Ingredient Substitutions

How to Make Meat Go Further (Easy, Delicious Tips and Recipes)

If you have a family to feed every day, and you’re on a tight budget, you’re probably wondering how to stretch the meat you have on hand to make satisfying meals. Though you may not be able to purchase all the meat you’d like, or readily find your favorite cuts, it’s possible to extend meat with these easy, delicious recipes from my foodie friends, and simple tips for how to make meat go further.

Mexican Chicken & Rice Soup from The Nutrition Adventure

 Mexican Chicken & Rice Soup from The Nutrition Adventure


How to Make Meat go Further with Beans

Beans (legumes) bulk up meat dishes. They are a relatively low-cost alternative to some of the meat in your favorite recipes and a welcome, healthy addition even when meat is readily available.

You probably won’t even notice you’re eating less meat with beans in the mix. Legumes, such as black beans, garbanzos, and lentils, add interest and texture to meat-based dishes, and they provide eating satisfaction, too. Beans are rich in a variety of nutrients, and their protein and fiber help you feel fuller for longer. As plants, they contain phytonutrients, which help protect cells from damage.

Easy Beef and Bean Chili uses just 8 ounces of ground beef to make 6 servings!

You don’t have to prepare beans from dried. It’s perfectly fine to use canned beans and lentils for the sake of convenience, but it’s less expensive to cook the dried versions.  Here are some delicious recipes that pair beans with meat or poultry:

Spanish Brown Rice and Beans from Juggling with Julia

One Pot Taco Soup from The Cheesy RD

Chicken Dhansak

Chicken Dhansak from Desilicious RD


Spiced Chicken Stuffed Zucchini with Brown Rice and Lentils from Tasty Balance Nutrition

How to Make Meat Go Further with Mushrooms

Though mushrooms don’t supply as much protein and fiber as beans, they can be an excellent or good source of certain minerals, such selenium and copper, and vitamins, including B vitamins and vitamin D, a nutrient that is often in short supply in our diets and may play a role in supporting the immune system. Like beans, mushrooms supply phytonutrients, and are a lower-cost filler that adds interest to meat dishes while contributing zero cholesterol or saturated fat.

whole mushrooms

Some brands of mushrooms are excellent sources of vitamin D, which helps support the immune system.


Mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light are richest in vitamin D. It’s the same for humans: strong summer sunlight, in the form of ultraviolet rays, prompts vitamin D production in the body.  However, not all mushrooms are high in vitamin D, so check package labels to make sure.

Mushrooms have a firm, meat-like texture that pairs particularly well with ground meat. A beef and mushroom blend lends itself to burger, taco, meatloaf, lasagna, pasta sauce, and meatball recipes.

I typically use 1 cup cooked, diced mushrooms per pound of ground meat (although sometimes I add even more mushrooms!)  So, if you’re working with 8 ounces of lean ground beef, add 1/2 cup of cooked mushrooms. For 1/2 cup cooked mushrooms, start with 4 ounces raw.

Try these delicious, juicy Beef and Mushroom Burgers!

It’s easy enough to buy fresh mushrooms, but you are probably limiting trips to the store right now. In that case, considered dried mushrooms, which can be reconstituted and used like fresh on a moment’s notice.

In addition to ground beef, mushrooms go well with chicken, pork, and shrimp, too! Here are some easy, delicious recipes that pair mushrooms with high-protein foods:

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls from Snacking in Sneakers


creamy mushroom and shrimp pasta

Creamy Mushroom and Shrimp Pasta from Fad Free Nutrition 


Ground Beef and Mushroom Lettuce-Wrap Tacos from Craving Something Healthy

Blended Al Pastor Tacos with Pineapple Jalapeño Slaw from the Mushroom Council

Other vegetables help you go further with meat, too. Here’s an example of how to “beef up” pasta sauce:


bowl of pasta sauce with carrots and tomatoes

Hidden Vegetable Pasta Sauce from It’s a Veg World After All

How to Make Meat Go Further with Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese may not come to mind as a meat extender, but it’s rich in protein and offers calcium, too. In fact, one cup of low-fat cottage cheese has more protein than the same amount of plain, fat-free Greek yogurt. (However, the cottage cheese has about 25% less calcium.)

You may be put off by the curds in cottage cheese. I have a solution for that!

Place as much cottage cheese as you need at the time in a small food processor or blender and blend for about 45 seconds to 1 minute to produce creamy cottage cheese.

cottage cheese in a bowl

Don’t like the curds? Blend cottage cheese for a creamy consistency.


I use creamy cottage cheese in meatballs or burgers made with lean ground beef or 100% ground turkey breast. Cottage cheese extends the ground meat, and it also produces lighter and juicier meatballs and burgers.

