredded zucchini and all of the dried beans easily adapt to beef and turkey mixtures such as taco and chili recipes. The flavors and seasonings from those meals are easily absorbed by these foods and masks their true flavors enough to fool the kiddos! The legumes also give your dish a boost of protein and keep bellies fuller longer.
Dried beans seem to scare first-time cooks away. They were scary for me. Traditionally, beans are soaked overnight and then need to simmer for a while before you can eat them. I’m currently getting through life as a last-minute mom, and I do NOT plan that far ahead just yet. When it comes to dried beans, I found a fantastic post on how to cook them to perfection. Now, I cook up an entire bag of dried beans and freeze them for later.
Cooking doesn’t take long when you follow this recipe. It involves a very quick soak, where you bring them to a boil in your instant pot and then pressure cook them on high for a minute or two. Here is my favorite way to prepare beans, the same day, for our meal that evening. I like my beans extra soft, so I add an extra minute to the times.
Stretch your soups and casseroles with filler veggies. I frequently bust out my 15-year-old Pampered Chef chopper and mince up carrots, celery, and onions for my soups and casseroles. My kids complain more often when the veggies are big, so giving them a quick chop is worth my time. I nearly doubled my cheesy potato and sausage soup by adding two carrots, two ribs of celery, half an onion, a can of corn, making a roux, and increasing the liquid as needed.
Stretch your meal with diced potatoes. I added two diced potatoes and half of a cup of frozen peas to our butter chicken, and not one of my kids asked what was in it! I could barely tell there was anything but chicken in the recipe. Served over rice, it was sooooooo good! Diced potatoes go well in chicken noodle soup or casserole, and scrambled eggs too!
Use diced tomatoes to stretch your sauce. When I make spaghetti or lasagna, I go for a jar of Prego or Ragu. If you’ve got more than five people, one jar won’t do the trick. Stretch your meal by stretching your tomato sauce in a way that will save money and not sacrifice taste by grabbing a can of diced tomatoes. Run them through the blender (because I hate super chunky tomatoes) and add it to your sauce.
Sprinkle in a teaspoon of Italian seasoning and a shake or two of salt, and you won’t taste a difference. One can is approximately $0.69 versus another jar of sauce that is $1-$3 or more. It sounds like a great way to save money if you ask me!
2. Stretch your meal by stretching your sauce.
What gives your cream sauce its delicious flavor? The cream, of course! Cream, however, is twice, if not more, as expensive as milk. So how can we stretch a cream sauce without the extra cream? Chicken stock! Create a roux by melting four tablespoons of butter on medium heat. Whisk in four tablespoons of flour and let it brown just a little. Add in two cups of chicken stock, one cup at a time. Then you can add your two cups of cream, season, and increase the liquid as needed.
You get an excellent, creamy flavor without sacrificing your wallet. More sauce means you can increase the amount of pasta you use to stretch your meal and save money, all while feeding every smiling face at the supper table.
An important side note: I no longer buy chicken stock. I will forever use Better Than Bouillion Chicken Base. It looks weird, but I kid you not, it’s a game-changer—no more storing boxes of broth or stock. The directions say to use one teaspoon per cup of water, but I’ve used less, and it still tastes great. I use it in all of my soups too!
3. Shred and dice your meat smaller to stretch your meal.
Instead of chunks of chicken or stew meat, shred it or dice it into smaller pieces. A sausage rope is commonly suggested to be cut into coins. I say quarter those coins! Cut them into fourths. Smaller pieces spread the taste throughout every bite. This won’t make your meal bigger—you’re still using the same amount of meat—but it will give you the sense that you’ve got more meat in your dish, and no one will feel like they got a skimpy portion of meat.
Now you’ve got plenty of room for a filler of your choice to make the meal bigger. Here are a few meals I cut the meat into smaller pieces or shred it, and it works out great! Sausage & red beans, beef & vegetable soup, chicken noodle casserole, pork stir fry, and ham fried rice.
4. Stretch your meal by making it a pie.
I’ve turned my pot roast into a pot roast pie, and our kids happily eat it. It is more successful than a traditional pot roast recipe with rolls. I suppose making a crust is no different than adding a biscuit, but it is eaten with more joy when I make it into a pie. It isn’t just the pie crust that will stretch your meal, but your ability to add more potatoes and carrots.
If I put these as individual portions on my children’s plates, they would turn up their noses and only eat the bare minimum. Now that the potatoes, carrots, and roast are all wrapped in a delicious pie crust and covered in gravy, they are magically more desirable! I even make extra gravy to pour on once I have plates made. I’m not surprised the kids gobble it up!
5. Use boiled eggs and nuts to help stretch your meal.
Boiled eggs and nuts taste great in all kinds of salads and add an extra kick of protein. Boiled eggs help stretch your meal when it comes to tuna salad, chicken salad, and leafy green salads. My tuna salad takes eight of the small cans of tuna, and I add 4-6 chopped boiled eggs to it.
Boiled eggs and nuts go great on any leafy salad. If you’re feeling adventurous, add dried, fresh, or canned fruits to your garden salad for a pop of sweetness. You won’t believe what you’ve been missing!
Nuts, like walnuts and pecans, go well in chicken salad. They also make for a great topping to yogurt and cottage cheese. You can throw a cup of pecans into your dessert bars and fruit crumbles as well.
Boiled eggs and nuts make for a fabulous snack. Protein helps keep you going, and a handful of nuts or a boiled egg with a little salt and pepper is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
My mouth is watering just thinking about all that yummy food! Those are all of my tips for now. I will be sharing the recipes for many of the meals listed soon! I hope you like the links to the meals I did share—I use them often!