3 Thrifty Ways to Make Your Food Go Further

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you’ll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

A lot of folks think those Depression Era techniques for stretching food are only for a worst-case scenario. But in truth, those ideas are good for every day, because the price of food just keeps going up, up, UP. It’s more important now than ever to make your food go further.

The ability to make the food you have feed more people (and leave them feeling full and satisfied) will stand you in good stead if things go horribly wrong. But I think it’s important to do this in the meantime too. If we went back to the ways that our grandmothers made food last during the Great Depression, we could take a big chunk out of our grocery bills, eat more scratch cooking, and stop wasting so much food.

Here are three ways to stretch your food.

Use all your leftovers

One thing that happens a LOT in America is food being thrown in the trash. Up to 40% of our food supply is actually wasted, according to multiple sources. While there isn’t much we can do about food in restaurants or the grocery industry, we don’t have to waste food at home.

That’s where the art of repurposing leftovers comes in handy. Most folks don’t want to eat the same thing over and over again. (Except me – I can eat the same meal for a week straight, and I absolutely love it.) But if you take those leftovers and turn them into something entirely different, then that’s half the battle.

The best thing about using up all your leftovers is that it’s like free food. You are eating the stuff that many people leave in the fridge so long it has to be thrown out. Not you. You’re eating it and loving it.

Here are a few ideas for using up your leftovers.

Leftover Buffet: We have some nice little oven-safe dishes that are divided.  We use these on “Leftover Buffet Night.”  Simply put, all the items from the fridge are placed on the counter.  Everyone takes their divided dish and helps themselves to whatever leftovers they’d like for dinner.  The dish is then placed in the oven and heated up – sort of like a “TV Dinner” of choice.  Aside from the kids scrapping it out over the last enchilada, this is generally very successful.

Puree: I use this technique quite often with leftover root veggies.  Using a food processor, puree potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips or other root vegetables.  You can add milk, broth, or even water to thin the puree to the consistency of soup.  Season with garlic powder, onion powder and other appropriate spices, and garnish with a tiny amount of bacon, chives, cheese or sour cream.  Other vegetables that are suited for puree are cauliflower, broccoli, and squash.

Pie: This is a great way to use up leftover meat and gravy.  In the bottom of a pie pan or cast-iron skillet, stir meat that has been cut into bite-sized pieces with gravy.  If you don’t have leftover gravy, a creamy soup, a bechamel sauce, or a thickened broth will work.  Add in complementary vegetables, also in bite-sized pieces.  We like peas, corn, and carrots with poultry, and green beans, carrots, and potatoes with beef.  Add seasoning if needed. Top your pie with either a standard pie crust, cornbread batter, or with a biscuit dough topping.  Bake as directed, then allow it to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

For even smaller amounts of leftovers (or picky eaters), you can use individual-sized ovenproof containers or ramekins to make single-serving “pies”.  I’ve also used muffin tins designed for the jumbo muffins to make individual pies. When using a muffin tin, you will want to make it a two-crust pie to enclose the filling.

Pockets: If I bake it in a pocket, my family will eat it.  Whether the filling is savory or sweet, there’s something about a piping hot turnover that makes anything delicious. The key with a pocket is that the filling cannot be too runny.  So,  for a savory pocket, you can mix a small amount of gravy, tomato sauce or cheese sauce with your meat and/or veggies, but you don’t want it to ooze all over the place as soon as someone takes a bite.  If you want to eat this as a handheld food, allow it to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating it. You can use pie crust or pizza dough for your pockets.  Pizza dough is our personal favorite because it is a bit more filling.  I make pockets and keep them in the freezer.  I take them out the night before and place them in the refrigerator – by noon the pocket is thawed and makes a delicious lunch-box treat at school.

We like pockets with veggies and cheese sauce; meat, mushrooms, and gravy; meat and bbq sauce; pizza toppings, marinara and cheese; and meat and cheese.   Another favorite is empanada style: meat flavored with Mexican spices, mixed with salsa, beans, and cheese.   As well, you can fill pockets with chopped fruit that is topped with either cream cheese or syrup for a dessert-style turnover.

