grilled veggies
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5 Ways To Stretch a Meal and Save Money

My oldest son is turning nine (!!) this week and over the past couple of months my husband and I have started to notice a pattern: sometimes there isn’t enough food on the dinner table. We haven’t yet reached the run-to-the-fridge-to-scrounge-up-more-food levels yet, but we have definitely hit the oh-no-there-won’t-be-enough-leftovers-for-lunch-tomorrow levels. The amount that I have been making over the past few years (which, by the way, is definitely enough food for a family of four, plus leftovers) is just not cutting it, especially on soccer practice days. Just yesterday, for example, I made 13 baked chimichangas and then had to dash out before dinner to get to a meeting. When I got home, there were only three left. Not only had the three of them eaten 10 chimichangas, but they weren’t even sure how it had happened! Where did all that food go?! I knew this time would come, what with having two boys and my husband coming from a long line of big eaters, but I did not expect it to arrive when my kids were six and eight (what is it going to be like when they are 12 and 14?!).

Because of this uptick in food consumption I have definitely noticed that our grocery bills have started to creep up a bit and so I am starting to be even more diligent about using some of the techniques I saw my mom put into place when I was growing up. My mom is a serious pro at these things. Family friends always talk about how amazing it was to watch my mom feed huge groups of people with what appeared to be very little food. So whether you are just trying to cut down on your food bills, you are hoping to save up for a summer vacation, or you have some other fun plans for a little extra dough, here are some tricks to feed the hoards without breaking the bank:

1) Beans and legumes need to be a staple. They are a cheap and easy protein source, incredibly flexible, and very filling because they are so packed with fiber. You can use them in dishes like chilis and protein bowls, but you can also use them to stretch out your meat by mixing them into taco meat and even burgers!

2) Bulk up the vegetables. Not only is this healthier, it is also cheaper! So if you need to expand the offerings on the table, go for another vegetable side or make that salad bigger. If you want to make a sauce go farther, double the vegetables.

3) Grains, grains, grains. Grains, especially whole grains, are wonderful for filling bellies and stretching out the meal, so make extra.

4) Use meat as a flavor enhancer, not the main event. If you are a meat-eating family this is probably the biggest money saver around. Meat is really expensive, especially if you are going for the organic/humanely raised kinds, so instead of having meat, a grain, and a vegetable, try using less meat and incorporating more vegetables like in this skillet sauce, this baked pasta, in a stew, minestrone-type soup.

5) Make it richer. Adding high-quality fats can help to fill hungry bellies. So add cream or sour cream to a sauce, cheese to those tacos/burritos/pastas, or avocados to those sandwiches/burritos and the needs for seconds (or thirds or fourths) may dissipate.

Do you have tips on how to save on your grocery bill and how to stretch out the food to feed seemingly insatiable appetites? If so, I’d love to (and need to) hear them! Please share in the comments!

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