We don’t do store-bought frozen meals. We don’t do canned soups. We don’t do store-bought bread. We don’t do most pre-fab things when it comes to food. With a little extra effort, you can eat better and save money. It costs me about a dollar a loaf to make our own sandwich bread every few days, and less to make my hubby’s favorite bread for Italian hoagies. When we use meat in recipes, we typically don’t use it as the main dish, but instead, incorporate it into the main dish to make it stretch further–i.e. Shepherd’s Pie, Beef Stew, Chili, etc. Then you still get the protein, but it costs far less combined with the [cheaper] other ingredients, and feeds more mouths.
Another way to save on ingredients themselves is to make everything from as basic of ingredients as possible. It’s not hard at all with a little planning. For instance, instead of buying bag salad, buy a head of lettuce or a bunch of spinach, and wash and chop it yourself. You’ll save around half the cost that way. Instead of buying canned beans, buy dry ones, and wash and soak them overnight before preparing the dish you’re planning. You can usually save more than half doing beans that way–not to mention they taste way better! Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with your ingredient buying. :) And if you’re unsure how to prepare a certain ingredient, Google it! It’s amazing how many tutorials are out there now–empower yourself!
As far as meals, we usually do something relatively simple like toast or eggs and bacon (or just plain Cheerios) for breakfast. For lunch, a sandwich, leftovers or a smorgasbord (a lot of times I just give the kids some cheese, meat, fruit, maybe a veggie, and crackers or bread–all chopped into finger-food pieces). The main meal is dinner, where we might do anything from tacos or pizza (again, all from scratch) to an authentic Turkish meal of köfte (Turkish meatballs) and rice with pasta bits, and cucumber salad. I always make extra, if I can, for leftover lunches.
We hardly use any soft drinks, or other drinks beside water for that matter. Hubby used to drink coke constantly, but he weaned himself off it by drinking carbonated mineral water for a while and drinking less and less of it, then recently switching to plain water all the time. We do milk and apple juice here and there, but not all day every day. Recently we also invested in a British Berkefeld water purifier that we use constantly and has saved us tons.
You can also clip coupons for things you use a lot–I used to do pretty extreme couponing, but found it ended up being too much work and taking me away from my kids when I should be playing with them and training them. So I still do a little couponing now, but mainly coupons I pick up free in the store or print online for stuff we really use.
The last important part of our “use less expensive food” rule–we only eat out maybe once a week, and it’s always at a place that either offers discounts for kids or is quite cheap to begin with (while still being decent food). Our favorite is a family-owned pizza buffet place near us that lets kids in high chairs eat free (can you guess how many high chairs we get on a regular basis? ;) ).