Wondering how to include meat in budget-friendly meals? It’s possible with a little creative thinking. Stretching meats in budget meals is a great way to save money and eat well!
My boys love the different names for eaters: carnivore, omnivore, herbivore, dessertivore, etc. Most of them would choose to be carnivores, if they could. (OK, dessertivore is in close competition.) When we have grilled meat such as Grilled Tri-tip, those nearby need to stand back. The FishBoys go after it like a pack of hungry wolves.
Unfortunately, in our endeavor to dig out of debt, meat was not a big menu item. This prompted more than a few whines, “But, is there any meat in it?” I’ve discovered that the children will hush up and eat if there’s some meat in a dish.
Over the years I’ve experimented with stretching meats in different recipes. They still include meat, but it plays only a supporting role. I stock up when it’s on sale, and then ration it — big time. My kids are like little pirates, searching for buried treasure.
Stretching Meats in Budget Meals
Here are some ideas for you to try as well as a few fantastic recipes:
Crockpot Chili Bean Soup – Chili with just a small amount of browned, ground meat.
Ragu with Sausage and Onions – Tomato-based pasta sauce with just a small bit of sausage or ground or shredded meat.
Chicken Fried Rice – This is great for using up little bits of leftovers. So yummy! You’ll want to cook extra rice and chicken just so you have leftovers!
Jambalaya with Sausage and Shrimp – I make this with lots of rice to stretch the proteins and still retain lots of flavor.
Cheesy Sausage Enchiladas (pictured above) – By adding onions and lots of cheese, I can usually get away with less sausage than I originally put into the recipe.
and finally, one of our family’s favorite recipes: Peanut Butter Chicken!
I’ve been making this dish since my oldest was about two years old. If my math is right, that’s 17 years. The original recipe which I’ve tweaked beyond recognition called for double the chicken that I list here as well as bottled salad dressing which I don’t buy.
Since my youngest was diagnosed with a peanut and walnut allergy, I’ve started making this with sunflower butter. Super delicious either way!
Peanut Butter Chicken
Peanut Butter Chicken is one of my favorite take-out fake-outs. It’s got all the flavor of a pad thai without the expense or hard to find ingredients. You can also make it with sunflower seed butter to accommodate for nut allergies.
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cook time:25 minutes
Total time:35 minutes
- scant 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- generous 1/3 cup vegetable oil plus 2 tablespoons
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter, almond butter, or sunflower seed butter
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon peeled, grated ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 16 ounces linguini or thin spaghetti pasta
- 1 medium carrot, shredded
- 2 chicken breasts, chopped
- 1 cup chopped green onions (you can get by with less)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- Whisk together the vinegar, the 1/3 cup oil, the peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, ginger, and red pepper. Set aside.
- In a large pot of boiling, salted water, prepare the pasta according to package instructions. While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil until very hot. Cook the carrot for 1 min. Add the chicken and green onions to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until chicken is cooked.
- Drain the pasta and toss with sauce and cilantro. You may toss chicken in as well, but we like to serve it atop the noodles. Otherwise, the chicken drops to the bottom and is not evenly distributed.
- Serve this dish hot or at room temperature.
- To freeze: store the sauce and the cooked chicken mixture in separate containers. Thaw completely in the refrigerator. Reheat before tossing with fresh cooked pasta.
Have you got a trick for stretching meats in budget meals?
Originally published: May 16, 2008. Updated May 15, 2016.