meat loaf with vegetables close-up on a cutting board. horizontal

How to Stretch Ground Beef to Cut the High Cost

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ official data says the average price of a pound of lean ground beef climbed to a whopping $6.15 per pound. Since then, we’ve seen all kinds of economic turmoil, sending us into inflationary times, when the price of everything is soaring. What’s the solution? Learning how to creatively stretch ground beef to cut the cost!

ground beef collage showing how to stretch it with fillers 2

If you and your family are not ready to turn vegetarian—nor are you prepared to pay a king’s ransom for quality hamburger—you do have another option: Get creative. Okay, maybe a little sneaky, too.

But first, let’s talk turkey, I mean ground beef. The lean option of ground beef, 93/7, is not easy to prepare. That’s because there’s not enough fat in it to turn out juicy, delicious fare. Super lean ground beef requires careful seasoning, fussy cooking, and even adding fat. So save your money and go with a less lean more flavorful option.a pound of ground beef on sale

Let’s say that you, like I, prefer 80/20 ground beef. Recently, I paid $2.97 per pound for that at my supermarket on sale (reg. $5.49). But I didn’t really pay even that much. 

My effective cost was more like $1.97 per pound. How? Please don’t tell a soul—I stretch it. I take the best quality ground beef and then “extend” it by at least one-third. So whatever the price in the store, I mentally reduce it by 33% to get my effective cost.

How far will fillers stretch?

A pound of ground beef usually comes out to about 2 cups cooked. To stretch ground beef, you can confidently add a cup of filler to one pound, giving you roughly 50% more meat to use. If you typically serve one-quarter of a pound of meat per person for dinner, you can transform a dinner that usually feeds four people into one that feeds six.

Regardless of your choice, the filler is usually much cheaper than the meat itself. You may easily spend less than a dollar per cup for filler and then split up a pound of meat into multiple meals. Doing this can make a significant difference in your grocery budget.

Rule of Thumb

Add one cup of filler per pound of meat. If you’re worried, your family will notice the difference, start with less filler and work your way up in future meals. In recipes that use crumbled meat (e.,g., tacos, spaghetti, lasagna), you can use equal parts of filler and beef and stretch the meat even more. Make sure you add seasonings as if you are working with all meat.

You must be cautious when packing meat into a ball, loaf, or patty because it’s a delicate formula. Eggs bind the meat and filler so the mixture holds its shape and cooks to an ideal texture and moisture. If you use too much filler, meatloaf and meatballs will be mushy, and your burgers may fall apart.

One egg and no more than one cup of filler per pound of meat make for a good balance for most dishes. If it’s too thick, add another egg.

How to stretch ground Beef

By mixing something with the ground beef to make it go farther, I get much better results than the beef alone. Depending on what I’m making, I’m always doctoring, seasoning, and adding this or that.

Take meatloaf for example. I wouldn’t be surprised if the word “meatloaf” makes you respond with a resounding “Yuck!” That’s because a brick of ground beef stuck in the oven with a little salt and pepper will turn out dry as shoe leather, and about as tasty.

But take that same amount of ground beef and mix it with a few well-chosen ingredients, then bake it up or put it on the grill. You are going to be amazed. Even your children will say it’s great, and ask you to do that again. And again.

Just don’t be so anxious to tell your secrets. There’s something about adding stuff to ground beef that grosses people out.

Rice

When browning ground beef for anything like tacos, chili, or sloppy Joes, add one cup of cooked rice for every pound of meat, just after draining the grease from the meat. Your family will never know. The rice (brown or white) takes the seasoning very well so that visually it looks like it is all ground beef.

Potato

Add grated pre-cooked potato or dry potato flakes to hamburger meat for any Mexican dish like tacos or chili.

Bulgar wheat

Cook it first in water until soft according to label instructions. Then add to any recipe calling for ground beef and tomato sauce, reducing the amount of ground beef you use to accommodate the addition of the bulgur wheat. Shhh! I’ve been known to go 50/50 cooked bulgar to ground beef. That means 1/2 pound ground beef where the recipe calls for 1 pound.

Pureed vegetables

Roast them first, then puree in the food processor or blender. Add one cup per pound of ground beef.

Legumes, grains

Add one-half cup of pre-cooked lentils, kasha, quinoa, or beans to the raw ground beef. Now cook it just as if you would if it were all ground beef.

Stale bread, crackers

Tear it up into little bits. Add an egg and spices to make meatballs and burgers.

Turkey

Ground turkey is very lean and often lacking in flavor. And it’s dry. Mix 50/50 with ground beef for fabulous results.

Meatloaf

Here’s my family’s all-time favorite recipe for meatloaf. This is the way your grandma made it, trust me on this. This is the recipe that made the house smell great, that went perfectly with mashed potatoes, and which you knew you could eat every day of your life and never get tired of it.

This recipe will make your family hope and pray there will be leftovers for tomorrow. If you follow this recipe well, the kids will never know you used bread, carrots, and cheese to turn 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef into more like 3 pounds.

 

Slice of meatloaf on a cutting board surrounded by vegetables.

