Stretching Your Food and Reducing Waste

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Stretching Your Food and Reducing Waste

I wrote a lot about portion control in our Groceries On A Dime e-books but there was one tip I left out (I try to think of everything but, once in a while, I slip up) :). If you are really trying to stretch your food or have more control over your family’s portions then fill their plates at the stove or in the kitchen.

Don’t serve your food family style with large platters and bowls on the table to pass around. It is a proven fact that most people will eat more with large piles of food sitting in front of them. If someone is really full but they want seconds because it tastes so good, they will probably think twice about it if they have to get up and walk into the kitchen or to the stove to get more.

Here is a point that I did cover in the Groceries On A Dime e-books but I think it is worth repeating. Get serious about watching the food you throw away, especially with little ones. If they didn’t eat a whole potato last time, chances are they won’t eat one the next time so start small, even if means having to give them seconds.

When my kids were little (and even now with my grandkids) I usually took very little food on my own plate because there was always food left on the kids’ plates. Since I don’t mind eating their leftovers, I usually eat what is left on their plates.

When my kids were little they would take a drumstick from the chicken, pull two or three bites off and leave the rest. I never took my own piece of chicken because I got more then enough cleaning their “bones”.

Those were just a couple of ways I managed to feed my family on almost nothing. For more tips like this, check out the Groceries On A Dime e-books.


Photo by: jbloom


  1. Michelle W says

    This is a great tip! My 14 year old seems to have bigger eyes than his stomach(don’t they all), so I always leave the food on the stove and most of the time dish his plate up. This has cut down on his waste tremendously!! Thanks Jill

  2. Schmoo says

    This is such a great tip, and so very true-the less they have at the start, the less they’re likely to eat. I’ve also been cutting down the more expensive items on the plate (meat)and filling in with more vegetables, usually at least two per meal, sometimes with salad as well, and either pasta, potatoes or rice of some sort.

    Doing this helped me get five dinners for 2 adults and a child from one chicken!
    1. Half of one chicken, roasted
    2. soup made from leftover roast chicken and broth from bones
    3. egg rolls with some of other half of chicken, ground
    4. fried rice with remainder of other half of chicken, ground
    5. Chicken stew with leftover roast chicken.

    I got the chicken on sale for 55 cents a pound as well-so I got quite a bit from a $3 chicken.

  3. says

    What’s so great about this blog post is that you are showing the strong relationship between eating healthy portions that can help people maintain a healthy weight and also living frugally. Fantastic! All of your tips are so useful.

  4. Rachel says

    I grew up in one of those families where all the food was served at the table on platters and in serving dishes. Once I had my own family I just didn’t want to wash all those dishes! So serve from the stove it is. I can’t say it was a bad thing for us, because the majority of the food was fresh veggies. We no longer eat at the table. Our 17 year old is always on the go, and my hubby and I eat in the living room while watching the news.

  5. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Great idea. People make their eyes bigger than their bellies. Serve everyone half a potato and let them go back for more. Most won’t.

  6. Donna B. says

    My mom always ate her dinner from a salad plate. She said dinner plates are too overwhelming for a child, and she was right. (She was also naturally thin all her life).I like to have dinner on a small plate, smaller portion, and you can have a little extra if you’re still hungry. most times, we’re not —

    I agree with Rachel, I don’t want to wash all those platters and bowls, less dishes and easier to packup leftovers.

    • says

      Your mom was right Donna. I forget where I wrote it, maybe one of the e books but I really stressed that we pile way too much food on our children’s plates expecting them to eat it. They get so overwhelmed. We give an adult a big heaping spoon or two of green beans and do the same to a child which is about 4 times the amount they need. Can you imagine how you would feel as an adult if every time you sat down you had 4 times the amount of servings of everything on your plate as what you could eat?

    • Jeanne T. says

      That’s a great idea! I agree with you and Jill about putting too much food a child’s plate and trying to force them to eat. Why have that battle at every meal, which should really be a pleasant time of fellowship and sharing?

  7. says

    Grizzly Bear Mom unfortunately those big eyes end in a big belly. especially if you are taught to clean your plate as a child.

    Have you ever noticed when you go out for a meal at a sit down restaurant the salad bar has little plates and small soup bowls plus the rolls and crackers.
    Then the main meal comes on huge plates with the food.
    How come can’t they have big plates for the salad bar and smaller ones for the meal. I think it would be more cost effective and easier for people. I always end up going back to the salad bar 3 or 4 times just to try them all.
    We always had a salad first then the main meal then dessert. So we filled up on salad which is much healthier and mom didn’t push us for 2nds of anything. I still do the same thing as it is an easy way to serve and the meal lasts longer and we talk more.

  8. Rachel says

    My daughter and I recently took her kids to Texas to visit my son and his family. My daughter was astonished at how my daughter in law forces her kids to eat. The two youngest are twins and the younger twin weighed only two lbs and has always had to have extra calories to gain weight. They are three now, and he is a skinny, tiny thing. But I guess that somehow my daughter in law has tranferred his needs to all three kids, thinking if one needs extra calories, then they all do. My daughter said that her pediatrician told her that the biggest mistake parents make is over-feeding their children. Now wonder so many children are overweight!

    • Maxine says

      I usually spent summers with my aunt due to my mom being a single mom and could not afford child care. My aunt fixed huge plates of food for all of us kids and I can remember staring at mine thinking I was gonna popped if I ate it all. I had a girl cousin that would sneek and help me. My aunt would complain how skinny I was. Now we are all in our 50’s. I’m normal weight with no medical problems. I take no medications (not even a vitamin). My cousins are huge and have multiple medical problesm. I never made my kids eat anything I just did not buy what I did not want them to eat.

  9. Pene says

    When the kids were small and we still do today is whatever you don’t finish on your plate is lunch the next day. I put into containers per child. If there are leftovers of something in a pan that is not on there “leftover dish”, I add a little to make a complete meal. This happen more when they were small as they are teenagers now and even when I dish out the food and there are no extras, it is usually gone. However if there are extras after dishing out they are immediately put into meal containers and thrown into the freezer for lunches for people to take to work. I could probably fix what lunches are needed the next day first, leaving less food to dish out, thus saving calories at the last meal of the day.

  10. Angela says

    Growing up, my mother always told us to take only the amount of food we can eat and not to throw any away. We were not poor but this is what she taught us. She always would say “Wilfull waste would bring woeful wants” and I tell my kids the same thing today. I think wasting food is a sin and because we have not wasted food, we are always blessed and always have food on our table. I see some people so wasteful — would only eat a bite or two and thrash the whole plate of food and then I think of the poor people in other parts of the world who would be so glad to have that food that was just put into the garbage.

  11. says

    I no longer shop for what I want. I shop for what I need and then I only buy what I have coupons for. I am not brand loyal but savings loyal. Our local Albertsons doubles coupons and any coupon that can’t be doubled I take to walmart or another store. I have spent $120 for a months worth of groceries when I used to spend over $400! And I give my coupons away when the expiration dates get close. Helping others get started saving money is one of my new favorite past times.

  12. Barbara Frame-Love says

    I love your ideas! I am a senior with a dear husband, five kids, five grandkids, two greats on the way! I am also disabled and in a wheel chair most days. I don’t do much cooking but always like to have something “extra” when I know the kids are coming. Like Amber, I do what I must do to make ends meet. About every other month during the big sales, one of the kids come and take us to the grocery store where I purchase the meats, etc I need for that month. I have a freezer and lots of storage space in the basement. I buy what canned goods we use by case just making sure I watch the dates!I have a lady come on five days a week for 4 hours and either she or my husband go to what is needed to stock the shelves or upstairs freezer for that week. One of them also goes to the grocery if we need milk or whatever.

