Stay Connected

Monday, November 6, 2017

28 things that I do to stretch our groceries

This post came about because I did nearly everything on this list, just last week. It made me think that we all do a lot of things to save on grocery spending.

1-always use a rubber spatula to scrape out jars. When someone in the family uses the last of a jar of peanut butter, they put the near-empty jar in the fridge. Sometime, when I want peanut butter on bread, I use a spatula to scrape out 2 or 3 jars and get just enough peanut butter for my slice of bread.

2-gladly accept gifted foods and freebies. I volunteer at a luncheon/tea every month. The kind lady in charge gifts us with a bunch of leftovers. I always accept and make use of what is given to us. I also pick up the Friday Freebie, even if it's a product that I would never normally want. I figure a way to use the item in cooking, or offer to a family member.

3-reserve someone's leftovers to serve to them at the next meal. We've done this for years, when one of the kids wouldn't finish their dinner, because they weren't hungry, I would cover the plate or glass and refrigerate it until the next meal. This still happens with glasses of milk. I'll pour too much for one of the family members, they can't finish it. So, I refrigerate it, and serve it to them at the next meal. It's just "normal' for our family. If I don't eat all of my dinner one night, I eat my own leftovers for lunch the next day. I don't know why some people won't eat leftovers. When they eat in a restaurant and don't eat a whole meal, they ask for a box to take home their leftovers. So home-cooked leftovers shouldn't be any different.

4-use someone else's leftovers for myself, with a little "surgery." If one of my kids starts eating a piece of fruit, then decides they don't like it. I'll refrigerate the rest, even if it's been, um, chewed on. Later, I'll trim away the parts where they have eaten, and I'll cut up the rest for myself. It doesn't matter to me that the piece of fruit that I eat is not "virginal."

An example, my daughter began eating a pear of which she didn't like the texture. She thought it was mealy. I refrigerated it, and the next day, I cut away the bite marks, chopped the pear, and made a salad for myself, with this chopped pear, lettuce, chunks of cream cheese, a few pecans, and a dressing of mayo, jam, and water. My salad was delicious, and the piece of fruit was not wasted.

5-serve myself or others only the amount we will eat, such as with bananas -- I can't eat a whole banana, so it's common for me to cut a banana in half, and leave the remaining half on the counter for someone else to snack on later that day. On the rare occurrence that the other half of the banana is not eaten that day, I'll pop it in the fridge or freezer.

If I'm hungry for some bread, but not super hungry, I cut a slice in half and leave the other half in the bag. If I'm serving something saucy and there's too much sauce on my plate, I take a half-slice of bread instead of a whole slice, if that's all I want.

6-use leftover tiny amounts of food from dinner in a tossed salad or soup the next day

7-rinse out milk jugs with a little water, swish around, then pour into a glass or pot of soup/gravy/sauce. This is like using a rubber spatula to get the last bit. In a jug of milk (or any liquid), there's always about 1 teaspoon of liquid that is still on the sides of the container and would take a while to totally drip out. So, I just rinse with a bit of water and use this thinned down milk. I began doing this years ago, adding to my coffee. Since I can't "do" cow's milk any more, I've found ways for the milk rinsings in cooking, or adding to others' glasses. However, I use this trick with my soy milk, and tea for myself. The containers have to be rinsed out anyways, for the recycling bin, so I'm using the rinsings.

8-rinse tomato paste cans, jam jars, salsa jars, any food jar whose contents are sticky, leaving small amounts on the jar's insides. I rinse with water (as I do with more liquidy things like milk) and the rinsings go into something that we will eat. Jam jar rinsings are often added to my tea. Salsa and tomato paste rinsings will be added to a savory dish. Applesauce jars, rinsed with water, and add the watery applesauce to muffin batter. Similar to peanut butter jars, there is usually about 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of food left inside a jar. Applesauce jars are the worst. All of the interior ridges of the jars trap a lot of applesauce. Rinsing gets all of the contents out, and cleans the container for recycling.

