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9 Ways to Stretch Meals Further – Meal Plan on a Budget

Feb 13, 2024 | Meal Planning | 0 comments

These 8 tips on how to stretch meals further help you get more servings out of the meals your family loves. Meal plan on a budget!

Key Takeaways

  • Add an inexpensive item like rice, beans, a side salad, or an extra vegetable side dish to stretch meals further with little extra effort or cost.
  • You can also stretch leftovers into an entirely new meal by using leftover protein and veggies in dishes like eggs and pasta.
  • These strategies will help you make the most of your grocery dollars and avoid food waste.

There are several reasons you may wish to learn how to stretch meals further.

First of all, groceries are expensive these days. Who wouldn't want to get an extra meal or two out of their meal plan with hardly any additional cost?

Second, maybe you're like me with growing kids at home who eat closer and closer to adult-sized portions. You don't have to double your grocery budget as your kids grow. There are some really easy ways to stretch meals further while still feeding everyone delicious and healthy food.

Finally, it's lovely to be able to extend a last-minute invite to your neighbor or friend to stay for dinner. With these easy tips for how to stretch meals, you can always ensure you have plenty to feed everyone at your table.

Have a tip you love for how to stretch meals further? I want to hear it! Share with me on Facebook or on Instagram @prepdish.

9 Ways to Stretch Meals Further

1. Add a Grain

Adding a grain such as rice, quinoa, farro, etc., is a great way to stretch meals into more servings. This works best with meals comprised of protein + veg. For example, if you're serving chicken and broccoli, people will naturally eat less of those items if you serve rice on the side. This stretches your dinner to more portions without anyone feeling deprived. I'm personally a huge fan of my rice cooker for quickly cooking up grains.

You can also add rice to soups, such as my Chicken Vegetable Soup, to stretch them further.

You can also serve bread, corn muffins, or almond flour biscuits as a filling side dish for soups and stews.

2. Add Roasted Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes

Similarly, adding roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes as an extra side dish is a super easy and budget friendly way to stretch a meal further. Really, any roasted veggie you love will work!

3. Include a Side Salad to Stretch Meals

All of our gluten free and paleo meal plans include a meal prep salad. Some people use these as lunches but these salads also work quite well as a dinner side to help the meal go further. Salad is filling and, of course, full of good-for-you nutrients, making it an ideal addition to any dinner.

Want to up your salad game? Try one of my simple DIY salad dressings for extra flavor and nutrition!

4. Add Beans

Basically any time you're cooking ground meat, adding beans is an excellent way to stretch the meal for additional servings. For example, if you're making turkey tacos, add a can of black beans in with the taco meat. If you're making beef chili, add some kidney beans into the mix. This is a budget-friendly way to bulk up a meal without going totally plant-based, if that's not your thing.

5. Use Leftover Veggies in an Egg Scramble or Frittata

Part of making the most of your grocery dollars is of course avoiding food waste. So why not stretch your leftovers into a completely different meal?

Leftover veggies are delicious in frittatas, scrambles and hashes. And don't feel limited to breakfast with these! Eggs make an excellent dinner. They're super nutritious, inexpensive and cook quickly. What could be better?

6. Make Pasta w/ Leftover Veggies

Pasta is another versatile way to stretch leftover veggies into an additional meal. Use chickpea or lentil-based pasta and you don't even need to include an additional protein! Think eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans – all of these are excellent additions to a simple pasta dish.

7. Freeze Individual Portions and Have a “Raid the Freezer” Night

One of my favorite ways to stretch meals is to freeze leftovers. While everyone may get sick of chili by the third day, they'll be thrilled to pull it out of the freezer a month later. Try freezing individual portions of meals like soup, chili, lasagna, etc. and once every couple of weeks, have a “raid the freezer” night. Everyone gets to choose something they like and you get a freebie on your weekly meal plan – a win-win!

8. Make a Rice Bowl to Stretch Meals

Have leftover protein and veggies, but not enough for a full family dinner? Chop everything up and turn the leftovers into rice bowls or quinoa bowls. Add a can of chickpeas or beans if you don't have quite enough protein to make it a meal.

I'm also a huge fan of adding a homemade sauce to throw-together meals like this. It really pulls everything together. Who can complain about dinner when it's drizzled with homemade chimichurri or pesto? Not one in my family!

9. Have a “Leftovers Night” on Your Meal Plan

When you make your weekly meal plan, include a leftovers night. While you may not have enough of any one dinner to serve twice, you'll almost certainly have little bits of things that can come together for a meal. Scheduling in leftovers helps keep the grocery budget in check and avoids wasting food. Set everything out buffet-style and let people choose what they like!

FAQ – Everything You Want to Know about How to Stretch Meals

What does stretch a meal mean?

Stretching a meal refers to trying to make a meal last for additional servings. This is a great way to cut your grocery budget.

What foods stretch meals?

Adding beans, grains or seasonal veggies are some of the best ways to stretch meals while adding very little additional cost to the weekly groceries.

How do I make a weekly meal plan on a budget?

To make a weekly meal plan on a budget, start by shopping your own freezer, fridge and pantry. Build meals around what you already have to avoid buying ingredients you don't need. You can also use a flexible grocery list that allows you to take advantage of sales and seasonal items.

More Resources for How to Meal Plan on a Budget

Frugal Meal Planning

10 Tips for Frugal Meal Planning

From batching to what items I buy in bulk to save money, get my 10 best tips for frugal meal planning.

Quick Meal Prep

Prep 5 Healthy Dinners in 1 Hour for $100

In this post, I outline exactly how I prep one of our Super Fast meal plans in just an hour for $100. Simplified meal plans, like our Prep Dish Super Fast meal plans, are a great way to serve healthy, tasty dinners for less.

Best Cheap Protein Sources

5 Budget Protein Options

For many of us, protein makes up the bulk of the grocery budget. These 5 budget-friendly protein sources can help keep your grocery budget in check.

Beginner Menu Guide


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Allison Schaaf Chef, Prep Dish

Prep Dish is a gluten-free, paleo, and keto meal planning website. Celebrity personal chef & dietitian Allison Schaaf thoughtfully crafts each plan using her own well-tested recipes. Each meal plan allows you, the home cook, to spend only 2-3 hours preparing a week’s worth of crave-worthy, healthy meals using seasonal, whole foods (nothing processed!). We aim to save you time while keeping your family’s taste buds happy.

Along with a weekly menu, you’ll get a printable grocery list and recipes for prep day — just one day of preparation yields scrumptious, good-for-you dishes all week long. Learn more…

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