Every hiker has his/her favorite foods. The things we crave while on the trail, the things we splurge on once we hit town. I used to love a quart of full fat chocolate milk. A good Veggie Supreme Pizza. Lots of guys wanted a couple Burgers and Fries.
Once you fulfill those cravings, its time to head to the super market.
Hopefully, there are rows of shelves with affordable stuff. Not always.
Here is a list of basic foods, usually found even in convenience stores. If you can avoid hitchhiking a long ways into town, not only will you save money, but time and frustration. Unless I hitched alone, getting a ride can take awhile especially in the recession climate where more fear leads to more distrust. I hate hitchhiking. There, I said it.
Oatmeal can be sweetened with brown sugar or eaten raw. A great all around food for any meal or snack, full of fiber and protein. I buy the cylinder, not the preflavored prepackaged sweet stuff. Much better value for the money, and you can have it unsweetened if you get sick of too much sugar. Buy a one pound box of brown sugar, split it with a buddy, or eat on saltine crackers too.
Ramen Noodles get a lot of bad press. Lots of calories, can be solar cooked, used to fill out a skimpy Lipton Meal, or eaten raw like pretzels. We usually planned two per meal, saving the seasoning packages for broths which can be enhanced with pretzels, or odds and ends from the cracker sack. All you need is very hot water to cook them, very little fuel. A good thrifty buy. Use a gallon zip lock bag to repackage them and eliminate trail garbage.
Cheap On the Fly Gorp can be any combination of pretzels, Frito's, chocolate chips, raisins, m&ms, Captain Crunch, Gold Fish crackers, candy corn, hiker box finds. Put it all in a gallon zip lock bag. Love this for lunches, p.m snacks, dessert. I always have a quart bag that has the days allotment so I don't eat too much and short myself for the rest of the week.
Breads and Fixings can be anything from loaf bread, tortillas, bagels, buns, rolls and muffins paired with peanut butter, honey, cheese, cream cheese, hard sausages, jelly, frosting. Find stuff that's not in glass jars, though, and be careful heading into heavy bear country. Beef sticks are particularly odorous, even the wrappers causing trouble. I decided they were not worth the hassle after several sleepless nights. These combinations can form the basis of any meal. No fuel needed unless you want to make some instant soup with a good sandwich for supper.
Instant Potatoes, Rice, or Stuffing Mixes sometimes available, can add variety. Try to pick up those already seasoned. Instant potatoes can be served as a soup, just thin it down. Rice can be paired with tortillas. Stuffing Bread crumbs are good in soups, as a main dish, eaten by the handful. None of these items take much fuel.
Cornmeal and Instant Grits are great with beef jerky.
Poptarts, Candy Bars, Grandma Cookies, or any cookies are obvious choices. Sometimes bagged candy will be cheaper per ounce. Always buy the frosted pop tarts, especially if you are stuck with generic. I love telling the resupply of my friends the Honeymooners, on the Pacific Crest Trail. For the last 89 miles to Canada, they bought 52 candy bars and one package of Ramen.
As you can see, having a supply of gallon zip lock bags for repackaging and flexibility in food selections will go a long ways in staying on budget. If people are gifting you with stuff, always sort and put it in your food stuff sack before shopping. You may not need much to supplement it.
In really small stores, I walk through first to get an impression of availability before buying. There may be boxed cereal on sale, or chips. Don't forget the beverages. Bulk instant coffee or tea, not individual dunkers will save you a ton of money.