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Newsletter: August 2023

Low Stress, Low Cost, Low Waste Dinner Hacks

“Better develop a taste for leftovers, pasta, and stews made with cheap meat!”

I was scrolling around on the new Threads app when this comment caught my eye. It was on a thread about grocery budget hacks, and I couldn’t help but click through to see if there were any tips I could try to help keep our family’s food spending under control. Let’s face it: Feeding a family (of any size) is more expensive than most of us would like it to be. And while prices on staples like eggs have started to stabilize recently, it’s undeniable we’d be better off if we could buy more frugally, waste less food, and not drive ourselves crazy in the process.

“Time to get back to the good old-fashioned skills our great-grandparents had in the Depression,” one commenter advised. “Yes! Grow a garden so you can provide your own food!” someone else added. “Don’t waste a thing. Refuse to grocery shop until every bite of food in the house is gone,” another person chimed in. I read all these recommendations and shook my head.

What about working parents who don’t have the time or skills to grow a garden? And about those “old-fashioned” Depression-era skills: It took intense amounts of time, energy, and ingenuity to produce the meals our great-grandparents ate during the lean years. Besides, none of these commenters seems to have encountered a toddler who will ONLY eat strawberries this week, a child with sensory issues who has to have a specific brand of yogurt and chicken nuggets, or even just a family full of different food preferences, where variety and compromise go a much longer way than “You’ll eat it and like it!”

Still, this back-to-school season, we could all use more strategies to help us get meals on the table for less money, with less waste, and preferably less stress. So here are some of our easiest ideas to help you transition into the school year:

  • Get inspired by the “girl dinner” trend. What is “girl dinner,” anyway, besides an assortment of easy food items assembled on one plate? We’ve been doing this forever, but we call it “build your own” dinner. And it’s a genius strategy for keeping wasted food under control! Whether it’s a taco platter, salad bar, sandwich platter, or charcuterie board, setting out a small selection of ingredients and letting everyone make their own plates is a winning recipe for family meals. And when dinner’s over, you can just pack up the uneaten bits and save them for another use.
  • Cook once, eat multiple times. Sure, you’ve probably heard this a million times, but it’s classic advice for a reason. You don’t have to eat the same stew three times in a week to make leftovers work for you. Start off with a big batch of a staple protein like pulled pork, ground beef/turkey, rotisserie or grilled chicken, beans or lentils, or marinated tofu. Then follow the formula: One night it’s the star of the show, with your family’s favorite side dishes. Another night, it becomes tacos, wraps, or sandwiches. And on a third night, it goes into a pasta, soup, or salad.
  • Make friends with the freezer. About that stew you made too much of – don’t forget to freeze the leftovers! Tossing even just one serving of soup, stew, pasta sauce, casserole, or leftover meat into the freezer whenever you can will mean you’ve got a ready stash of options for a later night when you’re too busy to cook. And at the grocery store, buying frozen items can be a real budget-saver. Frozen vegetables and fruits are often much cheaper than fresh, and they won’t go bad in the fridge, wasting both food and money.
  • Be okay with “boring.” Social media can really put a lot of pressure on families to get creative with food and make more complex meals than necessary. While we love to play in the kitchen, keeping dinners low-budget, low-waste, and low-stress usually takes more of a “get it done” approach. If you’ve got a handful of popular, easy, and affordable recipes your family will happily eat on repeat, there’s no shame in just rotating through them. Also, it’s okay to keep side dishes basic. Steamed rice and a frozen vegetable, some buttered noodles and sliced fruit…
  • Plan a weekly “make do” night. Make one night a week your night to use up what’s on hand. Maybe you throw all the odds and ends into some omelets (or this speedy microwave version!), make a strata or panzanella with leftover bread, pop the last of your proteins and cheeses into quesadillas, or just set it all out and let everyone choose their own adventure.

There are lots of ways to reduce stress and waste at family dinner, so if you’re looking for more support, check out these articles from our archives.

Talking Trash at the Table
Less Cleaning, Less Cooking, More Family Dinner
Tips for Busy Families
Meal Planning Hacks for Busy Families


Our Budget friendly meal resources provide a five-day dinner plan and shopping lists that are low-cost and low-effort, especially for families who need to stretch every dollar.

Dinner Tonight: Budget Friendly 


Make your “make do” night more fun and challenging with a family friendly Iron Chef Competition!

Iron Chef, Family Edition


It’s that time of year again! Keep our big list of back-to-school questions handy for the transition out of summer.