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Save money with these meatless meals

You won't sacrifice any flavor though

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These zesty lettuce wraps are easy to make and full of classic buffalo flavors.
Jessica Rerick / On the Minds of Moms
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No doubt that we have all noticed the rising costs of groceries when we are in the checkout lanes of our local grocery stores. I have often found myself putting the fun items back because the large family-size pack of chicken that used to be $10 is now anywhere from $15-$17. With three of my boys well into their growing years, my grocery bills are getting out of hand in a hurry.

One way that we have been controlling the costs is by reducing meat or using veggies to stretch the meat in others. Overall, it’s been as simple as adding more vegetables to the plate and serving less meat, but occasionally, I add a vegetable to increase the volume of the actual meat portion of the entrée. This is what I refer to as stretching the protein or, in this case, dollars.

Lately, I have focused on a couple of meals that I can easily sub. One of my favorite methods of stretching is to add dehydrated refried bean flakes into my taco meat. It really does help with the cost per portion, and it also adds fiber, which will help keep my little boys’, and not-so-little boys’, tummies stay full longer. I add the dried bean flakes once I have prepared the taco meat according to the instructions on the packages and then add about ½ cup to one cup of dried bean flakes and usually another cup or so of water. Then I let it simmer until it is absorbed. If the mixture looks too thick, just add a little more water. A bonus of adding in the bean flakes is that it will also help absorb the grease that may not have been drained off the ground beef. This can also mean that there will be fewer spills on T-shirts to clean up!

Beans, in general, are a great way to control the costs of mealtime. I find that an easy sub is to add white, brown, or tan beans in place of chicken in most recipes that call for chicken. You can also sub black or red beans easily for recipes that call for beef.

Buffalo Garbanzo Bean Lettuce Wraps are a flavorful way to go meatless and still have all of that flavor you love from a dish full of meat. These have quickly become a favorite with one of my boys because he is obsessed right now with buffalo sauce. He has even asked if he can eat them as a snack. I like to top these with diced celery and blue cheese or goat cheese crumbles to add crunch and that creamy “funk” that I love with my wings!

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Buffalo Garbanzo Bean Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (or one can drained)
  • ¼ cup buffalo sauce (I used Franks Red Hot)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • Romaine lettuce for wrapping, washed, dried, separated

Toppings:

  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Celery, diced

Directions:

Add olive oil to a sauté pan with chickpeas and cook over medium high heat until golden brown. Add one clove of minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in salt, pepper, and buffalo sauce.

Remove the pan from the heat and spoon the beans into the middle of individual leaves of romaine.

Optional: top with blue cheese crumbles and celery.

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Beans are always an inexpensive meal option, and these burritos are full of flavor.
Jessica Rerick / On the Minds of Moms

Black Bean Burritos have been a hit in my house for years. Well, since I met my husband. This recipe came from him and, I have to say that, with only a minor tweaking, the boys still love it.

One of our sons even requests this as his birthday meal! I don’t even have to ask him what he wants to eat anymore because he starts planning this meal weeks in advance. I love this meal because it has all the health benefits of beans, but also adds in a good amount of spinach, so they get the added benefits of leafy greens.

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The filling of these burritos also makes amazing quesadillas, which is probably the easiest way to get my youngest to enjoy them. I don’t really know why, but burritos bother him. I am just calling it a fourth kiddo quirk…I am sure many of you can relate. Either way, I will gladly add some cheese and make the kids quesadillas if it means they eat all the protein and fiber in the meal!

Black Bean Burritos

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onions, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 cans black beans, drained
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 5 cups chopped fresh spinach
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (3 if using from a bottle)
  • 6 burrito shells

Directions:

Sweat onions in the olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add garlic and sauté for 1 more minute. Add black beans, water, cumin, chili powder, kosher salt and oregano.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 20 minutes or until beans start to be able to mush on the side of the pan with a spoon. Add spinach, stir, and use the spoon to mash 1/3 of the bean mixture.

Add lime juice, stir, and serve in burrito shells

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Lentils are an inexpensive but filling alternative to meat in a classic bolognese sauce.
Jessica Rerick / On the Minds of Moms

Lentil Bolognese is another popular one in our house. Like most kids, mine love pasta, and I love that pasta is one of the most frugal ways that I can make a meal to feed a lot of people. The first time I served it, the kids didn’t even know that it had lentils in the sauce. You could, of course, hide the lentils by using a stick blender to puree the sauce once it’s done cooking, but I left mine whole for the kids to see.

You can also use a mixture of ground beef and lentils in this dish, but I find that the lentils and finely chopped mushrooms have a texture that the kids do not mind and and a deep flavor to ensure a hearty taste!

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You can use your own marinara recipe with this dish, but when hunger drives their decision-making processes, speed drives mine!

Lentil Bolognese

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 16 ounces mushrooms, fine diced or chopped in a food processor
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ cup red wine, optional (can use water)
  • 32 ounces favorite pasta sauce (I used Classico Tomato Basil)
  • 1 cup lentils, dried, rinsed

Directions:

In a large sauce pot, combine the olive oil and the finely chopped mushrooms. Cook over medium heat until most of the moisture is out of the mushrooms, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, salt, pepper, chili flakes, and Italian seasoning. Let cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add ½ cup red wine and let cook until the liquid is nearly all gone. Add pasta sauce, lentils, and 2 cups of water. Stir until combined. Cook, covered, on low for about 30 minutes stirring occasionally. The lentils should still be slightly firm, but cooked through.

Serve over pasta of your choice.

Jessica Rerick of Grand Forks is a freelance writer, trained chef and mom to four boys. Her food blog, wineandhotdish.com, is filled with recipes that quickly become new weeknight favorites. She also owns and operates Craveable Kitchen, an expanding line of dry mixes and seasonings.
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