Ten Tips for Eating Real Food on a Budget

Photo by WBUR
Photo by WBUR

Since our Food Revolution began, the grocery budget and I have been at odds. If I had unlimited funding, eating real, whole foods would be cake (made with raw honey, of course). But, as such is not the case, it has been a struggle to balance eating well and the checkbook.

While I’ve made some concessions, I do try to stick to buying what I consider to be the “good stuff.” So, the pendulum has swung between a paltry pantry and overspending.

I’m told I’m not alone in this struggle.

Other husbands also seem to be asking where the good snacks are, only to receive their 10th handful of almonds and carrot sticks for the week.

Toddlers are learning rationing as they’re told no, they may not have any more yogurt. Mommy isn’t scheduled to make another grocery trip for 5 days.

Pouring perfectly good leftovers down the disposal is now tantamount to the excessive waste of 18th century French Royalty.

Is there any hope for the budget-bound consumer of real food?

(While I’m tempted to use a Lord of the Rings quote about hope here, I’ll restrain myself).

Gandalf aside, yes, I do believe there’s hope.

In the midst of the challenge to eat well and not spend a bloody fortune, I’ve found a few helpful strategies.

My 10 Best Tips for Eating Real Food on a Budget

1.) Meal Plan. For me, there’s just no way around it. I’ve been doing it pretty solidly for the last 9 years and I’ve found that meal planning is simply the most basic way to avoid overspending. Pick your meals, make your list of necessary ingredients, and stick to your list. How far in advance you should plan is probably personal preference. Two weeks works best for me.

2.) Limit your trips to the store. If you’re not there, you physically can’t buy what you don’t need. Simple. I try to just make 2 bigger trips to the local grocery store a month. However, I always seem to underestimate how many bananas and avocados the babies eat, so the Hubs often ends up making a couple of small grocery runs as well.

3.) Join a food co-op. God bless Azure Standard. When my nutritionist neighbor found it, she said it felt like Christmas. I was still pre-revolution, so I thought, “how lame is that?” Now, I know what she means.

Organic apples for less than the cost of conventional ones at my local grocery store. Bulk grains and beans for crazy cheap. The best deal on raw honey I’ve found (until I discovered the Amish, see #4). Azure is based in Oregon but has drop-points all over the country.

If there’s not one near you, you can actually start one. Other co-ops I’m a fan of are Frontier and, if you’re in the midwest, Country Life Natural Foods. Costco is also a fav, as they are increasingly carrying some of our pantry staples.

4.) Find a local farm…or neighbor with some chickens. We get all of our eggs and meat from a (somewhat) local Amish farm.  I’d love to buy a whole cow at some point, because it can* be super cost effective.

*It can also be the cost of a (old) car, if you’re buying from the farmer I met at the farmer’s market last year. Buyer beware.

Photo by Wally Hartshorn
Photo by Wally Hartshorn

5.) Buy produce in bulk when it’s cheap (and in season) and dehydrate or freeze it. I’m going to take my own advice this summer and stock up on blueberries when they’re on sale.

6.) Plant a garden. I struggle to keep small house plants (and animals) alive. But, this spring, I’m going to give gardening a go anyway. The farmer’s market is a great alternative and I’ve heard you can get stuff cheaper when it’s near closing time.

7.) Learn from others–especially friends in your neck of the woods. They’ll often know of local deals, the best price in town for butter from pastured cows, or be willing to split bulk items with you. They can also share their own best practices.

8.) MYO. Make your own kefir, yogurt, fun snacks, bread…the list goes on.

9.) Give yourself a break and prioritize. Maybe you (like me) can’t afford to buy all organic produce, so decide what’s most important. I would love to buy raw nuts but cannot make the crazy prices work in our budget. 3lb bag of regular ones at Costco it is.

10.) Be realistic. Maybe, even after all of your strategizing, your current budget isn’t going to cut it. I had to come to terms with this after realizing our baby boy eats almost as much as our toddler and she eats more at breakfast than my husband.

I’m not saying that’s carte blanche to go into the red, but maybe there are other areas in your budget that can take a back seat for a bit. Eating out might be a logical place to start.

If food is truly “thy medicine,” then perhaps making it a financial priority is worthwhile in the long run. And while we’re quoting dead guys, good ‘ol Ben Franklin did say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

Alright, Ben. I’m bringing that one out at the next budget meeting.

BONUS #11.) One of my favorite resources for grocery budgeting has been Real Food on a Real Budget by Stephanie from Keeper of the Home. It contains super practical tips for everyone, regardless of what your budget is or what particular brand of nutritional thought you follow. Her site in general is a great source of help to me in this area.


What’s your best real-food-budgeting tip?

About Jenn

Jenn is a mommy of three and wife to her best friend. She enjoys good books, dinner guests, elevenses, and proper apostrophe use.

  • Catherine

    Enjoyed this post! I wouldn’t say we are anywhere near on our way to ‘real’ food, but I definitely think about it more than I used to. That’s the first step I suppose. 🙂 I was just recently looking for alternatives to plain old regular pancake syrup and stumbled upon a recipe for blueberry syrup. So, blueberry picking has been added to our summer ‘to dos’. Fun for the kids too!

    • Jenn

      Blueberry syrup sounds amazing! I’ve also found 100% pure maple at Costco for a good price.

  • Alex Sudan

    pardon my ignorance, but what is kefir??

    • Jenn

      Milk (or water) + kefir grains + time = fermented milk (or water) Yummy, right? 😉

  • Thanks for linking my post at KOTH! 🙂 Your tips are great. I wish we had Azure here. 🙁 It’s a big blessing to those who can get it!

    • No problem! I love KOTH and always find your posts super helpful!

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