How I feed my family “real food” on a budget

A few weeks ago, I sent out an email to my MOMables subscribers that led to a lot of replies. Nearly all of them asked: how do you feed your family of 5 “real food” and entertain others on $150 per week? 

how to shop for your family real food and organic food on a budget

What they really wanted to know is how is:

  • How do you buy organic dairy, meat and produce on a budget?
  • What foods do you buy in bulk?
  • What do you make from scratch?
  • What are some of your money saving tips?

It’s no secret that I cook a lot. I talk about food, read about food, write about food and eat food The funny thing is, that shopping for food isn’t my favorite thing to do. I wish I had a shopping assistant -or a Whole Foods near by. Instead, I have to go to 2-3 groceries each week to get all the things I need.

Meal planning is easy. I add 2-3 new dinners and 2-3 new lunch ideas each week from the MOMables Meal Plans and then I keep our tried and true favorites. Being on a budget doesn’t mean I have to make the same frugal meals every week. I make sure to use the same ingredients from any of the lunch items into another meal, this way food is rarely wasted and used up at the end of the week.

Example: we have quesadillas for lunch. that means I am going to need chicken and tortillas. Therefore, I am going to plan a dinner that will yield grilled chicken and another that will also utilize tortillas. I save time and money on wasted food. Win-win. By grilling or prepping what I need ahead of time I save a lot of time. I also don’t need to buy those pre-grilled chicken strips made with lord-knows-what.

Eating out and convenience foods are a lot more expensive.  Proof: last Friday I had a meeting outside the office and my husband wanted me to have “lunch” with him. We went to a local deli that has a lot of healthy options and we spent $22! Yikes. On ONE meal. I thought to myself: I can feed my entire family with that for a day! OK, It was a nice lunch date. 

Now you know another reason why I pack all of our lunches. I am going to apologize for the pictures that come next. They are unedited and were “dumped”  from my iPhone. 

This was our plan for the week:
Sunday: (B) Big family breakfast (L) grilled paninis (D) Chicken and vegetable skewershomemade Italian baked beans, corn on the cob, homemade focaccia.

Monday: (B) banana flax bread and breakfast quiche (L) chicken quesadillas (D) Italian meatball pasta

Tuesday: (B) Homemade bagels (recipe not worth sharing, they were very…chewy) & veggie scramble (L) Ultimate morning glory sandwiches (D)Blackened fish tacos, grilled vegetables, creole slaw

Wednesday: (B) Easy homemade green egg(spinach) “McMuffin” (these were previously made and frozen) (L) Deep dish ham and veggie calzones (D) Panini Night (used last of focaccia bread, chicken and grilled veggies)

Thursday: (B) Blueberry muffins fruit (L) Avocado school sushi (no fish), strawberry yogurt dip and fruit  (D) Breakfast night! I dropped the last of the eggs so it was a little bit of a flop. Not that they complained about bacon (organic, uncured and nitrate free) and my famous homemade Pillsbury honey wheat grands!and fruit

Friday: (B) raspberry “cheesecake” filled biscuits (biscuits, cream cheese and fresh raspberries), (L) egg salad sandwiches (D) Homemade pizza night!

Saturday: (B) Chocolate chip scones and fruit salad (L) Vegetable fried rice (here is where I use any leftovers veggies from the week)  (D) Navy bean soup (previously made and frozen) fruit sorbet and popsicles (I take all leftover fruit from the week and make a fruit sorbet or popsicles

I made a caramelized onions, spinach and gouda quiche and a loaf of bread for my neighbor on sunday. In return, she gave me a basket of veggies from her garden.  I made a double batch of blueberry muffins and froze them for another week as well.

I only mentioned the big meals. For “snacks” there is fresh fruit available (always) and I’m usually recipe testing a baked item or two for MOMables.

My weekly budget is $150. I usually spend anywhere between $130-$150. This week I splurged and purchased additional organic chicken because I knew my neighbor was going out of town and she was giving me a lot of veggies.

