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Five Easy Ways to Stretch Your Meals

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Susannah Locketti: During my Mom's Nite Out live chat, one mom asked for some tips on how to stretch meals for a large family. This is a great question, and there are several ways to accomplish this money-saving task without sacrificing taste. Not to mention, they're easy!

woman holding beans

Invest in a Meat Mallet
This is my all-time favorite gadget that comes out often, especially with outdoor entertaining coming up. Many people overlook the benefits of pounding out meats as a means to stretch the meat. An average boneless skinless chicken breast is roughly six to eight ounces of meat. I pound out the breast and cut it to form three pieces instead. Because you have thinned it out, the surface area increases. While it looks like a larger serving, it is actually less. Pounding the meat allows it to grill evenly and the meat cooks in less time.

This method also comes in handy when working with pricier meats like tenderloin. Cutting the tenderloin into 1"-thick slices and pounding them out thin allows more pieces to go around the table so you don't feel deprived of a good thing.

Bean Supplements
I always have canned beans in the house to add to meals for additional protein and fiber at a minimal cost. Beans are great for you, they are inexpensive, and they help fill your family up. I never make a salad without adding garbanzo beans to make it more satisfying. Try mashing some into your next batch of mashed potatoes. I like to mash black beans with some olive oil and top a whole-grain tortilla with the mixture. Then I add diced tomato, scallions, and shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese. I bake the tortilla for 8-10 minutes in a 500-degree oven, open-faced. Cut with a pizza wheel and you're done!

The Veggie Investment
The next time you boil a box of pasta, add a bag of frozen mixed vegetables in the last five minutes of cooking. Drain and top 1 ½ cups of the pasta veggie mixture with some red sauce and Parmesan cheese. Adding veggies to your pasta dishes fills you up, boosts nutrition, and stretches the meal. Frozen veggies are also very inexpensive, yet have all the same nutrients as fresh. I never make a soup without adding a bag of frozen green beans, or a dip without adding a box of frozen chopped spinach. Puree veggies into chili or red sauce to trick finicky eaters ... they will never know!

Ground Turkey & Meats
Nowadays, making a meatloaf or meatballs can be a costly affair, with the cost of lower-fat ground beef! I always go for 93% lean ground turkey instead. I buy it for just under $2 per pound -- that is almost $3 cheaper than the 93% lean ground beef. My family loves when I make turkey burgers with it, because they are never dry-tasting. I use ground turkey in meatballs, meat lasagna, and meatloaf with great success. I never make a box of macaroni and cheese without adding a pound of ground turkey in with it. While we are on the topic of ground meats: on occasion, beef roasts will go on sale for under $2 per pound. When this happens, ask the butcher to grind it for you to get a better cut of ground beef that is also less fatty. This works well when top or bottom round is on sale.

Creative Casseroles
Casseroles were so popular when my mother used to entertain because they used up many items in her pantry, tasted great, and didn't require buying a bunch of ingredients. Leftover rice, soups, vegetables, or meats are transformed when layered and baked. Leftover shredded cheese and breadcrumbs are a great topper for casseroles with delicious results. The best part is we usually have these mommy staples on hand. Layering thinly sliced potato, apples, and cheese makes a really good side dish when topped with a mixture of milk and olive oil and then baked until soft and bubbly. Just get creative with whatever you have on hand to stretch your dollars and use up what is leftover in the house.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
ashley May 16, 2009, 8:51 AM

Lately I have been turning leftovers into casseroles. The other take I took leftover sun dried tomato risotto, leftover zucchini, leftover veal patties (broken up), a can of tomato sauce, mixed it up, topped it with mozzerela and baked it for 20 minutes. It was PHENOMENAL!!!! One of the best meals I’ve ever cooked!!

Susannah Locketti May 16, 2009, 9:26 AM

That sounds awesome Ashley!

Leslie March 2, 2011, 12:11 PM

This is your best topic yet!

Shirley March 2, 2011, 12:37 PM

This is your best post yet!

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