Guest Post by Dena Norton of Back To The Book Nutrition

I am so excited about this guest post by my friend Dena!  She and I have known each other since our now elementary aged daughters were babies.  She is the owner of Back To The Book Nutrition where she blogs, shares incredible recipes and is a holistic dietician extraordinaire!  I should know, we’re not only friends, I’m also her client.

In all my discussions about budgeting, guess what always comes up…..FOOD!  We all have to eat every single day and we want to be healthy without breaking the bank.  And while I have the goods on the budgeting part, I’ve asked Dena to weigh in on the health part.  Enjoy!

Did you know that Americans spend less on food than any other developed country? It’s true –on average, 11% of our household budget goes toward food costs (Source). We also eat more, do less, and have poorer health than almost everyone else in the Western world.

As believers, I really don’t think we have the luxury of spending money on the heavily processed, non-food junk that fills the standard American diet. I know Seth and Alexis are big proponents of good stewardship in all areas of life, as am I. Food choices are health choices – ones which we have been called to steward and for which we will give account.

To be clear, dietary perfection is not the goal – making more intentional and healthful food purchases within our financial means is. And we can all do it, no matter how much or how little money we have available.


1. Meal Plan
Nothing wastes money like a lack of planning! If you’re not the organizational type, something as simple as a handwritten list of the week’s menu and grocery items in a kitchen drawer will do. If you want a more full service approach, apps like Real Plans help you choose recipes and create shopping lists etc. according to your personal food preferences/restrictions.

2. Limit to one grocery store trip per week
Making extra trips to the store not only wastes your time and gas money, but it creates another opportunity for impulse buying. Meal planning and keeping a running grocery list in a kitchen drawer are the best ways I’ve found to avoid extra store trips.

3. Buy in season
You’ll save up to 50% on produce and other items when purchased in season – even organics! For even more savings, consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group where you pay a reasonable price for a weekly or twice monthly box of locally grown, seasonal produce. As a bonus, you’ll be challenged to try new fruits and vegetables you might not otherwise eat! Use this tool to find a CSA near you.

4. Buy directly from farmers
Cut out the middle man and get to know a hard working farmer in your area. Most of them are more than happy for you to visit and ask questions before you purchase. If you have kids, this is an incredible way for them to learn more about where their food comes from. Not convinced? Read this.
If you can’t visit a nearby farm, farmer’s markets are a great alternative. An insider tips for getting the best deals at farmer’s markets is to go toward the end of the day – you may miss some items that sold out, but you can often score a pretty hefty discount on meat and produce that the farmers don’t want to haul back home.

5. Choose whole foods over organics
I personally believe that eating organic as much as possible is a good idea but, if buying all organic is out of reach, start by simply buying more fresh, whole foods first. For example, swap out the fruit snacks for fresh fruit. Gradually incorporate the highest priority organics as able using the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists from Environmental Working Group.

6. Wash and chop your own veggies
Those containers of chopped onions, celery, carrots, and melon at the store cost at least twice as much as doing the work yourself! Save time on washing a chopping by setting aside 10-15 minutes once each week to prep all your veggies. Or, better yet – teach your kids to do it!

7. Keep your convenience foods in check
Buying individually packaged servings of nuts and snack foods usually cost considerably more per serving than larger containers of the same items. If you really want them portioned out, you can divide them into snack bags once you get them home from the store. Similarly, convenience items for meals are much cheaper and usually healthier when made from scratch (hello, mac and cheese).

8. Cut out the special drinks
We all know $5 coffee at Starbucks is tough to justify if you’re on a tight budget. But other beverages – sodas, flavored waters, teas, and bottled waters – also add up fast! Most of them aren’t helping us out nutritionally either.
Try infusing your water with fruit, cucumber slices, or fresh herbs to give it a hint of flavor, or try herbal teas for an affordable and healthy alternative.

9. Make your own condiments
Condiments – especially higher quality ones – are pricey. Mayo and salad dressings are two of the easiest things to make at home and, if you choose better ingredients, you can make them much healthier too!
Check out this fail proof, 2-minute avocado oil mayo from my friend Tiffany over at Don’t Waste the Crumbs. And the Greek dressing in this post is my go-to for salads, so I make quadruple batches to last us longer.

10. Buy frozen berries and vegetables
Not many people realize that frozen berries and vegetables are some of the freshest options in the grocery store. They’re often flash frozen in the field just after picking, so they don’t lose as much of their nutrition as those that are shipped to stores for sale in the produce section.
Not only are frozen veggies a healthy option, they’re also very affordable. Costco’s prices on frozen fruit and veggies – even organic varieties – is unbeatable.