9-rinse similar food item containers, as above, but with vinegar and use in homemade salad dressing. Jam jars rinsed with plain vinegar, and added to oil make a wonderful salad dressing.

10-use cores of lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, thin sliced and chopped or julienned, in soups, salads, and stir-fries.

11-use cookie crumbs from the cookie jar or package in muffin batter.

12-serve myself just a little bit less than I think I want. I eat my meal, wait 15 minutes to see if I want more. Almost always, I am completely full within 10 minutes.

13-share meals in restaurants. Restaurant portions are huge. It's bad for my health to eat as much as many restaurants serve. If one meal looks like it will be slightly too little, we also order one appetizer, or an extra side dish. My daughters and I occasionally go to a teriyaki place nearby and split one meal 3 ways. It's plenty of food for us, and in the event that we're still a little hungry afterward, we wait until we get home and make some dessert.

14-grind coffee beans extra fine. most of the time I buy the less-expensive cans of coffee (storebrand). When I do buy the grind-it-yourself beans in the grocery store, I grind them to "espresso" fineness. I get more flavor out of the grounds this way, and can use less to make a pot of coffee. I use paper filters, which catch and hold the fine stuff, making a flavorful cup of coffee.

15-with the above, pricier coffee grounds, I mix them half and half with cheap coffee, and still get a satisfactory-to-me cup of Joe.

16-keep a "dessert tin." When we have leftover odds and ends of commercial desserty things, like graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate pieces from s'more-making, or a few savoiardi biscuits, or a couple circus peanut candies, I put them in the "dessert tin." Some night after dinner, I pull out the tin and circulate it around the table. Everyone chooses something from the tin for their dessert.

17-trim small amounts of mold off of hard cheese and use the rest in cooking. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is "safe" to trim mold from hard cheese and still eat the rest. here's the article which explains which cheese you can trim and eat, and which you should discard if it becomes moldy. We've become so mold-fearful that we forget some molds are not harmful, such as the ones which are used in cheese-making.

18-use milk and eggnog that is one, two or three days past sell-by date, in pancakes or baked goods. If milk is at sell-by date and we won't drink it all, I pour some of it off into containers to freeze, then use in baking, later.

19-keep the fridge on the more-empty side, rather than the more-full. This helps me stay on top of our supplies and use them all up. The above photo shows what my fridge looks like for a couple of weeks every month. It looks like there is nothing to eat in there, but I can scrounge quite a bit, even in this fridge. It's much more likely that I will have to throw away food when I am keeping the fridge very full.

20-keep our fridge at 39 or 40 degrees F and our freezer at 0 degrees F. These are the FDA recommended max temperatures to prevent spoilage.

21-when placing just-purchased groceries in my freezers or fridge I spread them out, so they chill faster, and again, prevent spoilage.

22-save leftover coffee or tea in the fridge. If I don't drink all of a cup or pot of coffee/tea, I save it until the next day, even if it's just an inch or two in the cup.

23-when I still feel tired, after my 2 cups of coffee in the AM, instead of more coffee, or some sugar, I drink a glass of water, step outside for some deep breaths of fresh air, and wash my face. All of these are good-for-me activities, but they save money on groceries, as a bonus. With the glass of water, I usually take this as an opportunity to take my C and B vitamins. I need to take those anyway, and both may help with energy levels. I may still want a cup of tea or coffee later, but for the most part, I drink less tea and coffee when I remind myself to have water and get fresh air to invigorate myself.

24-use small bits of leftover bread in savory or sweet bread pudding. If the amount is very small, I may only make a 2-serving dish of bread pudding. I had 2 scones, a half slice of white bread, and 1 small slice of French bread the other day. Because the scones were sweet, I made a sweet bread pudding. There was just enough for dessert for the small group eating at home that night.

