Q: I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I appreciate that you keep your food budget to $100 a week, but what about nutrition? I can’t feed my family organic vegetables and other healthy food for that amount.
A: Life is always a balancing act. There is never an unlimited supply of money, time or energy so we have to make choices and those choices will be different for each person based on her priorities and circumstances.
Nutrition is a highly personal issue. There are many differing views on what is actually healthy:
Do you eat carbs or not?
Do you eat fat or not?
Is red meat good for you?
Are Cheerios really a “whole” grain?
With so many varying opinions, you need to do your own research from reliable sources and make those decisions for yourself. Once you have decided what’s best for your family, be happy with your decision.
Our family has to balance a very tight budget with health issues (my daughter’s gluten allergy) and to be honest, some weeks we are very happy just to have grocery money to provide food for everyone. That’s the reality of our life right now and it affects our shopping decisions.
My preference would be to buy organic fruits and vegetables, grain fed meat and free range chickens. Since I do have budget restrictions, I try to make the best decisions I can with the available resources. Some weeks are healthier than others.
HERE ARE SOME STRATEGIES I USE TO EAT HEALTHIER:
Buy Real Food
I purchase as much real food (vegetables, fruits and meat) as possible rather than processed foods. I do make some processed food choices (cereal for example) in this season of my life due to time constraints with home schooling and working from home. I also make a some food from scratch in order to save money like my Make Ahead Freezer Waffles. They are cheaper and better for us than the store bought version, but just as convenient when I make them in large batches ahead of time.
Be Choosy About Organic
If there is money in the budget, I buy organic versions of the fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide residue. (You can read more about that here.) This method prioritizes my budget and gives me the best value for the money I spend on produce.
Buy Nitrate Free Meat
I try to buy nitrate-free hot dogs and lunch meat when the budget allows. Nitrates have been shown to cause cancer, so if I have to purchase cheaper types of meat, I try to at least eliminate the yucky chemicals.
Drink More Water
Drinking water is not only healthy but a real help in lowering the grocery bill. I can use the money I would spend on sodas to purchase something with more nutritional value.
When balancing your budget and your family’s nutritional needs, the most important issue is to decide your priorities and make sure that your purchases line up with them.
Perhaps you can cut your budget in other areas that are less important to make room for more organic food purchases or look for alternate sources of food. I just found out about a local produce co-op that I plan to take advantage of as our budget allows.
Just make sure that you are not sacrificing your overall financial health by spending more on groceries than your income level allows. Going into debt so you can buy organic food is not a wise choice and the stress of the debt may counteract the good you are doing by eating “healthier” foods.
The goal is to make the best decisions you can while balancing nutrition, money and time, and then enjoy life!
(Note: I post my actual meal plans as a part of sharing my life, to demonstrate ways that a family can eat for less and as an encouragement to moms to make some kind of menu plan to make their lives easier. I am definitely not holding up my menu plan as any sort of nutritional standard, so please do not interpret them in that way. 🙂 )
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.
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Just a thought for those wanting “grass-fed” beef. If you have access to a meat locker plant (most cities have them), you can purchase beef at a slight markup over cost… Either by the pound or 1/4 -about 300 lbs, 1/2 beef – about 600 lbs, or a full beef about 1000-1200 lbs. We purchased a 1/4 beef for $3/lb – this includes hamburger, steaks, roasts, stew meat… And it is delicious! They also have pork and poultry, but we will have to work that into our budget later. We have actually met the rancher who raised our beef and feel confident in what we consume! FYI – 1/4 beef lasts my family if 4 for 1 year… And we eat a lot of beef 🙂
Thanks so much for the tip Brenda!
Since reading your blog, I’ve been inspired to begin menu planning and have seen an enormous decrease in our budget. We only have a family of 3, and right now we spend around $150 a week (diapers and finger foods for the toddler are quite expensive!). I have noticed though that trying to prepare/plan toddler friendly meals while still keeping in mind our wishes of low-fat/low-carb can still be quite expensive. We’ve been focusing on lots of fresh fruits/veggies, and more chicken/pork/fish meals, but all those can be budget busters too. In our area, there’s not many stores to compare prices to, and we don’t have any produce markets. 🙁 Any other suggestions to eating healthy while remaining in our budget?
Do you stock up on meat when it goes on sale? For example, boneless skinless chicken breasts go on sale for as low as $1.59 in my area, so when the sales hit I buy as much as I can afford and prepare it according to my 8 Dinners in 1 Hour plan (click here) or something similar. I save on produce by purchasing in-season local produce which tends to be cheaper and checking local produce markets for better prices. Also, throwing a beans and rice type dish in occasionally gives you some protein and isn’t as high carb as some other dishes or making soup or stew.
