If you are going to pursue frugality in any way, this is one area you have to look at closely. It is an area that is often flexible. You can go out to eat every other night and easily spend hundreds a week or you can stay home and cook and spend only a hundred dollars a week. I am going to approach this post from my viewpoint. We are a house of six. Mom, dad and kids ages 20,17,14 and three. So in all reality I am feeding five adults and one child.
Before I came home full time it was not uncommon for us to eat out at least once a week and pick up fast food another night. Those days are long gone. We can easily go a couple months between sit down restaurant dinners but we still get some take out for lunches out about once a week. To go out as a family of six almost never happens. This is probably vacation meals or maybe some one's birthday but I usually cook meals at home for birthdays and holidays finding it cheaper and easier to just deal with a group at home.
So here is the main way to save money on your food budget...STAY HOME! Sorry but this is just the facts. Whenever we do eat out I am always thinking, "Gee that would have bought two meals worth of food." Cooking at home from scratch as much as possible is the cheapest way to go. Pre-made convenience foods tend to be more expensive per serving than a home made meal.
As for shopping I do several things. I buy most of my meat at Fresh n Easy and usually always the markdown meat that has to be sold that day. I just peruse the isle and grab whatever is marked down that I know we will eat and is a good value. I freeze it as soon as I get home and we have never been sick from it. I also have price points for sales that I will stock up on. For example .99 per lb. for chicken breasts on the bone is my stock up price. I have not seen it cheaper around here so that is what I look for. Meat is also now a condiment in many meals. Instead of a platter of pork chops say one night , I will cook a mark down pork loin roast and use the rest the next day diced up for pork fried rice. All whole chickens are always carved and then boiled for soup the next day. I use every scrap I can.
For produce I grow a small veggie garden in our front yard. This of course only off sets what I need to buy a little. Mainly, I make almost weekly trips to a local produce/bulk store and stock up. For about $20 I come out with produce and beans/nuts for a week or more. I do not buy produce grown in Mexico if I can help it. I buy seasonal produce for price and peace of mind. I do buy some produce especially berries at Sam's club. I fill in when needed with frozen or canned veggies.
Probably the most valuable part of saving on groceries is having a price book. I avoided it for a long time but could not really know the lowest prices for items until I really listed it all. I keep a small book and go through the sale papers weekly making notes of what the rock bottom prices were. When you know an item is at its lowest price, you then stock up and buy whatever you will need until the next sale. For grocery stores this is usually every three to four months. This is called the Pantry Principle. Start small and stock up when you can. If my husband has a particularly nice check (he is hourly) I will go to Sam's and stock up on the items I know are cheapest there. I can buy a 40 lb. bag of flour and it will last me about six months. I make all our own pizza crusts and we bake a lot of cookies and some of our own bread and muffins.
A well stocked pantry is your hedge against weeks where you are sick, your paycheck is low, a car repair that eats up your budget (we have a $1400 repair this week in fact). In my January no spend personal challenge, I did not go shopping for almost two weeks. So for one week I spent only $38 on milk, eggs and veggies/fruit. Now our cupboards we picked clean let me tell you. Kids will go for convenience first, then down to food they have to make. They were looking pretty sad. I made healthy plentiful meals, baked bread and cookies and made popcorn (oil and kernels in a pan) at night for snacks. The little one knew no different, her belly was full, the older ones felt a little more deprived and were excited to see me heading out for groceries one day. They had plenty to eat but missed the boxed snacks and easier foods.
Quoting Amy Dacyczyn, my frugal idol, "Whenever people complain to me that "I don't have time to do all of that frugal stuff," I wonder if they waste time running off to the store every time they run out of something. The pantry principle is one of many frugal practices that saves both money and time.
I could go into this subject so deeply we would be here all day and I may have to as this series progresses.
Here are a few of my posts on saving on food: