Dilutions of Grandeur: Stretch Your Food at Every Meal
When I was kid, the chocolate milk mom served always looked suspiciously pale in my glass. It was as if somewhere between the carton and the table, the ratio of chocolate (good) to milk (not-so-good) had been tampered with in a very unholy way. Of course, now I understand that mom was exercising one the fundamental methods of frugality — dilution.
Today, so many of our foods and beverages are rich — so overly sweet, overly sour, or overly salty that diluting them seems more a matter of taste than a matter of money. Let’s take a look meal-by-meal at how a little creative diluting can stretch your food budget without sacrificing taste or nutrition. (See also: Organic Groceries on a Budget)
Fruit juices and flavored waters can be taken down a few notches on the sweetness scale by adding one part water to every two parts of the original drink. Dilute a 6 oz. glass of chocolate milk with 2-4 oz. of skim for a lighter, cheaper, and ultimately healthier drink. Super-sweet (and super-expensive) brand-name cereals or granola can become “deluxe topping” for less-expensive bran flakes, oatmeal, or even yogurt.
Adding extra beans to chili or a cup of rice to tomato soup or stews can stretch a meal while stretching your budget. Even everyone’s old college friend, ramen noodles, can be added to a variety of dishes to make meals more substantial and far less expensive. Dilute two parts iced tea or lemonade with one part water for better-tasting drinks without the sour-face.
A dear friend of mine was raised by his Polish grandparents during the 1980s and 1990s. He remembers his grandmother’s approach to serving meat during meals: Back in the lean years of her youth and early marriage, meat was used as flavoring in other dishes rather than as the main course itself. Cuts of beef, pork, and chicken were essential parts of generations-old recipes that used more expensive ingredients to flavor less-expensive but nutrient-dense foods.
Dilution is simply about using less and wisely stretching what you have so it lasts longer. Sharing is another way of exercising the same basic principle — diluting contents or reducing portions so smaller amounts can be enjoyed by more people. When I travel with friends, I often suggest splitting the price of a 12 oz. coffee and asking if the barista will put 6 oz. in two separate cups. You might be surprised that this usually works without any trouble at all. We each get a more reasonably sized cup of coffee, pay less, and waste less.
What are some ways you exercise a little friendly dilution without your kids catching on? What are the best recipes you’ve come up with that use these same principles to stretch your food budget without sacrificing culinary kudos? How does the art of dilution apply to other areas of your household?