How to Save Money on Real Food (Without Going Hungry) |

How to Save Money on Real Food (Without Going Hungry)

admin June 11, 2012

My family eats a lot. We have five of us, all who eat now.  And the baby can sometimes out-eat both of the older kids!  (In addition to nursing several times a day.)  So, having a lot of food on hand is a necessity. But how do you do that and save money on real food?

Over the last year, prices have crept up, and we’ve added that fifth eater, and the kids have gotten bigger.  I stopped using my cash system for awhile, and I stopped meal planning.  I found myself spending $500 – $600 per month on groceries, and I wasn’t even buying anything exorbitant (no $15/lb. seafood here!).  I had nothing saved up to buy food to preserve this summer and we were rapidly running out of what I had preserved last year.  Our yard isn’t much good for a garden, so I’m not spending the time and effort this year.  Everything I preserve has to be purchased from local farmers.  With what money?

I had to make some changes.

How to Fix This

A year ago, I would go to the ATM every two weeks and take out $220.  I would immediately set aside $100 to save up for later (any bulk buying, large meat purchases, and preserving) and use $120 to buy groceries for the next two weeks.  A few things make this system a bit more difficult now:

  • Higher prices.  My bottom price on lettuce last year when it was in season was $1.09/lb.; this year it is $1.49/lb.  There are lots of little things like that.  Ground beef is up to $4/lb. from $3.50.
  • Another kid.  Yeah, and my kids eat.  A lot.
  • No meat reserves.  Last year I had most of a whole cow in my freezer, so I only had to buy a little chicken or fish to get us through.  I don’t have that now.  I’m buying all my meat retail until I can save up enough to do another large purchase.
  • Grain-free.  We’re not anymore, but for a long time we were.  I still have to have grain-free options because the baby can’t eat grains, so serving pasta as a main dish is not an option.

Still, the basic system is good.  Take out cash, set some aside, spend the rest.  I settled on $260 — set aside $100, and spend $160.  It’s a bit more, but spending $320 – $350 a month is reasonable, I think.  Certainly much more so than $500+!

That was the first part of my plan.  Use cash, and set aside what I want to save.  I know if I have the money in the ATM and use the card, that I will spend it.  I will intend to set it aside, but I’ll check and say, “Oh, I ran out of cheese…and there’s $10 in there….”  With cash, when it’s gone — it’s gone.

Meal Planning

I finally, really, truly made a meal plan.  You can see my current plan here.  We will not be hungry with this plan — haven’t been so far!  In addition to what is on this plan, I will also have:

  • Kombucha (about 3 bottles/day for the family)
  • Yogurt popsicles (for snacks/breakfast)
  • Chocolate macaroons (to use up extra egg whites, for snacks)
  • Almond flour cake (for snacks)
  • Celery/carrot sticks
  • Sprouted “granola” bars (made from amaranth and millet I had on hand)

My goal was to get creative with what I had.  I often have egg whites left since I make ice cream 2 – 3 times per week with just yolks.  Rather than throwing them out, I use them to make macaroons or cheeseballs or another snack for the kids.

Making a plan allows you to know exactly what you really need.  And it also allows you to look ahead to see if you need to thaw, marinate, sprout, or soak something.  If you don’t do those things ahead of time, you will probably rely on more expensive convenience items.  We tended to use more meat to make something quick, and it wasn’t junk, but it wasn’t a good use of our resources, either.  With a plan, I’ll incorporate sprouted beans and sprouted brown rice and other cheap, heartier foods that take a bit of time to prepare.

I’ll post some more specifics about how I stretch the food in two weeks.  But now to the nitty-gritty…

What Did I Buy?

You’ve seen the plan, you know the snacks.  So what exactly did I buy with my $160?

  • 1 lb. strawberries — $1.50 (these were not organic and it is a rare treat)
  • 1 red onion — $0.50
  • 1 spaghetti squash — $2
  • 3 lbs. peas — $3
  • 2 lbs. broccoli — $2
  • 13 bananas — $3
  • 2 lbs. grapes — $2 (these also were not organic and a rare treat)
  • 1 small bottle hot sauce — $1
  • 10 lbs. organic potatoes — $10
  • 1/2 lb. mild raw cheddar — $3
  • 1 lb. sharp raw cheddar — $7
  • 1 lb. raw Romano — $7
  • 4 doz. eggs — $6
  • 1 lb. brown rice penne — $2
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms — $2
  • 2 lbs. organic carrots — $2
  • 4 lbs. organic brown basmati rice — $6
  • 1 lb. uncured bacon — $3
  • 1/2 gal. grass-fed cream — $10
  • 2 1/2 lbs. organic lettuce — $4
  • 1 1/2 lbs. organic celery — $3
  • 2 heads organic garlic — $1
  • 1 gal. raw milk — $5
  • 1 3-lb. top round roast — $10
  • 6 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast — $20
  • 4 lbs. boneless pork chops — $10
  • 3 lbs. sausage — $10
  • 5 lbs. beef bones — $10
  • 1 whole chicken — $6

I also had on hand some oats, beans, wheat berries, honey, sucanat, and ground beef.  I am almost out of most of these things though.

I used the grass-fed cream to turn into butter (6 cups) and used the rest for mashed potatoes and whipped cream to go with our fruit for dessert.

The bacon was so cheap because I bought an “ends and pieces” package.  It’s funny shaped pieces and sometimes thick, unusable fat (not too often), but it works just fine for most things.

The rice and the beans from my pantry are going to be sprouted before I use them to increase nutrition.

Produce that wasn’t marked as organic, wasn’t.  The majority of it is on the “clean 15” list, except the two noted items.  I probably buy non-organic dirty dozen produce once every few months.  Normally I would choose organic apples or pineapples instead but these were on sale and the kids like it.

I have a herd share and pay $20 a month for milk, and get 1 gallon per week.  I use this to cook with, make ice cream, and make yogurt.

All the meat listed at the end comes from Mosley’s Meat Market, a local, family-owned butcher shop.  They have a nice deal where if you buy a “meat box” (min. $50) you can choose 5 “choices” from their list.  Except for a few steaks, the max. that you pay per lb. is $3.33.  Sometimes quite a bit less!  One choice they offer is 8 lbs. of chicken leg quarters (for $10!).  I buy a box every two weeks, plus a couple other items (usually a chicken and some bones, like this time).  All of their meat is locally and humanely raised, and the beef is grass-fed.  Occasionally they have their ground sirloin (normally $4.79/lb.) for $2.69/lb. if you buy 10 lbs. or more.  I take advantage of this.  We did this last week and bought 30 lbs., which is why I had ground beef in the freezer.  They are in SW Columbus, in Hilliard, about 30 min. from me.  If you are anywhere near them, I encourage you to check it out.

I had the butcher slice the roast thinly (can I just say how awesome it was not to have to do that myself?) and I used half of it to make Philly Cheesesteak pockets (you’ll see that recipe soon), and half of it will be for a dinner next week.  I will use the beef bones to make a couple large batches of stock — I only need to do this once a month or less, because I get 8 – 12 quarts out of it.  I will also use the bones from the whole chicken to make a pot of chicken stock.  This will be used for gravy, sauces, and soups, which helps to stretch the meat.  I always put stock in my chili to increase the nutrition.

It did take me awhile to sprout, soak, and otherwise prepare all of this food.  I did have every single one of my mixing bowls (at least 8) with “stuff” in them all at once.  But I got it done over the weekend (for the most part).

In the future I’ll tell you more about how I stretch all of these items in my kitchen!

How do you keep the grocery budget down and save money on real food?

This is the writings of:



  1. Question about your eggs. Do you do organic as well? It is not noted… but I pay $4 / doz for local organic eggs where I live. We eat at least 2 doz/ week. I have a family of 6 and all of us eat, about 3 meals a day… Just wondering on that piece. Looking forward to your info on the sprouting. Do you buy your beans in bulk too? I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for the help!