Ways I save:

  • I make a plan. Seems obvious coming from me, right? But it’s TRUE. I sit down with my MOMables weekly plan, choose the meals I will make, add a few of our favorites with similar ingredients, and then make a list.
  • I make all of our baked goods. A can of grands! biscuits has ingredients I don’t like and it’s $2.79 for 6 biscuits. I make my own for around $.86.  I buy white flour but I also grind my own wheat. I have a bread machine I put to work in the hot summer months. Otherwise, My oven is on for a few hours on Sunday and every other night after dinner (almost). *2015 Update* We now have a gluten-free house. The only way to make baked goods affordable is by making them ourselves.
  • I buy rice, wheat and beans in bulk. We eat legumes once a week. I don’t buy a small bag for that week or a can of beans. I pay on average .58cents per lb of beans. I buy in bulk, store and make. I also make double or triple the batch and freeze is 1 1/2 cup portions (like a can). Huge savings.
  • I don’t use coupons. Shocking, I know. I rarely find coupons for real food. Instead, I stock up when things are on sale like the organic boneless skinless chicken breasts at $3.99lb! I also find that using coupons leads to spending money outside of my meal plan. Note: if you use coupons, that is totally ok. I rarely do. The only times I use coupons is on bulk coffee, organic yogurt and some cheeses. There aren’t a lot of coupons for those of us who shop the perimeter.
  • Limit dairy. Yes, kids need dairy and all that… but not as much as you think if you make your own breads, eat a varied diet and eat your minerals from other sources. I insert a lot of nutrients in my baked goods.  I buy a big tub of yogurt instead of the 6pk ones (unless I have coupons and they are on sale). This is organic too.
  • No juices. If I buy juice it’s usually Martinelli’s by the half a gallon and when it’s on sale. It’s US grown, it has a strong apple flavor and I dilute it.
  • No boxed snacks. I make nearly all of our snacks. You can find a lot of them in our pinterest page and our subscription members are getting ready to have a homemade staples “guide” made just for them. I do have a box of goldfish from Sams at all times because we have kids that come play at our house and often ask for “boxed” snacks (oh well).
  • I buy 1lb of organic “lunchmeat” for the week at $9.99-10.99 per lb. That’s it. This forces me to get creative with my lunches (good thing that’s what I do). Some weeks, I don’t buy it at all.
  • No boxed cereals for breakfast. I buy 1-2 boxes of cereal per month (with a coupon). It’s the one late night treat my husband can’t give up. Cereals are filled with a lot of non-necessary ingredients, are expensive and well, they use milk (also expensive). I make a nutritious bread, scramble eggs..etc.
  • Buy cheese in bulk. I buy 2.5lbs of Cheddar cheese that is antibiotic and hormone free for $9.99. Behind the deli counter is that much per pound! I slice it or grate it myself. It lasts 2-3 weeks (depending on what I’m cooking)
  • I buy the produce we’ll eat. I don’t just “buy” fruit and veggies, I figure out which ones I need and then buy that. Some weeks I get it from a neighbor, or, I’ll switch ingredients in certain dishes (like spinach instead of broccoli) because it was cheaper that week (and organic).

Other ways I save around the house:

