6 Ways to Stretch a Meal

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You eat.

Right?

Sometimes, we have more money than month and wonder how we’re going to avoid going hungry at the end of the month.   When the grocery budget has run out and the cupboards are almost bare, how do you keep the kids fed?

The secret is to keep some staple stocked all the time.  If you have these ingredients, you can stretch $1 of beef into a meal for 10 people.  Almost.

Rice

We buy rice 20 pounds at a time.   I try to keep a bowl of cooked rice on hand at all times.    When we cook a soup, stew, or hotdish, we add a cup or two of rice to the dish.   If we’re running late for dinner(a painful situation with a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old, and an 11-year-old who’s about to hit 5′ 7″), we’ll dump a can of soup over the top of a bowl of rice.  A quick trip through the microwave, and we’ve got a reasonably healthy meal in 2 minutes.   Another trick is to add some to ground beef, whether it’s a meatloaf or sloppy joes.

Beans

This is another ingredient I try to keep on hand, cooked, and in the fridge.    We use it like we use the rice.  We add a cup to soup, or almost anything else.   Throw some barbecue sauce on them, and you’ve got pseudo-baked beans for cheaper than you can buy a can.  Mash them with taco seasoning and you have refried beans.    Add a cup to scrambled eggs for a filling breakfast.

Potatoes

There are so many ways to use potatoes to stretch a meal.  Shred them to cook with eggs or slice them onto a hotdish.   Cube them into soup or dice it as a thickener in stew.

Pasta

Yet another item that can go into almost anything.    Before I met my wife, I’d make a dish that consisted of nothing more than whatever pasta I had on hand, with a can of soup, cooked until the pasta was done and most of the liquid was absorbed by the noodles.  I learned how to wield spices like a crazy Neptunian ninja.

Soup

Whenever we cook, whatever we eat, we make enough for leftovers.   When the leftovers are no longer enough to make a meal for anyone, they go in a bag in the freezer.   When we have enough, we put them all in a slow-cooker with some water and a ton of seasonings.     When we get home from work, we have a delicious soup waiting for us–free soup.   If we want stew, we throw in some rice.   By the end of the day, the rice has completely dissolved, transforming our delicious freaking soup into yummy dang stew.   Everything we make tastes good, so combining a dozen dishes into one soup should also taste good, right?   The exception: fish.  Never, ever add fish to free soup.  Trust me.

Bread

I don’t use bread to cook much, though it’s harder to get much cheaper than a grilled-cheese sandwich.   I like to serve a slice of bread with dinner.    It just makes the food feel more filling.

That’s how I make a meal for two stretch to feed my family of five, without sacrificing taste or nutrition.    How do you make a meal stretch?

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Crack

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I guess I’ve been feeling pretty domestic lately. This is the second food post in two weeks. I wonder what that means? It probably means I’m hungry.

If I’m bringing a dessert to a potluck, or I need a dessert for a party, I bring crack. I’m absolutely sure that wasn’t the name on the recipe when I found it, but it’s been renamed by everyone who has ever tried it. I’m sorry, Mr. Potato-Chip-Man, but I can eat just one of those. This stuff needs to be restricted by the government. It’s an addictive, sell-your-first-born-for-another-hit bit of salty-sweet yum. I’m gonna make you fat.

Ingredients

1 cup of salted butter – $2
1 cup of brown sugar – $1
2 packs of saltines (That’s half of a box) – $2
2 bags of chocolate chips – $4
2 handfuls of toffee chips (broken Heath bars) – $1

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cover two cookie sheets in foil. Spread crackers over each sheet in a single layer.

Mix the butter and sugar in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until it starts looking like caramel, then stir for another minute or two. You still want it kind of runny, so don’t let it get thick.

Spoon the caramel over the crackers. Get some on each cracker. Try to get it even, but don’t worry about it too much. Sloppy is good. Remember, half the caramel for each cookie sheet.

Put the cookie sheets full of crackers and caramel in the oven for 10-15 minutes. The caramel will spread out and flow through and around the crackers. You’ll know it’s done when the caramel starts bubbling evenly.

Pour one bag of chocolate chips over each pan. Try to spread it out evenly, but–again–don’t sweat it.

Go away for 10 minutes.

When you come back, the chocolate will be all melty-good. Spread it evenly with a rubber spatula.

Sprinkle some toffee chips over the chocolate, then put the pans in the freezer to cool and set. It will take at least a couple of hours.

When you pull the pans out, peel off the foil then break it up into snack-sized pieces. Don’t break it up first, or you’ll spend the evening moaning over the candy and crying over the foil hitting your fillings.

Depending on how long you cooked the caramel, it will get soft when it approaches room temperature.  I always store it in the refrigerator to avoid that.

When you bring this to a party, always pack it two containers.  When the first one is empty, you can auction off the second.   You should be able to turn the $10 you spent on ingredients into at least $50 of guilt-ridden goodness.

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