Eating Real Food on a Tight Budget

by lydia on October 10, 2012

It has come to my attention that there is a real need for information on how to eat real food on a very tight budget. Not only real food, but food that fits in a Paleo/GAPS type of template. Not just real food but real food with healing the body, keeping blood sugar and digestion in mind. That is pretty much how I operate in my home for my boys.


I recently had to cut my food budget significantly, so I will be adding a few more starches to the mix to stretch the budget. My first priority will be to get as much quality protein as possible and find ways to stretch it. I’ve already started to set aside money for 1/8 cow at the end of this month, so that will help to stretch my budget quite a bit. That money is not coming from the monthly budget, it’s money I planned in advance for. Another part of my plan is to use pseudo grains, wild rice and potatoes to fill bellies cheaply, along with some soaked white rice and GAPS friendly legumes. We will likely have some starch at least two meals per day, if not all three. But no more than one starch per meal. I will also use dairy as a budget stretcher, since I can get raw milk for only $3.50 per gallon this will really help. I’ll make my own yogurt, puddings, custards, cream cheese, whey and ricotta.  Feeding my family strict Paleo/GAPS on a budget is just not gonna happen. Sadly. Fruit will be included only with in season local produce in bulk when I can find it. Fruit just adds to the budget too quickly and my boys plow through fruit when I have it. I used to buy fruit twice a week. Now, I likely won’t buy any unless I can get a big basket of apples or other seasonal fruit. With the plan in of having some to eat now, some to make applesauce and maybe some to dehydrate. We shall see.

My budget will be around$450-600 per month, about $112-150 per week for 5 people, which is around $16-20 per day. Considering my dinners always seem to cost between $8-12 at least this will be a challenge to do for a whole day for 5 people. (And four growing boys no less. Have you ever seen how much a teenage boy can eat? Yeah, it’s gonna be tricky)!

All in all, I decided to share this journey with you, to share my tips and tricks along the way. For now, here are some budget ideas to get you started – ideas that I’ve already been working with for some time now. I do not currently raise any of my own food. I can’t have a garden, as I rent and the deer problem here is insane. Even pots outside wouldn’t fare well. Thankfully, my dad had a garden this year and I have a freezer full of tomatoes in all forms, summer squash soup and winter squash put up as well. I do hope to grow some trays of baby greens inside, along with sprouts and potted herbs in my kitchen this winter to get some greens into our diet. I’ll be looking for anyone with extra venison come hunting season. I also hope to score the offal, fat and bones from a huge cow share order that’s coming up. I plan on wild crafting nettles to make tea weekly. And, I’ll likely do some bartering as well. Ultimately, I know we will get by, it will be difficult and a lot of work, but I’m willing to do it so my family eats well on a tight budget, and that we stick to real food as close to the template that serves our health best as possible! Ready? Here we go!


