Cooking on a budget. Recipes please!
Help! I'm spending beyond my means. I love to cook healthy and delicious meals but between fresh produce, fish, meat, and other gourmet ingredients, we may as well eat out (almost). I currently spend about $500 in groceries and would love to cut that down by $100. I already make enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch and use fresh herbs from the garden.
I would LOVE tips and recipes for saving money.
I know this thread is old but I had a great cheap dinner last night.
I made Marcella Hazan's Potatoes, Onion, Tomato and Sweet peppers and I served a cheese omelet on the side. Scrambled eggs would work well also.
3/4 lb potatoes cubed
1/2 sweet pepper
onion, thinly slice
3/4 cup canned tomatoes
Saute onion in oil until soft, add pepper and tomato. Cook until peppers are soft, add potatoes cover and cook 30 minutes.
With the eggs and lettuce for a small bit of salad this meal was CHEAP!
First, you aren't doing too bad, comparatively. A lot of people spend more than that. To trim your budget further will require time that you may find difficult to spend especially if you are working full time.
You need to plan your menu around the supermarket sales ad on Wednesday. If you are buying organic, you are paying a huge premium. That's a choice you have to make but when I see a sign saying organic, I walk the other way.
In general, pork and chicken is a lot cheaper than beef. Sausage is a great deal. Make dishes that are less meat intensive like rice pilafs. Risottos are good but they use more expensive rice and are more labor intensive.
Always try to make enough for 2 meals to save some time and usually money. When you go to the grocery store, keep an eye out for unadvertised specials. I just bought 9 pounds of jimmy Dean sausage for $1 per pound. It wasn't advertised. I plan to use this for more than breakfast. I can add ground fennel seeds and have something close to Italian sausage. I can add smoked paprika and chili powder and have chorizo. I post some recipes later. I have to go.
Enjoying this thread. I want to add that the key to Whole Foods and Wild Oats and the like is to make a list and stick to it almost exclusively.
Also, I don't think anyone has mentioned this, but a trick I learned in Weight Watchers is portion control. It works whether your motivation is weight loss or economy with the finances. I'd never really thought about it, having grown up in an upper middle class family. We all just ate as much as we wanted, and there were rarely leftovers. When I was in WW, I either cooked just enough or portioned out my meals and had leftovers for lunch the next day. Some things can be transformed into other dinners, too. It's a very economical way of thinking through meal planning. PC applies to snack food, too, and this comes in handy with Costco. When you get the humongous bag of whatever, take it home and portion it into serving size snack baggies, then store them in the humongous box. Costco buys go much further this way.
These are all great ideas. I, too, am trying to be more frugal, but after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Real Food, I still want to try really hard to eat organic if possible, & locally produced as much as possible. And grass fed beef, organic meats almost exclusively. Farmers' market usually 2x a week, at least once. Whole Foods kills us, too, so we go maybe 1-2x per month. Trader Joe's to save on things like dairy, and lots of their stuff is organic.
Do you like burritos? Here are some healthy ones.
I usually make pinto, kidney, or black beans every week using organic dry beans. I keep the bacon in the freezer & just cut off a few inches & chop if I haven't defrosted for other purposes.
Cook the beans:
2 strips organic, no nitrate, etc. bacon such as Pederson, or frozen, chopped into bits
1 lb. pkg dry beans (it is not necessary to soak, and salt can be added from the get go)
1/2 chopped onion
chopped garlic to taste
salt, pepper, chipotle chile pwd & dried cumin pwd to taste.
Cook up the bacon & remove from pot (I use a big Le Creuset pot), sautee onion in the remaining bacon grease. Pick over beans & rinse. Add garlic, seasonings, beans, cooked bacon, & plenty of water. Bring to a boil, then turn it down & let it go till tender. Just keep an eye out to make sure the liquid doesn't cook off. You don't want it to burn.
Heat whole wheat tortillas (you can just toss them very briefly in the oven or wrap a stack in foil a bit longer), grate some sharp cheddar, add sour cream if you like; these are all available at Trader Joe's. I like to add chopped avocadoes, tomatoes, lettuce, & salsa.
Usually there are extra beans, they can be frozen or saved for a repeat or another use.
If I use black beans, often I will get TJ's corn tortillas, crisp them in the oven & make tostadas with all the above ingredients.
You can vary these any way you like. My husband & teenage son never seem to get tired of this.
