Save Money by Substituting Ingredients – Guest Post

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on July 23, 2009

Today’s guest post comes from Tiffany at Eat at Home!  Substituting is KEY for saving $$$, and she’s got some great ideas for us…

One of the best ways to save money is by minimizing trips to the grocery. Those little trips to pick up one or two forgotten items can easily pull $40 or $50 from your wallet. Learning how to substitute ingredients in your favorite recipes can save you from those expensive, last minute trips.

Tomato Products – Canned tomato products are some of the easiest ingredients to swap out.

You can use tomato paste instead of sauce, by adding water to the paste. Depending on the recipe you might be able to use sauce instead of paste by reducing the other liquids in the recipe.
Use diced tomatoes instead of crushed or sauce. I’ve run a can of diced tomatoes through the blender when I’m out of crushed or tomato sauce. It turns out a bit thinner, but in some recipes (like spaghetti sauce) it won’t matter much. This is especially true if you’re only short 1 can or if the recipe also includes tomato paste.
You can add a bit of sugar to a can of diced tomatoes to substitute them for stewed tomatoes. If you have it, you can also add a bit of minced onion and celery.
Out of tomatoes and green chilis (Rotel)???  Use a can of diced tomatoes along with a can of green chilis. Or just use salsa instead. You could also just add some hot sauce, taco seasoning, or chili powder to the recipe.


Use American slices for Velveeta and vice versa.
In many dishes you can use cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Monterey Jack or a combination of these. Exceptions might be pizza. I really like mozzarella on pizza and another cheese just wouldn’t be right. However, you might be fine with swapping out mozzarella for another kind of cheese on your pizza.
You can use string cheese in place of mozzarella, if you don’t need much of it.

In Baked Goods

Use whole wheat flour in place of white and vice versa. Whole wheat can be heavy, so you might want to use part white instead of all whole wheat.
Use bread flour or cake flour for all-purpose flour. This is not ideal, since it is more expensive, but if it keeps you from running out to the store, it will still save you money.
Use a little cornmeal to stretch the flour when you’re running low. This will work better in some recipes than others. Try it in muffins or biscuits or even pancakes.

In Mexican Foods

By keeping in mind the general flavors and ingredients in Mexican foods, you can make all kinds of substitutions as necessary. You can swap out chicken for beef or use beans instead. Out of tortillas? Put the filling over cornbread, rice, tortilla chips or even salad. You can do this with enchilada filling, tacos, burrito filling etc.
In Italian Foods

For Italian Foods

Use the same principles in Italian foods. Of course, you can use all different shapes of pasta. By keeping in mind all the things that often get added to Italian dishes you’ll be able to make many substitutions. Think about using Italian sausage, grilled chicken, ground beef, tomatoes in various forms, basil, oregano, thyme, parmesan, Romano, mozzarella. The dish you end up with might be much different than the recipe, but if you stick with common Italian ingredients it will be good. You might find you like it even better than the original.

What are your favorite substitution tricks? Do you find it easy to make substitutions or are you more of a “follow the recipe” cook?

Tiffany is a Homeschool mom of 4 kids, ranging in age from 17 to 6 years old. On her blog, Eat at Home she shares recipes and tips to help families put dinner on the table quickly and economically.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

The Working Home Keeper July 23, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I’ve started using tomato paste as a substitute for tomato sauce as well. A small can of 365 organic tomato paste at Whole Foods costs .79 compared to $1.19 for a can of the 365 organic tomato sauce. And when Muir Glen has coupons available, you can get organic tomato paste for free most times!

We’ve used a Mexican cheese blend on our pizzas and in spinach lasagna before. Taste great to us! We also sub yogurt for sour cream on our lentil tacos since I make a crockpot full of yogurt each week. Cream of tartar and baking soda combined also sub for baking powder. Found that out one morning when I was making muffins for breakfast and discovered I was out of baking powder!


