The Headmistress and the other Three Moms are blogging about food budgets this week. Even though HM mentioned most of my favorite ideas, I thought I'd share some tips anyway.
I blogged about the discovery of my favorite tip of all here. Go to farmer's market at the very end and offer to buy the perishables that will not make it to the next market day. You can often get lots of goodies. Be prepared to fix, freeze, can, share or otherwise prepare your bounty THAT day. Ripe food turns fast. I also ask different vendors for canning specials. Often they have bins of blemished fruit that they will sell inexpensively.
Learn to can! It is not inexpensive to begin, by any means, but Craig's List, garage sales and word of mouth can get you jars for little to nothing. Ask for canning supplies for your birthday, anniversary or Christmas presents. For water bath canning, all that's needed is a large pot and the basic canning tools. A pressure canner is more expensive, but priceless for making meals in a jar that will save many dollars when you need a dinner and you need it fast. I like my harvest yellow Presto canner. The new ones that you can get are flimsy and won't stand the test of time.
Put out the word that you will pick fruit trees. I have a list of folks whose trees I pick yearly. We get the surplus fruit to eat, can or bake with, they get a clean yard and don't have to watch the fruit moldering. I take canned goods to them as a thank you.
Buy meat that is marked down at the grocery store. I would love to buy organic, but I simply can't afford it. I watch for 25% and 50% off stickers and buy up as much as I can. Most goes into the freezer, some is eaten for dinner that night or the next and some shared with others. Use whole chickens rather than parts. Make your own broth. Use the bones from the meat you buy for beef stock. Collect vegetable trimmings in a freezer bag and use that for stock making rather than fresh produce.
Buy very little packaged "food". Meat, eggs, veggies, fruit. This is all we need to be healthy.
Grow a garden. It doesn't have to be more than some buckets alongside the garage. Lettuce is very easy to grow and will grow all year round in many places. Tomatoes grow like weeds in the summer. One zucchini plant supplies my entire family for most of the summer.
Make condiments from scratch. You can save SO much money, they taste ever-so-much better and have no mystery ingredients. I have many recipes here and here.
Cook your meals from scratch. Make the ingredients for your from scratch meals from scratch! For example, prepare dried beans rather than using canned (unless you canned them yourself), chop veggies rather than using frozen, cut stew meat out of an inexpensive roast rather than buying it pre-cut. You can think of many other purchased boxes and cans you can eliminate by making basic ingredients yourself.
Have a crockpot of beans prepared at all times to feed your hollow-legged teenagers. This has saved me tons of food dollars as my boys go through growing spurts.