    In my spare time, I also make the old fashioned hand stitched quilts (no sewing machine) and sell what I make.

    Thanks for a wonderful site! God bless you and yours.

  13. Bea says

    Jill, I was reading an old cookbook from 1937 and found this recipe. I thought you might like it because you mentioned minced ground ham recently, so I thought of you when I saw the recipe. Its called “Baked Macaroni with Ham”
    2 cups elbow macaroni
    1 green pepper
    1-1/2 cups minced ham
    3 cups thin White Sauce
    Grated cheese
    Cook macaroni in boiling salted water. Drain off the water, add minced ham, chopped green pepper and White Sauce. Add extra seasoning as desired. Turn into casserole and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
    There was a dessert recipe I thought looked good too. Called “Banana Marlow”
    30 marshmallows
    1 Tablespoon lemon juice
    3/4 cup boiling water
    1 cup mashed bananas
    1-1/2 cups cream
    Melt the marshmallows in boiling water. Add the banana pulp and lemon juice. Cool. When quite cool and slightly thickened, combine with the cream, WHICH has been whipped. Pour into tray and freeze without stirring.

    • says

      Both of those sound really good and that banana one would be super good to use ripe bananas or for something different for a summer dessert. If you don’t mind I may use one or both in my Thursday menu newsletter.

      • Barb Nauman says

        Hi Jill!

        My store has fresh ground pork for $1.99 lb. this week. I thought about that as I was reading the recipe for minced ham. I went ahead and bought two pounds of the ground pork, though I have rarely purchased ground pork previously. Yesterday, I browned one pound like I would hamburger, and added taco seasoning. By the time it was all completely cooked, I was very surprised (and happy!) that I couldn’t tell it wasn’t ground beef. Hamburger, even if I find a sale, has been $2.99 at the cheapest. I have to believe ground pork could be successfully substituted for ground beef in most any recipe. Also, my store has some huge hams discounted to less than 99 cents a pound. They weigh over 20 lbs each!! I’m trying to decide if I should purchase one. Would it be just too much ham, even if I froze it in small portions? How long would it take for one person to consume all of it? Does it sound like a good buy to you? Thanks! I appreciate your thoughts! Sure hope you are well!!


        • says

          Boy that is a good question Barb. It depends on how big of an eater a person is. I don’t eat hardly a 1/4 of a lb. of meat for a meal myself but lets say you eat 1/4 lb. That would make 80 meals. Which means you would have to eat ham every day for almost 3 months. If you had chicken or beef for a meal occasionally then it would take you even longer. Maybe that helps give you an idea. Be sure to ask the butcher at your store too if they have any smaller ones not on display. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
          Thanks for the tip on the ground pork. I have been staying away from hamburger because it is so expensive so will have to try the ground pork if I can find it.

  14. Laura says

    I hardly ever throw any food away. I invested in the FoodSaver system and immediately package up the leftovers and freeze them. It works great for my husbands lunches! If there is just a small amount of something I usually just keep it for my lunch the next day.

  15. LR says


    This is such good advice. I get so frustrated when I see parents serving their young children huge portions, then scolding or punishing them when they won’t eat everything. It’s frustrating for for everyone involved and terribly wasteful!

    With both children and adults, you can do a lot to eliminate waste by buying and preparing food in appropriate sizes. Examples:
    –Baked potatoes–those big “Idaho bakers” sold in supermarkets are usually at least 2 full servings of potato for an adult. Instead, use the smaller potatoes found in the big bags. If you have bigger potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise before serving.
    –Corn on the cob–A large cob has at lease two servings on corn on it. Cut the cobs in half, or even thirds, before cooking. You’ll have more appropriate serving sizes and they’ll be easier to eat.
    –Muffins, rolls, biscuits–If you bake these things from scratch, make them smaller. Use mini muffin pans for muffins, and just drop the roll and biscuit dough on the pan in smaller balls. You’ll get more out of each recipe.
    –Meat and fish–A serving of meat or fish should be about the size of a deck of cards. If your grocer packages them in bigger pieces, cut them in half before cooking.

