10 Easy Ways To Stretch Your Meals (when money is tight)

When I first transitioned out of the military to a stay at home mom, things were tight at first. If we wanted to live off one income, I had to get creative with our budget. One of the easiest bills to shrink is your grocery bill. To do this, I stretched our meals and made homemade snacks instead of store bought. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.. but that doesn’t mean you need to eat rice and beans for every meal. Shop smarter and get creative with your meals. Here is a list of 10 ideas to stretch your meals that I came up with for you from my experiences.

10 Easy Ways To Stretch A Meal

  1. Use less meat and more beans. It’s no secret that meat costs much more than beans, especially with meat prices on the rise. You can get a pound of dry beans for right around $1-2. After soaking the beans and cooking them, they just about double in size. In a dish that you use ground beef for, add cooked lentils to the beef while sautéing it. You’d be surprised how well it blends together!
  2. Add a cheap carbohydrate. Rice, potatoes, and flour/bread are all pretty inexpensive. Serve that bowl of chili over rice or a baked potato, you’ll feed double the people. Add homemade rolls or even store bought bread to the side of your pot of soup.
  3. Get creative with leftovers. Don’t waste food! Every time we have tacos in my house, there is always leftover taco meat. It’s not enough to feed my family a whole meal again, so instead I make things like taco pasta or taco bowls and burritos. You’d be surprised at how many different ways you can prepare leftover rice, meat, beans or pasta! You can even use leftover mashed potatoes as a thickener in soup, or make zucchini bread if your zucchini is going bad. Get creative 🙂
  4. Use frozen vegetables. If I want to stretch a meal that is already a little starch heavy, I throw in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables to stretch it out and add nutrients. I love doing this with soups, chili, pasta dishes, and casseroles. I can get a bag of frozen mixed vegetables for around a dollar when I buy the store brand. They are much cheaper than fresh vegetables and still very nutritious.
  5. Buy cheaper cuts of meat. In my area, pork is much cheaper than beef. Instead of having a beef roast, have a pork roast. Or buy pork chops instead of steaks. A whole chicken is often much cheaper than buying chicken breasts or thighs. Here is my roast chicken recipe.
  6. Cook from scratch! Making your own bread, pasta, tortillas, etc. is often a lot cheaper than buying them at the store. It’s so much easier than you think! A bag of flour can go a long way. Here is a recipe for homemade pasta that is cheap & easy to make!
  7. Use your leftover bones to make your own broth. Instead of buying broth at the store, use your leftover bones and veggie scraps to whip up your own broth. I keep a gallon sized freezer bag in my freezer and throw in any bones or veggies scraps(even onion skins!). Once it gets full, I add it to large pot. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and cover the bones and scraps with water. Boil it all day long and then strain it. It makes delicious broth and doesn’t cost you a cent.
  8. Build your meals around clearance/sale or couponed items. I do this all the time. If I have a coupon for smoked sausage, I will add some potatoes and cabbage and make a stir fry. Or maybe the eggs are on sale or at a lower price than usual, I’ll use eggs as my protein that week. You have to get creative when times are tough. I used to make a game out of it when times were tight for me… how many meals could I make with sale and clearance items? Check the ads for your local grocery stores before you go shopping, that way you have a plan.
  9. Add produce that is in season! Maybe there are no good produce sales going on at your grocery store. Take a look at what is in season in your area. In my area around fall time, I can get apples and butternut squash much cheaper than I can during the spring! If you aren’t sure what is in season, do a quick google search before you go to the store.
  10. Buy store brand items. There is usually no taste difference in many store brand items. Things can be SO MUCH cheaper. You can use the money you save to buy a better protein or add fats to flavor your meal. A $1-2 difference can go a long way for a meal when times are tough.

I hope you found this list of ideas helpful. If you have any more ideas I would love to hear about them down in the comments!

If you can’t afford to feed yourself or your family, find a local food pantry or even a church for help. No one deserves to be hungry!

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