Tacos are a favorite with our crew. Not just tacos, I mean all things related to the humble taco. Crispy tacos, Soft Tacos, Taco Salad, and even Taco Soup. With a family of 8, it can be tough to stretch that pound of hamburger as far as it needs to go to feed everyone. With teenage boys, it’s even tougher. If you’re like us, then you need to stretch your grocery budget.
With meat prices on the rise, family food budgets shrinking, and the kids still just as picky as ever, we sometimes have to get a little creative to make mealtimes work at our house.
When I was a kid my mom would extend the ground beef by adding TVP. Umm. Yuck! No offense mom but texturized vegetable protein from the 70’s left a lot to be desired in the texture department. If you aren’t a child of the 70’s or 80’s just imaging those little rubber bouncy balls ground up and added to your taco meat.
It did take on the taste of whatever flavorings you used for your dish but there was no hiding that icky texture.
I’m pretty sure the TVP has improved over time because it’s still on the market with lots of variety in flavorings. But you won’t find me using it at my house…I think I must have been traumatized by TVP as a child.
Remember those picky eaters I mentioned above? If there is a ‘green thing’ visible in the dish it might as we’ll be horse manure as far as getting them to eat it. So, I have to get a little creative with my bunch.
Stretching ground beef has become a bit of a challenge, but over the years I’ve landed on a few things that work at my house. The following list is by no means all inclusive. In fact, I’m sure that there are dozens of other ways to extend ground meats but I’m a little on the lazy super busy side. I’m all about easy, convenient and fast.
Favorite Ground Meat Stretching Tactics:
- Oatmeal – Yes the humble oat. I use Quick Oats or Rolled Oats interchangeably. It just depends on which #10 can the child fetched when I sent them after another can of Oatmeal from the food storage room. You can use the plain oatmeal as is, or if you are like my family and the oats can’t be recognized for their true selves…blend away. We end up with an oat powder that we make into a paste. The paste is added as beef is browning, about half way through the cooking time when there isn’t much pink left.
- Potatoes – The execution of this one depends on the pickiness of your family. I’ve diced up frozen hash brown shreds, they are pretty small and blend well, but for the uber picky, the potato form of choice is potato flakes. I buy them in bulk but you can also get them in the grocery aisle. These are the ones we use to make mashed potatoes. These are very forgiving, sometimes I sprinkle them with the ground beef as its browning and sometimes I mix them into a paste first. These work great as a soup thickener too. Just add water as needed.
- Dehydrated Re-fried beans are, by far, my favorite ‘stretcher’ for taco meat. Beans naturally go with Tacos so there’s nothing weird or foreign here. Add the beans (they look like dark cornflakes) as the ground beef is browning. I add these early on so they have time to rehydrate and I then add additional water as needed depending on how it looks.
The main thing I LOVE about these three is that they’re all shelf stable items just hanging out in the pantry waiting for me. They all have very long shelf lives and I don’t have to worry too much about rotation. Viewing shopping as an annual activity, not weekly or even monthly one, has really helped me.
When it comes to rotation and babysitting food items, I have enough to worry about just making sure the milk doesn’t get chunky or the cheese doesn’t develop green fuzzies. Who really needs one more thing to keep track of?
I’m curious if any of you were also traumatized by TVP from your childhood? If so, have you recovered?