Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget During A Busy Season |

Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget During A Busy Season

admin December 14, 2012

We are in the middle of a super busy December.

I know, everyone is.  It’s the holidays and that means a lot of shopping (which I’ve barely done), planning, preparation, parties, events….  That’s why I thought that sharing our circumstances (which go above and beyond just the holiday craziness) might help others also.

What we’re dealing with:

  • Husband is on GAPS again (no grains, sugar, starches, plus he’s starving all the time)
  • Kids and I are pretty much sugar-free; at least very low-sugar (no desserts, but some “sugar” in tea, waffles, grain-free baked goods using honey, etc.)
  • Husband is off work 4 days/week for the next two weeks, then off till the end of the year (so more meals to cook at home)
  • I’m working lots of extra hours, so husband has to cook many of the meals (not something he enjoys or is especially skilled at)

That means that food has to be diet-friendly, easy, and quick.  Ben can make basics like taco meat, quesadillas, scrambled eggs, baked chicken, pots of soup, spaghetti, etc.  Anything that requires more than a couple of steps or knowing “how to season it” or anything not obvious or intuitive, he’s not going to make.

But despite all that, we are not going to rely on convenience foods and we are not going to blow our budget.  We have a plan for grocery shopping on a budget, even during a busy season.

The Plan

I did the shopping on my usual Friday (last week) and bought quite a lot of food.  I decided that I would make some concessions to make our lives easier, but that I was still going to draw the line.  Here is what I decided my boundaries were:

  • Mostly “real food” (I bought a lot of single-ingredient foods, like fruit, veggies, meats)
  • No corn in any form
  • No soy in any form
  • No GMOs

Those were my boundaries.  I did not specify that everything needed to be organic; it wasn’t.  I did not decide that I’d refuse anything that contained the tiniest amount of sugar or a less-preferred oil (like sunflower oil); I didn’t.  I was willing to make some sacrifices, as long as they fit into my boundaries.

I did find myself struggling with cheese.  I almost bought regular store cheese, that was 100% actual cheese and not “processed cheese product” and I do think that this is fine for many families.  I couldn’t do it, though.  My kids eat it for a snack too often and it figures into our meals too often for me to feel okay about compromising on it.  All the animal products I bought were “good quality,” meaning local, grass-fed, raw, or at least hormone- and antibiotic-free.  (Except the butter…I did compromise there, this time, which I normally don’t.)

With that plan in mind, and a loose shopping list, I headed out.

Walmart Supercentre - Vegetable Aisle

 Image by markyeg via Compfight

The Shopping Trip

I hit four different stores on Friday, but the food actually comes from 7 different places around town (I know, I know).  My eggs come from a local farm and a couple friends and I take turns picking them up and dropping them at each other’s houses.  It wasn’t my turn this week so that was super easy.  I’m also in a farm share group for milk, and there are 5 families that take turns picking up each week.  It wasn’t my turn for that either this week, so that was easy.  Finally, I placed an order at a local butcher (which I’ll explain below) and my husband will pick it up after work on Monday since it’s close to his office.  Fairly easy.


Yes, I went to Aldi.  I go about 2 – 3 times a year to see if there is anything good.  This seemed like a good time to go.  Here’s what I bought:

  • 4 lbs. peas ($4)
  • 4 lbs. cut broccoli ($3)
  • 2 6-oz. containers blackberries ($2)
  • 3-lb. bag of tangerines ($2)
  • 4-lb. bag of navel oranges ($2)
  • 32-oz. bottle Lifeway kefir ($3)
  • 2 3-lb. bags of yellow onions ($3)
  • 2 1-lb. bags of wild-caught salmon ($9)
  • 3 lbs. butter ($6)
  • 17-oz. bottle olive oil ($3)
  • 1 64-oz. bottle grape juice ($3)
  • 2 bags of veggie chips ($3)
  • 2 bags of pretzel crisps ($3)

None of these things were organic.  Only the blackberries are somewhat high on the dirty dozen list and those were a treat (and I didn’t buy that many).  All the rest were very low on the dirty dozen list.  I have started to buy a lot of fruit, especially really cheap fruit that is low on the dirty dozen list and also comes with thick skins (oranges, pineapples, melons, bananas) because they are really good for snacks and the kids enjoy them.  The juice is for kombucha flavor, not drinking.  I spent around $48 here.

Trader Joe’s

This is the bulk of my shopping and many items were organic.  I’ll show which ones were organic with an asterisk.

  • 1 lb. grass-fed cheddar ($6)
  • 1 lb. raw cheddar ($6)
  • 1/2 lb. grass-fed Swiss ($3)
  • 1/2 lb. raw Romano ($4)
  • 1 1/2 lbs. Monterey Jack ($8)
  • 1 lb. mozzarella ($5)
  • 14 bananas ($3)
  • 1-lb. uncured bacon ($3)
  • 10 lbs. potatoes* ($8)
  • 1 32-oz. container plain yogurt ($3)
  • 2 lbs. brown rice spaghetti ($4)
  • 12-oz. frozen strawberries* ($3)
  • 10-oz. package cremini mushrooms ($2)
  • 4 lbs. apples, fuji and gala* ($5)

Most of the produce here was organic, except things low on the dirty dozen list (mushrooms).  I also bought higher-quality cheese and animal products.  I spent around $65.

Raisin Rack

This is a local health food store and I like to buy produce and certain bulk items here.  They have good prices on most beans especially.

  • 1 lb. local, raw honey ($4)
  • 1/2 lb. local maple syrup ($2.50)
  • 1/2 lb. ginger root* ($2)
  • 1 1/2 lbs. romaine lettuce* ($3)
  • 1 lb. white navy beans* ($1)

Most of their stuff is organic.  I spent about $14 here.


I finish up my shopping here — whatever I can’t buy anywhere else or can’t buy for prices I can afford, I buy here.  I also buy household goods here often times if we need those, although I didn’t on this occasion.

  • 2 pineapples ($5)
  • 2 cantaloupes ($6)
  • 4 lbs. cauliflower ($5)
  • 2 lbs. broccoli florets ($3)
  • 2 lbs. tomatoes ($2)

I spent right around $20 here.  Again, all the produce was not organic, but it was low on the pesticide list.

Mosley’s Meat Market

This is a local butcher shop that features all locally-raised and sustainable meats.  It’s a 30-minute drive from me so I order once every two weeks and try to have Ben pick up after work.  I buy almost all my meat here, with the occasional exception of uncured hot dogs or fish.  Their beef is grass-fed.  They offer just about anything I could want (organ meats, uncured meats, bones) and will get anything they don’t already have if I request it.  They have been very helpful in advising me on cooking methods and information when I’ve been attempting to make my own lunch meat at home and doing other projects.

  • 6 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast ($20)
  • 1 whole chicken ($7)
  • 1/2 chicken ($3)
  • 8 lbs. ground beef ($25)
  • 2 uncured ham slices ($6)
  • 4 lbs. center cut pork chops ($10)
  • 15 lbs. chicken bones ($12)

That’s not an especially extensive or interesting list, but that’s what I choose to work with when I need easy items.  I default to a lot of boneless chicken breast and ground beef.  I am okay with it.  At other times I might order custom-made sausages, beef or pork roasts, chicken thighs, stir-fry or stew meat, etc.  I knew we wouldn’t take the time to use any of these well at this time…so I kept it simple.

Tips for Grocery Shopping on a Budget During A Busy Season

The Plan

What will I do with all of this?

Preparation/Easy Options

  • About half the cheese will be cut into cubes for quick snacks or to serve with quick meals
  • All the fruit will be used for quick snacks or to go with easy meals (I cut up a pineapple and a cantaloupe immediately)
  • We just put 5 quarts of beef stock in the fridge, and the chicken bones will be made into several additional quarts of chicken stock
  • The ham comes fully-cooked and we will cut it up and put it in the fridge for the kids for quick meals

Fast Meals and Snacks

  • The lettuce and tomatoes were made into salads with homemade dressing.  I added soaked, cooked beans to this.  I made all the salad at once so I just have to put some in a bowl when I want it (dressing separate).
  • I made a big pot of spaghetti sauce using homemade tomato sauce, ground beef, mushrooms, beef stock, and any other veggies I had on hand.  I will make quick meals by boiling a little of the pasta when I want it.
  • I made a big pot of broccoli-cheese soup (which doesn’t take very long) using the broccoli florets, stock, milk, cheddar, and some carrots I had on hand.  This reheats easily.
  • I may make a big pot of baked potato soup next week, and top it with crumbled bacon and cheddar.
  • I made a giant pot of GAPS-friendly soup with peas, cauliflower, navy beans, chicken, tomato sauce, stock, spices, etc.
  • The salmon is quickly pan-fried in a little butter with garlic salt a piece or two at a time (for my husband) and served with veggies boiled in stock.
  • I made soaked pitas for quick pita pizzas for lunches.  They only take about 15 min. from start to serve.
  • Next week I may make soaked tortillas for quesadillas.

Other Meals

On days we have a bit more time (although these are largely “wait time” and not active time):

  • Roast chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy + veggies boiled in stock (this could be mostly done in a crock pot)
  • Pan-fried pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy + veggies boiled in stock (this can be done in the oven instead of stove top, and requires no watching)
  • Cooked sausages with veggies and/or buns
  • Italian chicken with roasted potatoes and veggies boiled in stock
  • Salisbury steaks with mashed potatoes and veggies

Breakfast Options

  • GAPS-friendly spice bread
  • Soaked waffles (I made up 3 dozen and froze most)
  • Bacon and eggs
  • Yogurt (the boys like it plain)
  • Kefir
  • Soaked apple crisp
  • Smoothies (I have some frozen fruit in the freezer)


  • Kombucha
  • Herbal tea (including ginger tea for husband on GAPS)
  • Meringue cookies (maybe)
  • Ice cream (low-sugar; for me — it gets raw milk and raw pastured egg yolks into me and I only have a tiny bowl each night, maybe 1 tsp. of maple syrup in each serving)
  • Strawberry limeade (for a treat!)

The Final Thoughts

So as you see, we’re eating pretty well and have a lot of variety despite our restrictions.  Yes, most of our “family meals” are meat + mashed potatoes + veggies (hence why I did not make a meal plan — we would have had that every night and I can’t stand that).  Still, we have creamy soups, salads, pasta, fish, lots of fruit and veggies, quick pizzas, plenty of probiotic drinks, and more.  Not bad!

If we were eating grains I’d probably try for stir-frys, different kinds of soup, and crock pot options.  I’d also probably soak bread to have around.  There are lots of different choices depending on how your family eats.  This is working for us right now.

And yes…there’s some up front work.  I spent Friday shopping and cutting up fruit, and Saturday cooking pots of soup and beans and baking waffles, but then we were set.  And really those foods just required I be “here” not really in the kitchen too much.  The cream soups come together especially quickly.

What do you eat when you are in a busy season?



This is the writings of:



  1. Great ideas and easy to follow plan! Thanks so much for sharing and inspiring me!


  2. Thank you for mentioning Mosley’s! I had never heard of it, but will definitely look into it since we live in central Ohio. I have been trying to find a source for some local natural beef since some members of my family really enjoy meat with their meal, and the thought of buying grocery store meat makes me rather go without it.


  3. Ugh, I’m jealous of the fabulous prices you pay for these things.


  4. I love this! I feel like all we eat for dinner is meat+potatoes+veggies too! But it really does the trick, and no one is left hungry after dinner. Thanks for sharing


  5. Great post! I run a wellness program for my patients in my Internal Medicine practice and I recommended on today’s blog post that they check this out!!! I can’t tell you how difficult it is for patients that are new to the concept of nutrition and changing their eating habits to really put a plan in action. This is really helpful! Thanks!!!


  6. I am so insanely jealous of your meat prices! Holy cow! Also that you have a Trader Joe’s. -_-

    Still, thank you for posting this! It’s so useful for me to see how grocery purchases turn into meals.


  7. Thanks for the tips! Always fun to read. I want to cry though looking at those amazingly low prices. I struggle to keep monthly budget living here in SE Alaska feeding a family of six. Enjoy it!!!


  8. I’m with Rebecca and Katie above! Very nice to see your list, but tremendously frustrating to see the prices – I live in upstate NY and it would have cost me at least double to buy the same.


  9. Thank you for posting this. This fall my compromises really got away from me. I now feel ready to start again. 🙂 Blessings to you and your family!


  10. Just to put it into perspective, Aldi being a German store and all… here in Germany no one who believes in providing quality food for their families will shop there.


    • Every Aldi has different options, and I don’t believe in being so snobbish that you’re “above” shopping at a particular store. Wherever you can find quality food for low prices is fine. Our Aldi has an organic line and even Kerrygold products. I don’t buy the cheap, processed items, but I certainly shop there for what high quality items I can find, and I encourage others to do the same, if it works for them.


  11. […] MAM – Tips For Grocery Shopping On A Budget During A  Busy Season […]


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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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