Tips to Make Food Stretch

January 7, 2015

How much do you spend on groceries? How does that compare with the rest of your expenses?

Setting a limit on what you spend can help you become creative and thrifty in what you do with food. Below are some tips that can help when money is tight. Eating well doesn’t have to be hard.

Allow me to share what I wrote about food in our Family Christmas Letter in 2008.

"People ask me about our grocery bill… To give you an idea of what a family of ten with eight boys (three teenagers) can consume, I will give you a small glimpse. When asked for a snack, I will tell the boys, “Eat a pickle.” They will; and a gallon jar of pickles will disappear in a half hour. I buy 10 lbs. of apples; they will be consumed in half the time it takes to drive home. I can give two boxes of oatmeal for breakfast, a jar of jam and three loaves of bread for part of a lunch, or twenty ears of corn plus 2 lbs. of spaghetti with sauce for dinner. I can see twelve gallons of milk drank in a week. For a given month, I purchase 100 lbs. of potatoes, 50 lbs. of flour, 25 lbs. of sugar, 10 lbs. of cheese, 5-10 dozen eggs and 8 lbs. of butter. We butchered two pigs, 220 lbs each. They didn’t last more than four months. Someone asked me about left-overs. “What’s that?” Sometimes after a meal, I feel the boys gaze at the empty dishes on the table. Josiah will say, “Don’t worry, Mom, we’ll just eat cereal.” That doesn’t count the dog, cow, horse and pig food that they have eaten between meals. Have teenagers—will eat much. Have toddlers—will eat constantly. Consequences of both result in no food in the house and so much for domestic management."

Do you want to make your food stretch? Here’s some ideas. Use what you can. Ignore what you can’t.

1. Use what you have. Use left-overs wisely. Chop leftover meat and use it in burritos, soups, and casseroles.

2. A little goes a long way. Use noodle box mixes like Hamburger Helper. Add an additional 1-2 cups extra noodles with additional milk, water and butter. Use without meat for lunches.

3. Try no meat meals like cheese pizza and bean and rice burritos. (Or serve liver, then you'll have leftovers for days.)

4. Stretch meat by making casseroles, like lasagna or enchiladas. Or chop meat and put in gravy or white sauce. Try creamed turkey or chicken with white sauce. Add 1-3 teaspoons curry powder for curry chicken or turkey.

5. Grow and raise what you can. Test the taste difference. Fresh eggs do actually taste good. Tomatoes off the vine have flavor. Meat from your barn makes a difference.

6. Drink water. I make tea and lemonade but don’t often buy juices. (Those who know me know I drink Pepsi--the boys do not.)

7. Shop once a month. Frequent shopping encourages impulse buying and wastes time. Monthly basics: flour, sugar, cheese, milk… (You will soon have a standard list of what you need each month.)  I freeze bread, if I don’t make it. I shop once a month at Costco (takes 2 carts), Wineco (takes 3 carts) and Smart and Final (takes 1 cart). Obviously I need the boys’ help. If I forget something, it waits until next month and I get creative to substitute.  I may supplement bi-weekly for milk, fruit and vegetables.

8. Evaluate paper products. Some are worth it and some are not. Sometimes paper cups are worth it (when kids drink milk and don’t clean their cups). Use dish cloths instead of paper towels. Consider getting plastic wrap and aluminum foil at Smart and Final. I bought a roll of their plastic wrap for $15—it lasted 10 years (I put the date on it). It’s wider than what you find in the normal grocery store. Use quality freezer bags, nothing is more frustrating than spending the time freezing only to give freezer-burnt stuff to the pigs! (Although they will thank you.)

9. Stock up on sale items. I just bought six containers of Nutella because it was $2 off a double pack. We can use one in one week.

10. Coupons can save—or waste time. If you have access to coupons and live close to town, it may be worth it.

11. Buy bulk. #10 can of vegetables, fruit…think like you are feeding an army. Then be creative with the can. Remember, if you buy in bulk but find you are throwing out more, then it isn’t savings. Devise new uses for leftovers. (Corn becomes corn fritters, corn bread, corn in soup…)

12. Dry beans are cheaper than canned. Slow cook them at night. Rinse. Drain. Bag. Freeze.

13. Evaluate extras. What are extras? Each family is different. I don’t often make desserts. (I do when I serve liver. Consider it a bribe.) Fresh lettuce and vegetables only last so long in a month’s shopping, so we have canned (from our garden) or frozen. I don’t buy pre-made dinners, although we splurge on Costco pizza when we do our once a month shopping. Rushed for time, need to bring home dinner? Consider making extra chili and freezing for those rushed times. Your savings will show the effects.

14. Establish a set amount of money for groceries. Do you spend until you have it all, or do you get what you can afford? You will evaluate your purchases better when you have a set amount. Do you want something convenient but expensive, or can you take the time once in a while to make it? Your budget may help you decide.

Most of these stretching food suggestions require space to store bulk, extra purchases, and freezer room. I like to eat, so I make the room, even if my freezer may look ‘full’ for half a month. I like a full cupboard and a freezer prepared for my family. I also like the clean, spacious feel of a freezer prepared for meat coming.

Use these tips as you are able to help your food dollar stretch, so you can spend money where you value most—on your family.

Displaying 1 comment

I would appreciate more in-depth directions on how to prepare dried beans. Do you season them? Do you use the same method for all types of dried beans?


Thanks for asking.
Some people soak them overnight before cooking, change the water than slow cook them.
I don't. I sort them, looking for stones and broken beans, wash them with a colander and put them into boiling water, simmmering for 1-2 hours (depending on the type of bean.)
If I can pinch them and they are soft, then they are done and I leave them on the back of the stove until an hour before dinner.
Do not put salt in them until after they are soft. Salt can lengthen the cooking time.
Drain the water.
An hour or so before dinner, I season them, and slow cook them again, to allow the seasonings to infiltrate the beans.
For pinto beans, after cooked, I put parsley, basil, oregano, salt, garlic...tomato sauce (or enchilada sauce or spaghetti sauce...anything red)
At the last minute, for a big pot of pinto beans, I put 2 c sour cream, and probably 2 c shredded cheese. (The heat will melt the cheese and mix the sour cream.)
Mix well. That will make the mexican beans you often see in restaurants. 
Black beans season the same way. Use like mexican beans, in burritos, mexican side dishes, with eggs.
Garbanzo beans seem to take longer (I cook them separately, then add them to kidney beans for a chili based meal, or blend for hummus spread.)
Kidney beans use what you would season chili ---basil, parsley, garlic, onion, chili powder, worcheshire sauce, sometimes I add black beans for variety
Split peas only take about 1 hour to cook. Set for day on back stove. and add onion, garlic, pepper, some salty meat for flavoring, carrots...for split pea soup
Lentils probably about the same stuff as split pea soup.
What beans have I missed?

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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