As I get to thinking about my plan the more I realize that the tricks I can use to reduce my caloric intake are ones that will help maximize my grocery budget. Once again, all this takes is a little creative thinking.
I mentioned before that omitting unnecessary ingredients helps stretch the budget but it also reduces wasteful calories. I used cheese as an example because it's one I see a lot. Cheese can be heavy on calories and should be treated like a condiment instead of a meal (except that's not always possible in cases of mac and cheese, pizza, quesadillas, etc but I'll talk about that in a moment). Where I see this most is with pasta and with sandwiches (hamburgers included). More often we add cheese because we believe we need to but it doesn't actually add to the dish. We love parmesan cheese on spaghetti but when our budget got tighter we moved from fresh shredded parmesan to the grated powdery stuff that comes in a can. Doesn't matter what brand you buy, they all barely have any flavor. Not using the cheese reduces calories and when you stop thinking about it, you won't notice any difference.
The same goes for most sandwiches. Cheap processed cheese has little flavor but is not calorie free. Eating your hamburger without the gooey glop makes a calorie difference that you won't even taste. It's tough to convince someone that investing in higher priced, higher quality cheese is actually saving your budget (and your waist line). A good quality cheese requires less because you can taste it. I like sharp cheeses - sharp cheddar, blue cheese, feta, because they all encourage using less.
The same goes for butter/margarine. Often times we use too much. A light smear of butter on a piece of bread still offers the flavor without all the extra calories. I had to teach my son that 1/2 cube of butter for a can of vegetables was just a waste. One can add a little or none at all and still have a good tasting side dish.
Vegetables are tough for some people. If you are one who can't eat them without a ton of butter or cheese sauce - there is a way to curb that habit. Each time you eat them, use less. I got my family away from using cheese sauce for vegetables by sprinkling on a good sharp cheddar or parmesan on the vegetable when I served them. Eventually, they didn't even need that. I just cut a bunch of calories and stretched our monthly allotment of cheese and butter.
We've moved from microwave popcorn to air-popped corn which is so much better (too much controversy over the safety of microwave popcorn for me). I found I don't mind it plain but sometimes a little flavor is nice. I'm returning to a trick my grandmother used to use - spray the popcorn with butter flavored cooking spray and sprinkle on some spices. She often used taco seasoning on the popcorn. It's a great low fat, low cost snack (popcorn kernals often cost less than a three pack of microwave popcorn and makes soooooo much more).
Back to the cheese for a moment, since I am easily distracted. When it comes to foods like mac and cheese, pizza and quesadillas - how do you reduce the amount of cheese and still feel like you have a good dish. It goes back to buy a good quality cheese. Mac and cheese can be made with less fat by using oil instead of butter to make the roux, using a lower fat milk (the jury is out on whether low fat milk is good for you) and a sharp flavorful cheese. It will take less cheese to flavor the sauce. Same goes for quesadillas - less can be more if you use a good flavor cheese.
As for Pizza - use lots of vegetable toppings and less cheese or omit the cheese all together for some varieties. We love pizza crust with potatoes and onions. Cheese is nice but not necessary.
Making food flavorful with herbs and spices will help reduce cost and calories because you are not adding things to flavor the food.
A tip I learned from my mom when I was younger (that I am sure she has since forgotten) - use salsa as a salad dressing. Salad dressings are often laden with fat and add little nutrition. Using salsa gives the salad flavor and extra veggies. I like to mix it up and use blue cheese or feta as a toppine (about 1 TB is all I need). Sometimes a little crumbled bacon (about 1 strip fried and crumbled). They are fatty foods but they offer more than just fat (well except maybe the bacon). I like adding avocados when I can get them. They have good fat and lots of nutrients so it adds an extra punch to my salad.
I'm sure there's more in the recesses of my brain but that will have to wait for another post since this one is long enough.