There are several ways we've started to incorporate thriftiness, compassion, resourcefulness, responsibility, health and moderation into our diet. We didn't change all of this at once. Sudden, total change of one's diet is why most people can't stick to a diet. It takes time to change your eating habits in real and lasting ways, so you have to take it one step at a time.
Cooking at Home
The first step we took was to stop eating out so much. Believe me that I know there are times you just have to. I'll even admit (albeit sheepishly) that I occasionally go through the drive through with the kids because eating crap is slightly better than eating nothing. We set ourselves a strict budget for eating out and we stick to it. By strict budget, I mean about $200/month for 5 people. That means we eat out no more than about once a week. Some weeks we never eat out, others we go out a couple times, but the net result is the same. Just this one first step saved us a ton of money, gave us more control over what was going into our bodies and caused us both (at the time it was just my husband and I and one child too small to be overweight yet) to lose weight/tone up.
Yes. Cooking at home is a pain, especially if there isn't a stay at home parent in the house. But there are even ways around that. If you don't have a crock pot, BUY ONE. It's worth every penny. You can prepare and freeze meals on the weekend that just have to be thrown in the oven when you get home. You can simplify- there is no need for dinner to be an elaborate thing. And as you get the hang of the shift from eating out 50% or more of the time, you'll develop a list of staples that your family can always have on hand as a go to quick meal. I truly believe that cooking at home is worth the hassle. Besides, by the time you drive to a restaurant, wait for a table, order the food, get the food, you may as well cook at home for the time it took you.
Grocery Shop with a List and Plan Your Meals
I know you have all heard this one before, so I won't say a ton about it. This really does make a difference though. We eat far fewer oreos these days than we did in my non-list shopping days. This not only helps curb the impulse buy reflex, but it stops those "oh we haven't had this in a while" buys that don't fit into the meal plan and wind up spoiling.
I'm not a strict menu planner, but I think ahead before I shop and know what days I will be out all day and need to do something in the crock pot, what days I can do a chicken or something that takes oven time, etc. And I have a running list on my phone of our family's staples that I can check and uncheck each week so I don't miss anything and have to make little grocery shoppings in between the main ones (those little "I just need to grab butter" trips always wind up costing more than they need to and add up fast.)
We used to shop Sam's Club and have friends/family who love Costco, but that's not actually what I'm talking about here. I don't need an appliance box sized carton of toilet paper. I have enough junk in my house, I don't need to stock up bathroom supplies to last the zombie apocalypse or the terrible 1" of snow that's predicted. We don't eat processed foods much and that leaves us with not alot to make it worth a trip to the warehouse store. We just wind up spending money on crap we don't need when we go there.
What I am talking about is more traditional bulk buying. You know, like how the pioneers used to go buy 25 or 50 lb bags of dried goods at a time and store them for winter? Yeah. That kind of bulk. Some friends and neighbors have started a bulk buying cooperative where we put in an order together to a local supplier and they deliver it to the neighborhood. We have massive stores of dried beans, popcorn, salt, oatmeal, rice, etc and it cost us pennies compared to buying it a little at a time in the grocery store. They are all things that store well in airtight containers. Because there are several families involved, we can split larger bags of items as well (in case you don't think you really need 25lb of couscous).
Besides the financial savings, having these foods on hand encourages us to be more creative and to eat foods that are much healthier. Instead of setting out chips at a party, we set out bowls of freshly popped popcorn. We can make our own hummus, we eat couscous and rice more often than bread, etc. These items we buy are generally organic and they are (obviously) not processed. We're eating far more "real" food, we're eating more fun and creative meals, and we're saving a ton doing it.
The only drawback to this is that you have to have storage space. We store on our landing to the basement and in our basement, but not everyone has a good place to keep 10 giant buckets of beans.
We Buy Local
This is actually easier, I think, if you live either in a farming area or in the city. Another strike against living in (shudder) the suburbs. Our two favorite haunts for local, non-chain store food are the local farmer's market and Breadworks. We used to do a CSA, but because of my allergy restrictions, we had to cancel and go back to the market where we can pick an choose just those things that I can eat without dying. The farmer's market prices are on par with or lower than the grocery store and the produce is local, often organic, and far fresher.
No, there isn't a local farmer's market in the winter. So each week in the summer, I buy a whole lot of a particular in season item and either freeze or can it for the winter.
Breadworks bakes all natural breads. They mostly are a restaurant supplier, but they have a little store by their factory. Anyone can go in and buy a few loaves. Their prices are very reasonable. I used to do a combination of baking our own bread and going there until someone told me about half price time there. Half price? Yeah. At the end of the day when they are moving everything out to make room for tomorrow, everything goes half price. This is not day old bread we are talking about here. This is from that day. It's cheaper than baking your own bread. Seriously. Cheaper. They also provide much support in the form of bread to local shelters and food pantries and are active in hiring relocated refugees to help them get a start in their new country. They are really, really, really worth patronizing!
We Bought a Cow
Seriously. Well, half a cow anyway. We went whole hog, though. We found an Amish farm and bought an extra freezer and filled it with grass fed, organic meat that had been raised and treated kindly by someone we met. What was the price tag on that? Well, the tag was huge as a lump sum, but overall, we paid about $2.50/lb for everything from ground meat to the best cuts of steak. We even butchered it ourselves to save a few more bucks. That said, we won't do that bit ourselves again. That was gross. And hard. And time consuming. Did I mention gross?
Are all of these things more work than the grocery store? A little. And I do still have to go to the store for things like milk and eggs (we're thinking about getting chickens, though.) But they are only a little more work and they pay off massively in the long run.