A close up of food on a plate, with Meatloaf
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
4.62 from 13 votes

Best Meatloaf Ever

Here’s my family's all-time favorite recipe for meatloaf. This is the way your grandma made it, trust me on this. This is the recipe that made the house smell great, that went perfectly with mashed potatoes, and which you knew you could eat every day of your life and never get tired of it.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6
Calories: 494kcal

Ingredients

Meatloaf

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk, whole or 2%
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 slices dry bread, crumbled finely
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot, extra fine, or chopped in blender for picky eaters
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Glaze

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Add crumbled bread and stir until dissolved.
  • Mix ground beef, chopped onion, Cheddar cheese, and carrot into bread mixture.
  • Transfer to a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Press firmly into pan.
  • In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, ketchup, and mustard. Spread over meat mixture.
  • Bake until no longer pink in the center, for an hour. Check at one hour with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center. It should read 160 F. Do not over bake. Servings: 6

Nutrition

Calories: 494kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 158mg | Sodium: 1192mg | Potassium: 500mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 15g | Vitamin A: 2145IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 243mg | Iron: 3mg

Revised, Updated, Republished 1-23-23

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  1. Pam H. says:

    5 stars
    Hi Mary: Seeing the post on meatloaf, I have to tell you about an ingredient I put into my meatloaf, and my family LOVES it. I add about 1/3 cup of A-1 steak sauce. It gives a sort of Italian flavor. Try it.

    Reply
  2. Lei Marchand-Jacques says:

    Very good recipes and 8deas to stretch the hamburger, but, I have another way that works great for us. I buy a top round roast with a little fat for $2.49lb and grind it up myself, and I end up with 97 % beef. Now I can stretching more. Thanks Mary!

    Reply
  3. Cherie says:

    The best meatloaf is the original Quaker Oats recipe…hands down. Also, meatloaf and hamburgers are better with 80% lean meat…it is juicier and more flavorful.

    Reply
    • Sue says:

      My mom always added oatmeal to ground beef for meatloaf along with the onions and seasonings. I do the same but I’ve also used half ground pork when it’s on sale. Adding finely shredded carrots/other veg. is a good idea as well.

      Reply
      • Jennifer says:

        My Mom used to add oatmeal to beef dishes, too! Also, in the 70s there was a ‘hamburger stretcher’ that looked remarkably like ‘Grape-Nuts’, LOL!

    • Eileen says:

      5 stars
      I use this exact one when making mine. When my DH is making the meatloaf, he uses the one first posted. We do take a poorer grad of meat and occasionally add turkey to it as well. Family eats it up!

      Reply
  4. Amy King says:

    HI Mary,
    Amy from Hawaii again. This is very similar to the meatloaf recipe I have used for years–handed down from my mother. We add chopped celery instead of cheese, and we put the catsup and mustard right in the meatloaf instead of milk. My mom always used corn flakes (my dad’s favorite cereal), but I use rolled oats.

    Mom always put her loaf in a dutch oven, put a couple of cups of rice beside it, and poured a can of tomato sauce on top. I loved that. The tomato sauce and seasonings from the meatloaf made the rice extra special. My husband doesn’t like rice, so I cook mine in a loaf pan and serve it with baked potatoes. After all, the oven is already on–why not use it for the potatoes, too?

    This makes a meal my kids and husband ask for often. I love your suggestions for stretchers, however! Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  5. Heather says:

    4 stars
    Hi Mary. Really liked the Nok-out from your dirty carpet post. It is amazing and Ted, the owner very helpful and he know exactly who you were. I m telling everyone about it.
    Nice meatloaf recipe I will try with a meat alternative base. I have t eaten meat for decades—I see their faces.

    Reply
  6. Donna says:

    How about your “Non-Meat Loaf”? You printer this long ago and it has been my crowd pleaser ever since. I do not eat red meat but love meatloaf and sandwiches the next day so your recipe made with walnuts, cottage cheese and corn flakes was a true gift.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Wow … you have a great memory, Donna! That post goes back nearly 10 years, to Oct. 2010. Based on your recommendation I think that post deserves a reappearance. Watch for it!

      Reply
  7. Betty Thomas says:

    This is a really good meatloaf and my family loves it too! I never used cheese for us but when the grandkids are here they like it with cheese. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers and already had your meatloaf sandwich this is a great base to make soup. My sister taught me this because her family does not like leftovers so she transforms the meatloaf and what a great idea it is. Break up the meatloaf into beef or chicken broth, add canned tomatoes, your choice of chopped veggies, some rice, pasta or cubed potatoes and seasonings to taste and YUM! Best transformstion ever!

    Reply
  8. KatyL says:

    I learned a similar recipe from my mother. She always used bread as a binder for meatloaf (you don’t need stale bread; any kind will do.) Difference is she’d take a few slices and wet it, then bring it out and tear it into pieces, and mix into the ground beef. You NEVER see it or know it’s there. Oh, and a quick way to flavor the meatloaf: add a cup or so of barbeque sauce to the mixture. You can also use it as a glaze. (If the meatloaf is too “wet”, just add another slice or two of torn up “wet bread.”) Absolutely fantastic and easy meatloaf! 🙂

    Reply
  9. Sherill says:

    Great idea, Mary! To take it a bit farther, I make little meat loaves in muffin tins. They keep well in the fridge, they’re easy to grab for a snack, and my grandkids love them.

    Reply
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