Tips for Eating Real Food on a Tight Budget

  1. Purchase bones from your local farmer. They are affordable and go a long way. You can get some meat off the bones and make more than one batch of stock depending on the kind of bones they are. Stewing hens are very affordable and give a good amount of meat for soups, stews and casseroles. Find a farmer that sells sides/whole animals and contact the butcher to let them know you will gladly take any bones or organ meats that others don’t want. You may pay something or nothing, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Chicken necks and feet go a long way to stretch the budget as well. Chicken necks should be first roasted, with meat eaten at one meal, then boiled to make a stock which should provide at least two meals of soups. Chicken feet should be boiled, once for gelatin rich stock, then again to pull out all of the nutrients/gelatin. The gelatin should be added to ANY meal where a liquid is used – gelatin is a protein-sparer, which pulls more protein from the foods eaten. Include offal/organ meats for a budget stretcher. Consider joining the ‘Offal & Odd Bits Challenge‘ I am hosting this month.
  2. Raise your own chickens for eggs if you can! Or find a local farmer with pastured eggs. We get our eggs for $3 a dozen. Eggs are a very affordable source of protein and can work for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ll be using a lot of eggs from here on out. (thankfully, we do not have any sensitivities to eggs). Read more about how I organize a farm fresh pick up to be delivered to my home for a cooperative.
  3. Make everything from scratch. Yes, it will be more work, but it’s likely the only way you can eat real food on a budget. If you can’t make it all from scratch, that’s okay – but focus on mainly homemade/from-scratch meals.
  4. Drink water. Spring for the supplies to make your own kombucha tea if you can fit it in the budget. Tea and sugar are pretty cheap – It may only cost a buck or two to make a big batch. Kombucha is a great source of nutrition and can be used as supplemental b vitamins, enzymes and probiotics. Much more affordable than supplements. Skip buying other teas or coffee, as they are not essentials. Use wild nettles for tea or grow some mint or chammomile. You could even get some mint cuttings from a friend as mint is very easy to grow. Even buying bulk bags of herbs is doable on a budget – a 1 lb bag of nettles is about $10 and that can last awhile ( I buy mine through Mountain Rose Herbs).
  5. Set aside a portion of your weekly budget, even as tight as it is to save up for bulk supplies/staples. Even if it’s only $10 a week, at some point you can save enough to buy some meat in bulk or just stock up on storable items so you can do a bit more baking to stretch your budget.
  6. Save veggie scraps in bags in the freezer to make soup stocks. When I do this, I never have to buy extra veggies for making stock. We always have carrots, onions, garlic and celery on hand and every day I add some ends or peels of these into my stockpile bag in the freezer. That way I always have some veggies to add to stocks whenever I need.
  7. Barter/Trade – Do you know a working family that is super busy but wants to eat real food? Make double your meals and make some money to help the food budget. Last winter I made bulk soups and made a little money while feeding my own family for free in soups and stews. I have a local cooperative that loves to buy my soups as they are all very busy people. It’s a little bit more work and effort for you, but the freedom that comes by helping out with the tight budget makes it so worth it.
  8. Buy produce that is in season only and local preferably. In season produce affords you the lowest price, local affords you the avoidance of up charge for the travel costs. Skip organic for the most part, just berries and delicate greens and those foods you know are genetically modified.
  9. Fats – go with animal fats to keep the budget low. Olive oil, coconut oil and butter can all add up fast. I personally use lard or saved bacon fat for all my cooking sauteeing. I buy butter and always put one stick from a pound in the freezer right away to build a stockpile. It works great because if you make it a habit, eventually you have a nice amount in the freezer to do some extra baking. You can also cut it out of the budget for awhile to make room for some thing else, like some olive oil or coconut oil perhaps. Lard can also be used in place of butter in baking. If you don’t do pork then you can substitute tallow. Lard is so inexpensive, I buy a tub of pastured lard for less than $10 and it lasts me a long time (months).
  10. Learn from those who have gone before you and excelled at living on a tight budget. Kerry Ann Foster of Cooking Traditional Foods was able to feed her family on less than $100 per month when her husband was unemployed, by working to create a stockpile for some time. In her eBook, ‘Real Food Storage: How To’s & Recipes’, she teaches how to work towards and emergency food storage/stockpile, and offers loads of budget recipes to choose from, all of which are gluten free, many dairy free. It’s a lot more starch than I would prefer, but I find the ideas helpful and the recipes adaptable. I’ve learned a lot from this eBook and was able to have somewhat of a stockpile prior to my own budget cut.


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Juanita October 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Oh thanks for this. I have done a blog post about this before, but this is a really good one. Sharing on FB!!!

Kelly October 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Great post! I am wondering where you score raw milk for 3.50 a gallon, and where you get your lard as well! I live nearby to you and would truly appreciate the info. Thanks!

lydia October 10, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Kelly – we get our milk from Green Ridge Farm in Parkesburg Pa – phone # is (610) 857-2351.

I get my lard from Lindenhof Farm at the West Chester Grower’s market;

Kelly October 11, 2012 at 8:17 am

Thanks for the info, Lydia! I get a bunch of animal products from Lindenhof at the Oakmont farmer’s market. Did not know about the lard! I will definitely check out the raw milk supplier. We are sometimes out there with homeschooling friends.

A tip for you – Lindenhof has stewing hens now for 1.50/lb! Great for broth, soups, and casseroles at a fraction of the cost.

lydia October 11, 2012 at 8:18 am

That’s awesome Kelly! Yes, I always buy stewing hens from them – I hope to stock up soon too!

MamaCassi October 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm

wow- $3.50 a gallon? amazing. we’re blessed in that i found a way IN w/ my raw milk and farm (for meats and bones and offal) and work for anything i need by doing personal assistant work for the farm. our milk is $10 a gallon (yay, massachusetts?!?). but bones, lard, and often veggies, are free. and i work for the rest of the meat and parts i need. and we also need a steady source of starch (sourdough brown rice and potatoes here) for our meals to keep us full, happy and not totally broke!

love following what you’re doing and shifting in with your family and getting ideas and encouragement from all you do!

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