However, I have found that in most cases, it isn't so much a lack of money that keeps me from preparing and having good food available for my family, it's more a matter of priorities and time.
There are dozens of blogs and websites dedicated to saving money on your grocery bill. And probably just as many really good books on the subject. I have found that if you follow just a few key principles they will go a long way to guiding you in all of the ways that you can save money on your food bill.
Key Principle #1: Use All of Your Food. Throw nothing away.
1) Plan a menu! Planning a menu will help you to use the food you have on hand. If you know you have lettuce that is getting old, make sure that a salad will be served soon. Is the bread getting stale? Make an egg strata or bread pudding or French toast casserole. Just taking an inventory every week before planning will help you do that. Have stale tortilla chips? Use in soup or chilli. They can also become crisp again by putting them on a cookie sheet in the oven for a little while. (Top them with some meat and cheese for nachos while you are at it.)
2) Use the ingredient search at allrecipes.com to look for recipes for the ingredient you need to use. Add this recipe to your menu this week. Or ask Siri? "What can I make with stale bread?"
3) If something is going to go bad—freeze it. Label it or put it into a “future soup” container.
4) Keep your fridge and freezer organized. Have a special spot for your leftovers. Keep it cleaned out and in order. Have a written inventory of what’s in your freezer.
5) Have a “future soup” container. Almost everything can be made into soup. Read this for some new ideas. http://www.wisebread.com/thursday-night-soup-delicious-soup-from-leftovers?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wisebread+%28Wise+Bread%29&utm_content=Yahoo%21+Mail
6) Plan your menu after seeing what can be used in the freezer.
7) If you know you have too much of something, and it’s not going to be used, share with a neighbor or friend.
8) Encourage your children to clean their plates and not to be wasteful. We let our children serve themselves (knowing they need to eat everything they take) and not take food that they don’t like. We use the “No thank you bite” to encourage them to try new food. They try one bite and then say “no, thank you,” if they don’t want anymore. We also give a “Messy Plate Award.” Whoever has the most food left on his plate has to take the leftovers to the dog dish outside. Along these same lines, my children pack their own lunches. I think if they pack their own food, they are less likely to waste it. Seeing the food that other children throw away from packed lunches sickens me.
Key Principle #2: Use the Best Shopping Techniques
1. Only buy stuff that is on sale from "regular" grocery stores. For me this means, BOGOF.
2. Shop at Aldi.
3. Be wise about Costco, Sams. Is what you are getting better quality and cheaper? With some things, yes, but with other things, no. I have certain items that I get from Costco about once a month. I try not to go more often because I do end up spending a lot of money.
4. Don't bother with Whole Foods or Fresh Market--except if you are really into that. I do have about 5 items that I buy from Whole Foods yearly.
5. Support your local farmers and farmer's markets. Yes, I know this doesn't necessarily save you money, but it does save money in a "different" way. Your dollar goes farther without going through so many corporate hands. Can you buy beef this way? Can you get local honey? How about produce?
6. Buy expired food. Yes this sounds gross, but you know that those expiration dates on food are generous. And the guidelines for organic food expiration dates are extremely strict--so if you can find a source for these expired food, you've found a goldmine. We have stores in our area that specialize in selling expired food. I buy cases of yogurt like Chobani or Fage and even those organic-made-with-honey-ones for $2.00 a case. Yes, they are a couple weeks past expiring, but it's yogurt! We've been doing this for years and never have gotten sick. If you use some common sense, you can see and smell when food has expired--just like the good ol' days. I save hundreds of dollars a month on food this way. Even some "regular" grocery stores often sell milk and meat that is about to expire, ripe bananas, produce that is going bad, all discounted. All of these can be bought and used right away or frozen for later.
Key Principle #3 Eat Whole, All Natural, Minimally Processed Foods
1. We have found that eating simply with lots of fruits and vegetables and a little meat helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle. Even if this does not save us any money at the grocery store, it does save us money at the doctor's office. Have you seen the price of diet related prescriptions? Feeling good is worth the extra money and time.
2. Keep those fast-food and restaurant meals to a minimum. These should not be a regular part of your diet. Value-menus come in handy in a pinch--skip the soft drinks completely, but plan ahead. Pack a lunch or healthy snack food. The less pre-packaged, the cheaper it will be and probably more healthy.
3. Buy in bulk. Cook in bulk. If you are going to be doing a lot of the work cooking from scratch, than utilize that time and make multi-batches. Freeze your extras.
4. One of the biggest savings here comes with your breakfast food. Boxed cereal is so expensive and usually very unhealthy. Try oatmeal. This has got to be one of the cheapest foods available. A simple switch from box cereal to oatmeal could save you hundreds a year! We also eat a ton of eggs--for breakfast and beyond.
5. Drink water.
6. Never buy store-bought cookies, cakes, brownies, and especially cupcakes. A store-bought cake can run you $20. You can do a better-tasting cake for under $5. Really, there is no comparison. Yes--it's that "time" thing again. Did you know that you can even buy those cake toppers online? And speaking about online--you can find any recipe and millions of great ideas. You don't have to be a Cake boss.
Key Principle #4 Plan a Menu
By having a menu, you are less likely to order out, eat highly processed food, and as I already mentioned, let food go to waste.
Rather I want to or not, I make myself plan a menu every week. Sometimes, it's just the bare-bones quick scribbles of a menu. Othertimes, it's more elaborate, mentioning all the sides and garnishes. This menu-planning time is scheduled on my calendar every Monday morning like an appointment. Here's a picture of the dry erase board menu that I keep posted on my refrigerator. It's just a picture frame with glass over a menu template.