One word: SOUP! Soup is a cheap way to use up all kinds of leftovers. If you get sick of vegetable soup, try whizzing it up in the blender and adding a little milk/cream/soymilk/etc. Now you've got cream-of-whatever soup. Or add some pasta. Or some rice. When things get tight around my house it's all-soup-all-the-time. And with a little homemade bread this is a delicious meal. Add a veggie on the side and you've got a feast.
Another advantage of soup, if you're buying whole carcasses or big cuts of meat, is that you can make really tasty stocks with stuff that'd otherwise end up in the trash.
Another spare-times-fallback for us is risotto. It's like rice with soup inside. Delicious. And again, endlessly flexible.
Sometimes we also go on a "spending fast" and see how long we can go just eating out of the pantry and freezer. I'm always shocked by how much stuff we've got.
Another idea: breakfast for dinner. Breakfast foods are often cheap (pancakes, sausage patties, eggs) and because you're calling it breakfast-for-dinner it sounds festive. This was my mom's trick when we were growing up. Incidentally, makes twice as many pancakes as you need. They freeze beautifully (with wax paper between each) and perk right back up in the toaster. It's like pop-tarts, but better.
My mom is a major saver. She plans her meals off the sales circular. The things on sale are often below cost to bring in customers where they will end up buying other items. My mom doesn't buy other items. She only buys what's cheapest at each store, making a list, and she uses coupons. Unlesss it's a great sale, don't buy any convenience foods. Buy whole chickens and cut them yourself. Making your own when you can is cheaper than buying it (like yogurt). It's time consuming, though! And, it gives me a headache to shop with her.
These have all been great suggestions, I'm just going to add a few more of my own --
I am fond of buying split breasts. I find a whole chicken a little intimidating, but split breasts are easier, and I can get them for a $1 a pound.
I also buy chicken thighs. Also can be purchased very inexpensively.
I am not big on red meat, but we do eat alot of shrimp. We can get a 4 pound bag for about $20, which may seem like alot, but it lasts us about a month.
Last but not least, if you try to make at least 2 vegetarian meals a week with beans as the centerpiece, you can cut back there.
My girlfriend and I cut our monthly grocery budget from $500 to $400 by changing where we shop and what we buy. We've always planned our meals on a weekly basis and done all of our grocery shopping on Sunday (highly recommended), but Whole Foods was killing us (as was buying expensive cuts of meat).
So, now instead of Whole Foods, we buy:
* produce at a farm stand (Russo's in Watertown, MA)
* packaged goods, dairy and poultry at the grocery store (Stop and Shop, where they have weekly 2 for 1 deals on anything from whole chickens to boneless skinless breast to bacon to salad dressing),
* meats at a steakhouse butcher shop (Hilltop in Saugus)
We also tend to buy inexpensive cuts of meat (skirt steak, sirloin shell steak, etc.), and buy whole cuts or large portions to divide up and store in the freezer.
Here are my rules for saving money on food:
- Vegan meals several times a week (dairy can get expensive) - lots of good Asian recipes out there
- Cheap cuts of meat (beef shank, pork shoulder, etc) that turn beautifully tender and tasty after several hours of gentle cooking...but done in only 1/2 hour with a pressure cooker
- Shop in Chinatown - awesome prices for fruits & veg, as well as meat & fish
- Shop in bulk for rice, beans, spices, grains
- Don't even think about buying produce out of season (e.g., red peppers or blueberries in the middle of winter, coming from some far-flung corner of the world)
- Borrow good cookbooks from the library and learn, learn, learn
- Don't buy junk food
I've found that doing a GIGANTIC shop for pantry items to last around 3-6 months helps keep me out of the supermarkets and avoids impulse buys. I do this over the internet; some supermarkets will give you free delivery if you get it delivered during the day, and special net-only discounts. The first time it's a pain in the ass, but all my regulars the system saves so when I need a restock it's only a couple clicks. It's also a big chunk of money so I only do it when I truly am running out of lots of things. When I do my weekly shop, I go to the vegetable stand, the butcher, and a little version of a big supermarket in which I know I am ONLY going to the dairy section. I find making my own bread really helps, maybe comes out to about 20 cents a loaf, and I use the expensive organic flour. Perhaps making your own ice cream would have the same effect? Eggs and pasta always save me towards the end of the week when I've run out of the fresh stuff.
