How To Make Meals Stretch

Making the most of your food, eating well but reducing food waste saves time, the planet and money in your pocket. Far from being a frugal ideal. Being savvy with what you buy, use and plan makes complete financial and environmental sense. Most people go through periods in their lives when they need to make savings, being prepared or starting now to allow for a build up of funds for later is no bad thing, or simply wanted to divert funds elsewhere.


There’s truth in the saying fail to plan and you plan to fail. The reality is however if you plan your meals for the week and then get the shop for the week, you are less likely to overbuy create waste and end up throwing food away and basically your money too! You can also often double up on meal prep, leftovers, stretch individual food items to go that little bit further and easily swap options about.

I have tried several ways but find it easier to just keep a month at a time calendar in the kitchen specifically for main meals. It also helps to look back if your stuck for ideas, enables others to write a favourite meal request in for the future, as well as a guide for the week.

If something has come up, or for some reason we are having something different for dinner, everything just gets moved by a day, or an item that may be in the freezer might get moved to the following week. It’s a guide, but its flexible, and enables advanced food prep or the welcome of a hot meal waiting in slow cooker for when you come home after a long day!

Bulk With Legumes & Vegetables

Adding lentils, beans, peas and/or other seasonal cheaper vegetables particularly to casseroles, bakes, pies, curries and risotto’s especially ones including meat, can really help to create a much larger amount, therefore creating another meal for another day or reducing the amount of meat required. As meat is often the most expensive part of the meal, this can create considerable saving, particularly if you are having dinner guests.

I always add lentils, leftover veg and a tin of chopped tomatoes to my lasagne, cottage pie and chilli, when using minced beef/steak as well as when creating vegetable versions. I find it gives greater flavour, and greater volume with surprisingly little meat. My team are not keen on kidney beans so I use mixed beans or baked beans instead.

Casseroles and curries can easily contain more vegetables than meat with nobody really noticing. Even with a shop bought sauce adding more vegetables and legumes will not only add nutrition, it will add volume. You can always add more water or stock, gravy, a tin of tomatoes, or baked beans to stretch the sauce content, if it seems too dry.

Reduce Meal Or Plate Size

Not everyone likes a mountain of food on their plate. I know several people for whom a loaded plate is the quickest way to put them off their food. Reducing food portions can help with reducing volume consumption and therefore overall cost. Using a slightly smaller dinner plate can also help give the impression of a large plateful of food, if that is your enjoyment.

Weekly Leftover / Fridge Crawl Meals

Allowing for one night a week when you have leftovers and/or fridge crawls is a great way of using up food that otherwise could be heading for the bin in a few more days. A friend of mine used to call it bits and bobs night. Its amazing what you can create when your forced to! I find Its kind of nice to have a buffet on the table if there are several left over dishes, you can create a few sides, left over veg, salads, pickles or even fruit and some bread. Does it really matter if things don’t go that much? Everyone has enough to eat and your less likely to have something that’s gone off in the back of the fridge, or iced up in the freezer.

Make One Freeze One

If you’ve made too much or have chosen to make a large amount of something, freezing for another time is a great time and resource saving. If it’s only a small amount it may be suitable for a next day lunch or frozen for a future single portion meal. Unless I know I can definitely use it up in the next couple of days I go for freezing. This way I know its more likely to be either amalgamated into another weeks meal plan or useful to grab when something different might be happening and I need something ready made. Either way there is less risk of it going off at the back of the fridge!

Freeze The Leftovers

You do not necessarily need to buy freezer bags either for freezing, reusing freezer proof containers and glass jars are adequate and certainly more Eco-friendly! For further tips on this see my post What Can I do with my glass jars?

Similar to above but sometimes when creating a meal, there’s not enough to make 2 but there is surplus on various ingredients. Rather then wastage consider freezing. If the ingredients are fresh then the chances are it can be frozen. (Important to ensure particularly with meat, dairy & fish) that they haven’t already been frozen and can be frozen, ensure you check with the retailer or check the producers packaging).