Hope that helps! You can find more ideas for saving on groceries in my Save More Clip Less ebook here.
Hi- So, I know I am not the first person to tell you how amazed I am at what you are accomplishing. I’m also pretty amazed at all the people commenting, good crowd I don’t know if you had a chance to read it, but Dr. Oz (he has a TV show) wrote a pretty interesting article in Time Magazine in November (I think) 2012 called The Anti-Food Snob Diet. (I read it in some waiting room somewhere). Anyway, I thought it was a pretty interesting take on food’s nutrition and weighing the expense of an item vs. the actual nutritional value. For instance, he thinks frozen spinach is a fine alternative to the more expensive fresh stuff. I tend a bit toward the “food snob” he described, so it was a good read for me. He also talked a bit about conventionally raised vs. grass fed beef and seemed to think that nutritionally they were the same. Maybe if you get a moment, you can try to read it at the library, I couldn’t find an online link. Cheers.
Thanks for the heads up Kerry. Sounds like something I would enjoy. 🙂
I have gotten my groceries down to about $100 a week. Menu planning is helpful, as is making it a goal to not throw away good food. I love you leftover oatmeal pancakes…because my kids are young. One day they will eat three bowls of oatmeal and be begging for more, and other days they might eat two bites. Today I had leftover oatmeal at breakfast, and at lunch a 1/2 cup of milk that wasn’t touched, as well as two of the kids didn’t want the leftover fruit salad from supper. I mashed that and threw it in to the pancakes as well. Yummy.
Sue in Oregon says
As retired seniors, my husband and I try to be as frugal as possible. I found a Yahoo group called ‘Free Cycle’ and it is my understanding that this group is active nationwide and organized by city or county. The rules are that everything offered must be free. I have shared many items that I no longer needed and made requests for items that I would like. This summer I was able to get free apples, pears, plums and vegetables. I used these for canning and dehydratining. I said that I would pick my own and pick for the growers and one gentleman gave me jars and asked that I make a batch of applesauce in return for 2 bushels of apples. I would encourage you to check out Yahoo Groups to see if there is a Free Cycle in your community and if not perhaps start one. It is amazing what people will give to someone rather than see it end up in a landfill. Every thing that I have given or received has been in very good condition and the free produce and fruit is a wonderful bonus to my food budget.
That is a great idea Sue! I had not checked Free Cycle for produce items.
For years I would stress over buying organic everything. As you all can relate to it got extremely expensive. I went on an “organic brake” then we had a speaker at my mops group that made us feel like horrible mothers if we didn’t feed our kids an organic diet. I mentioned this to a friend who is a registered dietitian and she was outraged! She reassured me that as long as you wash your fresh fruits and vegetables it is just fine to eat conventionally grown foods. The FDA’S guidelines for pesticide residue is set to a 100 times lower than what would be considered harmful. So buy your fresh foods and try not to stress too much we have enough of that already:)
Thank you for that information Jodie. 🙂
I’ve struggled with this for years and have gone anywhere from buying raw milk/almost all local/organic to super cheap, low budget, to almost vegetarian to low carb/high fat. I seem to be a very inconsistent person! But I have learned a lot through the years. I want the best for my children. And ultimately I rest in God’s sovereign plan for our family. If we get cancer it’s not simply because we ate a certain type of hot dog. Right now I just get as much food as I can with our budget because I have three very hungry, growing boys. Thanks for your blog and encouragement. I only read blogs that don’t make me feel bad for who I am and the choices I make. Yours makes the cut. 🙂
Thank you so much Jerilyn! It is one of my goals to encourage women where they are, so I really appreciate your feedback. 🙂
We do no meat, no dairy. We go by the ‘dirty dozen’ list when trying to chose which to buy organic – and which to pass on. I keep a few ‘plan B’ meals in the freezer (frozen pizza, etc) for emergencies. Other wise – its all made by me…
I agree that you have to “pick & choose” according to your families needs.. I am GF, and have numerous food allergies, so it really does add up quickly to buy any “special” foods! I try to buy “real food” as much as I can and save extra funds for organic, free range meat orders every few months. We’re a family of 6 and our budget is $180/week, depending on what we need to buy, sometimes it stretches further than other times. But we always have enough. If I can’t afford organic produce i’ll at least always buy local as I think that’s very important. Our food prices are higher than your prices in the US, i’m shocked at some of the price differences sometimes.. seems insane! lol!
