Did you know that the average American family spends $500 on food each month to feed 2-3 people? This includes $200 for takeout and restaurant meals, and nearly $300 in grocery purchases.

It doesn't have to be this way. You don't need to spend hundreds of dollars every month to feed your family healthy, enjoyable meals. Join me here each week as I share a fun, practical approach to getting food on the table, offering tips on how to trim your grocery bill and slash your food budget.

How am I qualified to write this column? I've been a TIMES NEWS reporter for a couple of years now, so I understand the people that live in our area. I've also been a self-described "frugal foodie" for over two years.

When my husband and I married and I began cooking for two, I knew we would need to be creative in order to create meals that would appeal to our taste buds without breaking our budget. I used my background in nutrition (I minored in nutrition during college) and home-grown common sense to make the most of our food money without sacrificing quality. Sticking to a tight budget wasn't fun at first, but it's gotten easier over time. We've been gradually reducing the amount of money that we spend on food, even as our income has grown.

Today, our family spends about $200 a month on food. This includes meals, snacks, and takeout food. We could choose to spend $500 a month on food, like the average family but we don't. Instead, we use the money that we've saved to work toward other goals.

Whether you are struggling to make ends meet or simply want to trim the waste from your food budget, look to this column each week to find advice on food shopping, cooking, and healthy meals. I'm looking forward to sharing my ideas, and I hope to hear from you as well!

For this first column, here is a homework assignment. Do you know how much money you spend on food? This week, write down the amount you spend on food purchases.

Whether you order pizza, go for a regular grocery trip, or stop by the gas station for a gallon of milk, write it down. Don't cheat by buying less food this week try to get an accurate measurement of what you're really spending.

In the meantime, here is an idea to help you save money at the grocery store.

Plan ahead

Never go grocery shopping without a list. It's easy to walk aimlessly through the store, tossing items into your cart without checking for the best prices. You'll likely end up with a lot of impulse purchases and you might even forget to pick up items that you'll need for this week's meals.

I keep our family's shopping list on the fridge. When we're running low on an item, I jot it down. I also have a rough idea of what I plan to prepare during the week. This allows me to check my freezer and pantry for ingredients, and add items that I'll need to my shopping list.

Family members should also have a say in what foods are prepared each week. Ask for menu suggestions as you prepare your shopping list.

Because nearly half of the average grocery budget comes from eating out, planning ahead also means that you'll be prepared to cook healthy meals at home instead of going out.

We'll talk more about "fast food" alternatives in upcoming weeks, because many meals can be prepared in less time than you realize. We have several family favorites in our home, including beef stir-fry and homemade tacos, which can be prepared in about 20 minutes or less.