    • No, these were just “cage free.” I sometimes buy pastured eggs for $3/doz. but that gets expensive…and they are hard for me to access at this time. Can’t wait till we can get our own chickens! I buy beans in “bulk” from local health food stores (from their bulk bins) but not in large quantities. I usually buy 1 – 2 lbs. at a time.


  2. I am sooooo jealous. Your prices are amazing where you live. Raw milk is $10 a gallon here (because it’s illegal and you have to join a co-op that brings it in from another state). I’ve never found grass fed beef for that cheap. I buy mine directly from the farm and I still pay $6 a pound for ground beef (and that’s the bulk price for buying 20 pounds or more at a time)! A pastured whole chicken is at least $15 and I pay $8/pound for bacon. And I pay $4/dozen for pastured eggs from a local farm.

    On the upside I have become quite adept at stretching our food. But we don’t eat near as much meat and eggs as I would like. And I don’t do raw dairy because we simply can’t afford it. We are actually considering buying a dairy goat for this reason.


  3. We try to grow as much as possible to keep our budget down; growing the farm as the kids grew. Now, with older teens in the home…keeping it healthy has become even more of a challenge:)


  4. Holy cow- I can’t believe how cheap the food is where you are. We have a family of two and we spend at least $800/mo but usually more…I haven’t broken it down to see how much of that goes in the freezer for later use, but it’s still a pretty consistent amount. I do buy some extras (cheeses, wine, seafood, specialty spices, bottled GTs kombucha for variety) that add up, but not THAT much more. We also don’t do a lot of grains, but I will sometimes have a bit of rice. However, good meat is pricey and it adds up fast. Our gf gb is about $7.50/lb. Our raw milk is $8 per half gallon. Eggs are $5-6/dozen (we’re working on getting our own chickens). Cheese is $11/lb. We used to be able to get butter for $2.79 each but now it’s $3.49 and we go through a lot of butter. And we only buy all organic produce whenever we can find it, so I know that adds up. At least after our move we’ve found pastured chicken for about $15 each, which is half what we used to pay.


  5. Is there supposed to be a link where you put “You can see my current meal plan here” ? I would love to see how you meal plan on such a low budget, I just can’t find the link! I may just be looking in the wrong place…


  6. I am working on getting our budget down too. I am working on perfecting my bulk shopping and I am hoping that my garden will help out too! The other thing that I am doing is just trying to make myself go one more day before I go to the store. It is amazing how we are doing. I asked my husband if he had ever thought we could eat so much off of so little. He is impressed, but I think that he misses the feeling of abundance of a full fridge.


  7. You have some great prices! I’m wondering how you make ice-cream 2-3 times a week and yogurt and cook with only 1 gallon of milk. We have our own goats and just this year I am able to make ice-cream, yogurt , and cheese because we have two milking (in the past we only had one). I do have twice as many people to feed, but we get a gallon a day so that is 7 per week.

    I truly wish we had prices like yours here. I’m lucky if I can find ground beef that is hormone/antibiotic free for $4/lb and grass-fed is even more. I’m starting to stress about our food budget because I just discovered we have to go gluten free for three of our girls (so the whole family is) and we lost $100 a month in our food budget. That with the fact that prices are up, we have used up almost all of our preserved food, and we have had issues with someone destroying our garden (footprints so we know that it isn’t animals!) isn’t helping the situation.


  8. Wow, the prices are unreal at your store. I meal plan meticulously and try to buy all organic/local and grass-fed free range meat (split between Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and farmer’s market), and we spend around $800 a month for THREE to eat. We usually eat vegetarian during the week and splurge on meat during the weekend too. Food is so expensive!


  9. I agree with the comments above – some of the prices you get are amazing! I can barely get raw cheese around here, and when I can it’s $8 a pound or more! The nearest place to get raw milk is an hour from me, and I can’t get raw cream at all. (I’ve tried.)

