Can a family of 5 big eaters eat real food for $90/week? If you are passionate about healthy eating but need to save serious money, this post is for you. Learn how to eat real food cheap!
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There’s a squirmy tension between saving money and eating healthy. If you care about your body or the bodies of the people eating at your table, you don’t want to fill them with junk in the name of saving money.
But if you are desperately trying to save money, you can’t afford to be trendy, no matter how much you want to eat local kale, grass-fed meat, and free-range organic eggs.
Hopefully, you will reach that goal someday. But in this season, we need to wait.
12 years ago, Chris and I started with $25 a week for groceries, and we were committed to eating as healthy as possible. As our income, family, and experience grew, we adjusted our budget incrementally. We wanted to nurture our bodies, but we also needed to leave margin for saving.
Save Money, Eat Healthy
Maybe you’re there right now too. Maybe you are barely making ends meet, and you want to feed your family well, but you also want to be able to buy toilet paper (this was a legitimate conversation we had to have at one point).
Or maybe you’re trying to pay off debt. You’re on Baby Step 2, and you know that debt could go away forever if you could just get your act together and pay it off in the next few months.
Or maybe you have a dream you’re working towards. Years after our $25/week budget, we still kept our budget small. We had some big dreams that we knew wouldn’t happen without us doing the work.
Grocery List for a Family of 5 on a Budget
What I discovered over the years was that we did not need to shop for real food at the health food store. We could find simple, whole, real food at nearly any grocery store, and it only took around 35 ingredients to make most of our favorite meals.
So I made a list for you! It’s the list we still cook from years later. While I don’t buy all of these ingredients every week, I know that some combination of them will make countless meals.
You can buy these ingredients at Whole Foods, or at Walmart. And they can make you hundreds of different meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and dessert.
I’ll send you the list here!
Meal Plan for Family of 5 on a Budget
We learned how to take a few ingredients and make them stretch over multiple meals. The reality is that when you have $25 a week for groceries, you don’t buy 3 new spices to put into your curry that week. Instead, you learn to use what spices you have so you can afford the sweet potatoes and onions that go into the curry.
As our family grew, we learned to deal with picky eaters, and we learned to make what our family loved, using whatever money and ingredients we had.
For example, we don’t love beans and rice.
Sure, we were on a beans and rice budget. And we love budget-friendly burrito bowls, but we didn’t want to eat that every day.
Here’s an example of our menu plan when we were a family of 4, had $60 a week for our grocery budget, and didn’t want to eat beans and rice every night.
Real Food Grocery Budget for a Family of 5
12 years – and 3 kids – after our $25/week season, this is how we eat in our family:
- Mostly organic or local (grass-fed, free-range) meat
- Mostly organic or local or grass-fed dairy (it’s hard to find all 3 without spending A LOT)
- Nearly all organic or local fruits and vegetables
- Moderately gluten-free (we have an intolerance in our family)
- Only “healthy” fats (experts disagree on what healthy fats actually are. I lean towards the traditional diet definition)
- Healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fats
- Plenty of plants (ideally half of our plates at lunch and dinner is vegetables)
- Very little processed sugar (we use mostly maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar, which helps us avoid desserts because those sweeteners are expensive!)
- Whole grains (lots of sourdough)
- Lots of plant-based meals
- 80/20 rule – 80% of what we eat is good and mostly nourishing. 20% is pizza and cake at birthday parties, cold cereal, homemade chocolate chips cookies, etc.
We try to do this while sticking to around the amount our family would receive on full SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
This works out to around $150 a week. For some people, feeding 5 people on $150/week with the above guidelines sounds impossibly low. For others, $150 a week – regardless of guidelines – is way too much to spend on food.
We’re cutting that down by $60.
Read on to find out why and how!
Real Food on a Budget
We learned all kinds of tricks to save money in each food group so that we could eat clean food on a budget.
Here are some of our tips:
- How to Save Money on Grains
- How to Save Money on Dairy
- How We Afford Grassfed, Organic Meat on a Budget
- 5 Ways to Save Money on Quality Fruits & Vegetables
- How to Save Money on Natural Sweeteners
- How to Save Money on “Healthy Fats”
Feed a Family of 5 for $90 a Week
While trying to save money and eat healthy in the last year, our family has tried a few experiments/challenges.
Honestly, we experiment like this constantly. I enjoy finding new ways to nourish our bodies frugally. We’ve done plant-based, paleo, fitness-fueled challenges, and more.
#RealFoodCheap is our next one.
The goal will be to see how cheaply our family of 5 can eat without worrying about special labels – no organic, grass-fed, non-GMO, local, etc. – just eating generally good whole foods from whichever source is most inexpensive.
The truth is that is where a lot of us sit. We can’t afford to get trendy about food right now – as good, ethical, and fun as that is.
We just need to eat whole food, and we need to do it cheaply.
#RealFoodCheap Challenge Guidelines
Here are the rules:
- We will eat basic whole foods (fruit, veggies, chicken, beef, eggs, yogurt, butter, oats, etc.)
- Mostly whole grains
- Mostly “healthy” fats
- Plenty of vegetables
- Very little processed sugar (mostly maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar)
- Try to maintain a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fats
- 80/20 rule – 80% of what we eat is good and mostly nourishing. 20% is pizza and cake at birthday parties, cold cereal, etc.
We will try to follow these guidelines while sticking to a grocery budget of $90 a week. When I asked for input on Instagram, and the Cheapskate Cooks List, Most people agreed that $100-$125 a week is reasonable for a family of 5 big eaters.
Since #RealFoodCheap is about trying to save the most amount of money while eating well, I decided to try $90 a week. If you are paying off debt or trying to make ends meet, $90 is probably more realistic. I know it has been for us.
I’ll be honest. I’m nervous. I know I can stick to $90, but I’m a little worried about getting enough fruits and vegetables and using only natural sweeteners.
Also about feeding kids who already eat like they have tapeworms.
ALSO: Did you know I took what I learned and compiled it into a 4-week budget-friendly, real food menu plan for families? Check it out here!
Frugal Grocery Tips:
Here is how I plan to keep our budget and feed the people:
- Buy meat only when it is deeply discounted or the best deal I can find
- Make many plant-based meals
- Dinner for a Dollar (we will make alllll the dinners from here)
- Only buy fruit and veggies on sale or stick to the cheapest ones in our area (cabbage, carrots, onion, apples, etc.)
- Shop strategically at Aldi, Costco, Walmart, and Kroger
- Use this menu plan
- Make a lot of rice, baked oatmeal, and Easiest Bread
- Follow these Cheap Smoothie tips
- Use this 20 Ingredients list for dinners
- Rock a lot of meatless meals
- Beans and rice, baby!
My main goal is to encourage you. (and to save money!) We’re all this together.
If you are trying to eat healthy, but you have to make some compromises in order to provide for your family in other ways, that’s okay. You are doing a good job. Let’s do this together.
UPDATE: I took what I learned and compiled it into a 4-week budget-friendly, real food menu plan for families. Check it out here!
Budget-Friendly Tips & Recipes You Might Love:
- 20+ Clean Eating Meals You Can Make From Your Pantry
- Dinner for a Dollar: Real Food Recipes for Under $1 a Serving
- How to Make Pantry Meals
- 20+ Meatless Meals You Can Make From Your Pantry
- How We Solved the Constant “Mom, I’m Hungry!” Problem
- 10 Budget-Friendly Real Food Meals for Picky Eaters
What You Can Do Now: