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The $600 Real Food Grocery Challenge is over and my pantry, fridge and freezer have been restocked.  My oldest commented that it was the first time in a month that the fridge and pantry had been full.  And he was right.  I cannot keep my fridge, pantry and my family’s tummies full with real food on $600 per month.

As stated in my first post in this series, I was attempting to feed my family as I would if our income was at poverty level for our family size and we received the maximum amount of food stamps.  That amount was actually a bit less than $600.  Now, I know that there are many of you who do make a real food diet work for your family of the same size (or larger!) on that amount (or less!).  I was unable to do it, though.  I lost weight during the month and found out that my husband was buying his own food away from home because the carefully portioned dinners, which had to double as lunches every day, and the lack of frivolous extras (like cheese, nuts, unlimited gallons of raw milk, etc) left him quite hungry.  The boys got enough to eat, but were bored with the repetition and portioned meals and snacks.
There have been a couple of stretches in our marriage where I had to scrape to buy groceries after two job losses, but since my return to the work force, we have made buying real food a priority and it stands as our largest recurring bill each month.  We pay more for food each month than for our mortgage.
I’m glad this experiment is over, but I’m left less than satisfied because I know for so many families this is an everyday reality.  There is no end in sight.  I could have ended the challenge at anytime and ultimately wound up failing the challenge!  For so many, failing the challenge can’t happen because there is no extra money. To fail is to starve. As one of my readers pointed out, as well, you can’t spend food stamps online to buy real food ingredients at a discounted price!  And, you can’t spend them at my local farmer’s market, I’m pretty sure.

So, what is the economically-challenged, but real-food-minded family to do?

When we were living in financial leanness, I wrote about some of the tips I used to keep food costs low in this post.  I definitely utilized some of those tips while doing the $600 grocery budget challenge!

The tip that helped me the most was planning.  Having each meal and snack written out and the grocery list planned was key to getting out of the store without spending more money.  I plan meals and grocery lists with my current, less restrictive budget, but I always buy things that are not on the list.  I splurge regularly on indulgences like that grass-fed cream I nearly cried over.  (You’ll have to read the posts in the series!)  Planning the menu and working in a few fun foods like my coconut flour brownies made the challenge bearable.  Getting stuck in a rut will make eating real food on a budget psychologically difficult.

Another way I lessened my real food budget was to eat less meat.  We had more vegetarian meals than ever before and I found several favorites that will continue to be a part of our monthly menu.  In addition, adding bone broth to some vegetarian meals helped to fill our stomachs and provide a huge nutrition boost.  (And, of course, it rendered them un-vegetarian, but we still avoided the cost of meat.)  It is difficult to afford grass-fed or pastured meats unless you buy them in bulk from a local farmer.  I was fortunate to have a freezer full of local, pastured chicken from a recent purchase, but otherwise, I tried to serve as little store-bought meat as possible.

Feeding your family real food on a budget requires a balanced mindset, for certain.  Perfectionism concerning food is out and doing the best you can with what you have is in.  Don’t sweat it!  For me, keeping wheat and refined sugar out of my family’s diet (at home–I don’t restrict anything away from home.) is very important.  I did manage to keep our diet free from wheat and refined sugar during the month.  I had to compromise on buying all organic produce.  I bought grass-fed, grain-finished (but otherwise humanely raised) meat a couple of times because it’s not something I feel as strongly about for a short-term experiment like the one I did.

You have your own values and ideals about food and you should work to make those happen for your family, but to eat a 100% real food diet may not be possible for a family on a budget.  The good news is that it is entirely possible to eat an 80% (or more) unprocessed diet on a strict budget.  In fact, buying less processed food will save money.  Nix the pre-packaged foods and learn to cook.  Buy single ingredients and combine them to create healthy, nutrient dense meals and snacks.

My challenge proved to me that I could spend significantly less without my children going hungry and has made me determined to shave at least a few hundred dollars off of our grocery budget each month by continuing to plan and following my own tips.

Still not convinced that you can eat real food on a budget?  I challenge you to change just one thing.  Find one food in your current diet to replace with its real food equivalent.  Don’t wait until you have enough money to eat a perfect real food diet.

Start small, start somewhere, start NOW.

 $600 Real Food Grocery Budget Challenge Final Thoughts

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