Stretching Meats in Budget Meals (Peanut Butter Chicken Recipe)

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. We participate in other affiliate programs as well. For more details, please see our disclosure policy.

Wondering how to include meat in budget-friendly meals? It’s possible with a little creative thinking. Stretching meats in budget meals is a great way to save money and eat well!

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals | Life as Mom

Cheesy Sausage Enchiladas

My boys love the different names for eaters: carnivore, omnivore, herbivore, dessertivore, etc. Most of them would choose to be carnivores, if they could. (OK, dessertivore is in close competition.) When we have grilled meat such as Grilled Tri-tip, those nearby need to stand back. The FishBoys go after it like a pack of hungry wolves.

Unfortunately, in our endeavor to dig out of debt, meat was not a big menu item. This prompted more than a few whines, “But, is there any meat in it?” I’ve discovered that the children will hush up and eat if there’s some meat in a dish.

Over the years I’ve experimented with stretching meats in different recipes. They still include meat, but it plays only a supporting role. I stock up when it’s on sale, and then ration it — big time. My kids are like little pirates, searching for buried treasure.

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals

Here are some ideas for you to try as well as a few fantastic recipes:

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals | Life as Mom

Crockpot Chili Bean Soup – Chili with just a small amount of browned, ground meat.

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals | Life as Mom

Ragu with Sausage and Onions – Tomato-based pasta sauce with just a small bit of sausage or ground or shredded meat.

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals | Life as Mom

Chicken Fried Rice – This is great for using up little bits of leftovers. So yummy! You’ll want to cook extra rice and chicken just so you have leftovers!

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals | Life as Mom

Jambalaya with Sausage and Shrimp – I make this with lots of rice to stretch the proteins and still retain lots of flavor.

Cheesy Sausage Enchiladas (pictured above) – By adding onions and lots of cheese, I can usually get away with less sausage than I originally put into the recipe.

and finally, one of our family’s favorite recipes: Peanut Butter Chicken!

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals | Life as Mom

I’ve been making this dish since my oldest was about two years old. If my math is right, that’s 17 years. The original recipe which I’ve tweaked beyond recognition called for double the chicken that I list here as well as bottled salad dressing which I don’t buy.

Since my youngest was diagnosed with a peanut and walnut allergy, I’ve started making this with sunflower butter. Super delicious either way!

Have you got a trick for stretching meats in budget meals?

Stretching Meats in Budget Meals

Originally published: May 16, 2008. Updated May 15, 2016.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

Subscribe to Good Cheap Eats
Read Newer Post
Read Older Post


  1. Becky @ Boys Rule My Life says

    Hey, the PB Chicken sounds like it might be a winner! I’m going to have to try that!

  2. Briana Almengor says

    Your PB Chicken is in our regular rotation.

  3. Tara says

    Oh yum PB chicken.. wish I could make that.. butttttttttttt my son is allergic to Peanuts!!!!!!!!!!! It is amazing though, how you can create a wonderful meal without tons of meat.. and still get the same flavor without the cost. Thanks for the tips.

  4. FishMama says


    You could eliminate the PB. It would still be good, just a different flavor slightly.

  5. BarbaraLee says

    Can cilantro be replace for parsley? I don’t use much of it and can’t remeber what the sub is. So yummy.

  6. FishMama says

    Barbara Lee, I don’t think that parsley would really add anything. The cilantro really makes it. You can keep cilantro fresh for longer by storing it like flowers in a glass of water, with a plastic bag over the top. Place the entire thing in the frig. It is a great addition to any salad as well as salsa and other Mexican dishes.

  7. Anonymous says

    I made the peanut butter chicken this week and YUM!!! My children even devoured it including the chicken. so yummy, can’t wait to make it again, thanks!–Amy

  8. Miriam says

    I just stumbled across your blog (I don't remember how…) and am LOVING it!! I'm pregnant with our first child, so I'm soaking up all the "mom stuff" that you write about, and your cooking/finance/organizing, etc. stuff keeps me drooling for more 🙂 Chicken is a cheap meat for our budget and we both love chinese, so I think this recipe for Peanut Butter Chicken will quickly find it's way onto the menu!

  9. Carole says

    Fantastic with pork, too! (that’s all i had in-house, so I gave it a whirl) Delicious! Thanks, Jessica!

  10. Fleur says

    I really loved this recipe & am planning to make it again this week & next! I am wondering if you ever make this as a freezer meal? Any tips?

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Fleur, yes, you can. Just prepare the sauce, label and freeze. And prepare the carrot/onion/chicken mixture. Cool, label, and freeze. Then assemble the two packets with the cooked noodles and cilantro on the day of serving.

  11. Becky in KY says

    This recipe sounds great! I never seem to use an entire bunch of cilantro before it goes bad, but I have begun freezing chopped cilantro in ice cube trays w/ just enough water to hold it together. It doesn’t thaw well as far as using the leaves/stems by themselves as called for in this recipe, but I can puree the thawed cubes and then stir the puree into whatever sauce I’m making. I’ve done the same with basil from my basil plant.

  12. I think this is going into my meal plan for the week. It sounds amazing.

  13. Julia says

    Holy Cow, that sounds amazing! Will have to put in our meal plan rotation. Thanks a lot!!

  14. Jodi says

    Another way I stretch meat (or cheese, or even an expensive veggie like red bell pepper) is to cut it into smaller pieces. It seems like more that way. If you grate cheese more finely than the largest hole on the grater, you can use less.

  15. Kathy says

    I’m going to try the Peanut Butter Chicken this week – modifying it just a bit for those of us who are “blood glucose challenged” ? Should be a cinch to do – I’ll sub 12 ounces of whole wheat angel hair pasta for the pound of white, add another chicken breast bit to beef up the protein and maybe try cutting a teaspoon of honey. It will still be a budget recipe compared to most entrees!

    • Yes, excellent adjustments. It needs a little honey just to get the flavor, though you might try agave if you have it. My understanding is that it’s got a lower glycemic index.

  16. Rayna Maxey says

    I live in Arizona and when it is hot(witch is most of the time) my quick go to meal is chicken salad. Season chicken with lots of herbs fry in a little bit of olive oil, cook all the way. Chop up a head of roman lettuce,tomatoes,bell pepper, cucumber. put all veggie in bowl mix. Serve with dressing on the side . One of my sons likes to add salsa to his salad and chicken. I like to top with avocado. I put salad in a family size bowl and chicken in another to sever. some times I will add chopped up apple to go with.

  17. Kelley says

    Made this last night. The family says it’s a keeper! Thank you so much doe sharing. Looking forward to trying more of your recipes!

Share Your Thoughts