25-I assess the amounts of ingredients that I have on hand before making my menu for the evening. If I anticipate the full family for dinner (5 or 6) I make my menu out of the ingredients of which I have a lot. If I anticipate just 2 or 3 of us eating that night, I seize that as an opportunity to use the small amounts of leftovers to feed a small group. The above mentioned small dish of bread pudding was made for a night when only 3 of us would be eating at home, or eating dessert (one family member is avoiding sweets for the time being). This worked perfectly. The previous night, we had the whole crowd for dinner. I had found a full pint of lemon sorbet in the freezer, and saved that for a night when everyone would be there. A pint of sorbet, plus a savoiardi biscuit made a light dessert and was enough for all of us.

26-I play "musical chairs" with the milk in my fridge and freezer. This may be difficult to explain in type, but here goes. I have 3 jugs of milk, all with near expiry dates. Jug A has enough milk for 1 day, is in the fridge, and has a use-by life of about 2 days. Jug B has enough milk for 4 days, is in the fridge, and has a use-by life of 2 days. Jug C has enough milk for 3 days, is in the freezer, and has a use-by life of about 3 days once thawed. How do I manage to have enough milk for every day, without waste or spoilage? I pour 1 days milk out of Jug B into Jug A, then pop Jug B in the freezer. This will give us enough milk in Jug A to get through 2 days.

But with Jugs B and C in the freezer, they will take 2-3 days each to thaw in the fridge, so we will be out of milk while we wait for them to thaw. If I keep Jug B in the fridge, now, it will go off before we drink it all, so it is best kept frozen until needed.

So, I take the frozen jug, Jug C out of the freezer, and place in the fridge to thaw, while we use Jug A. In 2 days, Jug C will be partially thawed and I can swish it enough to get frosty milk out of it, to use at meals on day 1 of its use, and will be totally thawed on day 2 of its 3-day use. When we finish Jug A, I then take Jug B out of the freezer and begin thawing in the fridge. It will take 2-3 days to thaw. About the time that Jug C is empty, Jug B will be ready to use, and will keep for 2-3 days.

Did anyone follow that? I hope someone got it.  -ha ha-  It's my system for using milk that's soon to go off, while maintaining a steady supply of milk for drinking and cooking.

27-if I accidentally take more butter than I really want for a piece of toast, I put the little bit that I don't want back on the butter dish. In the above photo, there's a tiny dab of butter on top of the stick. That would be mine from the other day. I used this butter, along with the half slice of bread from #5 to make myself some cinnamon toast for dessert after lunch on Friday.

28-the end of bags of chips (tortilla and potato) or packages of crackers get dumped into whatever casserole I make next.

I'm sure we can keep this list going and hit 100 things that we do to stretch our groceries. What's on your list?


  1. Ha Ha and so like me to do these things also!

    Another thing that really bothers me is cooking shows with chefs who NEVER scrape the bowl clean when pouring a batter into a baking dish. I also dislike them cutting the ends off from an onion but cutting half the onion away. Or apple peeling half the apple away. Same with a potato.

    I am a product of parents who have lived through the depression and WWII where everything was hard to get. I was taught that nothing is wasted. Sadly, I cannot each chicken skin or fat from a roast so I do throw that away. I do use it for making chicken broth first though. I've had to explain myself to my parents about doing this but they do understand. My health comes first.

    Lili, I "get" the idea of the milk. I wondered about doing this but your explanation assures me it will work! I also do the more empty than full refrigerator. In the last two weeks I contemplated a second refrigerator for the garage because ours was a bit fuller than normal and my son couldn't get his lunch pail in there. After a couple of weeks of thinking about it, I've decided against it since I will more often than not have the half empty thing going on. It was rare to have a more full fridge!


    1. Hi Alice,
      On those cooking shows, not using a spatula (or not making a real effort to get everything out using a spoon) seems so "wrong" to me, but I know for speed it's what they do. I wonder what's the percentage of people who use spatulas in daily life? I hope it's fairly high, but maybe it isn't.

      With peeling potatoes and other veggies/fruit, do you think there's a difference in amount of waste if you use a peeler vs. a paring knife? I've never been good at paring with a knife, so I've always used a peeler. But I wonder if it makes much of a difference.
      Hope your day is off to a great start, Alice!

