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Eat Real Food Budget

How We Grocery Shop Without Breaking the Bank

If you say that eating healthy food is too expensive, I beg to differ! Here I'll show you in detail, with examples, how my family shops each week. I also want to share a testimonial with you. After one month in the program, a participant in Dr. Jamie's Wellness Warriors Nutrition Bootcamp shared the following with me:

"I love this Program, and don't look at it like a diet. It's more of a health plan. In the past month not only are my clothes getting looser but my foot pain is gone! Have I mentioned the savings in our grocery bill from not buying processed foods!?  I can't wait to continue on this 'health plan' and see what other positive changes are to come!" L.M.

Earlier this year, Joelle wrote a blog called 5 tips to Eat Real Food on a Budget. Those tips included using local farmer's markets, which is difficult in the winter. Today I'll give you more tips, assuming that we want to to keep the costs down while shopping at a grocery store!

Here is how we eat real, nutritious food on a budget!

A few years ago, we started a new budgeting system. We use cash in envelopes for various categories, and when it’s gone, it’s gone! The envelope for groceries contains $300/month. The goal is to use less than the $300 on a monthly basis, and save the remainder for bigger meat purchases (like grass-fed beef)!

How do we shop?

Before going to the store, we discuss what "out of the ordinary" items we might need. Did we run out of anything besides the normal meat and veggies? At this point, we don’t plan out actual meals. If there are any new recipes that we want to try, we note any special ingredients that are needed.

Beyond that, we go through the produce section and the meat section and look for:

  • our staples
  • new fun items
  • great deals!

For the most part we "shop around the edges", with a few exceptions.

Where do we shop?

We love ethnic grocery stores. In our experience, we find better deals, and more variety! Our grocery store of choice is Cermak’s market off Rt. 59 next to Sam’s Club in Naperville. It has a HUGE produce department with some good deals. They also have lots of seasonings/sauces for making ethnic food!

  • Sometimes we make a quick run through Aldi to get cheap produce or frozen fish/shrimp. Aldi has recently really improved its selection of organic produce and has improved it's meat selection, including a brand called "Never Any".
  • Occasionally we go to Trader Joe’s. I like to get certain items here like raw nuts.
  • I love the idea of supporting local mom and pop businesses rather than "big box stores" so we also sometimes shop at Family Foods in Warrenville or Village Market in Wheaton.
  • I have heard good things about Fresh Thyme, Mariano's, and Whole Foods, I just don't typically shop at any of those stores. 

What does a typical week of groceries look like? 

  • Opol Squash - This was our new fun food purchase. 
  • Red Cabbage
  • 3 Eggplants
  • 1 Head of Cauliflower
  • 1 Large Parsnip
  • 3 small heads of Broccoli
  • 1 Head of Bok Choy
  • 1 Yellow and 3 Red Peppers
  • 1 bag of baby carrots
  • 2 cans of coconut milk
  • 2 cans of diced tomatos
  • 1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Sea salt (we ran out)
  • Mushrooms
  • Bunch of Asparagus
  • 1 Spaghetti squash
  • 1 bag of onions
  • 2 whole chickens

All of this was $42.48

But there are a few assumptions that you need to know:

  • This produce should be enough for one week
  • We started with a few zucchinis, some romaine lettuce, and some cabbage, along with a few bananas, pears, and frozen fruit left from the previous week.
  • If you think this doesn’t sound like enough meat, you are right. We previously purchased ¼ grass-fed cow, and ¼ organically cured pastured pig, so there is meat in our deep freeze to supplement.
  • We found a local person with chickens that we buy fresh eggs from separately. 
  • We ran out of frozen seafood last week, and stocked up on shrimp, salmon, and white fish last week.
  • We don't buy anything special for the baby. She eats what we eat.

I would say that our typical grocery bill for the week is between $40 and $60. We have a few additional smaller shopping trips in addition for a few forgotten or additional items. 

What about Organic food?

I think that buying organic is better. (Here is an article we wrote on this topic earlier this year) We don't buy all organic produce. Like I always tell patients, it is important to keep taking baby steps in the right direction toward getting healthier. Maybe next month or next year we’ll be buying more organic food. We do buy much of our produce from local sources during the spring/summer months!

What’s missing from a “normal”  shopping list?

Most of the items we don't buy are the "processed / factory made foods  from the middle aisles of the store. These items are expensive. Not buying them gives us more cash for fruits and veggies.

  • Cereal We’ve got our eggs for breakfast
  • Bread We sub in veggies to give us more nutrients and less of a blood sugar spike
  • Pasta  We have spaghetti squash and zucchini for “spiralated” spaghetti
  • Milk/Juice /other beverages We have plenty of water at home. We’ll get lots of Calcium from our veggies and leafy greens. We do drink black coffee, but only have to buy this every once in a while.
  • Cheese Sometimes we get some cheese, but not this time.
  • Chips/Crackers/Etc We choose not to have these temptations in the house. When we get hungry, we eat more fruits and veggies!
  • Sweets If we are feeling deprived, I can whip up a little something from coconut milk and some fresh/frozen fruit that we already had on hand.
  • Healthy Oils We already have coconut oil. We did run out of Olive Oil, and we forgot to get more! Next time. We already have some raw nuts as well.
  • Soups We make our own bone broth. We’ll do this with the chicken bones!
  • Salad Dressings and Sauces We make our own from combinations of oil, vinegar, local honey, mustard, spices, coconut milk, juice and zest from fruits, etc.
  • Seasonings We have these already in the pantry/spice rack

If you are want more explanation about why some of these are not on my shopping list, read "10 Foods I Used to Think Were Healthy, But Not Anymore, Read Why".

The Bottom Line

I don’t know how much money most families spend on groceries, but it’s been amazing to see that it really is possible to buy real, nutrient dense foods for a reasonable price when we don't buy expensive processed foods! 

How much do you spend on groceries? Where do you shop? Do you have shopping tips? Come over to facebook and share!

Dr. Jamie