Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.
6 Ways to Stretch Ground Beef
1. Add sweet potato puree. I'd begin with about 1/4 C per pound of beef. It makes it go a little further, it adds some extra nutrition, and--in my humble opinion--it actually makes the beef taste a bit better as it adds a touch of sweetness and complexity to the flavor of the meat. The best part about this addition is that I've never had anyone in my family know it's there. Ah, sweet deception.
2. Add quick oats. Again, I'd begin with about 1/4 C per pound of beef, though if that goes over well, you may be able to add more as it doesn't affect the texture as much as too much sweet potato would. Beware, however, because if you go too far, the meat/oatmeal mixture will become bland. Consequently, you can get away with more in ground beef for a pasta sauce than you can for, say, a burger.
3. Beans. You can mash them and they will have a similar look and texture to the ground beef and if seasoned similarly can be used without easy detection in your ground beef recipes (start with 1/4 C per pound of ground beef and see how it goes). I expect that many kinds of beans will work, but pinto have similar coloring and therefore hide the best; while white beans have a milder taste than some beans and therefore are harder for picky eaters to detect. And if your family doesn't care to see a bean mixed in with their ground beef, you can add a ton of beans to just a bit of beef (ala beef bean burritos). The flavor of the beef will transfer nicely to the beans and you'll end up with a cheaper, healthier filling for tacos, casseroles, shepherd's pie, whatever.
4. Chopped mushrooms. You heard me. Mushrooms are often described as being meaty and if you chop them up fine and maybe even saute them in some butter if you want to be fancy, you'll probably get away with this one. Chop 'em up good and beware the super tasters. Also, I'm not sure mushrooms will cheapen your meat, but they will make it less caloric/lower fat and add some extra nutrients. (P.S. You'll want to sweat the water out before you use them for burgers (by sauteeing them first), although you can probably just throw them in with ground beef if you're browning it.)
5. Whole wheat bread crumbs. If you've ever made meat loaf or meatballs, you probably know that bread crumbs work well with ground beef. Don't use too much or you'll end up with a gummy sort of texture, but if you use the right amount (1/4 C-1/2 C per pound of beef), there's a good chance you might like your burgers even better with some bread crumbs thrown in. (To make the bread crumbs, throw a few pieces of bread in the blender and have at it. You'll have crumbs in no time.) You can also use saltine crackers. These won't add nutrition (and they'll wreck your Atkins diet, as will probably all these suggestions), but they do reduce the calories/fat somewhat and they cheapen the meal. (Also, I think Saltines in meatloaf are awesome. Yum, salt.)
6. Use less. Generally speaking, I'd say that in most recipes, the ground beef can be reduced by half, without you and yourn even noticing the difference.