    These are just a few ideas, but I’m sure we could all think of other ways to reduce.

    • says

      Check out the articles at the bottom of this one. We go into much more detail in these articles with some of the same tips and ideas LR mentioned. It gives info on what true portion sizes are and how even with the food pyramid the servings amount are with adults in mind and not children and it tells the reality of why sometimes our kids are over weight.

  16. Brenda D. says

    This sounds crazy, but I have been absolutely amazed. My refrigerator recently quit (right before Christmas) and I was freaking out because as we all know, refrigerators are expensive. Very expensive and a very un-needed expense at Christmas, but was something I had to have. Long story short, I didn’t have much time to hunt and barter, but really needed a good deal. I was in our local small town, local owned Sears store and thought, I’ll just give a look and see if they have anything I can afford. My local store happened to be having a scratch & dent sale and I found a brand new french door fridge without the water & ice in the door. The clerk said the fridge didn’t have a ding or scratch, but they couldn’t sell it because everyone wants the ice & water in the door. I got the fridge at less than 1/2 price, about the same price as a standard fridge. Now for the saving food part. I love this fridge. I do mean LOVE this fridge. Everything is up high and very easy to see and keep track of. Since I have had it, I have not thrown out a single forgotten bowl of forgotten food because I was too lazy to hunt up everything in the bottom. I know this sounds crazy, but I was amazed. I am not advocating everyone running out and buying a new fridge, but be sure and check out your scratch & dent sections and keep an open mind. You’ll be surprised at what you might find.

    • says

      This is true for all appliances we have a whole store here which is nothing but scratch and dent and you can get some good deals. Also think about when you are buying an appliance. I bought the cheapest I could find with 0 bells and whistles and it has been perfect with no problems. The more “have to have” things on an appliance means more things to go wrong.

  17. Miss Ela says

    This method is good for families with children, and I will be using it in a year with my children who are on the way.

    I don’t agree with still using this method when the mother is nearing 70 and she’s filling the plates of her husband and her children who are in their 40s. This is what happens in my in-laws home unless it is a special meal. (My husband works for his dad and eats a meal there usually once a day.)If someone wants more, my mother-in-law will jump up and get that, too. Or, her family will assume there is no more left, and the leftovers go to waste.

    Please let adults fill their own plates, even if it involves them doing so from the stove, or if it means putting a pot on the table, do that. If there is a limited amount of food, tell your family how much of each they can have before they start dishing up.

  18. Maxine says

    Brenda D I had a ref given to me that had the ice maker & water in the door. It was only a year old. I’m finding that my electricy bill is higher and it seems like everytime I walk by it is running. I would give anything to go back to a plain ref but can’t afford going out and buying one.

  19. Edna says

    I’m sorry..but I think eating after others is disgusting!
    I am a mom of 3, gramma of 4 and I would not eat after any of them on a regular basis. Especially food they have already biten. You ate from their chicken bones? This habit spreads germs! It also sets a bad example for the kids…do you kids or grandkids eat after their friends when visiting others??
    The rest of your money saving tips are great..but I for one, would not be using this tip to save money!

    • says

      Some people do have a hard time eating after each other I know. Me I don’t worry about it too much. By the time I have had 25 slobbery kisses from the kids or grandkids, been sneezed upon 100 times while rocking a sick child I figure I have pretty well been covered in germs so drinking after them doesn’t matter. I also am of the mind that when a little 2 year old has slobbered all over a piece of candy and decides out of the generosity of their little loving heart to give me a bite I have a chose to make – I can think of myself and my own health and reject their sweet gift thus breaking their heart or I can instead decide to hurt my own self with a few germs and to make them feel good about giving me a gift.