    2. Oh Lili funny you should mention this, I find a paring knife generally works better for me.
      I remember as a child learning how to use one from my mother with veggies over newspaper to catch the peelings. No plastic bags back then��
      When I married my husband he had no knowledge of using a paring knife but had seen his mother use a vegetable peeler.
      We purchased one for him. I started using it and then my children subsequently.
      Recently I’ve found that field cucumbers and some yams are not easily peeled with a peeler. I went back to using a knife.
      It was like riding a bike. Didn’t forget the skill. I actually did better with it and all these happy memories of my mother came back.

    3. Hi Theresa,
      I could never get the hang of using a paring knife to peel. I'll have to try again sometime. That's great that you can use that skill, still.
      Have a great day!

  2. Brilliant, Lili. :) I do some of these, too (they might be weird to some people, but they seem natural and practical to me.)

    The thing along this line that comes to my mind that we do here is to split things into serving sizes before freezing them. When you have a busy family in and out every day, you can just shove a big portion of something leftover or a full-package of chicken thighs into the freezer, cook it later, and know it'll all get eaten up. But as family members tend to be more "out" than "in", that quart of spaghetti sauce or 12-pack of thighs becomes less-convenient. :)

    If we package them in 1- or 2-serving sizes, we can still make enough for the full family, if everyone is here; but it also makes it practical for one person to eat it, as well.

    I also find that if I have a number of single-serving options, I'm more likely to throw a couple of them together in a sort of "TV dinner" style, rather than eating more of one single thing. It makes it easy to have a variety of tastes and nutrition with the same amount of work.

    Have a good week, Lili, and everyone! Sara :)

    1. Hi Sara,
      That's a really great suggestion, and very applicable for my stage in life. When I buy the valu-packs of chicken pieces I now wrap them individually before freezing. That way I can cook just one breast if that's all we need. I need to scrounge up some single serving size freezer containers for leftovers.
      Have a great day, Sara!

    2. Lili--

      We had a rather sudden change in our cooking style around here, and I still have a couple of mega-packs of chicken undivided in the freezer. The last one I used, I made into a big batch of white chili, because it was the only way I could think of to cook/use so many at one time. Both freshness and waste become concerns if I don't plan ahead.

      As for single-serving containers, it does seem to work for many things to cut/portion out the servings, and either pre-freeze them on cookie sheets or separate them carefully in a ziplock bag or plastic storage container. That way they can be stored in one container, but the individual portions can be removed as many as are needed at one time.

      We've also found that, for "freeform" or loose foods, it works to put individual servings in cheap fold-over sandwich bags within a freezer-proof container. I do wash and re-use freezer bags, but it took a lot to hold all the individual servings, and I'm not storing a quart or gallon, anyway (that's the whole point.) The sandwich bags seem to physically hold up fine in the freezing temps, and the bigger container keeps them neat and easy to find, as well as safe from the freezer burn. (You do definitely need to be more organized if you have single-serving things, because it's easy to lose them for months in a full freezer when you're digging about.) I also was lucky to get some stackable 1 1/2 cup containers for Christmas one year. They're neat and tidy, and easy to label with a little piece of scotch tape and a sharpie pen.

      We got some sale pork steaks the other day, and I broke the six-pack into three quart bags and froze them with each steak squeezed off into it's own corner. The other day, I just popped one out, baked it with some liquid and herbs straight from the freezer, and it was delicious, and perfect for two small meals for me.