I agree with Lacey. Even though now our income is decent and food production in Germany is strictly regulated, growing up in Serbia (ex Yugoslavia) in the war and crisis times, my mom had to pull the magic many times. The trick was to make a huge pot dish that includes a lot of veggies, carbs (thick bean soup for example) and some meat. Even nowdays, with German prices, a pot of bean soup to feed a family of 4 for 2 dinners is around 10 euros.
Also, since imported things were hard to get (read expensive), we were using only fruit produced in our area. A lot of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, strawberries (a lot of canning and homemade concentrated cherry juice), but almost never oranges, bananas and lemons. I first time tried avocado when I was 25.
I also love your balanced approach. I struggle with keeping that balance. Right now I have budgeted $600 per month for our family of 5, soon to be 6. It feels like a lot of money, but food is definitely pricier in Canada.
I wanted to point out something that you may not know… Make sure to check the ingredient list on your nitrate free meat. Celery extract is a sneaky term for nitrates, and is used in most ‘natural’ deli meats. It has the same effect as ones labelled as sodium nitrate.
Thanks for the tip about celery extract. I had not heard that before.
Try a co-op In S. Fl there is one called ANnie’s organics you can get a share every other week so for less than $50 you can have organics monthly. Go in with someone and split a share. Also buy frozen organics like Cascade farms.
Thanks for the tip Alma!
I’m another Canadian who follows your site. We recently moved across country and since we couldn’t bring our food with us we decided to go vegetarian. Something we’ve been wanting to do for some time. The number of delicious recipes out there are incredible and the amount we spend in groceries has almost been cut in half. Even eating vegetarian for 5 days a week would make a noticble difference. And as a bonus, the money we save not buying meat I spend on a bottle of wine 😉
Love love love this post, Kimberlee! You’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to doing what’s right for you right now and still making the best decisions in terms of nutrition for your family. Every person’s situation is different and I think you highlighted a very important point – you CAN make healthy choices even on a budget.
I’d add another tip to your list too (the health coach in me is coming out! haha) – buy from the bulk bins! Whole grains (even gluten-free ones) and dried beans are incredibly inexpensive and can fill you up fast. Plus they’re loaded with protein and fiber, so they’re a great healthy choice. You can purchase just what you need to last for your week or buy more to store in your pantry for later. Just be sure you’re purchasing from a store that rotates their supply out regularly.
Thanks for that tip Rachael. We don’t have a store nearby with bulk bins, but it’s a great tip for anyone who does have a store with the bulk option.
One way I have found to helpful in the saving of money is to use meat more as a condiment. I have a family of 6 and would love to purchase free-range and grass fed meats, but that just isn’t within the realm of possibility at this point. With incorporating more vegetables I have been able to stretch 4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts into 4 meals for the 6 of us. I am blessed that my family loves to eat veggies and are willing to try new things. I understand that not all families have that. We also turned our front yard into a vegetable garden and try to grow as much as we can. I am interested in learning how to can, but for now I freeze and dehydrate. I have also noticed that in the grocery store there may be a section of fruits and veggies that look less pretty than they other stuff they have out. These are often marked down (Manager’s Special). If you pick through this section, you may find some very cheap veggies and fruits that if you use them right away would be great.
Great ideas! Thanks Lacey.
We are constantly trying to balance this as well. Some weeks are better than others. I tend to feel guilty when I don’t have the money to get the better for you stuff. But some weeks I can’t afford organic and have to make do. I figure my kids are healthier than most just because we try so hard to eat well, avoid processed foods, grow our own, eat locally, etc. So in times that I can’t buy organic I need to realize we are doing the best we can with what we have.
“I need to realize we are doing the best we can with what we have.” I agree with you Jennifer!
im a single mother with a four year old. I am having alot of trouble keeping up with my money. what I bring home a month only leaves me with 100 dollars a month…. and thats not including food. Can u help me? Im scared.
Hi Kim! I am so sorry that you are going through a tough time. The first thing that I would do in your situation is to start writing down everything that you spend so that you can see exactly where your money is going. I would also suggest checking with your church or a local food pantry to see if you can receive some assistance. Being a single mom is really difficult, so it will also help you to find a support group locally where you can receive some encouragement.
A garden definitely helps with costs. Also trying to shop the perimeter of the store keeps a lot if unhealthy food out if the cart! I’ve been fortunate enough to find a co-op of sorts that gives our family tons of veggies and fruit for just $25 a week! We only buy a few staple goods and a little bit of meat, averaging $75 a week for our family of 6.
I am single with no children and just this month I am trying to eat on $100 for the month. I am also gluten intolerant. I have resorted to abstaining from meat which has really helped. I love fruits and veggies. I do not think that I could maintain that budget if I ate organic.