  • I use cloth towels to clean and pick up all sorts of messes. I rarely use paper towels. A $16 pack of paper towels from Sams lasts my family 6-9 months.
  • I don’t buy the expensive detergent. I pre-treat all my stains and use an eco detergent that is much cheaper (like half the prize) form the orange detergent.
  • I use cloth diapers.  I’ve cloth diapered all my kids and used disposables when they were being cared by someone else. Baby G uses disposable while he is at school and cloth at home.*2015 update* we are no longer cloth diapering.
  • I get $20 haircuts twice a year and color my own hair. 
  • I buy in bulk with my mom. You could do this with a friend. That 25lb bag or rice of flour you dont’ have room to store? split it with a friend.
  • I shop Amazon for specialty items. Things like coconut flour , oils, organic items and spices (among others).
  • I shop online for vitamins. Vitamins and drugstore stuff can add up. I shop Vitacost for a lot of my organic items.
  • We drink water. Sounds funny but it’s true. Drinking water saves you a lot of money. Plus it’s good for you!
  • Reuse our clothes. I have a one-outfit-per-day policy with my kids (of course unless they get soaked or spill something). They change in the morning and stay in them until night time. If they are clean they get used again. Saves the clothes, saves money on water and electricity…etc.
  • I buy used clothes, swap clothes or stock up in clothes for next year after the season. I’ve bought many clothes for my kids “for next year” for as little as 98 cents! I don’t go to 20 stores to find the best deal, I just go in after season and stock up. Same thing with school uniforms. I buy the following year’s uniform in Sept/October when stores are clearing them out.
  • $1 store deals. I buy birthday cards, zip bags and a few other little things at the dollar store.

I know there are many more ways to save, but these are just some of the ones I do to help us stay on budget. Our $150 is spent on food only for a family of 4. *2015 update* We are now a family of 6 and the budget is $200 per week.

What are some of your tips to stay on budget?

June 1, 2013

90 thoughts on “How I feed my family “real food” on a budget”

  1. Sarah Le Duc Sansbury says:

    Oh another random question–do you eat cold lunches? My kids can’t heat up theirs at school.

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Sarah, all we eat is cold lunches unless I warm them up in the morning and send them in a thermos.

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  3. Jessica says:

    What are your favorite reusable containers?

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Jessica, everything I use can be found here. Our go-to lunch container is the EasyLunchbox. Food storage wise glass. It’s the best long term solution.

  4. Jinger says:

    Hi Laura. I was happy to come across your site tonight. I have a family of 6 and all 4 of my children are boys so they are always hungry. I follow many of the same strategies as you so I am excited to look through your recipes and get some inspiration. No prepackaged snacks, limit dairy, almost always use dried beans, and realize that a simple dinner is usually the way to go. I love to cook and my boys are usually willing to help out as well. I make my own bread sometimes, but I am definitely thinking of investing in a bread machine. And I loved the idea of turning leftover fruits into popsicles and the veggies into a stir fry. I usually have to visit at least 2 stores to get everything at the price I want. Thanks for the new ideas and I look forward to digging into your site!

  5. Renee says:

    Let’s try $140 for the whole month?

  6. Darcey McGinnis says:

    Thanks for sharing! My husband and I
    are thinking about adopting a sibling set of 6 out of foster care. In the thinking process, we have to consider housing, transportation, food budget and all the other ways it would take us to care for these children on our budget. There is an infant 5 months old up to a 8 year old (4 boys and 2 girls). Plus, we have an away college student and an 11 year son who visits every other weekend. My inital budget to feed all 8 of us for $1k a month but your outline here gives me some insight into how I could cut the food budget to at least $700. I love to cook and I am creative in the kitchen so they will never get bored. My issue is I LOVE PUBLIX!!! Those BOGO sales kill my budget. I love the balance meals you’ve suggested and healthy choices. Your blog is definitely a guide in helping us make our decision.

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      What a gift you’ll be to this group! I’d stick to simple recipes, fresh ingredients, and definitely meal plan. Good luck!

  7. Kay says:

    Are there any homeschooling moms on this blog? I have to feed 9 people on $700 a month. Where do you find blocks of cheese? I have failed on bread 20 times. I stopped trying, because it was a waste. Do you have a link for meatless dinners? We usually have meat as our main component. I am stressed out constantly, from fighting this food budget. I need to figure out which fruit/veg can freeze well. I’m too lost for life.

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  9. Cindy says:

    When a whole boneless fully cooked ham is on sale, I take it to the deli dept. and they thin slice it . I then package it in portions we use, and freeze the rest. I get my lunch meat for under 2.00/#.. When I defrost it I put it on one of my food cloths and get the extra water out. I don ‘t know if you can buy an organic ham like that, but if so, for a large family it might work.

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