For really tough times, extreme measures might be needed to feed your family. As a case study in frugality, I researched a cheap 'ladder-type' meal plan based off of food staples used in a variety of ways. Each week the menu choices steadily grow.
The parameters are using $50 for four people (two adults and two school-age children) - obviously a very tight budget!
In Week One of the extremely tight food budget I proposed, a family of four will have to accept a pretty bland diet. Keeping in mind that this blandness only lasts one week, and gets instantly better as each week builds up their larder, this is completely doable. You will need a decent cookbook if you do not know how to cook with basic food ingredients.
From the foods listed in week one, here are some possible meals you can create from the staple foods listed -
Oatmeal with apples and cinnamon
Hashbrowns with onions
Pancakes (with sugar and cinnamon)
Flatbread or biscuits
Beans and rice
Baked potatoes or French fries
Soup (rice, potato, veggie, or bean)
Peanut Butter on apples, celery and carrots
Beans and rice (many dish possibilities)
Rice stirfry (with carrots, onions, cabbage, celery and a peanut sauce)
Mashed potatoes, other potato meals
Cookies (peanut butter, cinnamon, oatmeal or apple-based)
To fall within the $50 budget this first week has no meat, and relies on rice/beans and peanut butter for protein. Apples are the only fruits and there are only a handful of vegetables supplementing the diet at this point.
I'm not much of a cook, so I would rely on a cookbook to tell me the hundreds of ways to use flour, sugar, oatmeal, baking powder and salt to make flatbreads, biscuits, cookies and crackers. I know that potatoes, cabbage, rice and beans can be used in endless ways with a little bit of planning. This may not be the world's most exciting menu, but for one week, it should suffice. Each week gets a bit more exciting!