I immediately stopped buying organics and began to figure out how to use coupons to save a tremendous amount on groceries. Our once robust grocery budget was cut in half and yet, our pantry, fridge and freezer were full.
Since then, I resigned from a brief, but time-intensive, work-at-home job, further putting a crunch in our food budget. Not long after that, I began to come across information and have health issues that made me realize that all of the inexpensive, but highly processed foods we were eating (read: almost any food you can purchase with a coupon.) had to go. I knew that I needed to feed my family better foods. Whole foods. Real foods. I had no idea how to do that on the small amount of grocery money I had to spend each week.
At first I decided that I would simply get a job outside of the home and we could go back to our lovely, nearly limitless grocery budget, but no job offer ever came. In retrospect, I'm glad it didn't. My desire to feed my family the right foods was so strong, that I ignored my usual perfectionism about food and began to add one new, real food to our diet every couple of weeks and subtract one or two processed foods at the same time. Within months, our kitchen was devoid of boxes and bags of processed food and filled with amazing, fresh, real food.
It is still a work in progress. I don't always buy only organic fruits and vegetables. I still buy my chicken from a store while I wait for a local source to be ready. Buying sprouted flour is not yet a good use of our resources. I don't always have on hand the ingredients I'd like to have because I wait for sales either online or in-stores. Still, our diet is whole, healthy and delicious.
If you're like many folks, you wonder how you and your family will thrive on a real food diet with a limited budget. That's a valid concern. The good news is that there are ways to enjoy whole foods on a tight budget.
Here are several ways that I save money and feed my family real food.
1. Buy produce that is in season.Check out Field to Plate for a guide for your state. Produce is less expensive when it is in season. Stock up at a good price and freeze or ferment what you can't eat right away. Find farmer's markets in your area and you'll get even better prices for fresh, local produce than you will find at a chain grocery store. If you can't find a farmer's markets, look into joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
Learn which fruits and vegetables are truly worth buying organic and which are perfectly fine to eat non-organic. Hint: Don't buy organic bananas or avocados. Save your money to buy organic foods that really matter. Of course, studies have shown that organic fruits and vegetables tend to have a higher nutrient content, but don't beat yourself up if you can't afford all organic, all the time just yet. Work toward perfect. You don't have to be perfect to get started!
3. Make it yourself.
I advocate making your own foods anytime you can. I understand that time is often an issue, but do what you can from scratch. For instance, because I buy raw, whole, unhomogenized milk, I can make my own: whey, cream cheese, yogurt, butter, cream, sour cream and cheeses of all sorts. I make most of our grain products from scratch so that they can be properly prepared and easily digested. I make kombucha, soak and cook dried beans, and the list goes on. Don't waste money on convenience.
This is a money-saving no-brainer, right? Start a vegetable garden and an herb garden. Grow your own berries. If you can't grow your own, visit a local pick-your-own farm or join a CSA.
5. Buy from local farmers.
When we purchased a quarter cow recently, we only payed $3.50 per pound. That is an incredible price for local, grass-fed beef. That same farmer only charges $3.50 per dozen for pastured chicken eggs. I can't find truly pastured chicken eggs for less than $6.00 at the grocery store. In addition, he often has duck eggs which are larger but cost the same per dozen. This is incredibly healthy, fresh, real food for half the price (or more!) of health food store prices. Ask your farmer about his or her farming practices. You may find that your farmer has decided to forego the expensive process to become USDA certified organic, but does, indeed, farm organically.
6. Plan, plan, plan.
If you are shopping on a tight grocery budget and you aren't already making daily menu plans and shopping lists, then start NOW. Don't wait until Monday morning to decide what's for dinner on Monday evening! Plan your meals and snacks for a week, go to the store once or twice per week and see yourself save! Learn to use the leftovers from one meal to make another meal. Make double batches of chili, tacos, meatloaf or other dishes to reheat in the oven on busy evenings when you would normally pull a processed "meal" from a box, bag or can.
7. Shop online.
I buy many ingredients online and find the savings are well worth it. I joined Amazon Prime for $79 per year and it more than pays for itself with the free shipping it provides. I buy organic spices, salt, maple syrup and other sweeteners, coconut oil and kitchen equipment from Amazon and other online stores and it saves money.
Don't get discouraged. You can do this. Take it one food at a time. You'll find that you were spending more than you thought you were on processed foods and that the nutritional punch of whole, real foods means you can eat less and be full. You'll find your cravings for sugary foods will decrease and that food will become an accessory to your wonderful life instead of the main event.
Please share your best tips for eating real food on a small grocery budget!