Stretch Your Family Meals

By Renae Chiovaro for Ideas That Spark

Cooking at home is the most economical way to feed your family. Here’s how to make the most of your time and money.

  • Cook once, eat twice. That doesn’t mean you have to serve the same meal each night! Cook extra servings of the main ingredient from which you can make several meals. A baked whole chicken could be used for tacos, a casserole or a salad. Plan your meals ahead and don’t just eat leftovers: Eat leftover makeovers!
  • Take time to plan a menu. Without a plan, it’s too easy to eat out. Recipes that call for seasonal ingredients are more affordable — this is especially true for produce. Warm weather is a great time to visit the local farmers market for fresh produce at a lower price.
  • Substitute ingredients for items you have on hand. Most recipes can be altered with similar substitute ingredients. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the recipe.
  • Try cooking with less meat. Meat is the main ingredient in many recipes, and generally, it’s also the most expensive part of a meal. If a recipe, such as a casserole, calls for 1 pound of ground beef, try using half. Compensate with additional grains, pasta, rice or vegetables.
  • Serve smaller portions. Instead of plating a whole steak for each person, cut the meat into portions. Seconds can be served if needed.
  • When cleaning up, don’t immediately toss plate leftovers. If your kids are picky eaters but enjoyed the meal, contain leftovers for tomorrow’s meal, should they not enjoy what you’ll be serving tomorrow as much.

Stretching your meals is doable with a little planning and experimentation. Make the most of your meals by turning leftovers into new dishes and substituting ingredients. Most important, take inventory of your pantry and freezer and use items already available to you.

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