Eating real food on a budget can be a true struggle for families. But, with a few tips and tricks, you can save money and feed your family amazingly healthy food.

a basket of groceries in a woman's hands

We’ve all thought it. We might have even grumbled it under our breath on our way out of the grocery store. Perhaps we have even wondered if it is really worth it. So, let’s just go ahead and say it out loud.


There. I said what everyone is thinking. Now let’s talk about ways to make eating real food a little less painful on the wallet.
We have been eating a real food diet for a long time and over the years, I have collected a few tips and tricks to make a real food budget stretch.

1. Meal plan. I know. I know. I probably sound a bit like a broken record, but hear me out if you are still resisting the idea of meal planning. Taking the time to jot down a few meal ideas for the week can REALLY help save you cash at the store. Why? Because you will know EXACTLY what to buy instead of guessing about what you feel like eating during the week. It will also reduce the chance that you will forget about that random zucchini you bought with good intentions in the back of the crisper, only to discover it uneaten (and liquefied) weeks later. Food waste makes everyone sad, but especially our wallets. Plus, having a meal plan will help you know what to make for dinner when you aren’t feeling creative or motivated in the kitchen….thus, reducing the likelihood of you grabbing takeout in a moment of frustration.

2. Eat in season. Why does this help your budget? Because when something is in season, all the farms and stores are just bursting with it…and they are motivated to move those fruits and veggies off of the shelves before they go bad, so they are inspired to have them at a deal! Not sure what is in season right now? Here is a great list!

3. Skip the real food convenience foods. I know. We love these foods and they make life a little easier. And that’s cool! Keep some if you need to, but also really look at which items you could either make yourself or live without and see how much money you save! I love Simple Mills mixes as much as the next guy, but I also know I could easily make a really good muffin, pancake or cookie with little extra effort and buying the ingredients that I can use in lots of different recipes is waaaayyyyyy more cost efficient. I still buy them sometimes, but know I am picking a more expensive route! Our rule of thumb about real food convenience foods is this: save them for special occasions or weeks where you really need the saved time. Making tacos? Skip the grain-free tortilla and enjoy them in lettuce cups or baked potatoes. Ask yourself if you really need those granola bars for Junior’s lunches or if some carrots sticks and sunflower seed butter would work just as well. Instead of buying broth at the store, we save the bones from the whole chickens we regularly cook up and turn those into broth in our Instant Pot to keep in the freezer. These little switches really do add up to saved money!

4. Buy in bulk. A lot of times when you buy a food, you aren’t just paying for the food. You are paying for the packaging. When you buy from the bulk section, less packaging is used and items are often much cheaper! Items that you can often find in bulk include nuts, seed, spices, herbs, oats, dried fruits, dried beans and rice! 

5. If you eat meat, buy with bone in! Or the whole animal! As I mentioned above, we buy and cook whole chicken almost on a weekly basis. Why? Because we get way more bang for our buck! When you are buying only chicken breasts, you are not only paying for the meat, but the work that when into processing it down to the just the breast. So, save a few bucks and buy a whole chicken or cut of meat that still has the bone in and do the cutting yourself! You’ll save some money and also have the bones on hand for homemade bone broth!

6. When possible, eat locally grown! I am a huge believer in supporting local business, but buying fruits, veggies and other goods that are locally created can also help your grocery budget to stretch. Why? Because it costs money to transport the food from the other side of the country to you…and you are the one who is going to end up paying for that added cost! Fruits and veggies locally grown also have considerably more nutritional value as they were picked closer to their peak of freshness rather then long before they were ripe in order to give them time for travel before rotting. Of course, there are some parts of the country and world where eating locally grown is simply not an option for many months of the year, which is why I say do it when you can. Even if it is just in the summer, it is money you will have saved.

7. Know what The Clean 15 are. If buying all of your produce organic is simply not in the cards, know the Clean 15 can help you decide what is most important to you to buy organic. The Environmental Working Group has created a list of dirty dozen of fruits and veggies with the highest loads of pesticide residues. Our family will always aim to buy the dirty dozen organic, but when we need to make our budget stretch, we will eat conventional produce off the clean fifteen list…produce with the lowest pesticide residue.

8. Grow your own food! Whether you have a bountiful summer garden, or a flock of chickens that provide you with eggs or simply a modest herb garden that helps you add flavor to your cooking…growing even the smallest amount of the food your family consumes can help you save money.

9. Love your leftovers. I get it, some people totally don’t like leftovers. But, as I mentioned, food waste is a bummer, so enjoy those leftovers to their fullest and save a little money. I like to use leftovers as lunches (saved time in the morning) or save them for one night a week and enjoy a night off from cooking! But, if you leftover simply bore you…here are a few ways to reinvent leftovers to keep you from feeling “blah” about them.