      Take care! Sara

    3. Good solutions, Sara! I also like that a bag takes up so much less space in the freezer than plastic containers.

  3. Lili, I also do alot of the things you listed as well as:
    -dry out the heels of bread on the counter. Once I have enough, I'll run them thru the food processor for crumbs
    -I decant the "cereal dust" from the bottom of the empty cereal bag into my bread crumbs jar
    -I recuse plastic food packaging for wrapping sandwiches, reducing my need to purchase baggies
    -I save tea bags. Once I have 2 of the same flavor,I will make a second cup, using those 2 bags
    -I make up plastic tubs of "tv dinners" using bits of this n that until full enough for a meal. I store it in the freezer, it may sometimes take a week to create this meal
    -I menu plan to avoid food waste
    -I inventory the perishables daily
    -we eat seasonally
    -I buy surplus produce in season, then home preserve
    -I make most of my home cleaning supplies, source ingredients/supplies at the Dollar Tree
    -I mix beef bouillon infused TVP with ground beef/beans and use this in lieu of ground beef
    -I make serve soup twice a week for dinner, leftovers carried over to lunch
    -when I cook a turkey, I immediately cut off one side of the breast, wrap and freeze for future sandwich fillings
    -I reduce the amount of meat used in recipes. Where many would use 1 full LB, I use 1/4-1/2
    -I serve a vegetarian meal once week, at least

    1. Hi Carol,
      Many years ago I had a source for really inexpensive TVP. We used that a lot, not to stretch meat, but in place of meat. I loved it as there was no residual fat to clean up, and it was quick to use. My twins were babies at the time, so my meal prep time was practically nothing. One of my favorite-to-make-meals was TVP, canned tomato sauce, some herbs, and pasta. It was as fast as making boxed macaroni and cheese, but with the serving of fruit/veg in the tomato sauce. I'll look into TVP again this winter. It's handy stuff for days when there is no meat thawed, or otherwise available. And it adds a nice texture to bean burritos.
      I think it really helps to inventory your perishables every day. I leave my menu planning loose enough that I can choose what vegetables I want, fairly last minute, and use up produce as needed.
      Thanks for your additions, Carol. Have a great day.

  4. I love spatulas! We use them constantly around here. My favorites are ones I picked up at the restaurant supply store. My kids know to use a spatula to get the last of the PB out of the jar. We also use this method for yogurt, mayo, etc. While we don't have much food waste around here (I employ many of the methods you do, Lili), I find that keeping on top of food stores takes up a pretty fair amount of time. I rotate food forward & plan my meals around what needs to be used first. And of course, making sure I'm aware of what we're running low on & getting those things on my shopping list to be bought during the next sale. Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      I agree with you, about managing the supplies taking up a fair amount of time. It's one of those invisible jobs, and a part time job, in itself. But as a job, it does reward financially. so definitely worth it.
      Have a great day, Melissa.

  5. I also use many of the same tactics. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who finds a full fridge to be overwhelming and likely to encourage waste. If I possibly can freeze a leftover that won't be eaten in the next day or two, I do! Otherwise it turns into a different life form in the refrigerator. :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      A semi-empty fridge can annoy family members, as they can't easily spot something they want. It means that whoever is doing the food prep has to actually do work, to find something to eat. That's the drawback. But it does keep us from wasting a lot of food. And it saves time with the chore of cleaning out the fridge.
      Have a great day, Kris!

  6. I’m a big spatula user. I think we have done a lot of the things on your list.

    It became a little bit harder when I developed food allergies because I have to be careful about mixing some things, but we still keep bits and pieces to use in dishes.

    I still keep a soup container to put bits and pieces in from the leftovers. It doesn’t take much of any one item to make a good soup and it is a great way to use up a spoon of this and a spoon of that.

    1. Hi Shara,
      Oh yes, the soup pot! I haven't done one of those in a couple of years. I should start a new one this winter. You're right, it doesn't take much of any one item to make a great pot of soup. I can understand how your food allergies complicates cooking and saving leftovers. That's a bummer. But it sounds like you manage very well, in spite of the allergies. Have a great day, Shara.

  7. I think you could summarize your list by saying, "Don't wastes." Around here, we don't have many leftovers to save for later. We eat the crumbs of cereal with our regular bowl, use spoons to get the last out of a bag of chips, etc.

    And I don't know how one lives without a spatula. I would like to think their use is high also.

    1. Definitely, live and learn. Not wasting really stretches our groceries. I only partially understand not having a spatula, as when I was single, I didn't have one (I didn't own much of anything when I first moved out). I would use a spoon to scrape as much as possible out of a bowl or container. I did an okay job, but a spatula would have been quicker, as well as cleaner. But once you have a household, a spatula saves money and time.
      Have a great day, live and learn!

