- Sales and coupons are great...but keeping your menu basic works best. I do waffles/pancakes, eggs, or cereal (varies between hot & cold) for breakfast. Lunch is sandwiches or leftovers. Dinner is where I will make some variety...but sticking to some basics like chicken, rice/pasta, beans...and then changing that up with different seasonings and veggies.
- Go vegetarian a few nights a week. You don't HAVE to eat meat at every dinner. If you're worried about getting enough protein, then eat eggs for b'fast & PBnJ for lunch. I also stretch my meat with beans. Works best when you are using ground or shredded meat.
- Go halfsies with the milk. Half REAL milk...half powdered. This works well on little kids. If they complain that it tastes funny, add a little chocolate syrup or powder. A lot of chocolate milk powders are fortified now-a-days...so you're not doing too much damage if you go with that over the syrup.
- Puree away! When you have fresh veggies or fruits that are getting a little past their prime and might be unappetizing, puree them and add them to other foods. Veggies can be added to sauces or meatloaves, and fruits can be put in with muffins, pancakes or breads (think banana bread not sandwich bread).
- Learn to bake. Baking helps with the above suggestion...but in the long run one 5 pound bag of flour lasts much longer than a single box of cake mix or cookies. You can also control how much GOOD nutrition goes into your family's food when you bake it yourself. Use whole wheat flour & brown sugar instead of the white, overprocessed stuff.
- Recycle...This might sound weird for food...but think about it. If you buy a can of bread crumbs...what do you think it was before it was in the can?? BREAD! Instead of tossing the last few pieces of bread from a loaf, put it in a plastic bag into the freezer. When your bag is full, stick it in the food processor and you have your OWN bread crumbs. You can season it any way you like. Stale bread also works for french toast, stuffing, croutons, or casseroles. (Best for casseroles that will have a lot of liquid in it, or is being made with a lot of egg, just tear it up & toss with your ingredients.)
- Leftovers. This goes along with the recycling. If you are having chicken for dinner, shred the leftovers for enchiladas or soup. Try making more than one meal out of what USED to be a single evening's fare. Roasted potatoes for dinner means home fries for breakfast.
- Go international. It changes things up a bit! Naan bread has ingredients most people have in their pantry...and since Indian dishes don't use beef, you already have a chance to find some cheaper items to go in your curry! Mexican food is REALLY easy to do cheaply. Flour tortillas can be made at home in seconds...add some beans, rice, and fresh tomatoes & you're done. If you want a little decadence then add some sour cream...store brands aren't usually more than a dollar for a medium sized container.
- Shop with a LIST and stick to it! And don't just put random things on your list. Make sure you have exactly what you will need. There is a great tool on http://www.allrecipes.com/ that lets you choose recipes and then add the items needed onto a printable shopping list. I do this for my dinners. I typically choose 5 dinner meals and put them on my list. Why 5? To give me 2 nights a week to let me work with leftovers and in case our schedule gets mixed up and we end up having grilled cheese one night b/c it's faster than a roast. And in case we go all week and stay exactly on schedule or have no leftovers, I always grab a jar of pasta sauce & spaghetti to have on hand. (Although, it might be to your advantage to make your own spaghetti sauce in a crockpot and then freeze it in manageable size freezer bags!) The shopping list lets you delete items you won't need to buy (things like water, or items you know are already stocked in the pantry) and add things you will need in addition to the specific recipes.
- When you DO buy meat...look at the packages carefully. Yes, boneless skinless are more convenient...but more expensive, too! Buy bone-in and do a quick de-boning before or after cooking. You can boil the bones in some water (add herbs!) to make stock. Whole chickens are about or just under a dollar a pound right now. Roast 2 in the oven at the same time...pick out your pieces for that night's meal & at cleanup go ahead & carve or pull the meat off the bones. Stick it in a bag for the next night...or a freezer bag for next week! And again, boil the bones for stock! If you put the stock in the fridge overnight, any fat will rise & harden on the surface...pick it out for a lower-fat stock. Stock can be used for soups, adding to a roux for gravy or used in place of water in things like rice or mashed potatoes.
Last one...I promise!
- Use your crockpot! Crockpots help you make larger batches of food. You can eat some now & freeze the rest for later. It also keeps cheaper, tougher cuts of meat tender & juicey. If you don't have a fancy crock with a timer that shuts it off on it's own...you can still make foods while you are away at work or school. Buy a timer switch (like this one http://tinyurl.com/8zm68z). You plug one end into your crockpot & then plug it into the wall. Set the timer and it will automatically shut off your crockpot. That timer might look familiar...I have seen people use them for lamps, lights, and TVs when they go on vacation...to make it seem like someone is home. :)
I hope you enjoyed my Frugal Momma article on food. I think I might make a short series out of this...so keep your eyes peeled!