If you are yoghurt eaters, I've found that buying a big tub of the plain stuff and then mixing in what you like not only is substantially cheaper than buying the little pots but tastes better. I think it's possible to make your own granola; English flapjacks (which are basically oatmeal bars) are a good cheap breakfast and or snack food.
Somebody told me they know someone who grows various types of lettuce out of a windowbox. Not only is it cheaper, but you don't have the problem of having to eat it straight away.
I don't know if you can do this where you are, but my butcher sells bacon scraps for next to nothing. These are wonderful in recipes, I don't buy whole bacon anymore.
Don't ever get spices in a supermarket; at 'ethnic' stores (huh, as if supermarket owners don't have an ethnicity... rant) you can get alot more for alot less. They're usually better, too.
I agree that online shopping can save money... in part because you search for individual items and are less likely to make impulse purchases.
Going to the store with a list and sticking to it helps me save $. I read the flier before I go and make a list of all my staples that are on sale and the other items I need. By stocking up on the loss leaders I save 25-35% each week (It is printed on the bottom of my grocery receipt). If you have the flexibility you could choose the store you shop at that week based on their sales. But driving to multiple stores may cost you more in gas and time.
Other tips I use:
I never buy snack bars, cookies, chips or crackers – I’ll bake or make popcorn.
Before an onion, celery or pepper (or anything) goes bad, I dice it and put in the freezer for sautéing in future dishes. With extra bananas or other fruit, before they get too ripe, I'll slice them up and freeze for smoothies. I freeze extra bread for bread pudding or crumbs, etc. etc.
I freeze individual links of Italian sausage of a few slices of bacon in bags and use meat as a flavoring, rather than the main course. Examples: Bacon or ham – with cabbage or greens or beans, sausage in risotto, pasta sauce or with beans.
I've been trying to bring down my food bills. Along with the very good suggestions below, I can add:
1) Only shop once a week. Really. Make yourself. If I do this, by the end of the week, I am forced to be creative with what I've got, and can usually eke out meals where before I would have gone to the store. This works best if you pick a specific "cuisine" for the week. That way, you can pick up ingredients that are likely to work together. I usually make one extravagant meal on Saturday, and buy other stuff that will go with that for the rest of the week. If you're making a Mexican dish on the weekend - say a chicken mole, with refried beans on the side and rice - pick up tortillas, and salsa makings, avocadoes and such for pulling together burritos and wraps and things during the week. You're more likely to use leftovers if you've planned for them.
2) Really try to figure out where your grocery money goes. Save your receipts and add it up. Do you buy a lot of meat? I buy meat and fish only for weekend meals, and eat vegetarian otherwise (except for weekend leftovers). Indulge in a lot of excellent cheese as pre-dinner nibbles? Consider making a bean dip as a replacement some nights.
3) Do you throw away a lot of food? Learning a few highly-adaptable dishes can help you use up the ends of things that would otherwise get tossed. I like savory bread puddings, because living alone makes it hard to use up a loaf of bread. I throw in the ends of cheese and odd bits of appropriate vegetables. Omelettes are good for this, too. Soup, of course, is a fabulous use for odds and ends (and if you stick with the cuisine theory, you will find it easy to make soups that are really good.)
4) Buying on sale and freezing generally doesn't work for me because my freezer is small, and without a car hunting for sales is a pain. But I do get lemons and limes at the Haymarket in Boston 10 for a dollar, then freeze the juice. (I also freeze leftovers all the time.)
The More with Less Cookbook, though flawed in many ways (butter is worth the price, for example) has very good ideas for using up leftovers, planning meals, etc.
I recently joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) - I receive a half bushel of (mostly) local organic produce every week, which costs $20 per delivery. It's more produce than my husband and I can eat in a week, and cheaper than buying a week's worth of organic produce at the store (if I set my mind to cooking dinner every night).
Dried beans, rice, lentils, tuna... all cheap and filling.
Buying larger cuts of meat and breaking them down has been mentioned. The old standby of buying cheap cuts went out the window when the general population discovered they were good cuts when cooked properly. So Pork shoulder and chicken gizzards and livers seem to be the only cheap cuts left. Plan on getting several meals out of a whole chicken or pork shoulder.
