Meal stretching is all the rage. With the cost of living steadily rising, many people find their grocery budget isn’t going as far as it used to. There are many ways to keep costs down, including cooking from scratch and eating less, but one easy way to lower the budget is to stretch dishes so they feed more people or last for several meals.
Make the Meat Count
One of the most expensive ingredients in the grocery store is meat, poultry, or fish. By reducing the amount used in dishes, we can make our money – and our meals – stretch farther. For example, if you have some ground beef on hand, you could make four hamburgers from it, or you could make a meatloaf that will feed six people or more. (Or it could provide dinner for more than one night.) A baked potato is a nice accompaniment to this meal stretcher because it’s both filling and inexpensive.
Stretch with Fillers
Fillers are food items like rice, beans, or pasta that are inexpensive yet filling. Adding even a small quantity of a filler to a soup, stew, casserole, or similar dish easily multiplies the number of mouths it feeds or how many meals you can get from it. For best results, choose whole grain pasta or brown rice, and choose dry beans over canned beans, which are high in sodium.
Eat More Fiber
We all know fiber is good for us, but it also makes us feel more full. The more full we feel, the less we eat – and the farther our food budget stretches. It’s relatively easy and cheap to get more fiber: Replace white bread with whole wheat, white rice with brown, ordinary potatoes with sweet potatoes, etc.
Frozen vegetables are often healthier – and cheaper than fresh. Unless you grow your own veggies, or buy your produce the day it’s picked (perhaps from a farmer’s market), frozen produce – which is usually frozen right after being picked – has more nutrients. Adding frozen vegetables is also a great way to stretch casseroles, soups, rice dishes, and more. Look for store brands, and don’t be afraid to buy huge bags; unused portions can be placed in a freezer bag, ready to use for many more dishes.
Adding more stock than usual to chili, soup, stews, and similar dishes, stretches the meal. But store bought stock isn’t especially inexpensive, nor is it very flavorful. Instead, make your own stock by freezing leftover bones, meat, and vegetables. Then it’s as simple as placing meat, poultry, or fish scraps in a pot of water, adding vegetables, and letting the whole simmer for about 2 hours. Skim off any foam or fat, strain, and place the stock in freezer containers.
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