17 Frugal Ways to Make Meals More Filling
Are you struggling to keep up with the rising cost of groceries and to keep your family full at the same time? Today I’m sharing some ideas on how to make meals more filling.
How to Make Meals More Filling
As the price of everything rises, more and more families are looking for ways to save money and still meet their family’s needs.
The good news is that with a few tricks, you can help make everyday meals more filling and saving money on meals without sacrificing your family’s health by opting for filling junk food that will likely leave them hungry again quickly.
Frugal Ways to Save Money and Make Meals More Filling
These simple tricks have been used for generations to help make meals feel more filling and save money. As the prices of everything continue to rise, small moves like these that make meals more filling can help fight inflation as the cost of food makes meals your family is used to harder and harder to afford in the family budget.
Try a couple of these tricks one at a time to help your family adjust and watch the cost of food go down in your home while your family is still content and satisfied.
1. Fill up on fiber with the meal.
Fiber helps you feel fuller for longer. Add home canned beans or other legumes as a side dish with your meal. Beans are cheap and filling (especially if you can your own dried beans!). And they go along great with many meals.
2. Use sneaky tricks to reduce the meat.
When a recipe calls for meat, you can cut a small portion of that meat without your family noticing. One great way to do this is to package your meat in 3/4 pound packages rather than a full pound. This will allow you to reduce the meat without thinking about it while cooking.
When browning ground meats, you can make them more filling by mixing in a handful of quick oats. These oats are fiber-packed and will naturally soak up the drippings from your ground meat to take on the same flavor. They will blend right in and go unnoticed in meals while making them more filling and helping to reduce the cost of expensive meats by adding to the fiber content.
3. Add grains
Adding grains to your meals is a great way to make them more filling. While serving a lot of pasta and such is not always the best way to make healthy meals, it can be one of the best ways to make filling meals. Look for healthy grain options like quinoa, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or other high-fiber foods to help fill your meals.
4. Serve it with a salad.
If you have a garden to grow your produce or a fairly affordable source of fresh salad greens, you can always serve a salad with your meal. Try serving a salad as the first course for dinner each night and see if it makes a difference in how much of the main course is consumed. You can bulk up the salads with leftover meat from the night before or hard-boiled eggs to boost their protein.
5. Bulk up meals with vegetables.
Adding vegetables to your meals is a great way to make them more filling. While you can use vegetables as the main side dish, which is always a great idea, mixing them into your recipes is the best option. Adding diced peppers, onions, and mushrooms is a great way to add more flavor and make your meals more filling at the same time.
Vegetables are bulky and can make your casseroles and dishes visually filling by making servings appear to contain a lot more food than they do while making every bite more satisfying. Plus, it’s healthy! Vegetables add more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to each meal you serve.
6. Bulk it up with protein powder.
When cooking grains for your family like pancakes, muffins, and cakes, you can make them more filling and healthier by adding protein powder. Unflavored protein powders will work in almost any recipe, while flavored protein powders make a great addition to your morning oatmeal or smoothies. That extra protein will help you feel fuller longer without adding expensive meat.
I like to use unflavored gelatin or collagen as a source of protein in our meals.
7. Serve whole fruit for dessert.
If your family is used to dessert, you can help make meals more filling and save money by opting for fresh whole fruit instead of typical desserts like cakes and pies. These sweet treats are great for special occasions, but ending a meal with berries and whipped cream or an apple with peanut butter dip can go a lot further in leaving your family feeling full.
Here are 7 Frugal Desserts that you can also try if you want to make dessert with your meal but want a budget-friendly option!
8. Serve water with meals.
Serving water with your meals is a great way to make them more filling. Many people will feel hungry when they really need more water. Many people serve things like juice or soda with meals. The sugar can actually make you feel more hungry, while water will have a filling effect. This simple change can help make your family’s meals more filling and can help improve digestion.
If your family really doesn’t like drinking plain water, try making Infused Water.
9. Go vegetarian for a couple of nights per week.
Contrary to what you might think, you don’t have to cook meat every night! Choosing to go vegetarian just one or two nights per week can significantly impact your grocery budget. Replace these meals with meals that have plenty of beans, pasta, lentils, peanut butter, cheese, eggs, and other protein.
10. Shop your pantry.
Shop in your pantry before your meal and look for more items that you need to use up that could bulk up your meal. Can of mandarin oranges hiding in the back? Use it to top a salad! Refried beans that don’t seem to get used? Making refried bean and cheese bowls as a side!