You can make large quantities of stuffed pastas ahead of time (Italian or Chinese) and freeze them. I find too many farmer's markets to be price gouge the yuppie markets, which I don't have a problem with, but I still have to find fresh produce markets that are reasonable.
The local co-op can have great prices on many items - they do sell more then just organics.
Keep your eyes open for real deals at the store. Here are some which pop up often enough in my neighborhood.
10# bag of potatoes for, say, $1.00
--besides the obvious, think potato pancakes, hash browns, chowder, baked stuffed potatoes.
5# bag of onions
--onion soup, goulash, Spanish frittata (with the above potatoes.)
A & W canned beans (garbanzos, pintos, kidney, etc.) $.50
--hummus, refried beans (just ladle pintos into an oiled pan and mash), salads.
8 oz cans of tomato sauce go on sale frequently
--Spanish rice, pasta sauce, sloppy Joes, cream of tomato soup
I "reformed" myself from too much shopping at the gourmet store this winter and saved lots of $$$ by doing the following:
1. Buying the bulk of my produce at the farmers market, which we have mostly year-round in Miami.
2. Growing my own herbs.
3. Eating 1 egg-based (like a fritatta),one soy-based, and one vegetarian meal each week.
I'm saving well over $100 a month.
Along the lines of the whole chicken response - I always save the leftover bits of veggies (Onion skins, woody asparagus stalks, tiny garlic cloves) and make a stock by roasting the veggies until browned adding water in a stockpot and cooking it all down seasoning if/when necessay - so much cheaper than purchasing store bought stocks.
I think all of these posts are so helpful...shop the loss leaders at the grocery stores (but only if you'll actually USE those items)...buy produce in season...at the produce stand near me in Naples FL (and we're losing our produce stands like crazy due to development! arrgghhh!!!!) they have a "marked down" table in the back where you can get tomatoes and peppers that are not rotten but have a few blemishes...there's a "tuna" thread right below this thread with some canned tuna recipes...beans (canned or dry) are a very good source of protein and they are cheap...cabbage is cheap and also nutritious (I know, not everyone likes it as in my family)...chickpeas are awesome blended with a little garlic and lemon juice for hummus...you could look up some recipes with beans/chickpeas...there's a website called miserlymoms.com that offers ALL kinds of cheap recipes, though not all are well, ahem, "gourmet" but it's a start. Cooking at home IS healthier and more economical, so you're on the right track there!!!!
Using your own garden fresh herbs, as you mentioned, is already a big advantage, both in savings and fresheness.
I don't know where you are located and what grocery markets are there. But a change in the places you shop might result in considerable savings. In Los Angeles I have realized substantial savings from increased buying at Costco, Smart & Final, Trader Joes, various ethnic markets and even the 99¢ Only Stores and thereby limited my buying at the more expensive major supermarket chains and upscale markets. I go to a couple of ethnic neighborhood produce markets where the produce is generally less than half the price of the supers. Sometimes the appearance may not be as pleasing but it is still fresh and wholesome. And if I'm going to chop up onions or bell peppers anyway, there is no reason why they need to be picture perfect.
You can also watch for weekly ad specials on meat and seafood at your local supermarkets and plan meals around what's on special. Also, I usually stock up on frequently used non-perishable staples when they are on sale.
Cooking from scratch also saves money. Making your own sauces and salad dressings is far less expensive than buying ready made. And it doesn't need to be very time consuming. A batch of salad dressing takes about 5 minutes. A gallon of pasta sauce is about 20 minutes working time and can be stored in freezer bags and frozen for later use. A breadmaker can also be a savings maker.
These are some of the ways that I use to stretch the food budget.
