As I have mentioned (like a million times...) before Greg and I am on a pretty tight budget these days.
It has made our newly-wedness pretty cool though! We have dinner together almost every night, we are definitely wasting less and enjoying more creative meals. I try to use up every last veggie and pasta sauce remnant in our fridge before I even think of going grocery shopping.
I am usually surprised at the "stone soup" I come up with, after thinking for an hour "There is nothing in the cupboards!!"
I try to come at it systematically. I will sit down my cookbook and puruse the pages (it's torture really...haha) and think about all the things I wish we could make...and then settle on the practical and creative dishes instead. I try to make "American" food only about 1-2 nights a week and make ethnic or fusion food the other nights. This spices things up a bit without breaking the bank, as Asian and Indian/Pakistani markets usually have cheap specialty foods.
My personal fav go to cookbook is The Joy of Cooking. I know it is old school but it seriously has EVERY kind of food imaginable.
Some things I have learned.
Eating on a budget does not mean you have to eat unhealthy. I know those snack foods and processed meats and cheeses are more expensive than the organic natural ones, but shop around!
*Go to your local farmer's market and shop the smaller veggie and fruit stands, they usually have lower prices. Also there are a lot of farms around Sonoma County that have veggies for sale that are cheaper than in the grocery store. You can even go to some local farms and pick your own veggies for super cheap! A little manual labor never killed anyone. ; )
*Spend time finding food that are rich in nutrients and fiber that will fill you up more than calorie and fat packed snacks. While it will initially seem more expensive it will fill out up more and be an actual meal where as you could be spending twice as much on "cheap snacks" that in actuality you are eating BETWEEN meals anyway!
My sideways shopping list.
*Plan meals ahead of time and don't change your mind in the middle of the grocery store. This means making a list and NOT straying from it at the store. Go in there with a determination of steel and don't add this and that last minute, because most likely it will be a whim purchase will sit in the cupboard or rot in the fridge and never get used.
*Buy things that can be used for multiple meals. For example, meat can be expensive, but buying a slightly larger cut of meat that can be used for multiple meals will be cheaper than buying individual smaller (and cheaper) cuts of meat. Plan two (or 3 or 4...) completely different meals with the same kind of meat and it will be creative, and cost effective.
for example: Chicken enchiladas and Chicken Curry. 2 different continents 1 kind of meat. Boom. Roasted.
*There are a million and one ways to dress up white rice and plain Quinoa. Fact. Utilize spices that are in your cupboard already to dress up rice, which is very cheap to buy. Again, use it multiple times a week. One night it is dressed up with butter and ground pepper, another night it is cooked in tomato sauce for a mexican meals, cook it in a little vegetable oil and steam all those rando veggies you have lurching in your fridge and bam you have fried rice!
*Do NOT be fooled by big box stores! While Costco is AMAZING...know what you are getting and if you are really getting a discount. Crappy Coscto paper towels are not cheaper than crappy Target paper towels. But a pack of Brawny paper towels are definitely cheaper at Costco, so know if you just need to get as cheap as possible or if you want cheaper name brands.
Also determine the need for bigger quantities by the size of your family (duh...right?). The big crates of perishables are not practical for a family of two, but loading up on canned foods and household items can ultimately save us money.
Hope this helps! Keep on keepin' on sisters! And budget the heck out of that grocery list...it's kind of fun...no?