Love your blog. I am a Canadian living on the border of Buffalo, NY. I do all my shopping in Buffalo because of the great deals, in Canada we pay 5$ for milk, 3 for eggs and bread (white sandwich) and 6 for cheese that you buy shredded for 2$. Your chicken breast is half what we pay in Canada. However I find produce to be cheaper here, you guys have tons of prepackaged junk foods, yet your fruit and veg is soooo pricey. We don`t get any coupons in our newspapers, when I found out your stores double them, I couldn`t believe it! You guys score some really great deals.
You inspire me!! I avoid nitrates whenever possible, though I have to admit the pepperoni seems to always sneak into my shopping cart! I see your Oscar Meyer hot dogs in your picture up there…I’ve found that when Kroger has them on one of their “buy 10” deals, I can get them CHEAPER than the nitrate laden hot dogs!!! I stock up when they are on sale. Recently a fresh veggie/fruit store opened up nearby and I can’t wait to check them out. It is a balancing act of products, money & time isn’t it?? Thanks for all you do to help us Kimberlee!!
Thanks for your encouragement Jenny! I am so glad you are finding the site helpful. That’s my goal. 🙂
Nisrine (isavvymom) says
I also spend about $100/week on groceries for a family of four and buy mostly organic or all natural food. The best way I found is; as you mentioned, to buy mostly fresh food. Also,the lady at the meat section at my local grocery store told me that she marks down organic chicken every morning.
The last time I went in the morning, I bought 3 pounds of organic chicken for $10 . I found that the best way to still eat mostly organic on a budget is to ask the people or the manager at the local grocery store or the health store when they markdown the organic produce and meat.
That is a great idea Nisrine. Thanks!
Your answer resonates with me. I’ve struggled a lot recently just trying to stay on top of our menu plan and cooking almost everything from scratch. We don’t have allergies but for many years I have avoided corn, potato and gluten (although spelt is tolerable) and feel much better for it. On top of that I want to instill healthy choices and the taste of healthy foods in my 3yo as my parents did for me. I’ve found organic fruits and veggies at a nearby local grocery (better prices and better taste). I think it’s all I can do but I still feel guilty that my son is eating hormone laden meats. Your answer though brings me back to reality, my home, and how much better it is because I’ve put out the effort. I can also be thankful my husband is excited and participating in the budgeting and menu planning. It’s worth it after all and I thank you for sharing your point of view.
It is great to have your husband on board and I am sure you are doing a wonderful job. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂
I agree that this is tough to do on a strict budget, especially when grocery prices keep getting higher. I spent about $120 at the grocery today… I only bought 2 items that were premade, the rest was basic ingredients for cooking meals from scratch. I plan our meals based on what is on sale that week and usually only have a few items to get full price. Like you I would love to get all organic, grass fed, etc…but we just can’t afford it! If it was a huge priority for me then I would look at other ways to cut money from our earnings and increase the grocery budget. Organic and natural foods are just more expensive, but I do try to get them on sale and if they are comparable price to a regular item then it is an easy choice…you just have to be patient and wait for sales since there are few coupons for produce and meats. Cooking from scratch as much as possible cuts out the preservatives and additives from premade items.
PS-I found your blog from a link to your ebook. I just can’t do the coupon game..too much time and headache involved for me. I have been enjoying your blog. On my shopping trip today I went to 3 stores for their sales, only had 1 coupon to use and had kids with me!! I felt it went well and we have lots of healthy foods for the week! 🙂
Welcome Joslin– I am so glad you’re here!
Cooking from scratch definitely makes a difference. Congrats on the great shopping trip. 🙂
This is one of the reasons I love your blog so much. Life is one big balancing act complete with small sacrifices. Also, since you mentioned it and I was given a waffle iron as a gift and my 3 year old is taking a nap, I just might go stock my freezer with homemade waffles! PS My husband is over the moon with some of the changes we have made inspired by your ideas.
Thanks for the encouragement Tori. Have fun making those waffles! 🙂
Our family of 5 is on even tighter restraints financially, but that doesn’t stop me from giving them the fruits and veggies they need. I have found that sometimes it saves more money and is better nutritionally to do a garden with my kids. We plant the fruits an veggies and we all nurture them and then the kids are more likely to eat the things they grew. It has saved money on my produce budget. The only other suggestions I have in that regard are to check into local farmers markets and to freeze or can summer veggies and fruits for the winter months (like tomatoes, berries, and stone fruits like peaches). Hope it helps…
Thanks for those great ideas! I haven’t ventured into gardening except for a couple of tomato plants and some basil, but we do have a produce stand nearby that I frequent.