Typical "poverty" meals can be terrific if done right. Cook's Illustrated Macaroni and Cheese (America's Test Kitchen) is just plain wonderful (Google it), and can be balanced by steamed green beans or broccoli, both usually cheap. Think rice and beans. Buy beans dried in a bag, do the overnight soak, go from there. Red beans and rice, black beans and rice, pinto beans and rice, add some baked chicken and a vegetable. Inexpensive, delicious and filling. Iced tea, sub that in for juice, bottled water, soda. Cruise the meat section. Buy what is on sale, watch the expiry dates. Buy marked down meat and freeze, thaw and use. Learn your cuts of meat. If you are in the mood for a steak, bypass the filet and pick up the sirloin. Be flexible as to where you buy your food, consider Costco, Super Target, even Walmart sometimes has whole chickens on sale at a loss leader price. Figure on at least two DINNERS out of one cut of meat and buy a bigger amount. Cuban pork roast in the crockpot can become BBQ sauced pork sandwiches the next night. A whole roasted chicken becomes chicken quesadillas the next night, plus chicken sandwiches for lunch. Plan meals of soups and stews. Use potatoes, inexpensive and filling again. Find a good produce stand. They can not only be cheaper than the grocery store, but cheaper than many Farmer's Markets. Buy seasonal produce. Tomato sauce and pasta, plus mushrooms, plus artichokes, plus sausage, plus fresh veggies. Add more Asian meals, rice or rice noodle based with veggies and smaller amounts of meat. Use those grocery fliers at the store entrance, and if your store has discount cards, use them. Use grocery coupons in newspaper. Good luck!
I'm a graduate student, so I rely on budget grocery shopping. I can't provide much insight on baby food, but I do second the meat advice above, and add that the more "whole" the cut of meat, the more you can make out of your money.
Whole chickens are dirt cheap on sale (usually 39-49c/# here) and are easy to roast whole, or cut up, and leaving back/neck for stock and parts (livers, gizzards, hearts) for frying, sauteeing, or gravies. Chicken livers are my favorite -- fried, sauteed, chicken liver pate. Same goes for turkey -- it's not just for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Whole pork loins (~$2-3/# on sale, depending on where you are) make for at least one decent roast, a tenderloin, chops, and ribs. A couple weeks ago, I picked up a whole beef tenderloin for $8/#, which has turned into 3 filets, a good sized tenderloin, and a roast out of the larger end.
Good prices are harder to find for organic items. I wish I could afford the hormone- and antibiotic-free meat at the local coop, but I trust their marked down, sell-now meat a good bit more. I second and third the farmers' market/coop/produce stand suggestions. Such local places tend to be less expensive and in season by default, plus you get to support local small businesses.
Most of my day-to-day eating are just home cooking kind of things and pretty basic -- it doesn't take much to make fresh vegetables or a good cut of meat to shine. As far as recipes go, I favor Mediterranean, southern, or New Orleans homestyle. If any of these tempt you, I'll post some recipes of my faves.
re: trudie cardella
Here are a couple. I'll post some more when I get home.
1 c grits
4 c water
1 1/2 t salt
Cook grits till they begin to thicken and add
1 c milk (or half and half)
1/2 stick butter
3 beaten eggs
6-8 oz grated cheddar
Bake in a greased 2qt casserole at 350 for 45 min-1hr. Serves 6-8.
Red Beans and Rice
1 ham bone (or 2-3 ham hocks depending on size)
6 c. water
2 t garlic salt
1/4 t Tabasco
1 t Worchestershire
1 pound red kidney beans
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped onions
1 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T oil (or bacon grease)
1/2 pound ham, cubed
1 pound hot sausage, sliced
2 bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
1/4 c. chopped parsley
3 c. rice, cooked
The day before, rinse the red beans in a colander and put in a pot, covering with water (about an inch over the beans). Soak overnight. Next day, drain the beans, saving the water to be part of the water added.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, saute onions, celery, and garlic in the oil until wilted. Add ham and cook briefly. Add ham bone, water, garlic salt, Tabasco, W-sauce, bay leaves, and beans. Cook uncovered over a low flame until soft and creamy, stirring often (at least every 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, slice and cook the sausage (I usually microwave with a little water in a covered bowl for around 5 minutes), and drain on paper towels. Add to the beans after about 1 1/2 hours.
After about 2 hours, the beans should be getting creamy. If after about 2 1/2 hours, they aren't creamy enough, mash a few beans against the side of the pot and add back in. The beans vary -- sometimes you may have to add a little water; other times the beans take longer to cook down).
Remove bay leaves and add parsley before serving over white rice. Good with French bread and salad, and it also freezes really well. Should serve 8-10, depending on how hungry your crowd is.
My black eyed peas are a variant on the above recipe, adding a cup of chopped bell pepper, a little more garlic, minus Tabasco, plus a pinch cayenne and white pepper when adding peas.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
1 1/4 c. macaroni
1/2 # shredded sharp cheddar
1/3 stick butter
1 c. milk
Cook the macaroni for 5 minutes in salted water. Place about half the cooked macaroni in a greased 2 qt pyrex, and cover with pats of about half the butter and about half the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and cayenne to taste. Cover with remaining half and repeat butter, cheese, salt, and cayenne. Lightly beat the milk and egg together and pour over. Cook for 45 minutes at 350.
