1) Flavour is King
I'm a big believer in flavour. Garlic, ginger, onions, fresh herbs (grown at home), and dried spices are super cheap. Frugal and plain foods like potatoes or rice can be kicked up several notches when cooked in different ways and with different seasonings. Even humble beans and rice can be satisfying when seasoned properly. Our family loves burrito bowls. Make some brown rice and season well (make cilantro lime rice, for example). Make a pot of black beans and season with spices like cumin, chili powder, garlic, onion, etc. Top the rice with beans, diced tomato, cilantro, shredded lettuce, a bit of cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole....whatever you like. Frugal, flavourful, relatively healthy, and our whole family likes them.
2) Don't Throw Out Bacon Grease
This tip is related to #1. Bacon grease is immensely flavourful. Rather than throwing it out, save the grease and keep it in your fridge for a couple days (or freezer for longer). Use a teaspoon or two when frying eggs for breakfast or roasting potatoes. Use it for sauteeing veggies for soups. Use it in pasta dishes, sauces, and salad dressings. A very small amount adds a ton of flavour. Clogged arteries are overrated, anyway.
3) Make Soup Stock from Bones
In my area, a rotisserie chicken from the deli costs about $8 on sale. I know you can find them cheaper in other cities, though. I can stretch that chicken into 4 or 5 meals for our family when used creatively. My family is not a fan of dark meat. However, after we use up the white meat, I don't throw the bones and meat out. I put the whole thing in a large pot or crockpot and make soup broth. After several hours, I strain the broth to keep for soup and pick off all the dark meat to use in soups and casseroles. If I'm not in the mood for making chicken broth, I will just put the chicken carcass in a freezer bag and in the freezer until I'm ready to use it. I use beef and ham bones in the same way.
4) Don't Make Meat the Star of the Meal
If I ever have a hefty grocery budget, this might be one frugal tip I might ease up on :-). The point is you will save more money if you add just a cup of diced chicken to a pasta dish rather than serve a whole chicken breast on top of pasta....obviously. If I do make meat the star (meatloaf, for example), I make sure to add a big cheap side dish like mashed potatoes or rice to go with it. Related to that, our family does many meatless meals. Meatless pasta dishes are our favourite.
5) Find Creative Ways to Use Leftovers
Small amounts of leftover rice, pasta, potatoes, cooked meat, veggies, tomato sauce, etc. can be turned into a huge pot of soup. Restaurants do this all the time..."soup of the day", anyone? Back in our university days, little amounts of leftovers would get thrown out way too often. Now, I make an effort to put those leftovers to good use. A huge pot of soup on the weekend is one of my favourite ways to use up those little bits of leftovers. My family cannot tell the difference. I might throw some leftover taco meat, coleslaw, and rice together to make hamburger soup, for example. I have often diced up leftover hamburgers (from the bbq) that I threw in the freezer to make cheeseburger soup. The other week, I turned a big pot of leftover sticky rice into Arancini (fried rice balls) and served it with some marinara sauce I made from leftover tomato sauce.
6) Use Your Freezer For Saving Excess Food
I buy big jars of tomato sauce and freeze whatever I don't use for a whole meal in a container or ice cube trays. I also freeze leftover beans, rice, pineapple tidbits, etc. The key is to actually look in your freezer and use up what you have before buying more. When planning my grocery menu, I have a look what's in my freezer and see what I can use from there first. I will work that into my menu and maybe use that in a pasta sauce during the week. Even small amounts of tomato pasta and sauce get frozen. I use these for making pizza sauce, marinara dipping sauce, or adding just a tablespoon or two to stews, soups, or sauces. Last week I found a container of leftover tomato sauce in the freezer that I threw in a pot, added some chicken stock and cream to for tomato soup with grilled cheese for lunch. My husband thought I had made canned tomato soup...I wasn't sure whether to take that as a compliment or not. haha.
7) Use Aged Cheddar Cheese Instead
We love cheese around here, but cheese is expensive. When using cheese in casseroles or soups, buy aged (or old cheddar) cheese instead of milder cheeses. Aged cheddar costs the same as medium or mild cheddar. You can use usually use way less cheese than the recipe calls for if you used old cheddar since aged cheeses are much more flavourful. This works well in things like broccoli cheese soup or casseroles.