Put down the ramen noodles and boxed macaroni and cheese! You and your family don't have to eat processed foods just because you're on a budget. With good planning, it is possible to serve healthy, nutritious and flavorful meals even as you watch your wallet. Sure, your first few trips to the grocery store may take a while. But it will get easier with practice.
Here are a few ways to stretch your food dollar:
Make lists and more lists: First, plan your meals for the week and write out what ingredients you'll need for these recipes. Then scan your cabinets to make a list of what you need to buy for the upcoming week and items you'll need soon. If any of the items are on sale or you have a coupon, you can stock up. When you're "shopping at home," consider turning what you have on hand into a meal. Once you get to the store, stick with your list and avoid impulse buys—unless you encounter a real bargain that you know you'll use.
Clip coupons: Those little pieces of paper can save you a lot of money. Find coupons online, in newspapers or in store circulars. You can integrate sale items into your weekly menu. Always get a loyalty card from the supermarkets you frequent. Sale prices may be valid only if you have the card, and you'll often get coupons for items when you check out.
Eye the sales: Keep your eyes open for nonperishables that you use the most, like pastas, frozen vegetables or canned broth. These items generally won't spoil quickly, so you can plan meals around them in the weeks to come. Just be sure that the sale price really is a bargain and that you get the advertised price when you check out. (If you have time, compare sales in various supermarket flyers to see which store offers the best deals you that week.)
Double up: Buying family packs of chicken, ground turkey or beef or other big-ticket items can save you money because you usually pay less per pound. Or buy a whole chicken and plan menus around the thighs, legs, breasts and even the carcass (think soups and stocks) instead of buying individual pieces, which is pricier. Assess whether you'll use such large quantities. Will you really eat that giant bag of fish fillets or will it just get freezer burn? Pass if you don't think you have the freezer or pantry space or that you won't consume it by the expiration date.
Use it all: Some fresh produce goes bad quickly. Maximize your cash by not buying more than you need and using as much as you can. Toss those brown bananas into banana bread. Freeze extra fruit to mix into smoothies later. Shred leftover chicken to top a salad or flavor a stir-fry. (But be sure to discard anything that's moldy or otherwise in poor condition.)
Do it yourself: You'll save money and make healthier meals when you do it yourself. Create your own marinades, stocks and sauces. Chop your own veggies instead of buying them precut. Toss your own salad instead of buying a bagged one. Buy a block of cheese and shred or slice it yourself.
Buy locally and seasonally: You pay the price for those fruits and vegetables from another continent. Purchase foods that are grown locally when you can. You may find good deals from regional farmers at a farmers market. Sticking to the season will usually get you the best prices—and best flavors. For example, apples are cheaper in the fall when trees are loaded with them. Corn is more reasonable during the summer. And cherries shouldn't be a thought in the winter.
Here are a few recipe collections that will help maximize your money:
Quick budget-friendly recipes from Martha Stewart
Budget dinner recipes from Kraft
Best budget recipes from Real Simple
Budget-friendly recipes from Whole Foods Market
Budget recipes from My Recipes
More healthy eating tips: