The cost to feed your family real food can be overwhelming. These practical tips will help you fill your fridge and pantry with real food on a budget!
When I started Forgotten Lattes I always intended to write about real food and what that looks like for us as a family. Nearly a year later I’m finally getting around to writing down our approach to real food. What real food means to us, what our goals are, and what our current reality is when it comes to eating real food.
My goal here is to share our very real journey with real food and to share with your how we work toward feeding our family, especially our kids, real food. This journey hasn’t been easy or perfect, and it’s still ongoing, but we are working on it. Every day we learn more and make changes, always keeping our health and our children’s health in mind.
Life Before Real Food
Oh man, I could write pages and pages about our life before real food. Suffice it to say it was filled with a lot of fast food, dining out, and just flat out junk. My go to “healthy” snack was pretzels and I was far more concerned about calories than nutrients.
My main goal around eating was to lose weight, which basically meant not eating, and feeding my first born was more about making sure he ate something over filling his body with nourishing foods.
Then one day I joined a cross fit gym. After a few months of regular workouts I was getting stronger and my clothes fit better, but I could never seem to make the number on the scale move. So I started asking around, and the answer I got was don’t worry about the scale keep working out and start eating real food.
Real food. Ha! I did eat real food.
That pizza I ate last night was very real. And that ice cream? Also real. My pretzels, synthetic coffee creamer, fast food….all “real food” not pretend food. I didn’t get it.
Then one day I was leaving the library with my oldest son and I saw a book called 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake so I check it out, took it home, and read it cover to cover.
Since then Lisa Leake has come out with two more books about real food. The first is called “100 Days of Real Food: Fast and Fabulous” and “100 Days of Real Food: On a Budget”. Both of these books are on my “need to read” list currently, but I’m sure they’re incredible because her first one was absolutely amazing!
The book went into great detail about what real food really was, and I was hooked. I had never heard any of this information. It had never occurred to me that choosing foods for your body wasn’t about calories it was about nutrients.
That book lead me down a rabbit hole of research and in the four years since I picked up that book I have learned so much. And we have made so many changes as a family.
I no longer worry about calories, instead I focus on ingredients and nutrients. At the dinner table we have conversations with our boys about choosing foods that will fuel our body. And I try my hardest to project a healthy body image for my children.
Do we eat real food all the time? Ha, no.
Do we try our best? Yes!
Do I have a goal of where I’d like our family to be one day? Absolutely, and we are working on that but we aren’t there yet.
How We Define Real Food
Just defining real food can be so controversial. Some people swear up and down that you have to be Paleo (no grains or dairy) to be eating real food. Some people argue that you can eat grains and dairy and still eat real food. If you are just beginning your own journey with real food the best advice I can give is to read, read, read and then make decisions for yourself.
In our house we define real food two ways:
- Food that does not have ingredients (think fruit, vegetables, proteins, etc…)
- Food that has ingredients I would keep on hand (think breads, cereal, snacks for the kids, etc..)
I don’t know about you but I don’t have red dye 40 on hand in my cabinet!!
From there I follow these guidelines:
- Choose from the 2 P’s first: that’s produce and proteins
- Avoid added sugars when possible (peanut butter doesn’t need sugar, neither do hot dogs or chips)
- Choose your fats wisely (our culture demonizes saturated fats but they are so good and necessary for your body read more about choosing fats here from someone who is more educated about it than I am)
- Make what you can at home (cookies, muffins, quick breads, and even some candies I make at home)
- Eat real food at home as often as you can so you don’t have to stress about eating out or at other people’s homes
- Give yourself grace, nobody is perfect. Eating real food is more of a journey than a destination. It’s about trying new foods, finding what works for you, your family, and your budget.
- Find resources you can trust: I have a few select resources that I use regularly (linked below) these are my go-to places to find recipes and tips and tricks. I’ve vetted them so I know if these people recommend something I can trust it. It takes the guess work out of real food for me and I’ve found a lot of yummy new foods through them!
- Have fun!! Trying new foods can be fun and adventurous, don’t stress, just have fun!
Below are my go-to resources for real food. They all define real food differently but are all incredible resources to begin with. Remember there are many ways to eat real food, so do your research and find what works best for you and your family!