Google a copycat recipe for Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic. Season a cut-up chicken liberally with the mix in a 9x13 pyrex, dot with pats of butter (or add a little chicken stock), and cook around 45 minutes at 350, basting occasionally. The ultimate comfort meal with white rice and butter beans.
Homemade pestos and tapenades are easy and delicious. Also, play with the ingredient lists. I made a great arugula pesto last month, substituting pecans for pine nuts, arugula for basil, and tweaking a standard pesto recipe. Be creative -- roasted red pepper pesto, sun dried tomato (or oven-dry your own) pesto, etc. I go loosy-goosy with Med flavors, not sticking to any real recipe. Tomatoes and spinach wilted in a little olive oil, either tossed into some pasta with a little feta and some olives, or serving as a bed for a chicken breast, topped with some lightly sauteed artichoke hearts (canned or frozen work fine). The one dish I use a recipe for is Greek-style braised lamb shanks, which may push the budget unless you find them on sale. I'll find that recipe to post.
I'll post loose versions of some favorites from cookbooks this evening.
Catherine, it looks like you cook grits specifically to make cheese grits. My mom had fond memories of my grandmother's cheese grits, which were always made with leftover grits. Despite being a GRITS myself, I have just now, in my late 40's, begun cooking and eating them...any idea how to fix up the leftovers for cheese grits?
I've always fried my leftover grits, but I don't see any reason why leftovers couldn't be used in the cheese grits recipe. You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water, but likely not.
Another grits recipe:
Grits and grillades, adapted from The Plantation Cookbook
4 # beef rounds, 1/2" thick
1/2 c. bacon grease
1/2 c. flour
1 c. chopped onions
2 c. chopped green onions
3/4 c. chopped celery
1 1/2 c. chopped bell peppers
2 gloves garlic, minced
2 c. chopped tomatoes
1/2 t tarragon (optional)
2/3 t thyme
1 c. water
1 c. red wine
3 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 t Tabasco
2 T Worcestershire
Defat the meat, cut into halves or thirds, and pound to 1/4" thick. Brown in half the bacon grease in a good sized Dutch oven, and set aside on a plate. Add the rest of the grease and all of the flour, and make a nice dark roux. Add the onions, green onions, celery, peppers, and garlic and saute till limp. Add the tomatoes and spices and cook for a bit, then add water, wine and stir for a couple minutes. Then add the meat and the rest of the ingredients, lower heat, and stir. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Take out the bay leaves and add the parsley, and set sit off heat for at least an hour (up to overnight in the fridge). Serve over grits. Serves 8.
Alternately, you can use veal rounds, but cut simmer time to one hour.
Do you buy organic stuff? Of course if that is important to you then you have to keep it up. All I can suggest is perhaps buy bulk sometimes, from Costco. I cook for two at my house, and make most of the lunches and dinners M-F, and dinner on Sun. The other weekend meals we mostly eat out. Our gocery bill is around $200 I think (not couting Costco bills, which is about another $150 a month).
So here is what I do. Buy big bulk salad from Costco, spinach or romain hearts. But bulk chicken breast or flank steak from Costco. Grill those and top your salad and use that for your weekday lunches. The grilled meats can also be for sandwiches or wraps. I ususally make enough food on Sunday afternoon to last our lunchs M-W. At nights I would either do a pasta dish, a stir fry.
If you don't mind me saying so, I think you don't need recipes, you need a budget and food buying make-over.
Fresh produce does tend to be a killer in the food budget. I try to stick to stuff that's on sale or in season--and therefore on sale. The more expensive things are bought occasionally or not at all. So, a lot of things like apples, pears, oranges, bananas, root vegetables, etc. Any exotics are a treat. I also use frozen vegetables regularly. It's often less money, and nutritionally they are as good or better than what I can buy fresh (excepting farmer's markets). The "fresh" stuff has often been sitting around a while.
Also, pare down your "gourmet ingredients" to a few that you use often. I've been that route and it can run to a significant expense.
From the sounds of it, you have the right idea, but if you need to conform to a tighter budget, you'll have to scale back your meal ideas a little to conform to less expensive ingredients.