Staying on budget, keeping us fed
When I was unexpectedly laid off from my corporate job, it became clear I was going to have to learn a new way to meal plan and cook. Up to that point, I was spoiled silly in the grocery store. I bought it ALL, and often. But then, the layoff suddenly meant no more $6 jars of fancy, organic peanut butter! No more Whole Foods! No more rib eye steaks for weeknight meals. My mother (who raised 2 daughters on a single income) was a master at stretching meals and so I knew that was my first task — learn how to stretch it! At first, I had nightmares of cold cereal every night, but I learned how to incorporate some her of techniques to keep us fed until I could find another job.
Just what exactly is meal-stretching and how do you do it? Turns out it’s not that hard once you get the hang of it, and well after I got a new job, I used these same techniques to save money and pay off big credit card debt.
Here is meal stretching in a nutshell:
1) I choose 2 or 3 proteins for the week. For this example, let’s say chicken and pork chops.
2) On “day one” I cook the chicken, careful to keep a small amount available for leftovers. Sometimes this might mean I would cook 1 more chicken breast than what my family would eat or other times I simply end up only setting the table with 90% of what I cooked.
3) On “day two” I use the leftover chicken from the day before and I make things like cheesy chicken spaghetti, spanish chicken and rice, or chicken tacos. Sometimes I can even get it to a 3rd day by combining whatever is left of the chicken with a lot of vegetables and having a chicken stir fry.
4) Assuming I have no chicken left by the 3rd day, I cook the pork chops and start all over. First night, maybe we have barbecued pork chops. 2nd night, perhaps it would be barbecued pork & rice bowls, or even a pork & potato hash. Much of the time, the additions change the original dish in such a way that the family doesn’t even realize we are technically having leftovers.
5) This technique is no different than how your grandmother would have cooked. The key is that when you start meal-planning, LINK your meals together. For instance, instead of having chicken one night and chili the next, think about how you could link the two meals to make baked chicken the first night and white chicken chili the second night.
6) In summary, don’t plan a meal without having some idea of how it could be used ‘twice’ or even three times. You will be surprised at how much money you can save doing this.
I’ve met other families who use these same techniques…what is your favorite way to stretch a meal?