How To Stretch A Meal
A pint of example is worth a gallon of advice.
One of my sisters once asked me for advice on how I save money on groceries. We compared notes, and she knocked down every one of my ideas. She wasn't being mean or belligerent. It was more about coloring inside the lines. There was comfort in what she knew her family (and dog) would eat. She prized convenience more than affordability.
For example she paid an exorbitant amount of money on 'special' dog food. The prices she quoted me were obscene. I countered with my own recipe for homemade dog food, but she felt it was too much work.
At the prices she paid, I'd make the time to make dog food. The prices they charge are highway robbery.
The same goes for organic products. If you're struggling to make ends meet, something has to give. No one is going to die if you switch to less expensive commercial foods. It doesn't have to be forever. You can always add one organic product back on the menu when times are less lean.
I have the advantage that I grow some of my food, so I know that not only is it organic, but safe. (That's not always the same thing.)
A regular rib eye steak can serve two meals, dinner and breakfast (or lunch). Chicken can last at least three meals or more. Greg gets tired of it the second time around so I'll freeze a part of it to make a quick chicken salad with the leftovers.
Legumes, quinoa, and rice are excellent fillers for lean wallets. Beans and quinoa are also a great source of protein.
Have you ever tried quinoa or barley? How about steel cut oats? They are surprisingly good and filling. And these are ancient grains which means big agricultural companies haven't tampered with them yet.
Do you need more cheap protein sources? Try eggs, peanut butter, tuna, salmon, and Greek yogurt.
Here are my top ways to stretch a meal.
- Add water. Take last night's chicken dinner and boil the bones to make a broth. You now have a soup base for lunch or dinner.Add rice, quinoa, or barley to any skillet dish. Toss in some veggies and a little meat (if available) then simmer until the flavors meld.
- Add beans. Make a near instant soup with the broth from above then add beans and a chunk of pork or bacon. Any beans will do. I make a white bean soup with broth, canned cannellini beans, and any greens I have in the garden (usually kale, chard, or bok choy). Season, cook and serve.
- Add pasta. Use any style noodles with cheese, meat, vegetable, or seafood. Pasta is very versatile.
- Go vegetarian. If you garden, nothing is easier than making dinner from whatever is ready to be harvested. In the summer, the bounty is endless with fresh greens, beans, radishes, and corn. In the winter, use your root vegetables, and cold tolerant greens.
- Canned and frozen food. Purists sometimes turn their noses on commercially preserved food, but in a pinch you can make a meal from canned food. Frozen vegetables are at their peak when they're frozen, while canned beans, tomatoes, and sauces are cheap and easy to store. I've made chili with nothing but canned goods.
- Bread. Yes. Bread. Make French Toast, Bread Pudding, Bread Stuffing, Sandwiches (of course), Meatloaf, and all manner of Stratas.
Whether money is tight or you're trying to keep to a budget, stretch your meals. It saves money and adds variety.
This post was updated on 2-20-20
My favorite way to stretch a meal is Ramen noodles. Throw in some sauteed onions and maybe some frozen stir-fry veggies. Serve with meat. Dinner for both of us and lunch for me the next day. Oh, and sauteed onions are awesome. One onion, sauteed and then portioned, can go a long way. Last week, one onion got added to three different meals.
When I get back into the groove of cooking again, we'll get back to the schedule of only cooking 3 times a week and having leftovers for the other days (and we usually go out to eat Fridays).
People poke fun at ramen noodles but they're surprisingly versatile. Thanks for reminding me about them.
When we first moved here we were eating out constantly because we were just too tired from moving, fixing, and organizing the new house. I was glad when things settled down and we could return to some normalcy.
We feed a little kibble now, but only to be sure they're getting a complete diet. The rest is homemade food.
That's my plan when I cook too. I want just enough to make a lunch the next day.
I've made barley soup for myself but I don't think I ever made it for Greg. I'm going to have to remember that come the fall.
I don't make meatloaf much anymore, but I would always add breadcrumbs to stretch it out.
When I lived alone I'd eat on the same chicken, steak or fish all week. Salads everyday. Toast every morning. I'm a pretty boring eater. It's only when others require me to cook do I bother getting inventive. Sad but true.
I always cook enough to have leftovers for another meal, even if it's just lunch for me. Another trick of mine is to take a little ground beef from every recipe I make with it, and mold it into a patty, which I then freeze. No one misses the little bit I remove, and after a couple of weeks I have enough to make burgers for everyone. Using pretty much any leftover chicken, beef or turkey to make tacos, sloppy joes, or hot open-faced sandwiches also helps stretch our meals.
Whereas I used to always deliberately cook extra to give myself leftovers, I have to be more conscious of what's left over since Mr. Picky lives with me now. :)
I cook it in batches of between 8 and 10 portions and freeze in two portion bags. Rock n Roll :)