11. Replace half your meat with beans
If you’ve got serious meat eaters in your house, you may introduce this one slowly, and consider trying it on days where you’ve got higher protein foods like eggs or tuna planned for breakfast and lunch.
Spaghetti with meat sauce (use lentils or cannellini beans), chili (use kidney beans), and tacos (use red or black beans) are perfect for this. Canned beans are money savers, but you’ll see super savings if you use soaked and cooked dried beans.
While you’re cutting down on meat costs, you’ll also be increasing your prebiotic fiber intake for better gut health. Double yay!

12. Stock healthy back up options
We all have those nights (weeks?) where life just happens and no amount of meal planning can help us. For these times, keeping a stash of healthy and cheaper-than-takeout options in the pantry or freezer can help bridge the gap.
I compiled a list of some of my favorite back up dinner options from Trader Joe’s here. If you don’t shop at TJ’s, you can find similar items at most grocery stores.

13. Order online to avoid impulse buys
Amazon and Instacart has made grocery shopping almost effortless, but the membership fees, delivery charges, tips for personal shoppers, AND higher item prices make it hard to justify for many.
But I’ve learned two hacks to make online grocery shopping fit nicely into the budget:
I limit my Instacart usage to Costco purchases only since they waive membership fees for Costco orders and since Costco also happens to be a minefield of impulse buys for me. Paying just a nominal delivery and a tip still come out to less than the cost of just 1-2 impulse purchases I would have inevitably made in store.
More local grocery stores have started online ordering with curbside pick-up, including mine. It only costs around $5 per order with no additional fees, making it a steal since I can easily spend $5-15 more than planned to stock up on “deals” I see when I shop in store.

14. Eat Leftovers
As a mom, I’m a huge fan of our weekly leftovers night – not only because it ensures we really eat everything I cooked, but because it cuts down on my time in the kitchen!
Leftovers can also be used for lunches to cut down on expensive lunchmeats and other pricier lunch items.

15. Break up with restaurants
We should all enjoy eating out with family and friends on occasion, but the average American spends nearly as much on restaurant foods as they do on food eaten at home! If restaurants and take out are a regular part of your lifestyle, total up those costs each month and consider how you could instead put those funds toward higher quality (and healthier!) home prepared foods instead.

16. Minimize waste
Again, the importance of planning comes into play here. If your food purchases are lined up with the meals you’ve planned to prepare, food waste goes down.
Here are some great ways to recover food you’d otherwise waste:
Turn bones into broth. I add leftover chicken bones from our meals to a gallon zipper bag I keep in the freezer. When the bag is full, I make homemade chicken bone broth in the slow cooker. Here are some easy tips for making beef bone broth too.
Turn wilted herbs and leafy greens into pesto.
Turn veggie stems and stalks into healthy additions to soups or smoothies.
Freeze extra fruits and veggies for later use rather than letting them go bad. This article tells you how to do it!

17. Start a Garden
Gardening does require an up-front investment of time and money to get the ground ready or build raised beds and set up your watering system. But after that, the cost of seeds or starter plants each season is minimal.
If you’re short on space, growing fresh herbs, lettuces, or small vegetable plants in pots can be done even on an apartment patio.

About the Author
Dena Norton is a registered dietitian, holistic nutrition coach, and mom. She lives in Houston with her husband Rick and two young children. Dena is the creator of Back To The Book Nutrition, a web site and virtual Holistic Nutrition Coaching practice where she shares healthy recipes and helps women and families find the root causes of their health symptoms and regain their health naturally!

A few other blogs you might like are listed:

10 Tips for the Debt Repayment Grocery Budget

5 Ideas For a Cheap Date Night

Are You Ready for Middle Aged Money?

3 Saving Mistakes Everybody Makes

4 thoughts on “17 Ways to Eat Real Food on a Budget

  1. This is a fantastic post!
    I especially like #5. I think we can get an all or nothing attitude about organic and healthy food and end up buying nothing, or spending more at the grocery store than our budget allows on the name of “only organic” mantra.

    One thing I would add to this list is to be on the lookout for reduced produce that is at its peak ripeness or may have a blemish you need to cut off.

    Being willing to buy the “ugly food” could make room in your budget for a whole lot more fresh procedure.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your great addition, Kristyna! I actually recently heard about an online business that will deliver “ugly” produce to you at a hefty discount, but I haven’t tried them personally. Here’s the URL if you or others want to check it out! >>

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