    Thanks for sharing your system, though. It’s good to see how other people are making things work!


  10. You are so blessed to have a butcher close by who sells healthy meat for such a good price, and also blessed that raw milk is legal where you are. I would love to have that option! Thanks for the peek into your real-food shopping trip!


  11. For my veggies, I volunteer at a local organic farm 4 hours a week. That gives me my veggie share for free. I only purchased the fruit share from them, as they contract with other fruit producers to provide that until their orchards and vines are up and running. For our meat, I purchased a meat CSA. It gives me 20 pounds of meat and 2 dozen free-range eggs for $90. A lot of it is larger roasts or whole chickens, which I can cook up and then pull/chop the meat to stretch it in other meals. I don’t do milk, but buy cheese, yogurt, and butter. If you have a store called Woodman’s in your area, check it out. Tons of selection, including organic options, and great prices. Also great for produce. I make my own stocks and nut butters. I’ve just started buying my coconut oil in larger quantities from Tropical Traditions, when they have a sale. And I create my meals using the “lets see what I have in the fridge/freezer/pantry” method. Same basic recipe – stir-fried veggies and meat, but always a different taste. I do that at least twice a week. Other days it’s a chopped veggie salad, again using only what I have in the house. That saves me from making an additional trip to the store, which always ends up with buying more items than I went in for.


  12. Oh, and I purchase my CSAs in full with my tax return money. Then all I pay during the rest of the year is for anything extra I might want. I also get a discount on the CSA price by paying in full in one payment.


  13. Thank you so much to the link to Mosley’s Meat Market. I live near Hilliard and had no idea there was a butcher anywhere in town let alone one that sells healthy meat, and at such reasonable prices.

    Although I live in the same town as you, I seem to be shopping in the wrong places because I pay way, way more for food than you do. I grow lettuce because I think the $4.99/lb price for organic in the store is ridiculous. The raw cheese in my fridge cost $17.99/lb. Pastured eggs at the store just went up another $1 to $6.49/dozen this week. Farmers market prices for produce are far more expensive than either Whole Foods or Kroger. I can get pastured eggs for $3 at the farmers market, if they have them. I do pay only $5 a gallon for raw milk, but that is in addition to the initial cost of the herdshare and the cost of gas for the hour-long drive to pick it up. Where else do you shop? I’m doing something wrong because I’ve never seen prices like this. But I am excited to know about that meat market. Thank you.


    • Hi, try Trader Joe’s. 🙂 There is one in Dublin and one in Easton — that is a great place to get cheese cheaper. I never go in Kroger and I only go in Giant Eagle if I need Snowville Cream and am not going to Whole Foods…almost never. I hit Walmart for the items that I don’t need to be organic (like most of my frozen veggies). I buy eggs from a farm if I can, or from Trader Joe’s if I can’t. I also buy some produce at Raisin Rack in Westerville — they have cheap organic lettuce ($1.49/lb.) and celery and sometimes apples. I also go to The Cheese House in Plain City a few times a year to stock up on spices and grains. There is also the Clintonville Community Market downtown, but I only buy bulk beans and herbs there — packaged items are way expensive. I do hit an average of 4 stores every two weeks. Sometimes I go to Costco and buy raw, imported cheeses there, as well as dried fruits and sometimes maple syrup or honey.


  14. We save lots of money on meats, etc. by finding our organic/pastured animals, eggs, and milk through Craigslist. You can read about how we bought a whole pig by clicking on the included link.


  15. I so wish I could buy in bulk. I’m sure I could get our budget to half the amount I have to spend if I could shop at Sam’s Club or order online. You can’t buy online with food stamps, and we can’t afford the membership price or the drive to shop at bulk stores. However, being a member of Natural Grocer’s rewards program allows me to be able to buy good eggs for nearly the same prices as the crap eggs at the regular grocery store!


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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