If your trip to the meat counter is responsible for the bulk of your weekly grocery bill, you've likely asked yourself if there was a way to stretch that pricey purchase into more than just a meal or two. Whether you're budgeting and looking to get more bang for your buck or you just hate hitting up the grocery story more than you must, the age-old question has one simple answer: Of course!
No matter if it's chicken, beef, lamb or pork, there are a variety of ways to both make your meat appear to be a larger portion or actually create larger portion sizes by complementing meat with other plant-based foods. Adding other plant-based ingredients to your meat dish not only makes it more delicious, but it also allows you to take in more food groups, which means more nutrients. Before you end up with another cart full of too much meat, discover these nine clever hacks to have your meat and get more nutrients, too.
Hack 1: Blend with Mushrooms
I absolutely love the umami flavor mushrooms add to dishes, including hamburgers and meat sauce. Blend a 50:50 ratio of lean beef and mushrooms as your dish and you'll not only get more volume out of your dish, but also a new depth of flavor and more minerals that the mushrooms contribute.
Hack 2: Complement with Lentils
Beef provides eight primary nutrients including protein, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus and iron. By adding a can of lentils to meals like meatloaf, you complement the beef by adding more protein and complex carbohydrates, including fiber to help keep you satisfied longer. Lentils also provide iron, folate, manganese and vitamin B6, and several phytochemicals or natural plant compounds that act as antioxidants.
Hack 3: Bean There, Done That
Lisa Andrews, M.Ed., R.D., L.D., owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Ohio, uses a different trick for her meatloaf. "When making a meatloaf that calls for two pounds of ground beef or turkey, I substitute one, 15- ounce can of refried beans for one pound of meat. This reduces the calories and fat in the dish, stretches the meat and provides a decent dose of fiber and protein." Andrews recommends using a taco seasoning in the meatloaf and serving it with salsa for a spicy kick.
Hack 4: Buy Quality, Big-Flavor Meats
Leanne Ray, M.S., R.D.N., a Denver-based food blogger, finds that, with most recipes, the amount of meat can be cut down by half or even two-thirds and then "bulked up" with vegetables if you're strategic. But there's a catch. "The key is to choose high-quality sausage, chicken thighs or other big-flavor cuts of meat and then make use of all bits and juices created from cooking." For example, Ray flavors an entire bunch of greens with a strip or two of bacon which helps decrease your grocery bill, while increasing your fiber intake.
Hack 5: Buy the Whole Bird
"Take meat further by purchasing an entire chicken or turkey versus processed pieces," suggests Erin Hendrickson, R.D.N., owner of No Waste Nutrition in Tennessee. Hendrickson says that an average five-pound bird can produce enough meat for up to six to eight servings. In addition, you can use the innards for tasty gravies, while the bones can be simmered for homemade broth. Hendrickson even processes the simmered bones in a high-speed blender to use for homemade frozen dog treats.
Hack 6: Add Onions and Peppers
Kaitlin Eckstein M.P.H., R.D., L.D. a dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, adds lots of diced bell peppers and onions to her ground chicken or turkey for burgers or meatloaf. "It stretches out the servings while keeping that lean meat moist, which makes it more forgiving if you accidentally overcook it.
Hack 7: Go for the Big Salad
"By 'beefing' up the protein with more vegetables, fruit, grains and noodles, you can still enjoy the protein you love and get more meals," says Judy Barbe, R.D., of LiveBest and author of "Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest". Change up your meat-focused meals by using meat as a garnish in a bowl or salad and enhancing it with an assortment of hearty vegetables. Barbe recommends making a beef or chicken noodle bowl with seared steak strips, rice noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, fresh herbs and roasted peanuts. Or try a steak salad with lettuce, orange slices, grape tomato halves, chopped avocado, sliced red onion and blue cheese crumbles.
Hack 8: Shred-It
"Whether it's chicken, beef or pork, shredding can make it go further," explains Tabitha Nicholas, M.S., R.D.N., of the Lifestyle Nutritionist. The shredded meat can then be used for tacos, sandwiches, salads or on a potato. "Once you have added all your other toppings and side dishes you will have a filling meal," says Nicholas.
Hack 9: Use Your Leftovers
"Any leftovers that go bad in your fridge are wasted money and time you spent cooking them!" Bri Bell, R.D., owner of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen, says. Bell recommends having a leftovers night a couple times a week and to store leftovers in clear containers so you can see what you have and don't forget about your leftovers so easily.