11. Serve potatoes or sweet potatoes.
Potatoes will always be a great filler for meals! They are cheap and a good source of fiber. If you have a large portion size of potatoes to go with your meal, it will help with the feeling of fullness.
Here’s a big list of Potato Dinner Recipes. We also love these Olive Oil Baked Potatoes.
12. Switch to cheaper meats.
Ground turkey or pork are less expensive meat options. If your family doesn’t care for these, you can mix them half and half with your other protein source. For example, mix 1/2 pound of beef with 1/2 pound of pork to make burgers.
Chicken and tuna can be other good meat sources and are still less expensive than beef.
13. Add more spices to your meals.
Spices aren’t a bulky item but they will increase the satiety of the meal. By adding in your favorite spices and herbs, you might find that your meal is more filling and more satisfying than you expected.
Here are more ways that Spices Can Save Money.
14. Serve bread with your meal.
Serving bread or toast with meals is a great way to make them more filling. This trick is often used at restaurants that serve rolls, biscuits, or breadsticks at the table. This trick works just as well at home. Try serving toast with breakfast or making dinner rolls to go with your meat and potatoes meals.
I remember my grandma used to always serve bread with her meals. After growing up during the Great Depression, I know this was a trick she learned from her mother during that time.
15. Serve filling snacks.
If you can’t bulk up your meals any more than you already are, try serving filling snacks. High-fiber snacks like popcorn, granola bars, greek yogurt, and other snacks made with whole grains or high protein can be good carbohydrates and calories to fill up on in between meals and can curb hunger.
Here’s a list of snack ideas for under $1.
16. Make a sauce.
Sauces, like spices, can add so much to a meal that they will help it feel more filling. You can make a special sauce to go with your meal like Sweet and Sour Sauce or you can make a simple pan sauce by adding broth back into a pan that you just finished frying meat or veggies in.
17. Add nuts to your meal or snacks.
Nuts can be a great source of healthy fats and extra grams of protein IF you have an inexpensive source. Almonds, walnuts, and even peanuts can make great additions to meals or snacks but they aren’t always cheap. This can be a healthy option if you have access to a nut tree or a great way to buy nuts in bulk. Azure has some bulk nut options that are inexpensive.
Doing a combination of these tips can really help to bulk up your meals without adding much expense. If you have growing and always hungry boys like we do, this really helps to stretch the grocery budget as fas as it can go!
What are your best tips for making meals more filling?
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Merissa has been blogging about and living the simple life since 2009 and has internationally published 2 books on the topic. You can read about Merissa’s journey from penniless to the 100-acre farm and ministry on the About Page. You can send her a message any time from the Contact Page.
This article on Frugal Ways to Make Meals More Filling was originally posted on Little House Living in March 2023.
When it became evident that I was going to need to make a double batch of tacos to feed my boys, I made a change to my recipe. Instead of doubling the ground beef, I did one pound of ground beef and one can of drained black beans. It adds a great source of fiber and feels everyone up. After doing this for years, it feels weird to eat tacos without beans in them!
We do “beefy rice burritos” or “chicken & rice burritos”. I make the meat, season it, and have a batch of long grain rice cooking away on the stove. Add meat and rice together and then fill burritos. We top with shredded cheese, add in veggies, whatever we have on hand. My kids love them even more so than plain old hard tacos at this point.
I was going to ask you a few questions and wondered where to post….so will ask here…
First, do you have the ingredient list for, say….wild rice…and how to make it from “scratch” (without a box mix)? My husband is a diabetic…and hard to keep him on track…I try to find and make meals that I can do as much like “regular” but fool him if you get what I mean…wild rice seems the best option in rice….and lo mein do you have a recipe for the “sauce”…Thanks so much…enjoy your emails…recipes…books (I have both)….Appreciate your sharing of ideas…and love for doing so….
Hi Kris, here’s a recipe for making wild rice: Basic Wild Rice Recipe and here’s my recipe for basic stir fry sauce: The Tastiest Gluten Free Stir Fry Sauce (Easy & Frugal) I hope that helps!
Thank you for posting this, these are all great ideas!
We are eating a lot less meat nowadays, and I’ve been subbing in beans like you suggested. I have been making leftovers stretch and it’s really saving money! I have never tried using your quick oats idea when browning meat, but will definitely give that a try soon. Again, many thanks for all your helpful advice, it has helped our family greatly!
These are really good ideas. When I cook with mince, I usually put some red lentils in to bulk out the meat, along with the onions etc.
