Consider these 16 tips for how to make your budget stretch. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

The COVID-19 crisis has made meal prep and planning more important than ever.

Trips to the store are limited and household budgets are being reduced. At the same time, it remains important to maintain a strong immune system by enjoying immune-boosting foods such as fresh produce, healthy fats and lean proteins.

The key is arriving at the store with a plan of how we will store, prepare and serve the food we bring home.

16 tips for feeling full on less

1. Stretch ground beef with mushroom, beans, shredded cabbage or even oats. Use a balanced blend to prepare burgers, meatloaf or taco meat.

2. Choose cooked beans over ground meat when preparing your favorite chili recipe. You could also use a combination of both plant and animal proteins.

3. Add volume to your meal with frozen vegetables as a quick and easy side dish.

4. Make a plan for your perishable produce. Write down when and how you plan to use your fruit and vegetables on your menu or schedule a soup or stirfry for the end of the week in which you can toss in the leftover veggies.

5. Bulk up boxed meals. Making mac and cheese? Add pureed cauliflower or butternut squash, or frozen mixed vegetables to amp up the fiber and nutrition, while also trimming back on the sodium per serving.

6. Fresh fruit on its last leg? Cook them down into a sweet (apple, berry or pear) sauce to serve as a side or topping for pancakes. You could also use them in breads, muffins or freeze them for smoothies.

7. Stretch canned tuna with diced celery, avocado, cucumber, pickles or tomato to double the number of servings.

8. Serve breakfast for dinner with a veggie scramble or egg muffins.

9. Rather than serving a single chicken breast to each person, consider it more as a condiment for the meal. One or two chicken breasts may be diced up or shredded and used to top off a grilled chicken salad big enough for the whole family.

10. Serve whole grain bread or sweet potatoes with meals as a means of adding nutritious volume.

11. Mix inexpensive iceberg lettuce into your salad to stretch it out.

12. Choose baby spinach over a salad mix as the leaves may also be used in a smoothie, added to pasta sauce or cooked down with mushrooms and zucchini for a simple side dish.

13. Prepare lentil soup for an inexpensive and easy meal that is rich in protein and fiber, making for a filling dish.

14. Choose whole carrots, onions, potatoes and winter squash for their lengthy shelf-life.

15. Buy chicken breasts in bulk. Once you are home, repackage as sliced tenders or as flattened cutlets.

16. Serve water before and during meals. Hunger can easily be disguised as thirst.

As you continue to care for your loved ones during this time, I hope these tips will serve as practical ways you can get a nutritious and delicious meal on the table for everyone—maybe even with a bit extra for your neighbor in need.

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