Tacy July 23, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I recently tried a new recipe for pasta with a from scratch white sauce. The recipe called for heavy cream, which I didn’t have, but I was thrilled with the result of an internet search, and the meal turned out so yummy! Instead of one cup cream, I used 8 oz cottage cheese with 3 tablespoons powdered dry milk, blended in the blender for 5 minutes. I almost always have cottage cheese on hand, so this will be my heavy cream in everything but dessert from here on out!


Rhonda July 23, 2009 at 7:15 pm

I interchange milk/yogurt/sour cream in baked goods all the time — mostly muffins or quick breads. I use whatever I have on hand. Same for sugar (brown or white) and flour (white or whole wheat pastry). If I’m short an egg, I’ll add an extra tablespoon of oil (or butter, or a dollop of pumpkin or applesauce) and really beat the lone egg to get more leavening power out of it!


tennesue July 23, 2009 at 10:11 pm

You can’t always swap out bread flour for all purpose or vise-versa. Bread flour has more gluten in it (the gluten makes the wheat molecules [bits] stick together} so you get bread that doesn’t fall apart….ask me how I know when I made muffins and by mistake used bread flour instead of all-purpose. They were not tender at all .. and right out of the oven On the other hand, you can sometimes get away with all -purpose flour instead of bread flour if you’re willing to cut the bread thick .


Christina Baita July 23, 2009 at 11:19 pm

I just made a gluten free bread that was mostly corn starch (.99 for a whole box ) and it came out great. Yeah, I was surprised too. So, I wonder if it would mix well with the whole wheat to lighten it up because I have used just WW flour and it’s like making bricks. Thanks for the great tips!

I used to toss out veggies after dinner if there wasn’t “enough” left over but now I save them because we always have different rices. Use left over meat or beans mixed with those veggies and either a white sauce, tomato sauce, salsa (ect.) and pour over the rice. You can also top ramen noodles or make a grilled burritos.

I love stuffed grilled burritos and used to make everything in them, breakfast, lunch and dinner. If anyone has found a great GF recipe or product, please let me know!


rachel July 24, 2009 at 7:01 am

I sub ingredients all the time. I just see recipes as a “guide.”


Tiffany July 24, 2009 at 2:26 pm

You all have some great ideas for substitutions. I really like the cottage cheese for 1/2 and 1/2 idea and using cornstarch for flour. Great creativity! Thanks for sharing.


m July 24, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I always sub cheddar for mozzarella on pizza!


Anna-Marie Smith July 28, 2009 at 8:45 am

While my family is not vegetarian nor vegan, we have utilized tips from vegan/vegetarian websites when we have run out of milk, butter, eggs…or even meat.

We’ve all been there when we have measured out all the other ingredients, only to find that we didn’t have enough milk or eggs for a recipe. I don’t know about you, but I hate running to the store AND I don’t want to waste my other ingredients.

I have found that many times I can sub. water in a recipe that calls for milk…without it sacrificing too much flavor. Also, I have found success with various “recipes” for egg replacers, including smashed bananas in baked goods and a combo of baking powder/water/oil in pancakes. (be sure to look up exact measurements)

Not to mention, “Crazy Cake” made with vinegar and baking soda (and cocoa) has become a fave of ours, after we found it one day when we were cravings something sweet.


Teri July 31, 2009 at 11:24 am

Like Christina, I freeze small leftovers that may be small amounts that no one would bother heating up. I also freeze the “other half” of an onion from what was called for in a recipe and the tops of peppers which I don’t usually need in a recipe.

So I usually have a lot of ingredients that would make great supreme pizza’s. But I don’t always have yeast to make a crust. I substitute flour tortillas any size works. They now have them in the grocery isle so they are shelf stable and I can keep a couple packages in my pantry.

A bit of leftover taco meat makes a great mexican pizza as well!


The Good Mom August 3, 2009 at 8:34 am

I switch out oil with apple sauce when baking… works like a charm!


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