Awhile back I asked for help from all of you. I wanted some ideas on how to bulk up dinners to fill hungry bellies (especially those of teenage boys), without spending much money, as we are on a super tight food budget. Now I'd like to share the great replies I received...
Lisa Maria says: First of all, I buy dried peas and beans and cook them up in my pressure cooker then freeze them for later use. This is MUCH cheaper than canned stuff or fresh sometimes, better yet, the seasonal things are always available this way. With these I can make healthy 3-Bean chili, bean burgers, soups, bean salads. Remember beans have tons of protein so that's always a plus!
You can cut back on how much meat you use by using bite sized pieces in rice dishes and pasta dishes.. this stretches it a long way. I'll send you a few of these recipes when I can type them up (I'm so pressed for time these days!)
When a recipe calls for something expensive or exotic, I try to improvise with something similar that's cheaper. I've used cucumbers in place of zucchini (which costs more in my country), local pumpkin in place of squash.
Also, I have found that starting dinner with a light soup (inexpensive to make) helps to fill up those tummys quickly. You can try potato, squash or pumpkin, cream of mushroom (homemade), tomato (made with fresh, if in season, or canned crushed if not expensive), onion...there are so many easy simple soups that don't have a lot of ingredients.
I use alot of homemade bread, rolls and pizza to help stretch things as well. Pizza can be fun too because the toppings can be anything you want.. even stuff leftover in the refrigerator and if cheese is expensive you can cut back because, while gooey, hot cheese on a pizza is heavenly, in a pinch the sauce and toppings make it work too, especially if you make inside out pizza (just roll the pizza up and seal the edges.. you don't really need alot of cheese.
I always have to remind myself too that, even though I'm on a budget, eating healthily means that we have to have that fruit and vegetable intake. I try to always include a simple salad and whatever fruit is in season will be the cheapest. Peppers have a lot of good stuff in them, including a wallop of Vitamin C.. I put them in almost everything I cook.
Susan says: One thing I did was eliminate what I consider expensive meals (ones that use a lot of bread like French Toast or a lot of eggs or fruit) We ate a lot of cereal this summer. And A lot of Bisquick made meals. We also did a lot of U-picks (but unfortunately the season is almost over.)The biggest cut was meat. We were eating on $28 a week for awhile for a family of 5. It really only bought milk and produce. Fortunately I had learned couponing right before all this happened and I had stocked up.
Andrea shares: No processed/packaged/pre made anything. It's far more expensive to use this food, less filling, less nutritional and less tasty. I also use my food processor to make my own ground beef. I buy large packages of high quality beef, and grind my own.
Whatever I make, I ensure protein is a large component, along with complex carbs. Filling up tummies is a good thing, but if it is gone in an hour, then it doesn't much help.
We have 6 children who are all eating meals. One boy who is 14.5 and grew 6" in a few months! William is 9, and has a huge appetite, as all our children are active and not sedentary through the day.
I eliminated breakfast cereal about a year ago, aside from keeping a bag or two for some major situation where I can't make breakfast. We have oatmeal, cream of wheat, eggs, smoothies from yogurt and fruit, homeade bread toasted, breakfast burritos, hot ovaltine sometimes, etc. All of these are extremely economical, and are filling and healthy.
For meals, I usually double or triple recipes a couple of dinners per week, and we eat the leftovers for lunch, as homemade dinners (pastas, soups, stews, meat and veggies) are far heavier in protein and complex carbs than any usual lunch fare.
I make large amounts of egg salad and tuna salad for the week, as that is healthier and far cheaper than lunch meats.
Nicole shares: Food prices are definitely a concern in my household. My kids are young but have huge appetites already (two boys 6 and 4, one girl 2). Plus, they are on special diets (gluten-free) and I'm dairy/soy/egg-free so our budget tips aren't always in sync with the average family.
We eat more meat than we used to because of cutting down on beans (I can only handle so much) but to stretch it, I try to cut it up into a meal and use less. For tacos we add rice to our meat mixture to bulk it up. We add rice to quite a bit of things.
I try to buy specialty items in bulk when I can and I still am learning how to fit this in the budget (to plan for it).
We do a lot of soups. I'm so glad fall is coming on as it's hard to eat soup in the summer (not a cold soup fan). I make all my own stocks. Roast up some chickens to make stock, have cut-up meat for different dishes, etc. I rarely use beef stock so that I will buy if needed. For vegetable stock, I keep a container in the freezer and throw in veggie scraps. When it's full, I put the scraps in the crockpot (which it fills just right) and top with water and let it cook on low all day.
For fruit/vegetables, I buy what's on sale. Fruit I will buy in a can or fresh but I hate frozen unless I'm doing a smoothie. Vegetables I'll buy fresh or frozen and some canned.
But for each meal I do use at least one fruit/veg, a carb, and protein (eggs, meat, dairy, beans, nuts) to keep them fuller longer.
I remind the boys to drink water to fill up. And, like the above poster, I think that we're going to have to nix cereal again. The kids went on a cereal binge this summer with me being sick with a new pregnancy but it doesn't fill them up at all.
Carmen shares: I can share how we stretch our food budget: lentils and rice, black bean chili, lentil soup, all kinds of bean soup (cornbread goes great with these), and my new favorite: no-bake cookies. We also make our own granola to save $$, and I bought a $15 yogurt maker this summer from Craig's list and hope to save about $100 in grocery money over the course of a year. I was spending $5/week on yogurt, now I'm not.
Thanks so much, ladies! That was a lot of very helpful information, that I'm sure will benefit many readers. Keep up the good work!