- 100 Days of Real Food and visit her website here
- Practical Paleo and the website is linked here, she also has a wonderful podcast called “Balanced Bites”, well worth a listen!
- Fed and Fit I love her casserole recipes, she has a podcast too called “Fed and Fit” which is full of incredible information, her site is linked here
- Nourishing Traditions, Nourishing Traditions: The Book of Baby and Child Care, and the Weston A Price website
- Eat the Yolks excellent read, pretty easy to understand, her website is here; Liz is the co-host of the podcast Balanced Bites. I’ve been listening to Balanced Bites Podcast for years and it’s incredible!
- Coconuts and Kettlebells, this book is on my “need to read” list, but I’ve followed her blog for years, I love her body positive approach to eating. She also has a podcast called “Well-Fed Women Podcast” which I love!
My Top Tips for Feeding My Family Real Food on A Budget
Cook Real Food at Home
Hands down the best way to make sure you’re eating real food consistently and doing it on a budget is to cook your real food at home.
Sure, this isn’t always easy. It can be exhausting to have to make dinner night after night, believe me I get it! You’ll want to find some super easy recipes that come together quickly and easily. Crockpot (or Instantpot) recipes are even better!
This probably applies mostly to produce but if you’re trying to buy peaches in January chances are you’re going to pay a pretty penny for them. Or they’re just not going to be as good. Learn what is in season and shop accordingly.
This magnets will help you choose produce that fits each season. I also pay attention to my store flyer each week, usually grocery stores will have seasonal items on sale (think burgers and hot dogs during grilling season, baking supplies near Christmas, turkey for Thanksgiving, etc).
Make Enough for Leftovers
When I make dinner I try to make sure we will have enough for leftovers. This helps us eat real food for lunches. If I pack up leftovers while I’m cleaning up dinner my husband has a quick, yummy lunch for work the next day. And I have something I can grab and reheat for the kids.
Sometimes our meals don’t leave enough for leftovers for all of us so I might piece together several leftovers to make a lunch. I call it hodgepodge lunch and truthfully my kids love it! They enjoy “shopping” the fridge and helping me piece together a meal for them.
Tacos and a baked potato anyone?
Make Your Real Food Flavorful
It took me a long time and a lot of practice to feel comfortable adding spices to my meals. And if I’m really honest, I’m still learning and I play it pretty safe most of the time.
But what I’ve found is that flavorful food is far more satisfying than bland food. So don’t be afraid to use spices, onions, garlic, and herbs to make your food flavorful and exciting!!
Use Real Food “Fillers” to Help Meals Stretch
What you’ll find is that many, many people who teach the importance of real food teach the importance of well-sourced proteins and produce. Which is great, except protein is expensive. Especially organic proteins. I like to use vegetables to help make a meal stretch.
For example, if I’m making a whole chicken in the crockpot I might serve two vegetables and potatoes with it. This helps the chicken to stretch a bit further because there’s more on the table than just chicken and one veggie.
I also add lots of veggies to one pot meals like curries, stews, and casseroles. Vegetables are much less expensive than proteins and will help your meal stretch much farther and keep your budget in check.
Eat What You Buy
Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought a head of lettuce and then let it sit in your fridge while it rots away!
We’ve all done this. We go to the store and buy _______ (fill in the blank) and then never use it.
My best tip for feeding your family real food on a budget is to actually eat what you buy and don’t buy what you won’t eat.
It took me years to finally admit to myself that I don’t like salads and I’m never going to make them at home. Sure, I might order one at a restaurant from time to time but they never taste as good at home.
So rather than buy lettuce and spinach every week and let it wilt in my fridge, I just stopped buying those items. I save probably $5-$7 a week and I can spend that money on something I actually will eat.
Frozen Food can be Real Food Too
Here’s another one of my favorite tricks, buy frozen real food. Just because it’s frozen doesn’t make it real food or not real food. You’ll have to do your research. But I find that buying frozen vegetables is far more economical for my family.
Now I don’t have to worry about that broccoli going bad or buying green beans off season. I wait until my store has a deal on frozen veggies and stock up.
Yes, this means we eat a lot of the same veggies over and over. But when you’re serving them in different ways with different meals you hardly notice.
