This of course applies to grandparents as well. 😉
As a parent, I know just how much kids, especially teens, can eat. It seems like they are forever standing in front of the refrigerator and moaning about how there is ‘nothing’ to eat. After many years of trying to please them and always having snacks on hand, I realized something. All this snacking was wasting a lot of money and made them less likely to eat the meals we prepared for dinner.
While a snack every once in a while is fine, eating snacks all day long can get expensive fast. That is why my family has decided to limit snacks and focus on eating healthy home cooked meals. However as the economy has struggled so has my family. We are all trying to stretch the budget in various ways, and one of the ways we have discovered to be very effective is to stretch our dinners.
Here are some of the ways we make our food go further:
Using healthy fillers – Many times when you cook a recipe it can easily be stretched by adding fillers. Fillers are cheaper foods that can be added to a recipe without affected the flavor. Things like rice, potatoes, oatmeal, bread crumbs, beans, tofu, and even some vegetables can be added to dishes to make the meal go further. When I cook hamburgers, for example, I often make the meat go further by adding in some oatmeal. Not only does it give the burgers a great texture but it is also more filling, healthier, and enables me to make more burgers for later use. When I make shepherd’s pie or other casserole dishes I often add nutrition and make it go further by tossing in diced carrots, chopped onions, sliced green beans or peas. I also serve meals with a salad and other healthy and inexpensive side dishes. This allows us to fill up on those things and just eat a small amount of the main dish or meat. Items like baked potatoes and rice are a hit on everyone’s list and are very cheap and easy to make. Even bread can be served alongside meals to fill up hungry teens.
Making one pot meals – As I said, I cook a lot of casseroles. I love those meals because you can throw everything together and cook it all at once. You can also clean up very easily. One pot meals are easy to stretch by adding in extra veggies and filler and cutting down on meat. For example, I love to make a Mexican casserole that is full of flavor and yet only uses one pound of hamburger to feed up to eight hungry people. In addition, I add black beans, tortilla strips and veggies to make the meal stretch without having to use extra meat. One pot meals also help our electric bill. Instead of cooking three things on the stove and one in the oven I can just bake everything at once and be done with it. On hot days, I will even use a slow cooker to reduce energy use and heat buildup in the home while cooking. It is very easy to toss everything in before I go to work and have a tasty meal when I get home.
Cooking several meals at a time – Another way to stretch our food we discovered was to cook several meals at once. For example, we often buy a whole chicken, which is much cheaper than just the parts, and cook it. Then we separate the cooked chicken into baggies for separate meals. One can be for chicken enchiladas, the next for chicken salad, and the next for chicken casserole. By cooking and separating the meat ahead of time, we can complete our meals faster and use less meat in the process. We can even mix up two casseroles at once. It is just as easy to double a recipe and then freeze half as it is to make a single batch. Then later on you have a meal ready to go instead of being tired and ordering a pizza.
Reducing portions – Speaking of reducing the amount of meat in a recipe, you also need to keep in mind what proper meal proportions are. The majority of your meal should not be meat. It is not only expensive to eat that way, but it is also unhealthy. Instead focus on filling your plate with fruits, vegetables and healthy grains. Many times we feel like we are not full until we are stuffed. However, that is not a good way to measure satisfaction. Try to limit your family’s portion sizes and it will save you money and keep them healthy. You can also substitute healthy and inexpensive items like fruit or pudding for dessert instead of expensive pastries or fatty ice cream.
Keeping it simple – As you can see, even dessert can be a simple and yet fulfilling experience. By keeping the food you eat every simple you can reduce the amount of fat and sugar that goes into it and also how much it costs. While it may seem fun to cook with exotic ingredients you will find that it is a strain on your budget. Instead, substitute in simple foods that are inexpensive as well. A plain baked potato can be turned into a gourmet meal with just a few healthy additions like green onion. Rice has a variety of ways it can be prepared for a healthy meal. You do not need to have five courses for dinner either. Try to limit the amount of food you serve so that everyone just has enough to be satisfied. It may take some experimentation, but you can find a method that works for your family. This not only reduces the amount of money you spend preparing food, but it also reduces the food you waste through uneaten leftovers.
Eating seasonally – When you think about making your meals and you are looking to reduce your costs you should think about eating seasonally. This means that you plan your meals around the foods that are available in your area at this time. Things like pumpkins are on sale in the fall and strawberries in summer. By planning your meals around what is on sale and what is grown locally, you can save a lot of money and help the environment by reducing transportation costs. Seasonal food also tastes better and is generally fresher and better for you than foods that are shipped half way around the world.
Meal planning – One thing that has been a lifesaver for my family is meal planning. Instead of being tired and hungry when we got home from work and then trying to throw something together, my spouse and I started to plan our meals ahead of time. By looking at what is on sale at the store, what is seasonal, and what our family enjoys we have been able to set up a weekly meal plan. Every week we decide what we want to eat. We look up recipes and write down the items that we will need. This has also limited unnecessary trips to the store.
Spending an hour or two on the weekends chopping and cooking saves us tons of time when preparing meals later in the week. We also do not throw in unhealthy frozen meals or spend money on fast food because we are too tired to think of something to make. We can just come home and have the recipe right there and the ingredients all ready to go.
As you can see there are many benefits to stretching your cooking. It doesn’t matter if you are cooking for two or for eight, the same idea stands. You can make food go much further if you plan ahead and eat in proper proportions.
Ken holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College. As president of morningsidenannies.com, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.
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