Easy ways to stretch your meals so you can spend less on groceries.
One of the biggest budget busters in most households is the grocery budget. There is no denying the fact that food is expensive. However, there is good news! Groceries is one category in your budget that you can lower! It definitely takes a little bit of extra work and effort, but it can be done. There are a few different ways to lower your grocery expenses, and one of my favorites is learning how to stretch meals.
What Does It Mean to Stretch Meals?
Stretching meals simply means to make the food that you have last longer, feed more people and prevent waste. It’s really easy to do too! All it takes is a little more planning and creativity, but each of the following tips are so easy!
Here are 10 ways you can stretch meals so you can save more money.
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1. Meal Plan
A smart meal plan is the first step to stretching meals. When you make a meal plan, try to plan meals that will use the same ingredients. This is an easy way to reuse ingredients before they go bad.
For Example: Buy one head of lettuce and plan three meals that week you can use the lettuce for. Or buy a rotisserie chicken from the store and meal plan several meals for chicken, like I did here. These meals might be Chicken Alfredo, Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Pot Pie, etc. Here’s how I use one Roast Beef for three meals. It follow the same plan, buy once and use three times so it doesn’t go to waste.
2. Use Less Meat
Meat is one of the most expensive parts of the meal. Stretch the meat out for more meals by using less than the recipe calls for.
For Example: If you are using a recipe that calls for 1 lb. of hamburger meat, use 3/4 lb. instead. You probably won’t even notice the difference in your meal. You can then use that extra 1/4 lb. hamburger for another meal.
3. Souper Tuesday
Soup is so cheap to make and an easy meal to stretch! I love making a huge pot of soup when I feed large groups or as a way to feed our family for several meals.
Consider turning Tuesday dinner into, “Souper Tuesday.” This will be the day each week when you will make soup for dinner. The pot of soup that you make should last your family for several meals. You can even freeze the leftover soup to use for a later meal. Just make sure to use it within the next 3 months.
- Freezing Tip: Freeze broth based soups simply by pouring it into a Ziploc freezer bag. Squeeze out all of the air, seal tight and place in your freezer. This will stay fresh for 3-6 months. To thaw: place frozen soup in fridge and let it defrost overnight. Warm it up over the stove and enjoy!
Get creative with your soups! Most soups can be made just by tossing together a few ingredients you already have in your pantry. A little bit of chicken, broth and veggies will make a fantastic soup!
4. Include More Side Dishes
Usually the main dish is the most expensive. You can stretch the main dish out by adding more sides to your meal.
Try using a variety of side dishes and mix it up daily to keep the meals more interesting.
A few of our family favorite side dishes are:
- Homemade French Bread
- Fruit Salad
- Green Salad
- Roasted Vegetables
Each of these ideas are budget friendly (especially if you shop sales) and very filling. Encourage your family to take a few sides along with the main meal. This will fill the family up quicker, making you able to use your main dish for a few other meals throughout the week.
5. Use a Filler
Try adding a “filler” ingredient to your recipes. A “filler” is just a cheaper ingredient, one that the recipe doesn’t call for, that you add to a meal to make it more filling and bigger.
A few of our favorite fillers are: pasta, rice and beans.
A can of beans is one of the cheapest and easiest ingredient to add to recipes as a filler. All it takes is opening up a can!
You can use any of your favorite kind of beans, we prefer black beans, pinto beans or refried beans.
These can be added to a wide variety of meals including: enchiladas, soups, or tacos.
Pasta is cheap and filling. You can easily add it to soups to make them more filling.
Rice can be mixed with beans or meat to use in burritos, tacos, or enchiladas. This is also a great filler for soups!
Use your imagination and get creative when choosing fillers!
6. Meatless Monday
Try incorporating less meat into your meals. We do this by having Meatless Monday each week. This is one day of the week when I prepare something, well, meatless!
A few of our favorite Meatless Monday dinners are:
- Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Homemade Mac n Cheese
- Bean Burritos
- Pasta Bake
Grab a few of these recipes in Mel’s Home Cooking Recipe Book!
7. Appropriate Servings
Many of us (definitely me!) eat larger servings than is necessary. Stretch your meals by eating smaller portions. It’s important to eat enough, just focus on not over eating and this will help you save more for the next meal.
Our eyes might want two large spoonfuls, but remind yourself that one large spoonful will be enough to fill your hunger.
- Tip: Eat on smaller plates to help keep the portions smaller!
8. Meal Prep
Meal prepping in advance is an easy way to ensure you have smart portions for every meal.
I like to set one day aside each week as my Meal Prep day. This is the day when you will cook your meat, chop your vegetables, and separate all the ingredients into daily meals.
When we prepare the food in advance it’s much easier to plan out the servings and ensure nothing goes to waste.
Store your dinner portions in Tupperware, Ziploc bags or, I really like these containers.
9. Add Water
Stretch meals by adding water to the recipe. Water is FREE, making it the cheapest ingredient you own!
You can add extra water to soups or stews to stretch the broth a little further. Your family won’t even notice the difference, and your soup will last much longer!
10. Save All Leftovers
All food can be reused! Try to get into the habit of saving any and all leftovers from each meal. This food can all be used for a different meal in different ways.
If you don’t think you will be able to use up the leftovers within the next few days you can easily freeze it for later. Just let the food come to room temperature, put it in a Ziploc bag, get out all of the air, and toss it in the freezer.
For a full list of what can be frozen check out this list from Lauren Greutman.
If you have enough leftovers for another meal, consider saving it to eat the next day. We love to have leftovers for lunch, and sometimes even dinner.
If you don’t have enough extra food for an entire meal, add the leftovers with some other ingredients to make a complete dinner. You can turn most leftovers into a soup or casserole, simply by mixing it with something else!
We love to use leftover taco meat for soup the next day. I just mix the taco meat with some cans of beans, tomatoes and water and wah-lah-Taco Soup!
Try think outside the box when you are stretching meals. There are so many different ways you can save money on groceries and make the food you have at home last longer! You can do it!