10 Ways to Stretch Your Meals During a Financial Crisis

By Kim Galeta
May 22, 2020

If you’re looking for ways to save money during the coronavirus pandemic, you may want to consider trimming your food costs. 

Perhaps the best way to do this is to cut down on your grocery spend, plan out your meals, and shop from your pantry. Besides these tips, there are many other hacks that will also help you stretch your meals.

Check out these 10 cheap meal ideas to help you eat on a budget.

1. Plan Before You Cook 

Planning out your meals will help you save money. In my house, we have about 10 different meal ideas that we rotate throughout the month. Taking the guesswork out of your meals also helps you avoid the temptation of frequent takeout orders because you’ve already got your menu for the week ready to go.  

2. Always Keep Eggs on Hand

Eggs offer so much versatility to your meal plan. And, they’re pretty healthy too: each egg has less than 100 calories and 6 grams of protein. Even though the price of eggs rose 16% in April 2020, you can still grab a dozen for less than $2. Personally, a fully-loaded omelet with veggies and cheddar cheese is my idea of a perfect, budget-friendly dinner. 

3. Serve Apps Before Dinner

Protein-packed pre-meal snacks will fill you up so you don’t overindulge once the main course is ready. Deviled eggs, cheese, nuts, hummus and veggies are some go-to ideas to add to your food prep. 

4. Load Up on Sides

An easy way to stretch every meal is to add more sides to your plate. If you’re worried about packing on the “quarantine 15,” focus on buying fewer processed foods and adding more in-season local produce. You don’t have to spend a lot to enjoy healthier alternatives either. My favorite sides are roasted sweet potatoes (less than 50 cents per serving) and green beans with parmesan-garlic butter green beans (around 75 cents per serving). 

5. Add Beans

Beans are one of the best filler items if you want your meat to go the distance. A pound of ground beef equals between 1.5 cups and 2 cups of cooked meat (the leaner the cut, the more cooked meat you’ll end up with). Adding a cup of beans will give you around 50% more protein mixture to your meal, saving you at least $2.50 depending on the cut of meat.

This recipe for easy chili from Little House Living sounds divine.

6. Buy Whole Instead of Parts

Buying whole cuts of meat can be considerably cheaper than purchasing individual pieces. For example, my local grocery store in New Jersey currently sells a whole chicken for 97 cents per pound compared to $1.26 per pound for drumsticks and $3.37 per pound for boneless skinless chicken breasts. This same concept applies to beef and pork as well. 

If you own a sharp knife set, then you’re well on your way to saving money on your food budget every single month. If you’re looking for more inspiration, see Jamerill Stewart’s tips for turning a whole ham into 50 meals.

Pro tip: Use the carcass from your whole chicken to make a broth that you can freeze or use for numerous budget-friendly recipes. 

7. Try a Meatless Monday

Going meatless one day a week can save you a few dollars per serving depending on how much meat you normally consume. Plus, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adding more whole grains, beans and lentils, and vegetables during your meatless day offers a host of health benefits. In fact, whole-grain, unprocessed carbs such as quinoa and oatmeal can help ward off heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. These are all linked to poor COVID-19 outcomes.  

You can use the above-mentioned pantry items to make hearty soups, casseroles and other recipes that are good for your health and your wallet. 

8. Turn it Into a Soup

The more you avoid food waste, the further you can stretch your budget each month. 

Making soup is one of my favorite ways to use up foods in my fridge and pantry that are close to their expiration dates. Start with homemade or store-bought stock, add freshly cooked or leftover meat, then raid your pantry for potatoes, pasta or rice. Finish up with any and all veggies that are starting to look a little sad and you’ve got a filling meal that’s sure to please.

9. Use Portion Control Containers 

If you’re eating mindlessly during these times of social isolation, remember that there’s a health and financial cost to overeating. 

So, try storing your food in portion control containers. This is a great way to ensure that you’re not overdoing it each day. It’ll also help you stick to your weekly or monthly food budget. You can reuse containers saved from takeout orders or simply create your own system using Tupperware you have on hand. 

10. Fall in Love with Leftovers

Leftovers can actually taste more delicious the next day. But, if you struggle with eating the same meal three days in a row, immediately freeze your leftovers in portion separated containers. Always date everything you freeze since it’s easy to lose track of time these days. 

Time to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Eating healthy on a budget can be challenging in the best of times. But while you’re home during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to grab for snacks and overspend. We hope these cheap meal ideas will help you strike a healthy balance that’s good for your waistline and your wallet! 

Kim Galeta has been a professional writer since 2009 focusing primarily on personal finance but also dabbling in tech, health & wellness and small business. She holds an MBA in finance and corporate strategy from the University of Florida.

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