  8. I too do most of these things but it is fun to be reminded!

  9. We have gotten into a routine of going out for lunch several times a week. But the way we do it, is not a splurge by no means. Since I have not been cooking at all lately, this is our way of giving the cook, my husband, a much deserved break. My only kitchen duty has been to clean around the kitchen, wash the dishes after meals, and clean our garden vegetables and other prepping duties.

    To not lose control of our food budget, we find creative ways of stretching takeout food. Already the cheapest way to eat out, we take it another mile. I pack our garden vegetable side dishes, so we can stretch whatever we buy. A pound of entree on sale bought at the deli counter from the market seems to be the cheapest take out. Last week, we bought a pound of orange chicken, which was on sale for $2.99, that was eaten hot for lunch, then taken home for dinner, then lunch and dinner the next day for two people. Of course, we usually also serve lots of vegetable side dishes at every meal. We pack our jug of ice water and always keep disposable plates and utensils in the car. We like to eat picnic style anyway. Much cheaper than a fast food meal, and only a fraction of what it costs to eat at a restaurant. Mainly, the point is to give my husband a break from cooking, so it doesn't matter so much where and how we eat.

    Also while at the deli counter, we look for any other deli clearances to bring home. These will usually be frozen for future meals. This week, we bought three coconut custard pies for a dollar each. I cut the pie in 8 pieces, then popped the pie in the freezer. This way we can thaw only the portion we want to eat immediately, and not have leftovers since the goods are short dated. The idea is to not have a whole pie sitting in our fridge for longer than a day.


    1. YHF, my hubby and I have always liked to picnic in the car much more than sitting down in a restaurant. Cheaper and more social and more relaxing. :)

      Great way to maximize on your pie purchase, too. You have to be careful with extreme sale purchases, because they're often short-dated.

      And Melissa, if you're reading this far down, one of our sons has become a champion spatula-economist. I'm very thrifty, and he can still get another teaspoon of PB or whatever it is out, after I've given up. I love to see that! :)

      Have a great day, everybody! Sara

    2. Hi YHF,
      I've been known to pull out a baggie of carrot sticks to go with burgers and fries at fast food restaurants. I love that you and your husband car-picnic. There are so many places where you can get a spectacular view, for free, to dine by, that would cost you your first-born to have, if dining in a restaurant.

      What a great deal on the coconut pies, and smart of you to pre-slice them all. Have a great day, YHF!

    3. Thank you Sara and Lili, for your vote of confidence about eating in the car. We have our favorite spot, a very shady parking stall at the far end of Walmart with some view, then after lunch we do some shopping. Makes sense, feels just fine, but I know it is beneath a lot of folks.

      Have a great day too!


    4. For those folks who think a car picnic is beneath them, they're missing out. This is like a well-kept secret. You get a peaceful meal, with a nice view, and at a fraction of the price. It's silly to think that there is only one "right" way to eat out, especially with all of the choices that we have these days. Grocery store deli's carry a decent selection of prepared foods that can be taken to eat, as is. I hear Costco has a decent and cheap hot dog meal. IKEA has a lunch counter. There are so many ways to eat out without eating in a restaurant. And for you and your husband, it's a way to give him a break from cooking. The wonderful thing about life is that we all get to choose how we spend or don't spend our own money.

    5. I wish I could give a thumbs up for your reply, Lili. "Well-kept secret" is indeed the appropriate word. So often we start our car meal denigrating ourselves saying so and so would never eat like this, but we always end the meal saying, they don't know what they are missing!



Thank you for joining the discussion today. Here at creative savv, we strive to maintain a respectful community centered around frugal living. Creative savv would like to continue to be a welcoming and safe place for discussion, and as such reserves the right to remove comments that are inappropriate for the conversation.


Be a voice that helps someone else on their frugal living journey

Are you interested in writing for creative savv?
What's your frugal story?

Do you have a favorite frugal recipe, special insight, DIY project, or tips that could make frugal living more do-able for someone else?

Creative savv is seeking new voices.


share this post