1. I almost always shop with a purpose. Meaning, I don't just go to the grocery store and buy what looks good. I check the grocery store ads to see where the deals are, and I plan meals around those items. If chicken is on sale, then I plan to cook chicken. If roast is on sale, then that's what we're having. (Or, at least that's what I'm buying to freeze.) After checking the ads, I make a menu, usually for two weeks, detailing plans for breakfasts and dinners. I make my grocery list based on what I need for those meals. Everything I buy, I buy for a reason, and I use coupons wherever I can.
2. I cook from scratch most of the time. That means, I buy basics like flour (which I don't buy a whole lot of, since I grind my own wheat), sugar, eggs, butter, buttermilk, etc. You can bake a whole lot more with the basics than if you spent the same amount on prepackaged items. That means that if I want to make biscuits and gravy for breakfast, I (usually) make my own biscuits. I say 'usually', because there have been a few times that I had a coupon for Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits that was such an amazing deal, I chose to use that and count it as a time saver. But, usually, nutrition is way more important to me than time, so I opt in that direction.
3. I grind wheat and bake most of our bread. I also make powdered milk and will keep it in the fridge to use in baking, saving the fresh milk for drinking. We go through about a gallon a day--and that's with me saying, "Get out of the milk!", so it adds up. Using wheat and powdered milk also helps me feel confident using our food storage.
4. When I plan our menus, I schedule non-meat days. I usually try to schedule one bean day, one soup day, one vegetarian day, and one salad day. That keeps our meat consumption down, and it diversifies our nutrition. For bean day we might have chili, or black bean and chicken enchiladas. For soup day we might have lentil vegetable soup, or chicken tortilla soup, or black bean soup (we love black beans), or cheddar broccoli soup. For vegetarian day we might have a quiche, or a vegetable lasagna, or baked potato bar. For salad night we have some kind of huge dinner salad, like BBQ chicken salad, or taco salad, or just a huge salad bar night with a gazillion choices to make your own. Now obviously, many of these meals can be served in different categories (taco salad, if made with beans only and not meat can be our vegetarian night, for example), but the point is, it gets us out of the meat and side dish routine, and forces us to use a whole lot more veggies and grains. My kids eat a LOT of fruits and veggies. I pile their plates with vegetables or salad, and they eat it all, because they have to. I do not feel bad requiring them to eat large amounts of vegetables, so there. They can choose not to once they're out of my house, but these are the years that their bodies are growing and that growth is my responsibility. Also, I think they've developed good habits and a taste for vegetables, which will carry over into their adult years.
5. I pride myself in finding uses for everything so I don't have to throw things out. For example, we buy a lot of produce. In fact, I buy most of my produce at a separate produce market that is very cheap. We're talking an entire shopping cart just filled with fruits, veggies, and raw nuts. I know lots of people buy produce with good intentions and end up throwing it away. I hate doing that. My kids are flying to Arizona this evening for spring break with their dad, and I realized I still had quite a bit of veggies in the fridge that I couldn't eat alone. So, for breakfast I made our green drink and juiced them all. A bunch of kale, a bunch of parsley, 3 lbs. of spinach, several stalks of celery, a bag of carrots, a cucumber, and 5 or 6 apples. Took care of that! Also, I go through my fridge, freezer, and cupboards routinely and look for things that got left over. Like half a package of cream cheese, or a cup of whipping cream, or a can of garbanzo beans, or shredded chicken, or corn tortillas approaching their expiration. A few sweet potatoes in the cupboard means we're having baked sweet potato fries with dinner. Whatever I find, I search for a recipe to use it up, and many meals come together just for that reason--to avoid wasting something that's sitting in the fridge. You know how you buy something for a meal and then end up not needing it all. Finding a use for it always makes me feel so frugal and clever. Sometimes I see friend's fridges packed full of miscellaneous ingredients and I think, "Don't go shopping till you use all this stuff up!"
6. For lunches: I pack some of the kids' lunches every day (some like to buy, and we get free lunch). At the beginning of the week I make a batch of chicken salad. It's delicious. I use a big can of chunk chicken, some mayo, and I cut up one apple (with the peel) into little dices, and a stalk or two of celery into little dices and throw that in there. Sometimes, if they're in season, some halved red grapes. A bit of salt and pepper, and it's good to go. I buy those Orowheat Sandwich Thins, Whole Wheat. I toast one up and put the chicken salad on that. It's the perfect size, and I got sick of kids not eating their whole sandwich. (Waste!) Then I cover that chicken salad up, stick it in the fridge, and use it the whole week. Also in lunches goes a fruit bag (I cut up an apple, and throw in some grapes, or strawberries, or a mandarin orange), a vegetable bag (I cut up half a red pepper, throw in some baby carrots, and sugar snap peas), and then a nut bag (5 or 6 cashews and the same number of almonds). If I've done baking, I'll add a couple of mini pumpkin muffins or zucchini muffins. That's lunch. The kids take water. At the end of the day, they leave their brown lunch bags and zip-locs on the counter and I reuse them for the whole week. On Friday, I toss them, and on Monday they get new ones. I do own reusable insulated lunch bags, but my kids won't use them. Too embarrassing, they say. But they're fine eating a fruit bag and a vegetable bag, and no Twinkies, even in high school, so I'm good with that.
For me, at home, I will often make a ginormous pot of vegetable soup with lentils in it that I'll eat from the whole week (and make Conor eat) with a slice of homemade wheat bread. I'll use chicken stock and add red pepper, green pepper, celery, onion, garlic, carrot, cabbage, and a can of diced tomatoes, and throw in the lentils at the end. Also, we eat leftovers from dinner for lunch. If leftovers pile up from two or three days, guess what everyone is having for dinner? That's right! And I dish them up--no choices. I want it all eaten! Two people get this, three others get that. No point in making something new with perfectly delicious food in the fridge.
7. For snacks? You guessed it. Fruit or vegetables or nuts. I rarely buy prepackaged anything. This is the famous line around here: "Mom, what can I eat?" "Have an apple!" I also bake a lot, so they can have muffins or bread. Of course, I make treats too, but always homemade. Cookies, brookies, brownies, etc. Now, my teenagers sometimes do buy their own junk food, like chips or candy, and that's fine with me, because most of the time they're eating well, and it was their money.
So, want a challenge? Go look in your fridge and find something that needs to get used up, and find a way to use it for dinner tonight! One ingredient can inspire a whole meal and will make you feel like a clever homemaker and a wise steward. Good luck!