* Plan your menus ahead of time. This is a great way to ensure that you’re not wasting food that you already have, because you’ll plan to use it up before it goes bad. It also allows you to think up ways to use the items that you see on sale!
* Use coupons where you can. If you often buy the same types of items, such as spaghetti sauces, taco kits, salad dressings and frozen items, use coupons sensibly. Stocking up on items that you won’t use simply because you have a coupon, though, is not being sensible, so resist that particular temptation! Also, sometimes buying the generic brand is less expensive than buying the brand name with a coupon; if you’re not brand-loyal (and it pays not to be!), then make sure you keep this in mind.
* Learn to cook with cheaper foods. This seems obvious, but with the way food prices fluctuate, your go-to cheap meals might be anything but! The good news is that except for when you buy organic or brand-name products, the healthiest foods are often among the cheaper ones at the grocery store. Eggs are cheaper than most meat, and they’re also a good source of protein. Rice, beans, whole wheat pasta, grains such as oatmeal and barley, and in-season produce are usually fairly inexpensive.
* Develop a list of meatless recipes. Most of the time, cooking without meat will be cheaper than cooking with meat, and it’s often healthier, as well. Our family likes meatless lasagna (I use spinach or eggplant in place of the meat), breakfast-for-dinner (eggs, pancakes, in-season fruit), pasta with olive oil and fresh veggies on top, homemade macaroni and cheese, and a summery favorite, cold pasta salad served with a green salad and sliced bread.
* Also develop a list of less-meat recipes. Even for a large family, you can make a pound of beef or chicken stretch when you use it in a stir-fry, soup or stew. Think of meat as a condiment instead of the most important part of an entree.
* Use leftovers creatively. You may be able to make a soup out of the previous night’s dinner. For example, a pot roast, potatoes and carrots can feed your family a second time as beef stew. Just add some barley or rice, a couple of cans of beef broth and a package of frozen mixed vegetables. Leftover chicken or steak can reappear with onions and peppers as fajitas, or could be chopped up and added to tacos. Leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes could be stirred into pancake batter for savory potato pancakes. Use your imagination (or a cooking website) and don’t let your food go to waste.
Do you have any great tips on stretching your food budget?