We drink unsweetened iced teas so that ‘water’ isn’t as plain or boring. If we need a bit of sweetness, homemade lemonades mixed half and half (or even a splash or two) do the trick! My favorite teas to buy from the grocery store are peach, peppermint, and good old fashioned green tea. I buy it bagged simply because it is the most readily available to me, and then I dry out the tea bags once used up and cut them open to dump the tea leaves into our compost. It’s an extra step but then the boxes and papers from the tea bags can usually go into our recycling.
Also all the old “depression” era tricks like keeping a bowl in the freezer for veggie scraps to make homemade broth in bulk before tossing those scraps into compost. Adding leftover bits of fruit to muffins to bulk the mix out and make it go further. Cutting toast into ‘triangles’ instead of directly in half. Stale bread? Homemade croutons for salad toppings or just snacking on! My kids DEVOUR a batch of seasoned croutons fresh from the oven. (We have an herb garden so flavor combos are endless!!!)
Have cake mixes lurking in your pantry? Google “cake mix cookies” and have a blast making a sweet treat that doesn’t require icing! Popcorn kernels can be bought in bulk and you can use a brown paper bag for “microwave” popcorn that is so much better and healthier than anything store bought. Melt your own butter and add your own herbs or a pinch of salt. (1/4 c kernels into a brown bag, folded closed, microwave on high for approx 2 1/2 mins. open bag and add toppings once popped, or pour into bowls! adjust time as needed.) Also a huge favorite in our house is homemade tortilla “chips”. Flour tortillas or even stale hard taco shells, broken/cut up and brushed with oil & salt, then baked for 6-7 mins at approx 350F. We use our toaster oven and make mini batches that come out spectacularly without needing to heat the entire house OR use the gas stove.
Last week, I made your hummingbird bread and layered pineapple cake. So yummy! Thank you for sharing all your ideas. You are a blessing to all of us.
Thank you for the great suggestions. Yesterday at the store a can of beans was $1.75. This seems very pricey Never thought about adding oatmeal to ground beef.
Merissa!! Your pointers are HEAD ON!
Note: Please remind folks that beans have to be canned under pressure! BUT, I buy 2-lb bags of red/black/Great Northern beans at Dollar Tree for $1.25/ea – soak overnight, rinse, can at pressure so that they ARE a fast, filling option – even by themselves (red beans/rice, black beans/rice, eh?!). Lentils are AMAZING – I sub them in partially (or sometimes fully!) in recipes that call for ground beef. Lentil tacos rock! So does lentil chili – my farm-boy husband was 2/3 through his bowl of chili before he realized!
Potatoes ARE a cheap option, but can really be spike blood sugar, so careful if you’re watching carbs! I nearly always double the vegetables a recipe calls for; my family has legit 100% never even noticed (I call it “volumizing,” after the Volumetrics eating plan!).
Cheap cuts of meat are wonderful – anything in a crock pot or pressure cooker will fall apart, even the toughest cuts. With meat prices the way they are, if you have the benefit of a meat grinder/f0od processor attachment – USE IT! Or CAN IT (again, at pressure!!)! Our different stores put different meats “on special” so I can periodically get fresh skinless chicken breast for $1.99/lb, boneless pork for $1.48/lb. Frozen takes up a lot of room in the freezer, so I will cook it in crock pot or grind it, store in freezer-safe Ziploc bags. When I can get beef roasts for less than $4/lb, I do can it – it’s a super-fast meal on a weeknight! Boil up some potatoes, and thicken the beef jus with a little flour/water, and call it dinner!!!
Wonderful tips, here, and MANY that even folks not on their own little farmsteads can easily incorporate! I know it must get tiring to think of new things to post, but you haven’t posted a single one, yet, that I haven’t gotten something from, so this newly-country gal is very grateful!
I really loved this post on how to make meals more filling! My husband and I are going to be going thru some really hard times for quite a while. Our main source of income is running out, we are in our 60’s and we both have ongoing health issues.
We need to learn how to live much slower, make die with what we have…we live on 1 acre on the outskirts of Tucson, AZ.
I want to garden better, we raise our own meat & poultry get rid of what we do not need, and repair what we need to fix. We have 4 kids between us…2 each, and as of March 9th…our 13th grandchildren! 3 of them are special needs. They love coming to Gramis & Papas house to see the animals and get to “stretch their legs”.
I’m sorry to have rambled on, im sure you have so many to read! Have a wonderfully blessed day hon. You have blessed mine!