You are more likely to get so much more out of your food when you have an alternative option for the excess. If your not going to to be able to use it up within a few days, then chop up or even freeze whole. Leftover fresh veggies can be used in stir fries, casseroles, soups and stocks and even smoothies.

If there is so little, you feel its not worth saving keep a container in the freezer that you can add to. Before you know it, you can be making a soup or stir fry! For my post on reasons to make soup and some great soup recipes click here.

Make A Smoothie

You can make a smoothie with leftover fruit and veg. When I make one I usually try and make more than one and its a good way of using up excess fruit and veg that I think could be found wanting in a few days. I use up and freeze, also saving having to keep getting the smoothie maker in and out of the cupboard and washing it!

Reduce Meat

There are both environmental reasons (as it takes so much more land to raise cattle and other livestock than crops) and health reasons for reducing meat intake. As meat is frequently the most expensive part of a meal, reducing the amount or cutting it out altogether and having 1 or 2 meat free meals a week can really help stretch your grocery budget.

Buying a whole fresh joint and cutting it up to smaller portions and freezing can also be a better way of reducing meat intake and stretching meals. It is also means if you are eating less meat, that you can buy better quality meat. If I buy a whole chicken I will cook it (usually for a Sunday roast) then the rest will be divided up some frozen some not, for sandwiches, salads, pasta and risotto’s casseroles and curries, and the bones will be boiled for soup stock. Not only does this save money, it saves on packaging, time and ultimately energy.

Reducing meat consumption is healthier, environmentally beneficial and saves on your pocket.

Roast The Veggies

Raw, boiled or steamed vegetables can seem bland, particularly for children and people that struggle with vegetables. Roasting with oil, perhaps a sprinkle of herbs and/or spices can not only revive’s sad looking veg it sweetens them, and making the bits of the parts of the veg for example broccoli stems that can be less appealing. Mixing different leftover vegetables and roasting them together can be a great way of using them up and creating a healthy substantial addition to a meal or perhaps even a meal in itself.

Freeze Promptly

Whether you have a small amount of a leftover cooked meal or as you put away your grocery shop you realise you’ve over bought on the perishables and the fridge is already looking overloaded. Don’t just squeeze them in and assume you’ll probably eat them. Just take a bit more time in checking your meal plan and realistically thinking what can wait and what really can’t. Even if you freeze half of everything that can be frozen you will save in the long run.

Divide Up Dessert

Depending on your family tradition, desserts can be one of those areas that can be vastly different. I have known people that not following dinner with some sort of dessert would be unthinkable. As a child my family in the main only had desserts at the weekend. My own family is somewhere in between!

Supermarkets are fully stocked with lots of goodies to tempt you, usually high calorie, high sugar, lots of packaging and lots of price. Reducing the amount you buy and consume to special occasions or less frequently brings health and cost benefits.

Using part instead of all will help it last longer. Can it be frozen, or wrapped and kept in the fridge for a dessert later in the week or at the weekend. Can a smaller amount be plated but add some fruit and/ or ice cream on the side.

If you buy fruit and nuts for perhaps snacking and lunches being mindful of using this up first, particularly when they are becoming closer to passed their best. Cutting them up and adding some cream, ice cream, or yogurt, or just having them on a plate for everyone to share with a few small squares of cheese and dried fruit, can be enough to just have 2 or 3 mouthfuls of sweetness at the end of a meal. It helps you use up that fruit and likely to be nutritionally more beneficial.

For my post on a quick way of using up ‘past its best,’ fruit click here

The Statistics

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations globally 1/3rd of the worlds food was lost or wasted every year, thankfully prompting many governments to look at their food waste. The UK & EU in 2017 formally pledged to cut their food waste by 50% by 2030. According to the UN, in industrialised nations around 300 million tonnes of food that is fit for consumption is discarded.


Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimation study 2011.

UN Environment Program – Think.Eat.Save

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