Water is cheap (free in some areas.) Why are you not using it to stretch your grocery dollars? Maybe you’re afraid of feeling cheap, or feel that you will somehow be robbing your children of precious nutrients. Put away your doubts, and learn the acceptable ways to dilute your dinners!

The secret to using water to get more from your meals is to do it secretly and know your limits. It’s possible to stretch staples well beyond their original supply, and your kids may never know the difference. Successful attempts at watering-down include:

Milk – Unless you are a die-hard skim milk fan (like myself), you can safely add water to your children’s drinking milk without robbing them of any good stuff. Even the most picky drinkers won’t notice a 1:4 water to milk ratio, and for milk that is already being disguised (chocolate milk or milk in breakfast cereal), you may get away with adding even more water. Those of us who are comfortable using powdered milk for drinking are already familiar with how much of milk is water anyway. (Parents who worry that children are not getting enough calcium can monitor their kids’ diets carefully at first. Most will find that they are getting enough dairy from cheeses in other foods, and ice creams. The extra water usually won’t interfere much.)

Juice – Often blamed as a cause for overweight children in the States, juice can be a healthy alternative for families having a hard time accessing reasonably-priced, in-season fruit. Since kids can easily down a glass or two during one meal (and sippy cup-wielding toddlers can suck on the stuff all day), it is probably more than prudent to dilute your juice drinks to ¼ water mixture. The same can be done for Kool-Aid and other sweet uncarbonated drinks.

Soups – Give soups some extra life when preparing them. This can include canned soups (where you are adding water anyway) and those that are fully reconstituted. If you find it to be a little bland, add a little extra bouillon or some canned veggies for more substance. Homemade soup that has had a chance to sit in the fridge overnight is a prime candidate for extra watering: Because it is now fully flavored, you can add water liberally to help it go the extra mile.

Gravies – Anytime you pan-fry meats or veggies, you may have the makings of a good gravy available. While it is traditional to add milk to drippings for the perfect gravy, you can also add water and a bit of corn starch for a nice sauce that is perfect for over rice or potatoes. Very yummy, and practically free!

Adding a little water to your meals won’t seem like the budget saver of the century, but regular practice really can make a difference. With a large family, we find that the extra bit of liquid can stretch things for an extra serving at each meal. If done right, it can really add up!