      It is hard too for many to understand. I hear people say all the time “I would never do…” If you don’t have enough food to feed your family you stop being picky real fast. Most people have not been that desperate in their lives and don’t understand that. I had a choice at one point of picking their chicken bones or not having any to eat.

      As far as eating after others I am talking about family mostly because we live together and it is very hard to separate the germs you breath every day when you live and sleep in the same room or when you are hugging or kissing each other. Although I do eat after some of my very close friends. If my friend tries a yummy desert and they say “You need to try a bit of this.” I will.

      But like I said earlier some have a hard time with the thought of eating after each other and that is ok.

    • Cheryl says

      Growing up the plates were on the table but our parents did the dishing up. Servings were small and if you were still hungry you could have a small second helping. I’m sure my dad still did plenty of ‘eating after’. However, I know that is what he did when we ate out. A few of times each year we would drive to Banff for the day and eat supper in a restaurant. He never ordered a meal, just ate what the kids didn’t. When I was dating the man I married we would go to Macdonalds and share a milkshake. Now I see how much food families throw out at McD’s. Now, that’s disgusting!

  20. getforfree says

    I usually get myself a very small portion and eat after my kids too. My husband will not eat after kids, he thinks it’s discusting. My kids share the same drink sometimes, and when we go somewhere I bring a bottle of water or a sippi cup of juice and they all share. They know that it’s ok to share with brother-sisters and the family but not with their friends and other strangers. I sometimes give them snacks to school and I always tell them, that it’s ok to break a cookie or give some pieces of their food to others, but you shouldn’t share a drink because you will get their germs. There are other things that are ok to share in the family, like a hairbrush, nail clippers, towels, hats and pillows, but it’s not ok to share that with the others that are not the family and they seem to understand it pretty good.

  21. getforfree says

    I just remembered another thing. When my youngest was a baby and we were getting lots of little jars of baby food from WIC, we were getting more than she could eat. So I would seat both of my younger kids and feed them with the same spoon from the same jar. There was no wasting and they enjoed having a meal together.

  22. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    MY grandmother who starved through WWI taught me that it was a sin to waste food. Bravo for finishing your kid’s dinner, especially the meat that died to feed us. I think its disgusting that people toss food in the trash. Question-why do people tell you that you are wrong, and not just ignore your advice?

    • says

      I have asked myself that question too. People find it more important to express their opinion and sometimes strong opinions at that then being kind and not saying anything. They have never heard the saying if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. The thing is it is very easy for people to be rude and impolite and to say things they might not normally say facing you because they can post it on the internet. I guess I figure if I am visiting someones blog it is like visiting their home and I don’t usually criticize people in their own homes.

      Another thing I worry about too is I’m afraid we have become very spoiled and so many don’t have a clue to what it is like to really do without the way your grandmother did and mine. People who make comments like that have never really known what it is like to not know if you will have enough food for the next week or not. Well sorry. I didn’t mean to get started but this is one of my pet peeves.

  23. grizzly bear mom says

    When I see my nieces and nephews make really foolish choices I think “Must not have been poor enough.” Otherwise they would have thought through the consequences of their action and not done them!

  24. Christine says

    We didn’t have a lot to go on with when we were growing up either,but we were taught not to waste food.We were hungry enough that we ate what was put in front of us and it was always just enough.None of us were overweight when we were kids or grown.We only gained weight after we got out on our own.I don’t remember my mother ever eating what was left because there wasn’t anything left.We had good meals and the larder was a little bare after the end of the 2 weeks when my father would get paid again,but we didn’t mind baked eggs,toad in the hole or beans on toast just to mention a few meals we had when there wasn’t much food left in the house.We did alright and we turned out just fine.It made us appreciate what we did have and still does to this day.

    • says

      I have a feeling from the dishes you mentioned you are from England Christine. I had to chuckle though because even though I know what toad in the hole is I can imagine what some Yanks were thinking – did they have to eat toads they dug from a hole? : ) : )


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