This can work for fruit too, especially for baking or smoothies. If I want to make a berry smoothie or blueberry muffins I only buy frozen berries. Fresh berries are pricey and go bad fast. If my store has a stellar deal on berries I buy one container of fresh berries and my boys eat them within a day or two. Otherwise frozen berries it is!
Use the Right Fats in Your Cooking
Say it with me now: FAT ISN’T EVIL!!
I know that our culture spends a lot of time making fat out to be the bad guy, but it’s not. Not if you’re eating the right kinds of fats, anyway.
The best thing about fat (aside from all the nutrients it offers) is that it’s very filling. I love to cook with fats and include plenty of fat with every meal. The fat in our meals helps us to stay fuller longer which means less snacking in between meals. And if there’s one thing that will bust your grocery budget it’s snack items.
Don’t be afraid of good fats. Do your research, find what works for you and your body. Choose your fats wisely.
Choose Your Snacks Wisely
This is a tough one, especially if you have kids. My kids love snacks just as much as the next kid and sometimes it’s nice to have snacks on hand. It makes our outings easier when we have snacks, amiright?!
Ideally, we would be eating three meals a day with no snacks in between.
Let us all take a minute to collect ourselves from extreme laughter……
Between hangry kids and a nursing mama who could outeat an NFL linebacker most days (nursing makes me hungry!!) we like to snack around here. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if I bought every snack my kids wanted it would be about 75% of my grocery budget!
I’m not saying don’t buy any snacks, just choose wisely what snacks you’re buying. I try to choose snacks that will be more filling so they aren’t asking for another snack in 20 minutes. Think Larabars and homemade smoothies.
I also keep pre-packaged snacks for when we’re out of the house. If we’re home I’ll serve up homemade goodies (think muffins), yogurt, fruit with a nut butter, cheese slices, or even what they didn’t finish from breakfast or lunch.
Keep Packaged Real Food to a Minimum
The great thing about the real food movement now compared to a few years ago is that so many food companies are jumping on board.
And that means you have more options for pre-prepared and pre-packaged real food than ever before.
This is great for convenience, not so great for your wallet.
Choose wisely. Sure, I keep snacks on hand but I also limit packaged items because they can be pricey. I buy maybe one box of Annie’s crackers each week and I keep it for days when we’re out of the house.
I also don’t buy a ton of pre-prepared foods. Which is hard because some nights I just want to push the easy button and be done. I allow myself one night a week when I use pre-prepared food (think organic chicken nuggets and organic fries) but most nights I try to cook or serve leftovers.
I try to prepare as much real food at home as possible. I’m not perfect at it, some weeks I spend more on packaged foods because that’s the reality of my life. But the goal is to be preparing my food at home, it’s more cost effective and more nutrient dense that way.
Let Your Budget be Your Guide
It’s easy to get discouraged when you see the prices of real food compared to what you usually buy. You might notice that the organic grapes are twice as much as the conventional ones. Or that conventional ground beef is almost always on sale and organic, grass-fed beef is never on sale.
I get it. Believe me.
You’ll have to do your research and decide where your comfort levels are. I also suggest taking a deep look at your budget and making some decisions about what you can but back on.
Maybe you don’t need all of the cable channels.
Perhaps the gym membership that never gets used can be cancelled for a bit while you focus on nutrition.
Maybe your dining out budget can be cut back to once a week (or once a month even).
You’ll have to decide for yourself what makes sense, but I ‘ve found that investing in my family’s health and our future through real food is a top priority.
Also, let me just say this. My personal opinion and approach is that you are going to be better off eating conventionally grown produce and conventionally raised proteins (meaning they aren’t organic) than packaged foods or fast food.
Does that make sense?
Let me say it another way. If your budget is tight and you can’t make organic ground beef work, you’ll be better off buying conventional ground beef and making tacos at home than stopping at Taco Bell on the way home.
You know your budget, if that’s a limiting factor for you that’s ok. It is for us. But don’t let it stop you from investing in real food.
Remember, start with the 2 P’s (protein and produce) and build from there! You can do this!!
Does your family eat real food? What is your best tip for saving money on real food? Leave a comment below to share with all of us!