One of the reasons my grocery budget is so high is that I try my best to feed my family an all-natural diet. Don't get me wrong, we eat McDonald's and that crap pizza they sell at Winco and Costco. I'm not perfect, but that's exactly why when I cook for my family, I mostly cook from scratch. I figure they're getting enough crap in what they eat OUTSIDE of our house that it's worth spending more to make sure we stock our cupboards with stuff that is healthy and natural.
A short list of things I won't buy for the KIDS to eat: (I reserve the right to eat junk food MYSELF! Yummy yummy JUNK FOOD):
preservatives (TBHQ especially)
artificial flavors (including Vanillin)
Partially hydrogenated ANYTHING
The only things we eat from a box are Annie's "organic" mac 'n cheese (I put "organic" in quotes because only the pasta is actually organic.) and organic pop tarts, both of which I buy it in bulk at Coscto. My kids get all natural bread (which is why it costs $1.88 instead of 2 loaves for .99 cents). I bought tortillas the other day at Winco, but those are for Dave and me, not for the kids. I buy the kids' tortillas at Trader Joe's, where I can buy them without dough conditioners and preservatives. Ditto for hot dogs; I can't buy Ball Park franks for .99 cents a pack, instead I fork over $3.99 for the all natural ones at Trader Joe's (and honestly? They taste WAY better. We eat them too).
A normal day of food around here goes as follows.
I normally feed the kids Fred-Meyer or Wal-Mart brand homestyle waffles (oddly enough EGGO brand waffles are FULL of crap like food coloring and preservatives, but some (not all) of the store brand waffles are actually all natural and in fact, extremely well fortified). We used to go through about $20 a month worth of real maple syrup (I swear it costs more per ounce than VODKA), but lately I've just been buttering the waffles and giving each kid about a teaspoon of brown sugar to dip them in. It's both cheaper and healthier, mainly because there is less sugar in a teaspoon of brown sugar than there is in a teaspoon of maple syrup and my kids were both major syrup fiends. Alternately I make them oatmeal with milk instead of water and add some brown sugar. They rarely eat cereal, but if they do, it's organic Gorilla Munch from Trader Joe's.
Dave and I both drink a BUNCH of coffee with milk in the morning, like four cups each. He doesn't eat before noon during the week. I eat the same EXACT breakfast 7 days a week: two packets of Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar flavored oatmeal. I realize I could save money making it myself from scratch, but I am addicted to the sweet packety goodness. (I make one packet with milk in the microwave and then add the other packet on top DRY. YUMM. Sometimes the kids ask me to make their oatmeal "mommy style".)
Lately I've been helping Dave pack his lunches. He normally takes leftovers from whatever I made the night before. If there aren't any, he'll eat a couple cans of chili and some cottage cheese. He usually also takes a banana, some dry Grape Nuts and a small bag of totally plain peanuts.
For the kids' lunches, I've got a pretty standard rotation between mac 'n cheese, hot dogs, quesadillas, turkey sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, or chicken nuggets (I buy the all natural brand they sell at Costco). I sneak some fruit onto their plates with whatever else I serve.
For my own lunch, I usually either eat whatever I serve the kids or I make myself some Ramen, a hot dog or an egg/sausage burrito.
I always make the kids eat fruit first when they want a snack and THEN they can have a cheese stick or a yogurt or a single pop tart or whatever other snacky thing I've found on sale (like goldfish crackers, etc).
Personally, I have an addiction to Wavy Lays potato chips with Ranch dip (from the packets). That's usually my afternoon snack. And candy. I LOVE candy. I have to sneak it so the kids don't ask for it, but I'm a big snack size person. A couple mini Snickers with a diet coke and I'm set. (I never said I was a health nut!)
Most nights I make a big production out of dinner. I cook A LOT. I've been keeping a (mostly updated) dinner menu on my sidebar at mandajuice for several months. We eat some kind of animal protein every night of the week. Dave has diabetes and that means he needs protein and he has a big appetite, so cheese ain't gonna cut it and I can't make a meal out of pasta for him. I always make a nice vegetable (fresh when I find stuff on sale, otherwise frozen peas/corn/green beans). I usually make rice/pasta/potatoes as well.
I always serve the kids a vegetable with dinner. If they eat their vegetables and most of their dinner, we give them a tiny scoop of (all natural) vanilla ice cream with sliced peaches (or bananas) for dessert.
I never make a separate meal for the kids. They eat whatever WE eat. I never make anything TRULY objectionable, but if they hate it, they get to eat a banana before bed. I don't let them starve.
That said, tonight I'm making salmon, which I won't feed the kids (I'm super paranoid about mercury contamination and I hate the taste/texture of the more expensive un-farmed salmon), so I'm making them mac 'n cheese, chicken nuggets and peas. Dave and I will have the fish with some broccoli and my homemade mushroom orzo pasta, but he won't be home until after 9:00, so I'll be making it after the kids go to bed.
For the record, salmon is a HUGE splurge for us. At $6.99 per pound, it's literally the most expensive thing I ever buy and I usually only buy it once a month. This time I bought a $14 fillet and I'm going to try and put half of it in the freezer for later.
The big challenge for me is that one of the big ways people save money on dinner is by stretching the meat out and adding a can of this and a can of that. I just don't cook that way. I make casseroles, for SURE, but my lasagna and shepherd's pie are from scratch and not actually all that cheap to make.
I went to Costco today, so I'm going to try and post that receipt tomorrow with the details.