10 Ways To Stretch A Meal & Use Up Leftovers

Sep 25, 2019 | Food, Meal Planning Tips, Shelf Cooking

Sometimes you don't have enough meat to feed everybody or you have a bunch of kids who can eat you out of house and home. Today you're going to learn some great ways to stretch a meal and use up the food that you have!

Do you ever wonder how you could possibly turn a half pound of ground beef, a single chicken breast, or one salmon fillet into a meal that would feed your whole family? Maybe you're tired of your kids eating a crazy amount of expensive meat each night at dinner. Or maybe you're in on the #Shelftember challenge and you're working on shelf cooking your way through your kitchen inventory this month!

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Whatever the situation, we've got you covered! You'll go from wondering what to do with that leftover meat to stretching it into a new meal like a champ. Keep on reading to get some great ideas to stretch your meals.


vegetable side dish, from Fun Cheap or Free

Do you ever find yourself falling into the rut of just eating a casserole or pasta dish without serving a side of vegetables with it? Vegetables don't have to be expensive additions to a meal, just make sure that you only buy fresh veggies that are in season. It's easy to always have vegetables on hand if you buy canned or frozen and they're still just as tasty as when they're fresh! Start serving vegetable sides with your meals and you'll not only stretch your meal, but you're also getting the added health benefits of eating those veggies. Winning!

Another healthy side option is fruit, especially if your family doesn't eat enough of it during the day. Make up a fruit salad or let everybody pick what fruit they want with their dinner. Just make sure that everybody has some on their plate!


One good way to stretch a meal is by adding beans to the meat. They still give you some good protein, but they're much cheaper and very filling! You can use whatever type of beans you have on hand, dry or canned. This works well for taco meat, chili, enchiladas, soups, and more.

If you just can't wrap your head around adding beans to your meat, then make them as a side! Yes, making your own can be a hassle. If you don't have time to soak your beans before making them, throw them in your slow cooker (after rinsing them), add water and seasonings and let it do all of the work!


Pasta is a great way to stretch a meal when you don't have enough meat to go around for everybody. It's cheap, filling, and delicious! You may only have a single chicken breast that needs to feed 4 people. Or maybe you have some sausage leftover that you're looking for a new way to eat for the third night in a row. Serve it over pasta and you've got a new meal. Better yet, throw it into a casserole dish with all of the cheese and pasta sauce that you can add to make a delicious pasta bake!


big bowl of rice, from Fun Cheap or Free

Rice is another good option for stretching a meal. It doesn't matter which type of rice you choose, it goes great with everything! If you're having tacos, make Mexican rice and add it to the tortillas as well so that you don't have to add so much meat.

Make a box of wild rice as a side to go with your salmon and veggies. Use whatever meat you have and pair it with fried rice. Or turn your leftover chicken into a casserole with rice, broth, and cream of mushroom soup. You really can't go wrong with rice!


Can you tell that carbs are a good way to stretch a meal yet? Potatoes are another delicious option to make a meal go further. Mashed, baked, fried, the options are endless! They're also good to add to a stew or soup to make that meal last longer and feed more. If you have any leftover baked potatoes, try out my loaded baked potato soup recipe! It's delicious and sure to be a family favorite.


dinner salad on a plate, from Fun Cheap or Free

Rather than making a small side salad with your meal, turn it into part of the main course! This is a healthy way to get some extra veggies in without sacrificing the delicious meat. It's probably one of our favorite ways to eat leftover meat, too!

Taco salad, grilled chicken salad, salmon salad – if you have any meat leftover then you can eat it on a salad. You can even make your own salad dressing with ingredients that you have on hand! Just add them to a salad dressing shaker and you'll have a fresh, homemade dressing in no time.


Another way to stretch a meal is to serve everybody the appropriate portion sizes. If someone tends to always get too much and then isn't able to eat it all because they're too full, that's just wasteful! Start serving everybody less in the beginning. Then if they're still hungry after eating the appropriate amount of everything (not just super expensive meat), they're allowed to get a little bit more of each.


freshly baked rolls, from Fun Cheap or Free

If you've stretched your meal but it still isn't quite going to get you there, serve it with bread or rolls! This bread recipe is SO easy, even if you don't like to bake.

If you're not feeling bread and would rather have rolls, then you've got to try Six Sister's 30 minute dinner rolls! They're so easy and so delicious. If you have leftover bread, then save it for your next dinner or use it to make sandwiches for lunch.


Soup is a great way to take a little bit of everything and stretch it into a new meal. Meat, veggies, rice or pasta, basically anything that you have on hand can be made into a soup! Just add broth to help that meal go all the way. Soup is also a great way to use up veggies that are going soft and you don't necessarily want to eat them as they are anymore. Toss them into a soup and they instantly taste better!


If you have eggs on hand, then you can create your own meal out of pretty much anything! Add a handful of leftover chopped ham and spinach and you have an omelet. Make a quiche using whatever random veggies and meat you have in your fridge that you need to use. Take some leftover brisket and tortillas to make breakfast burritos. The sky's the limit! Eggs are a great source of protein and a good way to stretch a meal.

Alright, well there you have it! Start incorporating these 10 ways to stretch a meal and you'll start seeing your food AND food budget last longer. What are your favorite ways to stretch a meal? Let us know in the comments!

Clever ways to stretch a meal and save money on your grocery bill from Fun Cheap or Free

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Looking for more ideas?

Stretch away!


  1. Sheri Prescott

    So many excellent ideas! Thank you! With a family of 7, I’ve really been trying to make meat stretch and these ideas are perfect. I’m also going to try your bread recipe. Thank you!!

    • Jordan Page

      Yes, definitely try them out, they’re sure to help you! And for sure try the bread recipe, it’s so delicious and so easy!!! 🙂

  2. Oxana

    Great ideas as always! Thank you!

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      I’m so glad to hear that! 🙂


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