Casseroles: The fact is, you can mix nearly anything with a creamy sauce and top it with a crispy topping and you have a tasty down-home casserole.

A basic casserole consists of pre-cooked meat, a veggie, a sauce, a grain and a topping.  Bake at approximately 350 for 30-45 minutes until bubbly and the top is browned.  The less meat and veggies you have, the more cooked grains you should add.  Try barley, quinoa, rice, pasta or wheatberries to stretch your casserole.  Instant comfort!  For toppings, you can use stale bread that has been finely chopped in the food processor, cheese, crumbled crackers, crumbled cereal, or wheat germ, just to name a few items.  (For more details, check out the Ultimate Frugal Casserole Formula here.)

I often use things that have perhaps become a bit stale – just another way to use up food that would otherwise be discarded.

Make soup

There is nothing like a pot of soup. It makes the house smell comforting and enticing as it simmers on the stove (or in the crockpot). It’s a delicious and warming meal. But even that isn’t the very best thing about soup.  The best thing about soup is that you can feed a LOT of people a hot, satisfying meal for just a LITTLE bit of money.

When I lived in Canada, some nights we had lots of people show up for dinner. On those evenings, I’d add an extra potato for each extra person I hadn’t been expecting. Add a loaf of homemade bread, and I had dinner on the table for however many folks we were feeding.

Here’s another good thing about soup. When I don’t have quite enough leftovers to make 2 full servings for my youngest daughter and me, but it’s a bit more than one serving, I often make soup.  I can broth on a regular basis, so it’s an easy thing to grab a jar of broth, chop up the meat, and add some vegetables and grain.  You can stretch your soup by adding barley, pasta, or rice.  If you have fresh bread to serve with it and a little sprinkle of parmesan or cheddar for the top, you have a hot, comforting meal for pennies. (Check out the Ultimate Frugal Soup Formula here.)


The other great way to stop wasting food and make it last long is to preserve it. This is a great way not only to save leftovers, but also to prevent the waste of fresh meat, fruits, and veggies that you don’t have time to eat before they spoil. It means that you can buy things in bulk when they are in season or on sale and put them back to enjoy later when they’d be much more expensive at the store. Preservation is how we enjoy healthy food on a tight budget all year round.

There are three basic ways that we can preserve food simply.

Freezing: Instead of letting your leftovers sit in the fridge and potentially spoil, pop them in the freezer. You can also quickly blanch your fresh fruits and veggies and store those in the freezer. Finally, when you bring meat home from the grocery store, if you aren’t going to eat it in the next day or so, store it in the freezer to prevent it getting shoved to the back of the fridge and going bad.

It’s a good idea to double wrap or vacuum seal food before storing it in the freezer. This can help prevent the dreaded freezer burn.

Dehydrating: My dehydrator runs year-round. I have a load of peach slices going right now, as a matter of fact. The dehydrator is a great way to create shorter-term, shelf-stable foods. It’s as simple as slicing your produce thin and laying it on the rack. After that, it dries out with little effort needed from you.

Dehydrated foods can be stored in mason jars or heavy-duty ziplock bags. Make sure you have removed ALL of the moisture to reduce the risk of foodborne illness like botulism.

Canning: Water bath canning is a great way to preserve high acid foods like fruits, jams, and pickles. But with pressure canning, the sky is the limit. There are all sorts of delicious ways to preserve meat, vegetables, and entire meals when using a pressure canner. I always have a selection of home-preserved soups on my shelf, ready to pop open at a moment’s notice.

Pressure canning is a little bit time consuming but if you’re going to be home, why not put up a batch of leftovers? When I make soup or chili, I make it in enormous batches so that I can store some in jars for a lazy day. For lots of recipes and instructions on canning your own meals, check out my book The Prepper’s Canning Guide.

How do you make your food go further?

There are all sorts of ways to prevent the waste of food and make your food go further. What are your favorite ways of stretching food?

Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

3 Thrifty Ways to Make Your Food Go Further
Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of TheOrganicPrepper.com, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

6 thoughts on “3 Thrifty Ways to Make Your Food Go Further”

  1. When I buy a roast that’s for a family, I bring it home and cut it into 2, sometimes 3 pieces. When I cook it in my Ninja Foodie, I also cook potatoes and carrots. At the end, I take the food out and make gravy. Lots of gravy. When we have finished eating, I chop up the meat and put it in a quart jar with the veggies. Sometimes I need a 2nd jar for the gravy. The next night, we have roast beef hash, as my grandma called it. I make homemade biscuits and we pour all of this over the biscuits. Sometimes I add more veggies and call it soup. I’ve learned along the way that the price per serving is important. I may pay $13 for a roast, but even when I cut it in half, that’s 6.50 for the two big meals, and then I always get 2 more meals out of it. $13 for 4 meals is a steal for two people…and a good dinner.

  2. HI ALL PREPERS ! I only eat grassfed meat so it can get rather expensive however the way to do it is this .I cook in a large pot & make like a stew /hodgepodge & can SO I end up w/12 or more quarts of food which doesn’t cost a lot !

  3. I always eat bread with my meat. It’s cheap and helps to fill you up and reduce your intake of high priced meat. Same principle with crackers while eating soup, salad, or chili.

  4. I freeze or can many of our leftovers. This weeks meatballs over spaghetti has also made meatball sandwhiches on hotdog buns. Tomorrow the last of it will have a can of diced tomatoes and some veggies added with bullion for two more meals of rich soup to eat with either biscuits or toasted bread. By the way it started out as Senior Center lunch leftover given out to anyone that wanted it. I took two small containers. We’ve had two meals from that and will have 2 more. They also gave me two hamburgers. Just meat and buns. Meat is going into a pot pie with vegetables and gravy mashed potato topping. Toasted buns are going to be eaten with jelly for breakfast. Nothing goes to waste. If we don’t eat it the dogs will. Or it goes in a compost bucket with the food prep trimmings and egg shells. Part of the egg shells go back crushed in the chicken feed and part will go in the compost for the tomato plants.

  5. I love how “Leftovers” are becoming less of a bad word. I grew up enjoying them as my family would often have a couple meals out of the same pot. It just makes good sense – if you spend all that time cooking a big pot of stew for example, shouldn’t you get a few dinners out of it? I don’t mind having the same meal a few days in a row, it has never bothered me. When I grew up I found that some people actually refuse to eat leftovers? What in the world? How rich were they, growing up, to have something new every night with totally different food?

    Once my spouse made a large batch of her signature stroganoff for dinner as we were house guests and that was our way of thanking them. She set a nice amount aside for the next day as we always do. This is really good stuff and actually tastes better than the next day. It was also full of expensive ingredients. The next day came and our hostess had thrown it all out. The explanation? A breezy “oh, I don’t eat leftovers.” We were very poor at the time, barely had anything to eat, and would have LOVED to keep them and take them home but she never offered, she just assumed the whole world was the same way, and all that wonderful food went right into the trash!

    That kind of behavior has to end. As prices rise, isn’t it amazing, we all learn to waste less. For me I don’t mind. I think leftovers are a wonderful thing and will use most of those preservation methods to make sure they are just as tasty the next time. I call it “meal prep.”

    Meal stretchers: Beans (cheap and easy to cook whether you use a pot on the stove, solar cooker, instant pot or crockpot), sourdough, rice. Another thing I will do is take cheap vegetables like chopped broccoli or cauliflower, or maybe frozen vegetables, and stir it in to curry or stew to bulk it up. I’m watching my weight so for me this is a great way to cut calories. We also make cornmeal muffins when we have chili.

  6. Bill in Houston

    One way to keep your food from going to waste is to use it for lunch the next day. I do that nearly every day. Sometimes it is a hodgepodge of leftovers from the past few nights, as long as it gets used up.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New From The Frugalite


Related Posts

Malcare WordPress Security