How to Make Meals With Less Meat

Almost Lasagna is one of my favorite recipes that pairs meat with cottage cheese. If you don’t want to bother with a recipe, simply stir creamy cottage cheese into warm marinara sauce or mix cottage cheese with warm pesto sauce and serve over cooked pasta.  If you have some cooked chicken, beef, or other meat, add that, too.

spaghetti topped with meat sauce and shredded cheese

Almost Lasagna

This deconstructed lasagna uses cottage cheese for some of the meat in traditional recipes.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: cottagecheese
Servings: 6


  • 16 ounces long fusilli pasta, linguine or other pasta  Or any type of pasta you have, including whole wheat.
  • 8 ounces 95% lean ground beef or 100% ground turkey breast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef broth or stock
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed no salt-added tomatoes, not drained Diced tomatoes work well, too.
  • 3 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup plain lowfat cottage cheese


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and keep warm.
  • Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the beef, breaking it into large pieces and continuing to break into small bits. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 to 5  minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer meat to a medium bowl, and set aside.
  • Return the skillet to the burner, add the olive oil, and heat over medium heat.  Add the carrot, onion, and garlic and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Season with fresh ground black pepper.
  • Add the meat back to the pan.  Stir in the beef broth, tomatoes and their juices, and basil, and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.  
  • In a small bowl, mix the cottage cheese and parsley.  
  • Toss the pasta with the butter, transfer to the skillet and combine with the meat sauce. To serve, place equal amounts of the cottage cheese/parsley mixture in shallow soup bowls, and top with the pasta mixture. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.    


Per serving (with ground beef): 504 calories; 67 grams carbohydrate; 4 grams fiber; 13 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 27 grams protein; 239 milligrams sodium; 41 milligrams cholesterol; 97 milligrams calcium.

simple tips to make meat go further when preparing meals


How to Make Do in the Kitchen with Ingredient Substitutions

My mother taught me a lot about food, including how to work with what you have on hand to make nutritious meals. She lived through many years when money was tight, and her creativity, coupled with a refusal to waste food, served her well for feeding a family of five. My mom’s how-to-make-do in the kitchen attitude has stuck with me, shaping how I cook, which, of course, includes ingredient substitutions!

Vegetable quiche

Making quiche is a great way to use up vegetables, cheese, and eggs.


It’s easy and delicious to make ingredient swaps 

When I came across an Ellie Krieger recipe in the Washington Post for Roasted Salmon with Artichoke Topping, I wanted to make it for dinner. Problem was, I only had half of the ingredients in the house, and I wasn’t going to the store at 6 PM to get the rest. So, channeling my mother’s flexibility with food, I changed Ellie’s recipe by:

• Using canned, drained artichoke hearts instead of the frozen kind.

• Whipping cottage cheese in the food processor to stand in for ricotta cheese.

• Swapping in half as much dried parsley for fresh.

• Using sundried tomato pesto instead of plain sundried tomatoes.

• Substituting regular salt instead for sea salt.

• Relying on minced, prepared garlic instead of fresh

The result? Scrumptious! It goes to show that the best recipes, like Ellie’s, will turn out just fine, even when tweaked quite a bit.


salmon with artichoke topping on a plate

My version of Ellie Krieger’s Roasted Salmon with Artichoke Topping. Almost the same, but not quite.

You don’t always need a recipe to cook 

Improvisation in the kitchen comes naturally to me, but I have to admit that I had doubts about messing with Ellie’s recipe because I was sure that she had worked hard to get it just right. However, as Jacques Pepin explains in this video, even if I had used the same ingredients, my results could have turned out differently than Ellie’s.

Pepin says a recipe is merely a point of departure, and that ingredients and preparation can, and must, change to fit each particular situation.  As a recipe developer, that’s music to my ears.  I want my recipes to “work” so badly for my readers that I get panicky about home cooks getting the same results as I do, but I guess I shouldn’t worry so much.  Changing up ingredients offers the opportunity to make food that suits your tastes.

It seems as if my mother was on the same page as Pepin, in her everyday-cook sort of way.  As a mom with a full-time job, she managed to have a home cooked dinner on the table for us every week night. I’m not sure she thought too hard about how a recipe would turn out; she seemed to know that her results would be OK, even with alterations. And that’s all that matters.

Older woman smiling

My mother taught me a lot about making do in the kitchen.

Common ingredient substitutions to make do in the kitchen

Being willing to improvise, and knowing how, helps you to be a better, more efficient food manager (which saves money), and helps you get food on the table without fussing. These days, it’s likely you are improvising more than ever.

