So… you went grocery shopping and you bought some meat. Your spouse makes googly eyes at the ground beef and requests the best burgers for dinner. Worse yet, Mr. Crumbs sees a whole chicken and thinks we’re firing up the grill and having chicken for dinner.
One pound of meat (ground beef)? One whole chicken? Just for ONE dinner?
Oh man, if they only knew the miracles you’re about to pull off!
That single pound of ground beef can become two, if not three meals. That one chicken? I’ve got FOUR dinners planned!
Here are my tips and tricks for stretching meat, and your budget, while still eating well.
How Stretching Meat helps to save money
While I COULD splurge on a rotisserie chicken for one night’s dinner, the side effect would be more meatless nights later in the month. Our grocery budget is frugal, which means we eat our fair share of meatless meals, but we like to eat too!
In order to have more dinner WITH meat than without, we have to be creative and intentional with what we buy and what we make with it when we get home.
Stretching meat helps your grocery budget in many ways:
- You’ll spend less on meat.
- Creativity starts to kick in.
- The cuts of meat you buy will be bigger. And cheaper.
10 Steps to Stretching Meat at Home
(1) Stretch your Meat budget by Making Meat a side dish.
The right mental frame of mind is just as important as what you actually do with the meat, so let’s set the record straight: meat is not the main star of the meal. It’s a side dish, an accompaniment, that small (yet important) role in the school play.
Meat is just one of several ingredients in a dish – not the only one – so keep that in mind as you’re making dinner.
(2) How do you budget meat for stretching? Cut it yourself.
Whether it’s cutting a whole chicken into parts or roasts into steaks, do it yourself and you’ll save right off the bat. Pre-cut chicken thighs and drumsticks average 50¢ per pound MORE than a whole chicken and whole roasts are upwards of $1 per pound more!
(3) Stretch the meat by making it thinner.
Using whole cuts of meat is a treat in our house, but you can still stretch the whole cuts by making them thinner. Before cooking, pound out chicken breasts, pork chops or steaks so that they’re slightly thicker than 1/4″.
Another option is to slice the cut of meat through the middle, at least once. If you’re skilled with a knife, do it three times! (Otherwise, play it safe and stick to the pounding out method.)
(4) Save on your Meat Budget by Grinding the meat yourself.
Ground beef used to be the most affordable option for beef. Not so much anymore. Fear not, because you can make your own ground beef!
Use inexpensive cuts of meat from local farmers or pick up the clearance packages at the grocery store and use a food processor to grind it up yourself. Just like that, you’ve saved big bucks overpaying for the convenience of having the meat pre-ground for you!
The same goes with any type of meat. Turkey (bought after Thanksgiving or Christmas), marked down chicken (on or off the bone) and even pork (steaks or roasts) can all be ground at home and used in whatever recipe you’d like.
(5) Measure two cups instead of whole pounds to stretch the meat.
How many meals can you get out of a whole chicken?
We buy two whole chickens each month and would you believe that it’s possible to stretch that chicken into at least SIX different meals? And that’s just the meat – it doesn’t include making stock from the bones (tip #10 below) or even adding filler items to the chicken!
Simply roast the chicken in the oven or cook it in a slow cooker. Pick all the meat off the bones and measure it into 2-cup portions.
Do the same with beef roasts or carnitas (shredded pork). Shredded, pre-portioned meat goes a long way.
(6) Replace meat with filler – a great way to stretch ground beef and more!
No, we’re not talking about pink slime. We’re talking about beans or lentils in tacos and skillet dishes. Barley in stews and oatmeal in burgers. Even shredded zucchini or carrots!
You don’t have to add much, but it allows you to reduce the amount of meat you’re serving without sacrificing taste and quality. (See how I stretched ground beef taco meat into more than one meal!)
- For every pound of raw meat, add one cup of cooked filler.
- For each 2 cup portion of shredded chicken, add 1/4 cup of rice.
- Substitute 2 cups of your finished dish for 1 pound of ground beef or turkey called for in a recipe.
These fillers are the most common, and most affordable. Choose which to use based on the meal and what you have on hand.
- Homemade breadcrumbs
- Beans (cook dry beans from scratch to save even more)
- Cooked lentils
- Grated vegetables (carrot, zucchini, and squash)
(7) Choose meals and recipes that stretch meat.
Substituting 2 cups of shredded chicken into a whole-piece chicken recipe won’t cut it, so you have to choose a more appropriate recipe from the get-go. Casseroles are the most common ways to use shredded or ground meat, but here’s a list of my favorite recipes that immediately become budget-friendly by using a single 2-cup portion of meat:
- Slow Cooker Chicken & Quinoa Cacciatore
- Classic Shepherd’s Pie
- Chicken & Spinach Enchiladas
- Chicken Creole
- Buffalo Chicken and Bacon Ranch Salad
- Southwestern Salad
- Add to Autumn Rice Pilaf for a one-bowl meal
- Homemade Hot Pockets
- Any salad!
- Stuffed Bell Peppers
- Grilled Sandwiches (1-cup portion)
- Pizza or Calzones
- BBQ Sandwiches
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Italian Meatballs
- Chicken Fried Rice
Tip: For slow cooker meals, prepare the meal as directed except for the meat. Add the shredded chicken at the very end, about one hour before the meal is set to be done.
(8) A simple way to stretch meat in recipes: Use less meat.
No one but your budget will notice you used only 3/4 lb instead of 1 lb in that casserole dish. And if you’ve stretched it with a hearty filler, that 3/4 lb will go even further!
The same can be said for trimming down to 1 cup of shredded chicken instead of 2 cups. You can’t do this for every dish, but you could easily use less in recipes like these:
- Fried rice
- Grilled sandwiches
- Spaghetti Sauces
- Sloppy Joe
(9) Stretch your Meat budget by Freezing it Correctly.
Freezer burn doesn’t alter the nutrition of food, but it can affect the taste. Once you’ve cooked your meat, stretched it with a healthy filler, and determined what to use it for, wrap it twice so it’s not freezer burned when you’re ready to thaw.
Tip: Keep your freezer organized AND save on freezer bags by portioning your meat into sandwich-size bags. Label each of those bags with the contents, then place several of these into one larger gallon-size bag. You can toss the sandwich bags but re-use the gallon one over and over.
(10) Save bones for stock.
With the meat taken care of, let’s do something with the bones. We make Instant Pot chicken stock or slow cooker homemade chicken stock because it’s hands-off and easy, but you can make it on the stove if you’d like too. And did you know you can reuse bones over and over again?! Your stock will get lighter, but it’s still nutritious!