Out of yeast? Try my yeast-free pizza dough recipe. 

avocado, fresh asparagus, garlic, egg, tomato

Use what you have on hand to make delicious, easy meals.

Coming up short on ingredients shouldn’t deter you from making most recipes, especially baked goods. Here are the ingredient substitutions I use to make do in the kitchen, which also include healthy swaps and vegan ingredient substitutions.

• Baking powder: Here’s what to use in place of baking powder, and these are equal to a 1 teaspoon substitution: ¼ teaspoon baking soda mixed with ½ teaspoon cream of tartar OR 1/2 cup plain yogurt plus 1 teaspoon baking soda and reduce the liquid in what you’re baking by 1/2 cup.

• Bread: Tortillas, crackers, tortilla chips, lettuce leaves, English muffins, bagel

• Brown sugar (1 cup): 1 cup granulated sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons molasses or dark corn syrup

• Butter: Use equal amounts of plain canned pumpkin; or make this butter to vegetable oil conversion by using ¾ as much vegetable oil, such as canola, as butter in the recipe.

• Buttermilk: (1 cup): Pour 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar in a cup measure and fill the rest of the cup with milk; or use 1 cup plain yogurt thinned out with 1 tablespoon milk.

• Cornstarch (1 tablespoon): 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• Chocolate (semi-sweet, 1 ounce): 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar

• Chocolate (unsweetened, 1 ounce): 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon butter

• Cream (for a creamy soup): Puree cooked garbanzo beans, lentils, or any cooked legume and add to soup; or add mashed potatoes to soup for extra creaminess.

• Dates: Try this easy recipe for raisin paste.

• Egg (1): These work best in recipes that don’t require eggs as a leavener: ½ medium mashed banana; or ½ cup applesauce as a replacement or other pureed fruit, such as prunes; or 1 tablespoon ground flax seed or chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water (allow to rest for at least 1 minute before using). See this post for other egg substitutes.

Learn how to use the fluid from canned garbanzo beans in place of eggs! 

•Flour, all-purpose (for thickening soups and sauces only, 1 tablespoon): 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch

• Flour (all-purpose, 1 cup): Use 1 cup rolled oats or 1 ½ cups oat flour. To make oat flour, place uncooked oats in a food processor and process into a fine, flour-like texture.

• Honey: Equal amount of maple syrup; or 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar plus ¼ cup water; or molasses; or agave syrup.

• Lemon juice substitutions: Try lime, orange, or grapefruit juice, or plain or flavored vinegars, depending on the recipe.

• Mayonnaise: Equal amount of mashed ripe avocado or hummus. Plain Greek yogurt is also a healthy substitute for mayonnaise.

• Meat or poultry: Beans, lentils, edamame, textured vegetable protein, tofu, or tempeh. Use an equal amount of chopped, sautéed mushrooms or cooked beans, to extend meat or poultry in dishes such as chili, burgers, lasagna, and pizza.

Read all about how to make less meat feed more people! 

• Milk (1 cup): These milk substitutes can be used in baking: ½ cup evaporated milk plus ½ cup water; OR nonfat dry milk prepared according to package; OR an equal amount of plain yogurt or sour cream; OR 1 cup of water plus 1 ½ teaspoons melted butter.

• Nuts: Equal amount of dried fruit, such as raisins; or sunflower, chia, or hemp seeds.

• Pizza crust: Tortilla, English muffin, sandwich wrap, pita bread, Naan, bagel, deli flats.

• Riccotta cheese: Equal amount of pureed plain cottage cheese.

• Rice: Equal amount of farro, freekeh, barley, millet, quinoa, or oatmeal.

• Sour cream replacement in baking, dips, and side dishes: Equal amount of plain regular or plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt also makes a healthy substitute for mayonnaise.

• Sugar (granulated): ¾ cup honey for every cup of sugar in baked goods; mashed bananas, applesauce, and other fruit purees add natural sweetness to muffins, pancakes, and quick breads.

• Sugar (powdered): Place granulated sugar in a food processor and process until the sugar has a fine texture.

• Tomato sauce: Combine equal amounts of tomato paste and water.

• Chocolate hazelnut spread: Melt ½ cup dark chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl. Stir in 1 cup smooth peanut butter until well combined. Cool.

• Vegetable oil substitutes in baking: Use equal amounts of applesauce as a replacement, or plain canned pumpkin puree, or other pureed fruit; or 1¼ as much butter as called for in the recipe.

• Vinegar: Use equal amounts of lemon juice.

What are your favorite ingredient substitutions?

blueberry muffins cooling on a wire rack pin for how to make do in the kitchen





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